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Wisconsin roundup: State unemployment lowest since 2000; Ohio dairy files suit against Wisconsin's butter grading law; and 10 more state news stories

MADISON -- Wisconsin's unemployment rate has dropped to 3.4 percent, the lowest in 17 years. The seasonally adjusted rate for March dropped by 3 tenths-of-one-percent from February.

A survey of almost 1,000 households estimates that total employment for the month grew by 16,000 -- but the federal government's limited survey of employers only showed an increase of 500 private sector jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis.

During the past couple years, Walker has used the unemployment rate to brag about the state's job growth, as federal figures show that Wisconsin continues to lag behind other states in the percentage of year-to-year growth in private sector jobs.

Wisconsin's unemployment is more than 1 percent below the national jobless rate, and the Republican Walker says its shows that the state's doing "positive things" but more needs to be done.

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Ohio dairy files suit against Wisconsin's butter grading law

MADISON -- An Ohio butter maker is challenging Wisconsin's 1953 law that requires all butter sold in the state to be inspected and graded by approved inspectors.

Minerva Dairy has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Madison, claiming the law is unconstitutional because it tries to protect Wisconsin's larger dairies.

Minerva says most butter sold in the U.S. is ungraded, and Wisconsin just recently began enforcing its long running ban on such products.

The Wisconsin Ag Connection says a creamery in Sheboygan found a loophole in the law not long ago, by unpacking imported butter and having certified inspectors check out the product before selling it.

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Great Lakes states reaffirm approval of Waukesha lake water

WAUKESHA -- Wisconsin and seven other states along the Great Lakes have reaffirmed their approval of letting Waukesha use Lake Michigan for its drinking water.

A group of mayors in Great Lakes cities appealed the diversion approval last August, but an attorney for the city of Waukesha says representatives of all eight states reiterated their approvals on Thursday.

Waukesha is just outside Lake Michigan's natural basin, so the city needed the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces to approve their use of lake water as part of the 2008 Great Lakes water protection agreement.

Waukesha had tried for years to hook up to Lake Michigan because its own water wells were drying up. That resulted in higher radium levels, which the state DNR ordered to be removed by 2018.

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Woman charged in fatal OWI crash

GREEN BAY -- A 20-year-old Green Bay woman has been charged for a traffic crash that killed one of her passengers and injured another.

A $25,000 bond was ordered Thursday for Savannah Dumas, who's charged with causing homicide and injury by drunk driving -- and she's due back in Brown County Circuit Court next Tuesday.

Prosecutors say Dumas, who's five months younger than the legal drinking age of 21, admitted drinking in a tavern before causing the fatal crash late Wednesday night in Suamico, north of Green Bay.

Officials say her vehicle lost control on a curve, went into a ditch, and overturned -- and Dumas' blood alcohol level was .123, about 1.5 times the legal limit.

Twenty-one-year-old Meghan Frehse of Green Bay died, and a 23-year-old female passenger had non life threatening injuries.

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Walker opposes cutting state aid for schools that pass referendums

BLANCHARDVILLE -- Gov. Scott Walker says he is against cutting state school aid to districts where voters agree to raise their local taxes to keep programs running.

It's part of a package from Senate Republican Duey Strobel of Saukville to limit school building and operating referendums -- and it would cut a district's state aid equal to 20 percent of what it raises in an operating referendum.

At an school appearance in Blanchardville Thursday, the Republican Walker told WKOW TV he hoped schools would not feel the need for as many referendums as a result of his state budget plan to increase school aid by $650 million in the next two years. He says he opposes penalizing schools for having such votes. But he does support a bill to limit school referendums to general election days each spring and fall.

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Pocan: Democrats need to get back to pocketbook issues

MADISON -- Congressman Mark Pocan says his party needs to get back to telling voters how they'd help put more money into workers' pockets.

The Madison area Democrat says the economic message was missing from last year's presidential campaign -- and Pocan says Democrats failed to stress what people are talking about at their "kitchen tables."

Pocan and three other House Democrats met Thursday with experts from UW-Madison on labor and wage issues the lawmakers want to address in a package of bills on Capitol Hill.

Pocan says one of the problems is that up to 70 million U.S. workers are now "independent contractors" who get little or no fringe benefits. He called it a "changing structure" that's resulting in a "great separation" in the workforce.

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State milk production back on the rise

MADISON-- Wisconsin milk production is back on the rise, after a 33-month streak of growth ended in February.

The USDA says Wisconsin made 1.5 percent more milk in March than it did in the same month last year, with almost 2.6 billion pounds.

The state continued to have the same number of dairy cows at almost 1.3 million, despite a reduction in total herds. Each cow made an average of 2,030 pounds of milk, 30 more pounds than in March of 2016. But Wisconsin's milk production increase was still three-tenths of 1 percent smaller than the 1.8 percent jump in the nation's 23 major dairy states.

In February, Wisconsin recorded a 2.1 percent drop because the month had one fewer day than the previous February which was in a Leap Year.

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Testimony ends in trial for murders of girlfriend, daughter

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee County jury could decide Friday whether a man is guilty of brutally killing his girlfriend and their young daughter.

Thirty-three-year-old Patrick Fowler testified Thursday that he was hiding scared in a bathroom, while someone else killed 28-year-old Jessica Ellenberger and their 4-year-old daughter Madyson 13 months ago at their home on Milwaukee's north side.

Fowler was later arrested in Arkansas, where police say he confessed to stabbing Ellenberger for jilting him -- and he killed his screaming daughter with up to two slashes. Officials say he then burned the crime scene to hide the evidence, and stole the victims' Easter candy on his way out the door.

Jurors will hear closing arguments Friday morning before they start deliberating.

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State justices can stay on cases involving their donors

MADISON -- Wisconsin court judges at all levels will not have to withdraw from cases which involve their campaign donors.

The State Supreme Court voted 5-2 Thursday to keep a 2010 rule in place which says that campaign gifts are not enough to force judges to withdraw from cases which involve the people who helped elect those judges.

The court's five conservatives all kept the rule in place, while the two liberal judges said it should be tossed out. Justice Annette Ziegler says mandatory withdrawals would interfere with the donors' freedom of speech, but Justice Shirley Abrahamson said the tighter restrictions were needed to assure the public that judges act impartially.

In January, 54 retired judges asked the Supreme Court to require judicial recusals when at least one of the parties is a judge's donor.

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State Assembly panel endorses stronger penalties for carjacking

MADISON -- Carjackers in Wisconsin would get tougher penalties as the result of two bills endorsed Thursday by the state Assembly's criminal justice committee.

The panel voted 9-3 to create a specific felony for carjacking, with fines of $50,000 and as many as 15 years in prison. Penalties for repeated car thefts would rise to $25,000 in fines or up to 12.5 years in prison.

Supporters cite the recent killing of Milwaukee city home inspector Ziggy Zyskiewicz during a carjacking attempt. But former public defender Evan Goyke, an Assembly Democrat from Milwaukee, says more police are needed to catch the criminals, and the proposed bills don't provide for the needed additional officers.

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Appleton approves backyard chickens

APPLETON -- The Appleton Common Council voted to approve a backyard chicken ordinance Wednesday on an 8-6 vote.

It allows residents to apply for a permit to keep backyard chickens. Television station WBAY reports that a permit allows people to raise up to four hens, but no roosters.

The ordinance originally passed in March, but one of the common council members was not present for that vote. That triggered another vote Wednesday night.

Residents will have to pay a one-time, non-refundable $145 pre-inspection fee. The annual fee to renew the permit has been reduced from $59 to $24. The coop must have at least 3 square feet per chicken. The chicken run can be no larger than 24 square feet.

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Milwaukee downtown business group looking for alternative location for strip club

MILWAUKEE -- A strip club might not get the downtown location it wants and it might not get any downtown location.  

The Milwaukee Downtown Business Improvement District is scouting locations for a strip club now that plans for its original location are on hold.  

The club's owners were hoping to open on Old World Third Street, but a Common Council committee voted this week to put a hold on approving the location.  

An official with the downtown business group tells the "MIlwaukee Journal Sentinel" not all of the locations they're looking at are downtown.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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