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Permit OK'd to boost volume through crude oil pipeline; Walker steers clear of same-sex marriage issue; more state news

State officials have approved an air emission permit that will let a pipeline carry three times the amount of crude oil that it does now across Wisconsin.

Thursday's approval by the DNR paves the way for Enbridge Energy to boost the flow of its current line to 1.2 million barrels of oil per day from Superior to the Chicago area.

Environmental groups condemned the permit approval, saying the DNR should have done a complete analysis of the line to determine the possibility of oil spills.

The DNR examined that risk at the Enbridge terminal in Superior -- but officials said they did not have to re-check the rest of the line, because they already did that several years ago when it was first put in. Environmental groups said the DNR should have considered Enbridge Energy's past record of spills but in this case, officials said the law would not have allowed it.

Elizabeth Ward of the Sierra Club said the state ignored thousands of comments favoring a full environmental impact statement on the increased oil flow, even though the pipeline itself is not expanding.

DNR air regulator Kristin Hart said her agency read all the comments, and decided there was no need for a full review.

The agency received 200 letters and 3,400 hundred e-mails on the project.

Walker steers clear of same-sex marriage issue

OAK CREEK -- In the midst of a tough re-election battle, Gov. Scott Walker is shying away from the hot-button issue of gay marriage.

During a news conference in Oak Creek Thursday, the Republican Walker said it doesn't matter what he thinks about the subject anymore -- even though he staunchly opposed same-sex unions a number of times in the past.

Walker did say he supports Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's efforts to uphold the 2006 state constitutional ban on gay marriage, after Federal Judge Barbara Crabb struck it down a week ago.

The governor voted for that ban, and has strongly supported it in the past.

Walker did not say whether he agrees with Van Hollen's reminder to county clerks Thursday, that they could be prosecuted for issuing same-sex marriage licenses in the aftermath of Judge Crabb's ruling. The judge did not tell counties what to do in the wake of her decision and she's expected to take up that matter at a hearing this afternoon.

Walker said the attorney general is right to try and preserve the gay marriage ban, after 59 percent of Wisconsinites voted for it eight years ago. The political winds have shifted since then, however. A recent Marquette poll showed that 55 percent of registered voters would allow same-sex marriages while 37 percent oppose them.

Judge Crabb orders tribe to pull video games

MADISON -- The Ho-Chunk Indian tribe has been ordered to remove video poker games from its casino in Madison.

Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled Thursday that the games do not meet the terms of the facility's gaming compact with the state.

The Madison casino has a lower legal classification of games than other Indian casinos throughout Wisconsin. The tribe contended that the Poker-Pro video game was legal, because players bet against each other instead of the house.

The state Justice Department said the game was too high of classification to be offered at Madison, and it filed suit to have it removed. Judge Crabb ordered the games to be shut down within 30 days after any possible appeals are completed.

Bird flu research involves creation of dangerous virus

MADISON -- An international research team led by a UW Madison scientist has created a pair of significant viruses in the lab, as part of its research into a possible Asian bird flu pandemic.

An article about Yoshihiro Kawaoka's work was published this week in the Cell Host and Microbe journal. He said it indicates that there are natural gene pools which have the potential to cause a severe bird flu pandemic in the future.

According to the article, a life-threatening virus was created in a Madison lab that's nearly identical to the 1918 Spanish flu virus that killed 50 million people throughout the world.

In general, the viruses were more deadly in ferrets and mice than the prevailing bird flu virus that has popped up overseas in recent years -- and it was not as deadly in those creatures as the Spanish flu virus from almost a century ago.

The research has been highly controversial, amid concerns about research accidents -- or the chance that terrorists could get hold of the lab viruses.

Kind, Pocan want wider probe in VA care delays

Two Wisconsin House Democrats want the president to form a commission to investigate health care service delays by the Veterans Administration. Ron Kind of La Crosse and Mark Pocan of Madison are among 14 House members calling for a probe into reports of long waits and manipulated data, among other things.

Kind said the government failed to prepare for a large increase in veterans needing both mental and physical care -- 2 million alone from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Kind says the veterans he has spoken with are generally happy with the care they get from the V.A but they do want it faster.

An audit released this week shows that 525 veterans had to wait three months or longer to get initial appointments at Wisconsin's V.A. hospitals -- and the longest waits are generally for specialists.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Senate Republican Ron Johnson says he'll keep working to fix what he calls a broken system.

Democrats have slammed Johnson for being one of just three senators to reject a 35 billion dollar emergency spending hike this for veterans' care. Johnson said the package was too hastily put together, with a lack of fiscal checks and balances.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Less convicts are re-offending in Wisconsin

MADISON -- The percentage of Wisconsin prisoners who commit new crimes after they get out has gone down in recent years. That's according to a new study by the Council of State Governments and the National Re-entry Resource Center.

Just over 56 percent of Wisconsin prisoners released in 2007 were back in prison within three years for new offenses. The recidivism rate dropped by about five percent to 51, for prisoners released in 2010.

Tony Streveler of the state Corrections Department says there are a few reasons for the decline in repeat criminals. They include an increase in work initiative programs, treatment alternatives, diversion programs, better risk assessments, and extra community-based resources.

Streveler says it all adds up to fewer crime victims at the hands of repeat criminals, and he's happy that Wisconsin is being recognized for its efforts.

Jury decision expected in man accused of killing little boy

Jury deliberations were to continue Friday in the trial of a central Wisconsin man accused of causing the death of his girlfriend's toddler.

After eight days of testimony and arguments, the case of 28-year-old Reymundo Perez of Bancroft went to the jury around 2 p.m.

Two-year-old Felix Espinosa-Villa died in October of 2011, two days after he was injured. Authorities said Perez was baby-sitting while the boy's mother was at work -- and he allegedly threw Felix to the ground because he wouldn't stop crying.

In his closing argument, defense lawyer Gary Schmaus said the fatal injuries were actually caused by the boy's mother, who had been charged with child abuse.

Prosecutor Veronica Isherwood called the claim smoke and mirrors. She pointed to medical testimony which indicated the injuries occurred while Perez was caring for the youngster.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Backyard playhouse is Make-A-Wish' 5,000th gift

An 11-year-old suburban Milwaukee girl has become the 5,000th youngster to get a wish granted by Wisconsin's Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Hailee Hedstrom of Greendale and seven friends were taken in a stretch limo Thursday from school to Hailee's house where a purple backyard clubhouse was unveiled.

The eight-by-eight-foot structure was complete with bunk beds, flower boxes, a porch -- everything needed for a sleep-over she plans to have soon. Hailee said she expected something awesome, but the outcome was even better.

Wisconsin's Make-a-Wish Foundation turned 30 last year. It grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Over the years, about half the youngsters achieved their dreams of going to Walt Disney World or Disneyland.

Others have gone on shopping sprees and met celebrities. The Packers have always been in great demand over the years -- especially quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre.

Darlington woman installed as newest FFA president; Amery teen also in leadership role

MADISON -- Alison Wedig of Darlington is the new president of the Wisconsin FFA.

She was installed Thursday, as the agricultural education group wrapped up its 85th state convention in Madison.

Also, the Waupaca FFA was again named Wisconsin's top overall chapter, after receiving the same honor a year ago.

Wedig attends U-W Madison, majoring in ag business management. She was the state FFA's vice president during the past year. Wedig will head a leadership team that includes Ethan Dado of Amery, Maggie Larson of Osseo-Fairchild, Matt Kortbein of Tomah, Danielle Jentz of Platteville, Kaitlyn Owens of Wisconsin Heights, Sally Albers of Sauk-Prairie, Leeah Luepke of Spencer, Hallie Kopczynski of Oconto Falls, Kelly Wilfert of Mishicot, and Kati Kindshuh of Lomira.