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Wisconsin roundup: Walker to unveil budget Feb. 8; White House orders up a Leinie's; 8 more state news stories

MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker will unveil his next proposed state budget two weeks from Wednesday.

The Republican Walker plans to discuss the highlights in a speech to the Legislature at 4 p.m. Feb. 8, scrapping the traditional nighttime speech from previous years. Walker has already promised that the two year budget would spend more for public schools, reduce tuition for University of Wisconsin-System students and increase state assistance to maintain local roads.

What lawmakers do with the budget could decide how to pay for major state highway projects -- and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has proposed a gas tax increase to be funded by part of a $713 million windfall from higher than expected tax revenues and lower Medicaid spending. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee will have a hand in those decisions as it rewrites the budget before lawmakers vote on it around the start of July.

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White House orders up a Leinie's

WASHINGTON — A familiar face to Wisconsinites has joined the Trump administration in Washington.

Jake Leinenkugel is in his first week as a senior White House advisor to the Veterans Affairs' agency. He headed the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls for 25 years before he retired two years ago.

He did his own TV commercials a few years ago in which members of his family showed off their brewery and nearby scenic spots and Jake told viewers to "Join us out here." The White House has not officially announced Leinenkugel's appointment. The Chippewa Herald says it might be because the president's nominee to head the VA, David Shulkin, has not been confirmed yet.

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Democrats, unions slam state bill on local labor agreements

MADISON — Democrats and labor unions have spoken out against a state bill to stop local governments from having mandatory labor agreements in their building contracts for public projects.

An Assembly panel held a hearing Tuesday on a bill from Brookfield Republican Rob Hutton, who says the mandatory labor agreements discourage lots of contractors from seeking government work -- and he calls it a "free market issue." But opponents called it part of the Republicans' six year campaign to put the clamps on labor unions, and Assembly Democrat Cory Mason of Racine says the bill is all about paying people less.

Stephanie Bloomingdale of the AFL-CIO said taxpayers get their best value when workers get good wages -- and she and some Democrats called it another effort to limit local government control. A Senate panel will hold a hearing Wednesday on a similar bill.

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Western Wisconsin in storm's crosshairs

About 50 Wisconsin school districts are closed Wednesday because of a snowstorm that's moving through the Badger State -- and many other schools are starting two hours late.

Several school districts are closed in the western part of the state, where Pepin County expects to get as many as 11 inches of new snow through Wednesday. The National Weather Service forecast called for Pierce County to pick up about 2 inches on Wednesday, with St. Croix County set to see 1-3 inches fall before the snow tapers off by 1 p.m.

Madison joined about 40 other public school systems in southern and southwest Wisconsin in closing its doors, after Madison officials got some heat last week for staying open during an ice storm. La Crosse got almost 6 inches of snow during the night, and that region expects up to 9 inches before the storm leaves late in the afternoon.

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Trump vows to simplify federal oil pipeline actions

President Donald Trump says he will simplify a long process to grant federal permits for new and expanded crude oil pipelines.

And that could affect plans by Enbridge Energy to build a new line sending up to 370,000 barrels per day of Canadian oil to the company's facility in Superior. On Tuesday, the Republican Trump signed orders that could speed up approvals of two controversial pipelines -- the Keystone XL and Dakota Access lines -- and that triggered new protests in Washington and several other cities.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the proposed Enbridge line would increase total oil movements at Superior to 3 million barrels per day -- three times more than the XL pipeline could deliver, and five times more than the Dakota Access line. Trump says neither of those projects are done deals, but he says his goal is to give quick approvals or rejections while calling the regulatory process a "tangled up mess" that's "very unfair to people."

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Johnson tries again to allow experimental drugs for terminally ill

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is trying again to let terminally ill patients obtain experimental drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Wisconsin Republican proposed a similar bill last year that was blocked by former Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid. At that time, Johnson was asked by Pewaukee native Tim Wendler to pursue the measure after his wife died from ALS. It would allow the terminally ill to use drugs which pass their initial FDA trials, as long as there are no other alternatives to obtain them.

The bill's opponents say it offers false hope because drug makers would not be required to grant requests from patients -- and they say experimental drugs are already available through the FDA's expanded access policy.

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Potato growers to give $5M for UW research

MADISON — Potato growers plan to give $5 million to UW-Madison during the next decade to conduct research for the industry.

Members of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association will pay for the new research with higher assessments on their product sales. Last summer, the industry increased its assessment by $0.01 for every 100 pounds of potatoes and vegetables produced -- and the association's board plans to raise it by one more cent next year. Growers now pay six cents per hundredweight for marketing and research. Association director Tamas Houlihan says growers see "great value" in the university's research efforts.

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State milk output grows for 32nd straight month

MADISON — Wisconsin's dairy cows have slowed down a little, but they still made more milk in December than in the same month the previous year.

The USDA says the Badger State produced more than 2.5 billion pounds of milk last month – 1.7 percent more than in December of 2015. That's smaller than the national increase of 2.4 percent -- but Wisconsin still raised its year-to-year output for the 32nd month in a row.

The state had about 1,000 fewer cows than the previous year, but the average production per cow rose by 35 pounds to 1,970 for last month. Wisconsin remains the nation's second largest milk producer behind California, which had a smaller increase in its December output of 0.5 percent.

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Woman arrested in Black Hills after abducting her children in Wis.

HILL CITY, S.D. — A woman wanted for abducting her two children from their home in Wisconsin has been arrested in South Dakota.

The Pennington County, South Dakota, Sheriff's Office says that Cathy Jo Brown was wanted for interfering with a custody order. Television station KOTA reports that deputies received a tip Monday that a red pickup truck matching the description of Brown's vehicle was seen broken down in the Black Hills National Forest.

The U.S. Marshal's Service said the children were abducted in December in Antigo. Deputies caught up with Brown at a Hill City hotel and arrested her. Federal authorities had been searching the Black Hills area for Brown and her children - 9-year-old Dalton Brown and 11-year-old Averie Brown - along with another woman thought to be with them. Deputies say the children were taken into custody and are in good condition.

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Medical examiner: Skull found in Wauwatosa decades old

WAUWATOSA — The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's office says a human skull found at a Wauwatosa construction site last week had been there for decades.

Bone fragments found with the skull have been determined to not be human. Construction crews found the remains while working on an excavation of an old home torn down a few years ago. Over 100 years ago, a cemetery was located a few blocks from where the bones were found.

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