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Wisconsin roundup: Survey ranks state 16th-best overall; GOP senator questions immunity provision in Harsdorf heroin legislation; 9 more state news stories

Wisconsin is the 16th best state in the nation, according to an inaugural ranking from U-S News and World Report.

The magazine evaluated all 50 states in 68 categories ranging from crime to personal opportunity. Wisconsin's government scored the highest — the fifth best, mainly because it has long had the nation's lowest pension fund liabilities. The Badger State was ranked 10th for crime and corrections, but it ranks third worst for its equality in jailing juveniles.

Wisconsin also ranked 14th for opportunity, 17th for education, 21st for health care, 35th for its economy, and 37th for its infrastructure amid the debate at the State Capitol on how to pay for crumbling roads. Massachusetts is No. 1 in the first U.S. News rankings, and Louisiana is at the bottom.

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GOP senator questions immunity provision in Harsdorf heroin legislation

MADISON — A Wisconsin Senate panel is hearing testimony on two of 11 bills aimed at fighting the state's growing problems of opioid and heroin abuse.

Saukville Republican Duey Strobel questioned one of the measures, which would guarantee that those who overdose on heroin would not face prosecution. The sponsor of that measure, River Falls Republican Sheila Harsdorf, says the legal protections would save lives.

But Strobel, who's on the Senate Judiciary panel which held the hearing, said prosecution should be considered for victims who carry large amounts of drugs. The bill would also prevent overdose victims from having their parole, probation, or extended supervision revoked. It's among the bills included in special session on opioid and heroin abuse that Gov. Scott Walker called earlier this year.

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Vinehout opposes effort to dump state treasurer's office

MADISON — A Wisconsin Assembly committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday on dropping the State Treasurer's office.

A Senate panel voted 3-1 Tuesday for a constitutional amendment that passed both houses in the last session — and needs the same approvals this session before going to the voters in a statewide referendum. In recent years, lawmakers rejected calls to eliminate the treasurer's and secretary of state's offices — and instead, they virtually dropped all the duties of both and transferred them to other agencies.

That's got current Treasurer Matt Adamczyk conceding that his office is a waste of money — but former Public Lands Commissioner Tia Nelson says it has worked "remarkably well for 170 years." Senate Democrat Kathleen Vinehout of Alma, who voted against the amendment, says eliminating the treasurer is a "grave mistake."

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Former Dane County DA challenger files suit against incumbent

MADISON — A former Dane County prosecutor who ran unsuccessfully against his boss last summer has filed a federal lawsuit.

Former assistant district attorney Bob Jambois says his free speech rights were violated when DA Ismael Ozanne and three of his staffers retaliated for saying negative things about Jambois during last year's primary campaign. The lawsuit alleges that Jambois' schedule got unfairly jammed up after he lost the August primary, saying he had 31 jury trials set in a two month time period — and the lawsuit says the caseload was "without parallel in the DA's office."

Jambois, a former Kenosha County DA and state attorney, says he was forced to retire last fall due to the burdens put on him. Ozanne says he doesn't believe he did anything wrong, but he has not seen the lawsuit.

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High rate of flu symptoms closes southeast Wisconsin school

HARTLAND — Students and staffers at an elementary school in Hartland will stay home Wednesday, while a cleaning crew disinfects the building after a high rate of illness.

Lake Country School had about one fifth of its 502 students home Tuesday — generally with flu like symptoms, plus some strep throat cases. About one-quarter of the school's staff was also absent. The school met with medical experts and Waukesha County officials before deciding to shut down the building. Classes are expected to resume Thursday, but a second grade field trip to Chicago remains in doubt.

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Madison police investigate gas station murder

MADISON — Police are looking for suspects and a motive in the shooting death of one person at a gas station overnight in the state's capitol city.

Officers were called about 2:10 a.m. to a station on Madison's northeast side. WKOW-TV says they found shell casings, and learned later that the possible victim tried driving away but crashed the vehicle near a Comfort Inn hotel. That's where the person was found dead. Other details were not immediately released.

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Wisconsin defense contractors look to gain from Trump budget

President Donald Trump tells Congress he wants one of the largest defense spending hikes in United States history, and that could bode well for Wisconsin's military equipment suppliers.

The state's "prime" contractors received $3.75 billion in federal business last year, 11 percent more than the previous year. Aina Vilumsons, who heads the Wisconsin Procurement Institute, says the increase in defense contracts was due largely to more vehicles from the Oshkosh Corporation. One big question mark is whether Trump will favor the continued building of Navy littoral combat ships at Marinette Marine — but the president notes that a "depleted" military needs to be rebuilt. The Republican Trump also cited other parts of his national agenda in his Tuesday night speech, calling for American made infrastructure improvements and large tax cuts.

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Lieutenant governor dropped as juror in murder trial

WAUKESHA — Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch answered a call to jury duty, where she was stricken as a potential juror in a major homicide trial.

Kleefisch says she knew about the case of Amy Van Wagner, who's accused of killing her husband in their Oconomowoc home in 2015 — but Kleefisch said she didn't know in advance she'd be called to that particular trial. Had she been chosen, it would have put a crimp into her political activities, since the trial is scheduled to run for three weeks in Waukesha County.

The judge said Kleefisch's campaign donations to the county district attorney could have raised questions about a possible bias. A final jury was picked late Tuesday, and opening arguments begin Wednesday in the case of the 53-year-old Van Wagner — who's accused of shooting her 50-year-old husband Stanley to death and hiding his body.

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Dead coyotes piled up in ditches near Shiocton

SHIOCTON — A retired state conservation warden has spotted two piles of dead coyotes left along roadsides near Shiocton in northeast Wisconsin.

Mike Young told WBAY-TV the animal dumping is a malicious waste of natural resources, and a "black eye" to all hunters. Young says he spotted a pile of dead coyotes Tuesday along a rural road south of Shiocton, after seeing another pile last week on a road about one mile away. The DNR is investigating, and Young says the worst thing is the image the dead animals portray. Young says coyote hides are worth about $30 each, even though fur prices have fallen — and if people don't want to make the effort to take care of the hides, "they shouldn't be out hunting."

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State Supreme Court denies DNA testing in 1982 homicide

MADISON — The state Supreme Court says a man convicted in a decades-old homicide isn't entitled to DNA testing.

Police found Christopher Mohr dead in Grafton in 1982. A jury eventually convicted Jeffrey Denny and his brother, Kent, of killing Mohr. They were sentenced to life in prison. Jeffrey Denny filed a motion in 2014 seeking DNA testing of evidence from the scene.

A judge denied the motion but a state appeals court reversed him last year. A divided Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the judge correctly denied the testing request, saying the evidence against Jeffrey Denny was extensive and the idea that DNA tests might cause investigators or a jury to reject that evidence is just conjecture.

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Lawmakers visit Whitefish Bay JCC following threats

WHITEFISH BAY — Wisconsin lawmakers are lending support following threats targeting a Jewish community center in Whitefish Bay and around the country.

A group that included U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Congressman Glenn Grothman paid a visit to the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center Monday. The center was evacuated last week when a bomb threat was called in. Baldwin said we must all stand up and speak out against anti-Semitism.

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