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New laws allow use of marijuana oil extract, forbid transferring kids to non-relatives; Some areas get 14-15 inches of snow; more state news briefs

Wisconsin has 58 new laws today after Gov. Scott Walker signed them yesterday.

The governor held a ceremony in Milwaukee to highlight expansions of three current laws to protect victims of domestic violence. One of the bills tightens up the legal process to make sure those under temporary restraining orders surrender their weapons.

The governor quietly signed the other 55 measures in his office, including one that makes it against the law to transfer children to non-relatives without going through the government's adoption process.

That was after Reuters reported on couples using Internet forums to find new parents for their kids. The stories included a Manitowoc County couple who adopted a girl from Liberia and later gave her away to an Illinois couple without knowing that the mother had her biological children taken away a number of years earlier.

Also yesterday, Walker signed bills to allow the use of a marijuana oil extract to help children with repeated seizures, allowing more jail inmates to be strip-searched, letting the UW perform classified research for the first time in four decades and legalizing rubber-duck races as raffles for charity fundraisers.



Some areas get 14-15 inches of snow

More than a foot of snow in far northwest Wisconsin should start melting rapidly by mid to late morning.

By Saturday, most of it could become puddles with temperatures in the 50's and 60's expected.

For now, though, the National Weather Service still predicts up to 18 inches of heavy wet snow in the Superior and Spooner regions. The vast majority of it has fallen by now, and the final remnants of the storm should head east out of Wisconsin by late morning.

According to updated snow totals, 15 inches fell at Minong in Washburn County, and 14 at Highbridge in Ashland County. Thirteen inches fell at Lac du Flambeau, 10 at Phillips, and almost seven at Rhinelander.

Grantsburg in Burnett County had 13.5 inches and counting by 8 p.m. yesterday. Drummond in Bayfield County had 12.5 inches by overnight, and 11 inches fell at Superior.

Six inches of snow fell as far south as Barron County. Most other areas had lesser snows, a rain-snow mix or just rain.

The heavy wet snow knocked out power in some areas.

Over 2,000 customers were in the dark as of 6 a.m. today. About 1,500 of those are Wisconsin Public Service customers -- mostly in the Hazelhurst, Lake Tomahawk, Arbor Vitae and Presque Isle regions. We Energies reports about 175 customers out in the Phelps area of Vilas County.

Winter storm warnings remain in effect until 11 a.m. in far northern Wisconsin. Forecasters say partial clearing should create a big snow melt in the north today, along with rain that's in the forecast for Ashland and Rhinelander. Today's highs will be in the 30's and 40's in the north  and in the 50's in southern Wisconsin under partly to mostly cloudy skies.


Couple asks state Supreme Court to throw out gay marriage ban

A same-sex couple has gone directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, asking the justices to strike down the state's ban on gay marriage.

Katherine and Linda Halopka-Ivery were married in California last December -- and for doing so, they face criminal prosecution under Wisconsin law.

The lawsuit says the couple lives in Milwaukee County and married in San Diego. They allege Wisconsin's gay marriage ban denies them federal rights afforded to opposite-sex married couples, violating their rights to equal protection and due process. They also argue the state is improperly restricting gay marriage based on religious opposition to same-sex marriages.

The state Department of Justice plans to defend the suit, which was filed against state and county officials.

The Halopka-Iverys said the Supreme Court needs to take the case now because of its statewide implications.

Normally, plaintiffs must have their cases adjudicated by the circuit and appellate courts before they can seek help from the Supreme Court. In 2009, a pro-family group wanted the Supreme Court to strike down the state's same-sex benefit registry just before it took effect. The justices essentially told the group to get in line. That case made it to the high court years later, and a ruling is still pending.


Death penalty sought for three charged in drug-ring murders

Federal prosecutors in Milwaukee are seeking the death penalty against three men charged with homicide as part of a drug ring that involved money laundering.

Twenty-seven people have been indicted. All but six were in custody as of yesterday.

Prosecutors said Kevin Arms, 40, of Pewaukee was the ring-leader. Several of his relatives were accused of using drug money to buy expensive homes, vehicles, boats and watches.

Officials said the drug ring involved the sales of over 650 pounds of cocaine plus crack and heroin in southeast Wisconsin the past few years.

The charges against Kevin Arms include gun homicide. John Bailey, 37, and Phillip Moffett, 32, face the same homicide charges with the possible death penalty.

The killing reportedly took place in November of 2008. Agents seized numerous assets from those arrested, including a pair of Cadillac Escalades, two Harley-Davidson motorcycles, 1970's muscle cars, a fishing boat, money from two companies and an earlier judgment for $3 million.


Man charged with homicide after falling asleep at wheel

A Dane County man is due in court this morning after being charged in the death of a bicyclist after the driver fell asleep behind the wheel of a truck.

Timothy Grulke, 23, of Waunakee was charged yesterday with homicide by negligent driving. The crash occurred in October 2012 in the Dane County town of Westport. Prosecutors have not said why it took so long to bring the matter to court.

Authorities said Grulke admitted falling asleep while driving, and his truck slammed into a bicycle driven by Carrie Pete, 37.


Miron Construction agrees to pay $4 million penalty over billing practices

One of Wisconsin's largest construction firms has agreed to pay $4 million to settle an FBI investigation into some of its billing practices.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Milwaukee said yesterday that Miron Construction of Neenah signed a non-prosecution agreement in February.

Miron was alleged to have billed its labor costs improperly in cost-plus-fee arrangements for building projects in five Wisconsin school districts -- Abbotsford, Marathon, DC Everest, De Pere and Waunakee.

As part of the settlement, Miron agreed to change some of its accounting practices. It also agreed to allow an independent monitor oversee its operations.

U.S. Attorney James Santelle said his office accepted the three-year agreement so Miron's employees can be protected. The firm employs around 1,200 people. The agreement allows Miron Construction and its two top officials to neither admit nor deny the allegations.


Drug Take-Back Day is Saturday, April 26

Two state government agencies are teaming up to get unused medicines out of people's homes so those who abuse prescription drugs cannot get to those pills.

The Department of Justice and the Department of Natural Resources are taking part in the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday, April 26.  People can drop off their old and unused medicines that day at a number of collection sites throughout Wisconsin.

State Attorney General JB Van Hollen says prescription drug addictions often lead to heroin abuse, and the take-back day gives everybody a chance to fight back against heroin.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp says the collections will allow fewer drugs to be flushed into water systems or thrown into landfills, thus reducing environmental harm.


Despite physical evidence, Merrill man convicted of killing estranged wife

A Merrill man could spend the rest of his life in prison, after he was convicted of killing his estranged wife and dumping her body in a swamp.

Lincoln County jurors deliberated for 10 hours the past two days before finding Mark Bucki, 50, guilty of all three charges against him. The jury didn't buy his claim that he had nothing to do with the stabbing and strangling of his 48-year-old estranged wife Anita last April.

The defense said there was no physical evidence, but prosecutors said there was plenty of circumstantial evidence that pointed to Bucki's finances and his wife's $150,000 life insurance policy. Prosecutors also said there were no defensive wounds on her body, apparently showing that she knew her killer.

A sentencing date has not been set. Bucki faces a life prison term, but the judge can order a date to consider a release with extended supervision after he serves at least 20 years.


Barrett campaign took in too much during Walker recall campaign; $20,000 goes to summer job program

A new report shows that Tom Barrett's campaign fund forfeited $20,000 for taking too much from special interests in his 2012 recall campaign for governor.

As part of a settlement with the Government Accountability Board, the campaign gave the money to Barrett's Earn and Learn program, which provides summer jobs to Milwaukee teens.

Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor, lost by seven percentage points to the Republican Walker in the recall vote. It was Barrett's second straight bid to give the executive branch back to the Democrats.

State law limited gubernatorial candidates to just over $700,000 after the recall contest had been scheduled. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the Barrett camp received almost $721,000.

Political adviser Patrick Guarasci called it "an error made completely by accident." He blamed the mistake on the intensity of the recall drive against Walker. Guarasci called it a year-long campaign that was waged in a matter of weeks.

The Journal Sentinel said the settlement was mentioned in a court filing connected with a John Doe probe into alleged illegal campaign activities involving Republicans and outside groups in the recall contests.


Utility customers sue over paying for power plant conversion

A group that represents Wisconsin utility customers is suing state regulators.

The Citizens Utility Board wants a judge to throw out a decision made in January by the Public Service Commission to have We Energies' electric customers pay for a Milwaukee power plant's conversion from coal to natural gas. The plant provides steam for customers in downtown Milwaukee, including Marquette University and the Aurora Sinai Medical Center.

CUB filed its suit in Dane County. It says all of We Energies' electric customers should not have to help pay for the $80 million power plant conversion -- only the ones that buy the plant's steam should have to foot the bill.

CUB acting director Kira Loehr says We Energies' steam customers are only paying 8% of the tab. The group also said the plant's electricity would cost $185 million more than the market price for power during the plant's remaining life.

We Energies is not commenting on the new lawsuit. The company previously said the conversion would eventually save money because it would cost up to $180 million to improve the electric transmission network if the plant were to shut down.


Body of missing Sheboygan man found on Michigan beach

A frozen body found on a remote beach in western Michigan has been identified as a man from Sheboygan who's been missing since last fall.

Three bicyclists found Allen Townsend's body Tuesday night along the Lake Michigan shoreline north of Ludington.

Townsend, 48, was last seen in November of 2013. Authorities believe his body drifted from Wisconsin across the lake to Michigan.

Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole said the body might have been on the beach for months. Foul play is not suspected. An autopsy has been performed, but the cause of Townsend's death has not been determined.