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Wisconsin roundup: Deer hunters getting ready; high health marks for Pierce, St. Croix counties; 10 more state news stories

MADISON -- More than 600,000 Wisconsin deer hunters are gearing up for the nine-day gun season that begins Saturday.

The DNR alerts hunters to some big changes, including the new state laws that allow blaze pink clothing, and the end of a requirement that hunters wear back tags -- which critics say would stop landowners from identifying trespassers but wardens hope would have little effect.

Also, carcass tags will be made of paper instead of plastic, and the DNR reminds hunters to keep them dry and note the time and dates their deer were killed. Hunters were hoping to get snow this weekend, so they could see the animal tracks -- but there's only a chance of snow showers Friday in the northwest and Saturday elsewhere.

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Pierce, St. Croix counties among state's healthiest

Pierce and St. Croix counties continue to rank among the state's Top 10 healthiest, according to a national program.

The annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps evaluation this year ranks St. Croix the third and Pierce the fourth healthiest counties in Wisconsin. The program, run by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, tracks health factors in almost every county in the U.S.

Six years ago, St. Croix County ranked No. 2 and Pierce County was No. 7.

Mental health care, obesity and alcohol abuse top the list's criteria. Both counties, the four area hospitals, and UW-River Falls work together on the community health needs assessment to determine what needs to be done to best help the community in the surrounding area. Ranking No. 1 in Wisconsin is Ozaukee County north of Milwaukee. It’s held that spot since 2013. In 2012, Ozaukee County was No. 2, displaced that year by No. 1-ranked St. Croix County.

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps may be viewed online at countyhealthrankings.org.

(Zach Bares/UW-River Falls Falcon News Service)

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Report cards: Five districts, 99 schools get failing grades

MADISON -- Ninety-nine Wisconsin public schools and five districts received failing grades in the state's new school report cards issued Thursday morning.

The Cambria Friesland district had the lowest performance score in the last school year – 46.5 on a scale of 100 -- and the Bayfield, Cassville, Racine, and Menominee Indian districts also failed to meet expectations, with sanctions possible if they don't move up the scale next year. Eighty-two percent of schools and 91 percent of districts have three or more stars on the five star system, meaning they met or exceeded expectations.

Most of the failing schools are in Milwaukee and other high poverty areas -- and only about one third of schools in Wisconsin's largest city met or exceeded expectations. Schools were not graded last year due to changes in achievement tests and the way results are interpreted.

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State asks court to accept Dassey's confession while denying release

MADISON -- As the state tries to keep murder convict Brendan Dassey behind bars, it wants a federal appeals court to accept the confession that Magistrate Judge William Duffin has thrown out.

Duffin says the 27-year-old Dassey must be released by 8 p.m. Friday. Dassey's lawyers have told the federal appeals court in Chicago that his confession to the 2005 killing of Teresa Halbach was involuntary. But the state disagrees and says other U.S. courts have approved the techniques officers used to get Dassey to confess at age 16 -- when attorneys claim he didn't have the mental capacity to understand what the officers were doing.

Dassey and his uncle Steven Avery were featured in the Netflix series "Making a Murderer," and Dassey's conviction was later dropped while Avery is now appealing his -- and the state is trying to uphold both guilty verdicts.

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Two traffic deaths probed in northern Wisconsin

Investigators in northeast and northwest Wisconsin are looking into traffic crashes that killed two people.

In Dunn County, investigators say a car driver died after crossing a center line on Highway 64 Wednesday night and hitting a pickup truck head on. The truck driver was flown to a hospital in Minnesota's Twin Cities with undisclosed injuries -- and the names of both fatal victims were not immediately released.

In Oconto County, sheriff's deputies say a 21-year-old Suamico woman died after her vehicle crossed a center line and struck a guard rail on County Trunk "E" near Abrams Wednesday night. Officials say she was thrown from the vehicle, and she died later at a Green Bay hospital.

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Former Bucks star to get presidential freedom medal

WASHINGTON -- Former Milwaukee Bucks center Kareem Abdul Jabbar will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama will present the nation's highest civilian honor to 21 people who have contributed to the national and security interests of the country, to world peace, or other significant endeavors. Abdul Jabbar played for 20 years in the NBA, including his first six in Milwaukee where he helped the Bucks win their only league championship in 1971.

The White House says the award also praises Abdul Jabbar for being an "outspoken advocate for social justice." Among the other recipients of the freedom medal are philanthropists Bill and Melida Gates, actor Tom Hanks, baseball broadcaster Vin Scully, singer Diana Ross, TV host Ellen DeGeneres, and NBA star Michael Jordan.

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Late defense secretary though of securing capable military future

MILWAUKEE -- While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton accused each other of being unqualified, former Defense Secretary Mel Laird wanted to make sure the next president picks a capable military leader.

The 94-year-old Marshfield native died Wednesday, and Laird's friend Bob Williams tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he took the subject seriously because of the secretary's power to influence the president who's the commander in chief. Laird is being praised for drawing down American troops from Vietnam, starting the all volunteer military, and fostering medical research spurred in part by his hometown Marshfield Clinic.

Before his political career that included 17 years as a congressman, Laird served in the Navy in World War Two when he was stationed on a destroyer ship and took shrapnel from the crash of a Japanese plane. It earned him a Purple Heart.

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Man charged after being shot by deputy following chase

HAYWARD -- A northwest Wisconsin man is due in court Tuesday, for allegedly causing a police chase before being shot and wounded by a Washburn County deputy.

Twenty-one-year-old Tyler Ladwig of Exeland is charged in Sawyer County with reckless endangerment, threatening an officer, fleeing, and bail jumping for violating bond conditions in an earlier drug case. Officials say deputy Jordan Price tried stopping Ladwig's vehicle in Minong for speeding, when a chase ensued at speeds of up to 113 mph and went into Sawyer County.

Officials say Ladwig stopped quickly on Highway 77 near Hayward and reached for his weapon. Price reportedly felt threatened, so he shot Ladwig in self defense -- and the suspect was wounded in a shoulder and a leg. Price was on leave while the state Justice Department investigated, but officials say he's now back on duty.

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Wisconsin to escape heavy snow

A big storm heading east into Minnesota is supposed to dump up to one foot of snow. but forecasters say it will die out before it gets to Wisconsin.

The National Weather Service has not issued any watches or warnings for the Badger State, but winds of up to 50 mph could blow throughout much of Wisconsin Friday night and Saturday. Up to 2 inches of snow are predicted in the far western part of the state as far east as Eau Claire and as far north as Rice Lake.

There's only a chance of snow Saturday, when cooler temperatures in the 30s move in.

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Man in protective custody after climbing tall tower

MANITOWOC -- A 40-year-old man is in protective custody after police say he climbed atop a 150 foot tower in downtown Manitowoc and stayed there for nine hours.

Lt. Jeremy Kronforst says the Manitowoc man kept climbing and threatened to jump after officers got to the site, next to the county's dispatch center -- and he reportedly drank intoxicants and tossed the cans into a parking lot. A tower rescue team came in from Appleton, but they could not help the distraught man because he reportedly had a weapon.

Crisis negotiators finally convinced the man to come down about 2 a.m. Thursday, and he was taken to a hospital for prolonged exposure to a cool night. Police say the district attorney's office will be asked to consider charges against the man of disorderly conduct and criminal trespass.

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State: Vaping more popular than smoking among kids

MADISON -- More Wisconsin school kids are smoking E-cigarettes than tobacco.

An annual survey from the state Health Services Department says 13 percent of high school students are vaping, as opposed to 8 percent who smoke regular cigarettes, which is way down from past years. Twice as many middle school students vape than smoke, with 2.6 percent of those youngsters using E-cigs.

State Health Officer Karen McKeown says it's "very troubling" that the candy and fruit flavors of electronic smokes are getting more kids to try them, and health officials are "alarmed" by the trend. The news comes as the 40th anniversary of the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout is observed Thursday. At the UW College in Richland Center, the Student Senate plans a noontime event in which kits for quitting will be handed out.

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Baldwin vows to fight 'Republican establishment' in leader post

WASHINGTON -- Democrat Tammy Baldwin vows to fight what she calls the "Republican establishment" in her new U.S. Senate leadership post.

The Wisconsin lawmaker was named the Democratic Conference secretary, as new Minority Leader Chuck Schumer expanded his leadership team from seven members to 10 on Wednesday. Baldwin served for 14 years in the U.S. House before being promoted to the Senate in 2012.

She wrote on Facebook that too many Americans "feel like they're being left behind." Baldwin says corporate lobbyists, big banks, and Wall Street are "calling the shots" -- and she'll focus on "making a difference in people's everyday lives."

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