Wisconsin roundup: Wisconsin still lags in its pace of job creation; semi plows into travel mart; and 10 more state news stories

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MADISON -- Wisconsin continues to lag behind two thirds of the states in its pace of job creation.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says Wisconsin had a year-to-year private sector job growth of 1 percent as of last September, with 25,600 jobs created during that 12-month period.

The percentage was the 34th best among the 50 states -- close to where it's been since the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages was highlighted during the state's intense debate involving job creation several years ago. That was when Gov. Scott Walker failed to keep a promise of creating 250,000 private sector jobs during his first term -- and the voters forgave him.

The monthly unemployment report, which uses a much smaller sample of employer surveys than the year-to-year report, had its best showing in 16 years in January with a statewide rate of 3.9 percent -- down two tenths from December.

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Semi plows into travel mart

NEW LISBON -- State and local officers are investigating, after a semi-truck plowed into a travel mart in central Wisconsin and caused thousands of dollars in damage. It happened Thursday morning at the Travel Mart in New Lisbon off Interstate 90-94 in Juneau County.

Officials say the front cab of the semi drove into the convenience store -- and had the rig veered to another side, one employee said it could have hit the diesel fuel pumps, possibly causing an explosion.

Officials say the trucker was taken to a hospital to be checked out. Three restaurants in the building remain open, although the gas station was closed until further notice.

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Winds shove ice formations off Lake Winnebago

The strong winds this week have created some colorful ice formations off Lake Winnebago. Officials at the Calumet County Park near Stockbridge says ice chunks both large and small have blown off Wisconsin's largest inland lake, and a plank of ice 30 feet wide rapidly shoved into a parking lot.

Some park visitors marveled at how colorful the crystals appeared due to the sun's reflection and all the ice that built up. But WLUK TV says the ice shoves also brought large pieces ashore that caused damage to properties in the town of Harrison just east of Kaukauna -- and among other things, the ice blocked an owner's access to a boathouse.

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Rumor steals the show

WEST ALLIS -- The Wisconsin German shepherd who won the Westminster Dog Show is a huge attraction at a sports show in Milwaukee.

Rumor shared a booth with Green Bay Packers' legend Dave Robinson on Thursday at the Journal Sentinel Sports Show at State Fair Park. And when somebody asked if the long line was for the dog or the Glory Years' linebacker Robinson, the crowd shouted "the dog."

Rumor's trainer and co-owner Kent Boyles of Edgerton says there's been a large groundswell of fan support for the dog -- and the feelings have been "overwhelming."

Boyles and Rumor's other owner, Liz Oster, have been on a "victory tour" throughout the nation -- which Boyles calls a campaign tour to build "goodwill for German shepherds and the sport of purebred dogs."

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Assembly OK's public project union restrictions

MADISON -- A bill that prohibits Wisconsin communities from forcing contractors to use union employees for public projects is on its way to Gov. Scott Walker.

The Assembly gave final legislative approval to the measure Thursday on a 64-35 vote, with all Democrats voting no.

The bill's chief sponsor, Brookfield Republican Rob Hutton, said he wanted to give non-union shops a chance to bid on tax-funded work -- and it still gives communities a choice of selecting contractors with Project Labor Agreements in a fair bidding process.

Democrats call it another GOP slap on unions. Sun Prairie Democrat Gary Hebl says it will "open the door for out-of-state contractors to work on vital projects with low paid, untrained workers."

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Fourteen sentenced so far in large meth sales ring

MADISON -- Fourteen people have now been sentenced in a large methamphetamine sales ring that covered much of central and western Wisconsin.

Thirty-year-old Patrick Keenan of Wausau was given a 15-year federal prison term this week for his role in the operation, in which Joe Kujawa reportedly supplied meth from Minneapolis to a number of dealers in eight cities between Eau Claire and the Wausau/Merrill area.

Prosecutors say 127 pounds of imported meth was sold to wholesalers and retailers in the region in a three-year period, and the drugs were valued at $5.7 million.

Five of the 19 defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in April and May in U.S. District Court in Madison. The 14 sentenced so far have terms that total 158 years.

-- Mike Warren, WDLB-WOSQ, Marshfield

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Wisconsin sweeps top honors at U.S. cheese contest

GREEN BAY -- Wisconsin cheesemakers have won all three top awards at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in Green Bay.

A black pepper Italian-style cheese from Sartori of Antigo was judged the nation's best, as master cheesemaker Mike Matucheski had the top score of 99.02.

The first runner-up was a cheddar from Agropur of Weyauwega, and the second runner-up was a gouda made by Marieke Gouda in Thorp.

Fifty judges from 18 states sampled a record 2,300 cheese, butter and yogurt entries in the national contest held this week in the Lambeau Field Atrium in Green Bay.

Wisconsin cheeses won 58 gold medals in the 101 categories, and the Badger State had 14 of the 20 finalists before the top honors were announced Thursday night.

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Body of La Crosse restaurant owner found near Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- A medical examiner in Las Vegas will try to determine how a restaurant owner from La Crosse died, after his body was found Thursday.

La Crosse Police say Tom Olsen's body was found near a scenic overlook at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Vegas. Park rangers say they found Olsen's vehicle abandoned and legally parked on Tuesday -- and they found his personal belongings there.

Federal, state and local rescuers made an extensive search of land and water before Olsen's body was found near the overlook, about 15 feet from the shore of Lake Mead. He was a co-owner of the Freight House restaurant in La Crosse.

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Wisconsin jobless rate drops to 3.9 percent in January

MADISON -- Wisconsin's unemployment rate fell below 4 percent in January, the lowest it's been since January 2001.

Data the state Department of Workforce Development released Thursday shows the unemployment rate in January was 3.9 percent down from 4.1 percent in December. The national unemployment rate for January was 4.8 percent.

Private-sector job growth remained essentially flat between December and January, however. The state added only 200 jobs during the period.

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State Treasurer's future now in voters’ hands

MADISON -- A proposal to get rid of one of Wisconsin's five constitutional offices is now in the hands of the voters.

The state Assembly voted 68-31 Thursday afternoon for its second and final approval of a constitutional amendment to dump the treasurer's office. Voters will have the final say in April of next year.

Oshkosh Republican Mike Schraa expects 65 percent of voters to pass the amendment and throw out the treasurer's office, which has been talked about for years. But lawmakers wouldn't take such a big step until now. Instead, they incrementally removed all the duties of the treasurer except to serve on the state Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.

Schraa says he now expects a movement to drop the secretary of state's office, while the only remaining Democratic constitutional officer, Doug La Follette, fights to keep that post.

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Man accused of shooting at Milwaukee police arrested in Indiana

MILWAUKEE -- A suspected Milwaukee drug dealer accused of shooting at police officers has been arrested in Indianapolis.

Twenty-one-year-old Brian Clark is awaiting extradition to Wisconsin to face nine felony charges that include attempted homicide, arson, vehicle theft and making and delivering various illegal drugs.

Milwaukee Police tried arresting Clark Feb. 26 after undercover officers saw suspected drug buyers come and go from a parked car that was stolen. The auto drove away from officers during a chase, and police found it on fire about two hours later.

Zachary Bartosiak and Dyllan Mahoney, both in their mid-20s, face drug charges in the incident.

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Wisconsin lawmakers propose card skimmer crackdown

MADISON -- Two GOP legislators have introduced a bill that would criminalize using credit card skimmers to steal people's identities.

A credit card skimmer is an electronic device that can be attached to a card reader on a gas pump or ATM to secretly collect credit card information.

State Sen. Robert Cowles and Rep. Rob Summerfield introduced a bill Thursday that would make possessing a skimmer with intent to commit identity theft punishable by up to 42 months in prison. Possessing a skimmer with intent to give it to someone for identity theft and attempting to use a skimmer for identity theft would both be punishable by up to six years in prison. Gaining something of value through a skimmer would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.