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UPDATE: Propane 'crisis' prompts $14 million more to fuel assistance; Polk records heaviest snowfall; 9 more state stories

Low-income Wisconsinites who use propane to heat their homes will get an extra $14 million under the federal fuel assistance program.

U.S. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin announced the allocation Thursday as state residents continue to struggle with a propane shortage that has raised prices beyond $5 per gallon.

Gov. Scott Walker made a similar request to President Obama this week, and he reinforced the urgency of the matter when Obama flew into Milwaukee Thursday for a speech in Waukesha.

Baldwin said rural homeowners are facing "crisis conditions." U.S. propane supplies fell to their lowest levels on record during the second week in January -- a week after Wisconsin suffered the first of two massive cold waves that dropped wind-chills down to 55-below.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says his agency is looking for ways to mitigate the propane shortages. He noted that farmers used a lot more fuel than normal last week to dry their crops before they could be harvested.

Moniz did not cite higher U.S. exports of propane. Those exports have doubled in the past two years, rising to 410,000 barrels a day as of last November.

Wisconsinites may call (866) 432-8947 or visit to find out where to buy propane or apply for financial heating aid.

Another Wisconsin site also offers heating assistance at

WDNR asking public to report dead deer

MADISON -- The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is asking people to report any dead deer they find in coming weeks.

The cold and snowy winter is expected to take its toll on the deer herd, just like it did a year ago when winter conditions dragged into May. It resulted in lower deer populations, and hunters were given their fewest permits for antlerless deer since the 1990's.

Now, the DNR is hoping people will report dead animals, so they can get better estimate of the deer population. They'll use those numbers to determine hunter permits for does this fall. The DNR says it anticipates either no antlerless permits or extremely-limited permits in northern Wisconsin where doe populations have been small for some time.

Committee may vote on extending blue-collar work week

MADISON -- A committee vote might come within two weeks on a controversial bill to let Wisconsin retail and factory employees work seven days a week if they choose.

A public hearing on the measure was held Thursday, which would drop the mandatory requirement that stores and factories give all workers at least 24 hours off each week.

Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend said it would have to be voluntary on the workers' part -- and it would give them extra money while boosting production for their companies.

Senate Democrat Fred Risser of Madison said it looks nice on paper but in the real world, it would let employers intimidate their people into working longer.

Unions pointed out that employers can already get state waivers so their people can work seven days if they want.

The state received almost 170 such waiver requests last year -- and they were all approved.

Grothman chairs the Senate's labor committee, which held Thursday's hearing -- and he promises to have his panel vote on the bill next month.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has not said if his house would take it up.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he'll wait for the committee vote, and then discuss it with his fellow Republicans before any possible action.

Polk, Pierce get state's heaviest snow Thursday

Most of Wisconsin got a fresh coating of snow Thursday, as temperatures warmed up to near the freezing mark.

East Farmington in Polk County had the most, with 7.5 inches while a weather-watcher in Prescott recorded 6.7 inches. River Falls recorded about six inches, wrapping up about noon.

The northern half of the state generally picked up 3 to 6 inches. Rhinelander set a new record for the date with 5.1 inches.

Many folks will soon wonder where they're going to put all the snow.

Winchester in Vilas County reports a very high average snow cover of 37 inches.

Following the storm system, skies cleared and arctic air swept in. It was 21-below in Hayward at 6 a.m. Much of northern Wisconsin was at least in the minus-teens with River Falls recording -16 at 6 a.m.

It was generally above zero in the south, including Madison and Milwaukee.

The National Weather Service says a high-pressure system will bring sunny skies Friday with temperatures in the single-digits above. Another storm system is due in Saturday. Southern Wisconsin could get several inches of snow, with lesser amounts in the north.

Former congressman was finalist for UW leadership post

MADISON -- Former congressman and governor's candidate Mark Green almost became a finalist for the next University of Wisconsin System president.

Records released Thursday showed that Green was among the top-five candidates but he did not get enough votes from a search committee as one of the three finalists.

The UW Board of Regents eventually chose an internal candidate, Extension & Colleges chancellor Ray Cross, to replace the departed Kevin Reilly.

Cross will take over next month. Former Extension & Colleges chancellor David Wilson also made the top-five for the president's post. He ended up withdrawing.

Green served eight years in the U.S. House as a Republican from Green Bay, before he ran and lost for governor in 2006.

After that, he served 17 months as the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania and he directed a non-profit group that fights malaria.

In 2010, Green was named to the board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a foreign aid group that seeks to end worldwide poverty.

Appeals court rejects motion to end John Doe probe linked to Walker

MADISON -- A secret John Doe investigation will continue into alleged campaign finance law violations in the Wisconsin recall elections of 2011 and '12.

The state appeals court in Madison unanimously decided Thursday to throw out an effort to halt the probe. This comes three weeks after the judge in the case, Gregory Peterson, quashed subpoenas in which prosecutors were seeking evidence from conservative groups.

Previous media reports said the John Doe was zeroing in on alleged illegal coordination between outside conservative groups and the campaigns of GOP recall candidates -- including Gov. Scott Walker.

Dean Strang, the attorney for a group of unnamed petitioners who've been trying to halt the John Doe, says he might appeal Thursday's ruling to the State Supreme Court. Numerous documents in the case were unsealed Thursday, showing that the probe centers on five individual targets -- most of whom are from the counties that surround Madison.

Also, it was revealed that Republican state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen turned down a request to be the chief prosecutor.

He thought about it for five months before deciding it would not make him look impartial, and possibly undermining public confidence in the investigation as a whole.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, was asked to lead the probe at the start of last year. He arranged for former federal prosecutor Francis Schmitz to take the lead role.

Defense opens in Van de Loo abuse trial

SUPERIOR -- The defense was to start making its case Friday in the trial of a former Eau Claire pediatrician accused of having sexual contact with 15 of his patients.

The state rested its case Thursday after 10 days of testimony in David Van de Loo's trial.

The 61-year-old Van de Loo is charged with 16 sex-related felony counts involving his former male patients at the Mayo Health System in Eau Claire.

Prosecutors said he inappropriately touched the boys during their medical exams. It's not known yet whether Van de Loo will testify in his own defense. The trial was moved from Eau Claire to Superior, where a Douglas County jury is hearing the case due to heavy pre-trial publicity in western Wisconsin.

The trial is expected to wrap up ometime next week.

Van de Loo taught music in the Ellsworth School District before he pursued medical school and became a physician.

Sheboygan police expected to detail man's slaying

SHEBOYGAN -- Authorities in Sheboygan expect to release more details Friday about the murder of a man, allegedly by a 17-year-old relative.

The boy was arrested on suspicion of homicide.

Police said a woman called 9-1-1 Thursday and was concerned about the whereabouts of her ex-husband.

Officers then visited the man's home, and found his body along with the teenager.

Sheboygan Police Captain Jim Veeser said the attack was not random. He did not disclose the boy's relationship to the victim, who appeared to be assaulted.

Wausau area couple who shunned treatment for daughter, heading to jail

WAUSAU -- A Wausau area couple convicted over four years ago for praying instead of getting medical help for their dying daughter must finally go to jail.

Marathon County Circuit Judge Greg Huber said no Thursday to throwing out six-month jail terms for Dale and Leilani Neumann -- sentences that were on hold while the couple tried and failed to win appeals of their 2009 convictions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Huber said the two must go to jail in September, and serve one month a year for six years during their 10-year probation terms. Appearing by phone, Leilani Neumann said the massive publicity about the case degraded her but the judge said the seriousness of the crimes required at least some incarceration.

The Neumanns were convicted of reckless homicide in a pair of nationally watched religious freedom cases.

Their 11-year-old daughter Kara died from complications of diabetes and her parents tried prayer healing instead of going to doctors who said they could have treated her.

OSHA levies steep fine against LaX foundry

LA CROSSE -- A federal agency is recommending $47,000 in fines against a foundry in La Crosse where a worker was killed last July.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has cited Torrance Casting for 10 safety violations.

Forty-year-old Eric Lecher died last July 29th when he was repairing a liner on the inside of a cold furnace, and he fell into the unit head-first.

Police said Lecher might have been trapped for 90 minutes before a co-worker found him. The furnace was off at the time.

On Thursday, OSHA announced nine serious rule violations. Four were for letting an employee enter a confined space not designed to be occupied continuously.

Torrance Casting said none of the concerns listed by the government would have prevented the accident.

The firm has 15 days to pay the fine, challenge the citations, or seek a settlement.

UW-Milwaukee grad is finalist for top Microsoft job

The next CEO of Microsoft could be a U-W Milwaukee graduate.

Various media reports say Satya Nadella is one of the top contenders to replace Steve Ballmer -- who's expected to retire later this year.

Nadella earned a master's degree in computer science from UW-M in 1990, and he received the Chancellor's Innovator Award from the Milwaukee school in 2013.

He's currently the executive vice president of Microsoft's cloud and enterprise division. It's in charge of Microsoft computing platforms, cloud services, and developers' tools.

The tech site first reported Thursday that Nedella is a possible candidate as the new Microsoft CEO.

Bloomberg News and Reuters confirmed it later. Nadella is originally from Hyderabad India.

The new CEO would be only the third in Microsoft's 38-year history, joining Ballmer and Bill Gates.

Steve Dzubay

Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer from 1995-2016. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.