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Bills passed to help curb heroin abuse, boost some state workers' pay; 10-inch snow raises highway havoc; more state news

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Assembly has unanimously approved four bills aimed at curbing the growth in heroin abuse and overdoses.

The package was sent to the Senate Tuesday.

Assembly Republican John Nygren of Marinette proposed the measures last year, as part of Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's campaign to curb heroin trafficking and overdose deaths. Nygren's teenage daughter almost died from the drug.

Other lawmakers told stories about young heroin abusers in their own districts, and growing concerns by local law enforcement.

Westby Republican Lee Nerison said "We can't give up on our kids, no matter how bad the case is."

Nygren's four bills would allow trained emergency responders to administer Narcan to ward off overdoses, grant limited immunity for those who report overdoses cases to rescuers, expand community drug disposal programs and require those buying prescription narcotics to provide identification.

Nygren calls the package a good first start, and he promises other legislation in the future.

Also yesterday, both houses approved new one-year contracts for five smaller state employee unions that cover about 2,400 d workers. If Gov. Scott Walker signs the deals, the workers will get one percent raises retroactive to July 1st.

Lawmakers OK more eligibility changes for Badger-Care

MADISON -- More changes will soon be made on who's eligible for Badger-Care.

Both houses of the state Legislature approved the changes Tuesday, after a recent settlement between the governor's office and the federal Medicaid agency.

Wisconsin adults who make more than poverty-level wages could still get Badger-Care through March 31st, if they sign up by the end of January.

Starting Feb. 1st, only those making poverty wages or less can apply for the Medicaid-funded Badger-Care. Those above the poverty line who apply after Feb. 1st would have to sign up for Obama-care -- just like 77,000 other current Badger-Care recipients above the poverty line who will lose their coverage at the end of March.

That cut-off was originally planned for the end of December -- but because of problems with the Obama-care Web site, it was delayed for three months. There was also a three-month delay to start Badger-Care for 83,000 impoverished people but that's being moved up two months under the new settlement.

The Assembly approved the deal on a voice vote. The Senate okayed it 21-to-11, with all Republicans voting yes along with Democrats Tim Carpenter, Mark Miller, and Tim Cullen.

Meanwhile, a public hearing was set for Wednesday on three bills aimed at keeping a close watch on Wisconsin's Common Core educational standards.

The Assembly Education Committee will take testimony at the State Capitol. One bill would require periodic reviews of the standards for math and English that were adopted in 2010, plus new standards for other subjects.

A second bill would prohibit schools from collecting bio-metric data from students that include finger-prints and retinal scans. The other bill seeks to ensure student privacy.

GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says the full Assembly could vote on the measures next month. However, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald recently said that any Common Core bill would have a hard time passing in his chamber.

Heavier than expected snowfall blamed for deaths, crashes

Up to 10 inches of snow falls in central Wisconsin, causing a 20-vehicle Interstate pileup and three possible traffic deaths in Oneida County.

Three people were killed about 1:15 p.m. Tuesday when a car and a propane truck collided in Oneida County on Highway 51 in the town of Cassian.

Sheriff's officials said the snow was probably a factor, but they're still investigating.

In Marathon County, blowing snow was blamed for a chain-reaction crash involving about 20-vehicles on Interstate 39 near Knowlton, north of Stevens Point.

Three people were taken to hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. Northbound I-39 has since re-opened.

Ten semi-rigs were involved in a series of collisions that closed a portion of I-94 south of Eau Claire for at time late Tuesday morning.

The middle-third of Wisconsin got the brunt of Tuesday's snowstorm, as places that were expecting two inches had a lot more. Stevens Point received the most with 10 inches. Friendship, Eau Claire, and Mosinee picked up around nine inches. Wausau and Neillsville had around eight, and Green Bay seven and a half.

A quick check of TV station Web sites showed only three school districts are closed for the day, all in Door County. The Southern Door, Gibraltar, and Sevastopol schools are shut down in a region which had some of the strongest winds and drifting in the state. Sheboygan had the biggest gusts yesterday, at 55 miles an hour.

Schools normally budget two to three snow days, so they can hold their required 180 days of instruction without having to add class-time in June. However, some districts used up their allotments after virtually all Wisconsin schools were shut down last Monday and Tuesday.

Three years post-bankruptcy, archdiocese still has no reorganizational plan

MILWAUKEE -- It was three years ago this month when the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The church is still trying to determine how to reorganize its finances, so it can carry out its religious mission while paying millions of dollars to victims of sex abuse by former priests.

Some 575 abuse victims have filed damage claims. The 10-county archdiocese is still preparing a re-organization plan, and officials have not said when it will be filed in bankruptcy court.

Church spokesman Jerry Topczewski says it would let ministry activities continue while creating a "lifetime therapy fund" for abuse victims. All sides have spent around $11 million in legal fees in what the Journal Sentinel calls one of the most contentious among nine Catholic bankruptcy cases in the country.

The Milwaukee Archdiocese and its creditors have battled in court over the sale of church to pay the abuse victims -- and which victims are eligible to be compensated.

Legal experts say those battles may continue for years. Pamela Foohey of the University of Illinois College of Law predicts "multiple objections on multiple bases."

Topczewski says "It's time for the archdiocese to return its focus to its ministry of charity, service, and education." He added that "outreach to abuse survivors will always be a part of that ministry."

Health care among discussion topics between Obama, Walker and five other govs

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Health care was among the topics discussed Tuesday, when President Obama met at the White House with six governors including Wisconsin's Scott Walker.

The Republican Walker said the governors expressed concerns about their ability to do what's best for their states under the Affordable Care Act.

Walker said Vice President Joe Biden also sat in on the meeting, which involved state leaders from both parties in the National Governors Association. Besides health care, Walker said they discussed transportation infra-structure and worker training.

The governors also mentioned that energy supplies are abundant both in the U.S. and in North America.

It's still not too late to get that flu shot

There's still time to protect yourself from the flu -- but it's up to you to get immunized.

That's what state officials are saying, after learning Tuesday that Wisconsin had the 47th lowest vaccination rate for adults ages 18- to 64.

According to the Trust for America's Health, less than a-third of Wisconsin adults under-65 had flu shots last winter -- and this winter, they're the most common age group to be hospitalized.

Health officials say flu vaccine remains available. It takes about two weeks to feel the full effect, but officials say you can still protect yourself from most symptoms -- and the flu season's not over yet.

As of last Thursday, almost 600 Wisconsin residents were hospitalized for the flu. The H1-N1 swine flu is the most prevalent this winter, just like it was in 2009 when it caused a pandemic in Wisconsin. About a quarter of the state's hospitalizations are in Milwaukee. There, young-and-middle age adults are being hospitalized at their highest rates since the '09 swine flu pandemic.

Psychiatrist inquiry blames poor care for the deaths of 4 at mental health complex

An independent doctor blames poor medical care for the deaths of four patients at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex in 2012.

Dr. William Knoedler also found problems with two other deaths but he said their treatment was "at least adequate."

Knoedler was retained last year by the group Disability Rights Wisconsin. He filed his report last June with Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and two state officials.

The report was never made public until the Journal Sentinel recently obtained a copy. The head of the Disability Rights office in Milwaukee, Barbara Beckert, said her group was "trying a different tack."

Knoedler tells the paper his recommendations were urgent, and he's disappointed that no significant changes have occurred at the facility.

Abele and the County Board have been at odds about what to do with the Mental Health Complex, after it was cited nine times since 2006 for putting patients in danger. State officials are now investigating the death of 48-year-old Andre Harvey, after he was restrained by police, security, and medical staffers at the complex.

New voting machines said to be more secure, reliable

You may find a new type of voting machine at the polls this year.

Wisconsin Public Radio reports that new machines will be used in Dane, Brown, La Crosse, and Jefferson counties and they're meant to be more secure and reliable.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell says the machines record images of the ballots, to serve as a record in case something happens to the originals.

The ballots are filed on a random basis, so they cannot be linked to specific voters. The machines also have screens which show whether a ballot was accepted or not.

McDonell says Wood and Portage counties have already been using the new machines.

Cambridge man dies after construction site fall

MADISON -- A man who fell to his death at a hotel construction site in Madison has been identified as 40-year-old Robert Lund of Cambridge.

The Dane County medical examiner's office said Lund died from his injuries in the accident, which occurred Monday afternoon at a renovation project for Madison's Edgewater Hotel. Officials have not said what happened. An initial 9-1-1 call said a worker fell about 20 feet. The lead contractor for the project, Findorff, is heading the investigation along with the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

The firm has not said what Lund's job was or what he was doing when he fell.

The 12-story Edgewater is scheduled to open in August, 2014. It will boast 189 guest rooms and suites, a ballroom overlooking Lake Mendota, 8,000 square feet of meeting and special event areas, restaurants and a spa.