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Wednesday statewide news roundup

Court throws out conviction of gun-toting man near Somerset school

WAUSAU -- A state appeals court has thrown out a loitering ticket against a man walking near a school in St. Croix County while carrying a rifle and a handgun.

The Third District appellate court in Wausau ruled Tuesday that 26-year-old Mark Hoffman should have had his case dismissed during his jury trial because it appeared that the only reason police stopped him was that he was carrying the weapons.

He had an AR15 rifle and a handgun in a holster as he walked near a school in Somerset in July of 2013. A circuit court jury later convicted him of loitering with a fine of $196.

Hoffman's appellate case was argued by an attorney for Wisconsin Carry, the group that advocates for the state's laws that allow the open carrying of firearms.

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Study: State's long-term debt fourth lowest in U.S.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Wisconsin taxpayers are not saddled with as much public debt as most Americans.

A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts says it would take 4.8% of all the income made by state residents to pay off Wisconsin's entire public debt as of 2013.

The Pew study reflects the amount that governments borrow from future pensions and health care funds which are owed to public employees. Wisconsin has very little of that type of borrowing.

Assemblyman Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) said leaders of both parties have been “responsible” with the state's pension system, while most states owe much more to retirees than to their bond holders.

The Pew study says South Dakota with 1.1%, has the lowest percentage of debt to income, while Alaska has the highest at almost 53%.

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Chicago Fed: Wisconsin only state where ag land values rise

CHICAGO -- Wisconsin farmland continues to get more valuable, and it's the only state in the Chicago Federal Reserve district with an increase.

According to a survey of agricultural lenders, the value of good quality farmland rose by 1% in Wisconsin during the year ending April 1.

The entire Chicago Fed district had a 4% decline in ag land values, the largest year-to- year drop since 2009 when the Great Recession was still taking place.

Michigan had the largest drop in the district at 7%, Iowa and Illinois had 5% declines, and Indiana had a 2% drop.

The Chicago Fed covers about the southeast two-thirds of Wisconsin. The rest of the state is in the Minneapolis district and is not a part of the survey.

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Johnson votes no as Senate approves funds to fight Zika virus

WASHINGTON, DC -- Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson voted no to spending $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus from now through 2017.

The Senate voted 68-29 Tuesday to spend about $800 million less than President Barack Obama wanted. But it's still $500 million more than a shorter four month funding package that's up for a vote in the House today (Wednesday).

Johnson said he fully supports the effort to combat what he calls the “real and spreading biological threat” from the Zika virus -- but he believes the spending should be offset by reducing less important allocations elsewhere.

Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin supported the Senate's package, saying it would speed up the creation of a vaccine and expand access to family planning since the Zika virus is linked to birth defects.

The White House says it will veto the smaller House proposal, calling it “woefully insufficient given the risk.”

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Appleton ‘Drunkest City in America,’ seven state areas in Top Ten

NEW YORK, NY -- Appleton is the “Drunkest City in America,” according to a new study by the business website 24/7 Wall Street.

It says almost 27% of Appleton adults drink to excess, with the nation’s highest percentage of heavy drinkers and binge drinkers.

Seven Wisconsin metros made the Top Ten as the Oshkosh-Neenah area placed second, Green Bay third, Madison fourth, La Crosse sixth, Fond du Lac seventh, and Eau Claire ninth.

Critics have raised concerns for years about Wisconsin's alcohol traditions. State lawmakers have addressed the problem through drunken driving crackdowns on a piecemeal basis though Wisconsin remains the only one not to make first time OWI a criminal charge.

The study notes that almost half of all traffic deaths in Green Bay involve alcohol while La Crosse has the nation's highest number of taverns per capita -- almost seven bars for every 10,000 residents.

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Prison death investigated

OSHKOSH -- Authorities are investigating the death of a state prisoner in Oshkosh from an apparent drug overdose.

The state Department of Corrections and Oshkosh police confirm that Daniel Tanner, 31, died May 5 in the prison’s restricted housing unit.

Court records show Tanner had served most of a ten-year sentence for distributing cocaine and marijuana. Officials have not said how he obtained the drugs involved in his overdose.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said there have been no allegations that prison personnel acted improperly, and no employees have been disciplined or put on leave.

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Kohl's agrees to pay $6 million to settle pricing lawsuit

MENOMONEE FALLS -- The Wisconsin-based Kohl's Department Store chain has agreed to pay $6.1 million to settle a lawsuit over its pricing promotions in California.

A federal judge has given tentative approval to the settlement in which Kohl's agreed to provide gift cards to plaintiffs and improve its pricing compliance systems.

Shoppers filed a class action lawsuit, alleging that Kohl's advertised 30% off original prices, which are not charged very long before being discounted.

California has a more specific pricing law than most other states, defining original prices as the prevailing market prices within three months before they're marked down.

Kohl’s, based in Menomonee Falls, has not commented on the settlement, saying it's still pending.

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$35,000 reward offered to solve young girl’s murder

MILWAUKEE -- The FBI and attorney Michael Hupy have offered $35,000 in rewards for information about the killer of a young girl in Milwaukee.

Hundreds of people staged a march and a vigil Tuesday on what would have been Z'layia Jenkins’ 10th birthday. Her mother Destiny Boone said she needs “justice” for her “baby.”

Police say the child was watching TV in her home May 5 when two groups were trading gunshots outside. One of the bullets pierced through the Jenkins home and struck the girl. She died late Monday at Children's Hospital near Milwaukee.

At a news conference, Mayor Tom Barrett said he wondered what kind of person would be so reckless as to put an innocent child at risk.

Z'layia was the youngster who asked a Milwaukee police captain late last month if she and her fellow officers could keep her safe.

Police Chief Ed Flynn said the answer sadly came when the two groups exchanged gunfire outside Z'layia’s north side Milwaukee home. Officers recovered more than 40 shell casings.

Investigators say they're looking for an SUV driver who might have information about the shootings.

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Pedestrian killed on Sheboygan area freeway

A pedestrian has died after being hit by a van overnight on I-43 south of Sheboygan.

Authorities say the person was walking on the freeway about 1 a.m. today (Wednesday) near Hwy. 28 in the Sheboygan County town of Wilson.

The van driver was a 47-year- old Sheboygan man. There was no immediate word on who the victim was. Officials do not suspect foul play.

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Attorney general asks employers to help fight painkiller abuse

GREEN BAY -- Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel is asking employers to help with the Department of Justice’s campaign to fight the abuse of prescription painkillers.

In Green Bay Tuesday, Schimel urged companies to update their workforce policies on drug abuse to include excess prescription medicines.

Schimel says four of every five worker compensation claims in the state involve opiates in one form or another, and addictions to painkillers cost U.S. businesses an estimated $26 billion each year.

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Door County cherry crop escapes frost

STURGEON BAY -- It appears that cherry producers in Door County escaped the wrath of last weekend's frost.

Kris Robertson, who runs an orchard near Sturgeon Bay, said he was expecting temperatures to drop below freezing early Sunday, but it only got down to 42 degrees so the crop was OK.

The Wollersheim Winery in southern Wisconsin was not as fortunate as an early

Sunday low of 27 degrees wiped out many of the grapes on that site at Prairie du Sac.

The Door County cherry growers are seeking to recover from a killing frost last

year during a blooming period. WLUK TV reported that frost contributed to a 21% drop in the production of tart cherries in Door County in 2015.

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Hundreds losing jobs as Graphic Packaging closes

MENASHA -- Around 230 people will lose their jobs at Graphic Packaging in Menasha.

Workers were notified Monday that the company will close the facility by the end of this year. The first phase of layoffs will start in about two months.

Company officials say the 70-year- old facility is outdated and that operations will be moved to a new facility. Graphic Packaging currently has 30 plants in the U.S.

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Milwaukee mayor seeks help to replace lead pipes

Mayor Tom Barrett is trying to obtain federal funds to help replace lead water pipes in Milwaukee.

There are roughly 70,000 homes with the pipes, and replacing them could cost homeowners over $7,000 if they have to shoulder the costs on their own.

The city will replace pipes running to the curb, but the property owners are responsible for replacing pipes leading into homes.

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Federal court hears arguments in public school choice suit

MADISON -- A federal judge heard arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit alleging that the state's Open Enrollment program discriminates against kids with special needs.

Six students are represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which seeks to give special needs youngsters equal access to the long running “public school choice” program.

The Journal Times reported one plaintiff from Racine tried to attend another district 12 times and was repeatedly turned down.

State public school Supt. Tony Evers and several Wisconsin school districts are the defendants in a suit filed in 2014.

The Law Institute says 1,000 youngsters are denied open enrollment access each year because they have disabilities, but officials say new guidelines will take effect this fall in which districts can only reject open enrollment if there is no special education space in the system where a student wants to go.

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Firm seeks to build new Postal Service trucks

A Milwaukee firm that makes specialty vehicles says it might create 1,000 jobs if it can win a federal contract to build new delivery trucks for the U.S. Postal Service.

The “REV Group,” which is run by former Bucyrus International CEO Tim Sullivan, is one of at least 15 bidders that include the Oshkosh Corporation.

There's some major competition for the giant contract. But if REV can win it, Sullivan said it would move into the former Tower Automotive plant on Milwaukee's north side and replace 180,000 Postal Service trucks for a total of $6.3 billion during at least five years.

Ford, Fiat and Nissan are among the other bidders.

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Green Bay's ‘Baby Emily’ gets 30 years for child porn

A 64-year- old Green Bay man has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for what investigators call the most disturbing child pornography case they've seen.

If John Beauchamp is still alive after his prison term ends, he'll spend up to 30 more years of extended supervision.

Brown County prosecutors charged Beauchamp 15 months ago. They said he had obtained more than 7,000 child porn images while using the name “Baby Emily” online, and he used baby bottles and pacifiers while looking at child porn.

Circuit Judge Marc Hammer called it an “obsession.”

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