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Rep. Knudson co-author of latest school voucher initiative; report says hospital care is improving; more state news

MADISON -- Republican state lawmakers will try again to let youngsters with special needs go to private schools using tax-funded vouchers.

Four Republicans were expected to introduce a new bill in both houses on Tuesday. Sponsors are Senators Leah Vukmir and Alberta Darling, and Representatives John Jagler and Dean Knudson.

Vouchers for disabled youngsters were originally proposed a year ago as part of the state budget. Sponsors said it would have given parents more chances to find the correct school environment for their kids. But the idea was scrapped after critics said disabled youngsters would get fewer legal protections in private schools, since they don't have to follow the same federal disability laws as public schools.

Last year's budget proposal would have let 5 percent of disabled Wisconsin students get tax funds for private schools. It was later rejected in favor of a larger but limited expansion of school-choice statewide.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the new bill most likely require that disabled students try to get proper placements in public schools outside their districts, before they can get private school vouchers.

Lisa Pugh of Disability Rights Wisconsin says the provision won't mean much. That's because public schools have limited seats for open enrollments, and even more limited resources for special-ed students.

WHA report: Collaboration is improving patient care

More than 100 Wisconsin hospitals are collaborating with each other to improve the quality of their care and it's resulted in big savings for them, and better care for patients.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association said the improved care is in the form of fewer re-admissions, as patients learn more about taking care of themselves after they go home -- and hospitals learn more about reducing bad reactions to medications.

Because of all that, an estimated 3,500 Wisconsin patients did not have to be re-admitted and that's saved hospitals about $34 million since the middle of 2012.

The Obama health reform law reduces Medicare reimbursements to hospitals with excessive re-admissions but the hospital group said it didn't take Obama-care to get them to pay attention to the problem.

Association president Steve Brenton says hospital-related infections have also been reduced and all the improvements generate value for patients, employers, and health insurers.

College leader uses MLK Day to advocate for economic justice

MADISON -- The head of Madison's technical college laid out some challenges at the state's official observance of Martin Luther King Day.

Madison College President Jack Daniels told a State Capitol audience Monday that economic justice for the poor needs to become a reality -- just as Doctor King envisioned in 1968 when he organized the Poor Peoples' Campaign.

Also, Daniels said the racial achievement gap in Madison's schools is "unacceptable." He noted that half of Madison's black students do not graduate high school on time -- and many African-American adults never achieve degrees or marketable skills.

Gov. Scott Walker sang along to "We Shall Not Be Moved" during the Capitol ceremony. Protesters again turned their backs on Walker while he was reading the state's proclamation for King Day. They held up signs reading "MLK Junior would have expanded Medicaid" and "Still a Liar."

Trial begins for former Ellsworth music teacher- turned physician

SUPERIOR -- A doctor from Eau Claire is scheduled to go on trial Tuesday for allegedly touching 15 young male patients inappropriately.

The trial of 61-year-old David Van de Loo was moved to Superior after heavy pre-trial publicity in the Eau Claire area about 150 miles away.

Barring a last-second surprise like a plea deal, the trial is expected to run for three weeks in front of a Douglas County jury. The case first came to light in August of 2012, after Van de Loo gave a sports-related physical to a 16-year-old boy and he allegedly tried inducing an erection in the youngster three times during the exam.

Van de Loo was fired in September of 2012 from Eau Claire's Mayo Health System, where he practiced in sports medicine and pediatrics. Criminal charges started coming down a month later, and other counts were added later as more alleged victims came forward.

Van de Loo is charged with 17 felony counts of first-and-second-degree sexual assault, child sex assault, and assaults by a medical employee. He also faces 26 civil suits alleging malpractice by sexual abuse.

Van de Loo once taught music in the Ellsworth School District before leaving that profession to attend medical school.

Stubborn cold expected to last all week

Wisconsin went back in the deep freeze Tuesday morning and another brutal cold snap is expected for most of the week.

Hayward was reporting 24-below at 6 a.m. with Ladysmith reporting minus-22 with a 35-below windchill.

The temperature in Marshfield plunged 12-degrees in six hours, to 16-below at 6 a.m. The only above-zero temperatures in Wisconsin were in the Milwaukee region where Racine was reporting two above zero.

The National Weather Service has issued wind-chill advisories until late Tuesday morning for eastern Wisconsin, and until noon for the western part of the state.

A lake-effect snow watch has been issued for Bayfield, Ashland, and Iron counties along Lake Superior. Forecasters say up to a foot of new snow is possible from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning. Lesser amounts are expected statewide Wednesday night, with blowing snow possible.

Meanwhile, it's unlikely to grow much warmer. Highs in the single digits are predicted at least through Thursday with lows near -10 Tuesday night.

Utility firm's parent selling UP division

CHICAGO, Ill. -- The parent company of a northeast Wisconsin utility is selling its electric service in Upper Michigan.

The Integrys Energy Group of Chicago said Monday it will sell the Upper Peninsula Power Company to the equity firm of Balfour Beatty Infra-structure Partners for nearly $299 million.

State and federal regulators must still approve the deal.

Integrys CEO Charles Schrock says it will provide more money to cover power plants and infra-structure for its other utilities -- including Wisconsin Public Service of Green Bay.

Integrys is upgrading pollution control equipment at the Public Service coal-fired plants near Wausau.

Also, the state recently approved the company's plans to upgrade power line equipment in parts of northern Wisconsin. Media reports says Integrys was not planning to sell the UP utility until it was approved by Balfour Beatty a year ago.

The utility has 52,000 customers and 120 employees in Upper Michigan.

Veteran Assemblyman, former sheriff's deputy won't re-run

One of the state Legislature's top law enforcement advocates is calling it quits.

Assembly Republican Garey Bies of Sister Bay told the Associated Press he will not run for re-election this fall. He said 14 years in Madison is enough.

Bies is a former chief sheriff's deputy in Door County, and he currently heads the Assembly corrections' panel. He has proposed a number of measures to help law enforcement over the years but he rankled some police officials last year when he proposed having outside agencies and a state review board investigate all deaths of suspects by officers.

Byes said he saw departments clear their own people in a number of high-profile cases, and it raised public credibility questions.

One official called the proposed state review board an unnecessary bureaucracy, and the bill remains pending in the Assembly.

Also, Bies was one of just two Republicans to vote no last fall, when the Assembly voted to raise the speed limit on rural interstates from 65 to 70 mph. The measure is expected to die in the Senate.

Bies owns the Carroll House restaurant in Sister Bay. He says he'll keep operating the business after he leaves the Legislature.

Element strontium found in NE Wisconsin drinking water

Drinking water in northeast Wisconsin has been found to contain excessive amounts of a chemical that can cause a childhood bone disease. U-W Green Bay performs ongoing groundwater studies to test for natural, non-radioactive strontium. The most recent study found unhealthy amounts of strontium in 73 of 115 samples taken from well water -- mostly in Brown and Outagamie counties.

The UW Madison Water Resources Institute released the report. Previous tests have shown a presence of the chemical in much of eastern Wisconsin. Green Bay scientist John Luczaj said families with young children who use their own deep water wells should have them tested at least once for strontium. It's a material that naturally dissolves from bedrock, and it's not the radioactive chemical of the same name that's a by-product of nuclear weapons' tests.

State health officials say infants and young children who take too much of the natural strontium can get rickets -- a disease that shortens and thickens their bones, and can result in deformities like knock-knee.

Excessive strontium can also cause damage tooth enamel. Water softeners and reverse osmosis filters can remove much of the dissolved chemical.

Strontium is a chemical element with symbol Sr and atomic number 38. An alkaline earth metal, strontium is a soft silver-white or yellowish metallic element that is highly reactive chemically. The metal turns yellow when it is exposed to air.

Two found dead in Kenosha home

KENOSHA -- Kenosha Police were awaiting autopsy results Monday on two people found dead in a home during the weekend.

Officials said the bodies of a 55-year-old woman and a 31-year-old man were discovered at the house on Saturday.

Neighbors said the victims were a mother and her adult son. No other details were immediately released.

Rail line reopens following coal train derailment

CALADONIA -- A rail line used only by freight trains is open again in Racine County, after part of a coal train derailed on Sunday in Caledonia.

The Union Pacific Railroad says it could take up to two weeks to clean everything up.

Nineteen cars of a 135-car coal train jumped the tracks. The mangled cars are still there -- and the railroad says the coal that spilled is being sold to scrap dealers, smelters, and others.

An investigation continues, but state railroad officials say the train hit cracks that may have been caused by this month's extremely cold weather.

About 500-feet of rail tracks were repaired just before they re-opened Monday morning. Part of Five Mile Road at the derailment site was still closed Monday from Wyoming to a power plant in Sheboygan when the mishap occurred.

No hazardous materials were spilled, and nobody was hurt.