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Crashes up in 70 mph zones, but why?; UWRF considers community solar; OWI, hit-and-run bills draw emotional testimony; six more Wisconsin news stories

MILWAUKEE – There have been more accidents on Wisconsin interstate highways that raised their speed limits in June from 65 mph to 70 mph.

However, officials say it's too early to tell if the increase is the main reason for 13 percent more crashes from June through September compared to a year ago.

State Patrol Capt. Steve Krueger of Wausau says accidents happen when the traffic is not going at the same speed. He says many freeways do not have minimum speeds -- and that's a problem when vehicles close in on each other too quickly.

Patrol Capt. Timothy Carnahan of Waukesha says many commercial trucks decided to stay at 65 mph for fuel economy and other reasons. He tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel it can cause problems in places with high traffic volumes.

Brent Oleson of the Badger State Sheriff's Association says cellphones are distracting more drivers, and an improved economy has more people on the roads. Construction has also been an issue, especially in Rock County where Interstate 39-90 is being expanded.

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UWRF looks to ‘walk the talk’ with community solar

RIVER FALLS – A new community solar program coming to town is drawing the interest of a neighboring University of Wisconsin campus.

The Community Solar Program, operated by the River Falls Municipal Utilities, will allow residents and businesses in the city to purchase subscriptions to solar panels in a community solar garden.

River Falls is the first city government in Wisconsin to have a community solar program, according to Mike Noreen, conservation and efficiency coordinator for River Falls Municipal Utilities. He said the program gives individuals and businesses an opportunity to invest in renewable energy that was not previously available and builds upon the city’s goal of developing a conservation ethic within the community.

“We are always promoting the city, the community as a clean energy alternative, kind of a green community,” Noreen said. “This is a good visual reminder that we’re clean and that we’re progressive and innovative.”

The solar garden is under construction at the Sterling Ponds Corporate Park off of Highway 35, north of downtown. A total of 807 solar panels will be installed. So far 60 subscriptions have been purchased since the program started in October, with more coming in daily, according to Noreen. A number of individuals and businesses also have committed to buying subscriptions.

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls is one of those commitments, with both the university and Student Senate discussing the possibilities of buying panels.

According to Mike Stifter, executive director of facilities planning and management at UWRF, the university is looking to purchase 15-25 panels in order to “walk the talk” when it comes to working to make the campus more sustainable.

(Courtesy of Natalie Howell/Falcon News Service)

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OWI, hit-and-run bills draw emotional testimony

MADISON – Wisconsin lawmakers heard emotional testimony in favor of revoking licenses for repeat drunk drivers and closing a loophole in the hit-and-run law.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee held hearings on both measures Thursday. Jeff Kennedy of Green Bay told why he favors a bill to stop requiring proof that hit-and-run drivers knew they hit a person, and to make drivers stop. Kennedy's son John was killed four years ago by a hit-and-run driver who thought he hit a garbage can, and had a 10-year prison sentence overturned.

In Kennedy's words, the driver "left our son to die in the street (and) they couldn't prove he was drunk at the time."

The other bill would make drivers lose their licenses for at least a decade if they have five or more OWI convictions, or three OWIs plus two related offenses like causing death by drunk driving.

Daniel Peterson of Racine lost his son in a crash with a repeat drunk driver last Father's Day. He says lawmakers have been talking about cracking down since at least 2013 -- and it shouldn't take three weeks to get something done, much less three years.

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 Hundreds rally in Madison to support Mizzou students

MADISON – Hundreds of UW-Madison students and others have shown their support for minority students at the University of Missouri.

University police say about 500 people heard a number of speakers at the U-W's Bascom Hill Thursday night -- and by the time they marched to the State Capitol, 600 may have been there.

Officials say the crowd was peaceful for an event spurred by protests of racism which resulted in Missouri's president and chancellor leaving this week. The Madison protest was among a number of Thursday demonstrations on campuses around the nation.

March organizer Kenneth Cole says many campuses have the same issues as Missouri's -- even if it's less conspicuous.

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Store clerk shoots robbery suspect

SUPERIOR – Police say a man who tried to rob a coin shop was shot and wounded by a store clerk, and a second suspect in the hold-up was arrested a couple hours later.

Superior police say the two men apparently had knives when they tried robbing Superior Coin and Currency late Thursday afternoon.

Officials say the clerk shot a 20-year-old suspect, causing injuries that were not life-threatening. He was taken to a hospital.

Police say an 18-year-old man ran off, but was captured around 7 p.m. Thursday. Officials did not release other information about the hold-up attempt or the store employee involved.

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State Capitol Christmas tree to hit the road

MADISON – The State Capitol Christmas tree will start its journey to Madison on Wednesday.

The Brad and Elizabeth Kowieski family of Rhinelander is providing the 40-foot balsam fir, to be chopped down Tuesday.

Dennis and Troy Schoeneck of Pelican Lake will start delivering it Wednesday morning. It will stay in a tarp outside the Capitol until crews move it into the rotunda the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, school children are making sports-themed ornaments for the Capitol tree. They can be submitted until Nov. 25 to Claire Franz of the Administration Department's Division of Facilities Management in Madison.

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Bill would strip federal protection for Wisconsin’s wolves

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The endangered status of Wisconsin grey wolves could be removed again under a new bill in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Sherwood) have joined two Wyoming lawmakers to try and let two federal agencies decide when wolves should be endangered.

Wisconsin is no longer managing its own wolf population, after a federal judge approved the U.S. Humane Society's request to bring back the endangered status a year ago.

Farmers could no longer shoot wolves that hurt and kill their livestock. The ruling also ended Wisconsin's 3-year-old wolf hunting season -- a major point of criticism in the Humane Society's lawsuit.

The bill would nullify such court decisions that apply to the Upper Midwest and Wyoming. With almost 900 wolves documented in Wisconsin this year, Johnson says there's hardly a need to have federal protections for a species that has proven to be recovered and healthy.

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SPORTS

Wisconsin to hoist Final Four banner at season opener

MADISON – For the second year in a row, the Wisconsin men's basketball team will raise a Final Four banner to start its regular season.

The Badgers open their new campaign Friday night by hosting Western Illinois.

They'll celebrate their national runner-up status from a season ago. And they'll get to work on solidifying three starters to join Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig.

All four of the state's Division I men's teams begin their seasons Friday evening. Marquette hosts Belmont as part of the Legends Classic. Belmont has made the NCAA Tournament seven times in the last 10 years. UW- Milwaukee will open with the first of three games in the Cable Car Classic in Santa Clara, California. The Panthers face Denver in their opener. And the Green Bay men will play at Stanford as part of the N-I-T Season Tip-Off.

In D-I women's basketball, Green Bay opens by hosting Marquette. Milwaukee has a home exhibition against Tiffin.

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 Packers look for spark on ‘D’

GREEN BAY – Much has been said about the Green Bay Packers' struggles on offense. But the Packer defense also looks to get sharper when they host Detroit on Sunday.

Green Bay did not record a sack in its last two road losses at Denver and Carolina. Two key cogs on the defensive line have also seen their total tackles drop.

Defensive end Mike Daniels averaged 4.5 tackles in his first four games, but only about half that many since Oct. 18 -- when the Packers had their last victory against San Diego. Nose tackle BJ Raji had 2.5 tackles in each of his first four games, but just 1 2/3 in last three outings.

Green Bay faced a ramped-up pass protection unit against the Panthers. Raji says a big thing is to keep going after the quarterback while preventing side movements that create openings for a quarterback run. Corner Casey Hayward returned to practice Thursday for the first time since his concussion from last Sunday. He was among nine Packers who were limited due to various ailments.

Outside linebacker Mike Neal sat out his second straight practice with a hip injury.

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