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Wisconsin roundup: Ryan says Trump lost confidence in Comey; state Senate votes to keep tabs on DOT; 8 more state news stories

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan of Janesville says fired FBI Director James Comey lost the confidence of many Republicans and Democrats — and that's why President Donald Trump let him go.

On Fox News Wednesday night, Ryan also dismissed calls for a special prosecutor to investigate Russia's reported influence in last year's presidential election — saying there are already probes into that. Freshman Mike Gallagher of Green Bay had the strongest reaction among Wisconsin Republicans, tweeting that it's "imperative" that the FBI and congressional probes into the Russian matter continue "unimpeded and unaltered" — and Gallagher said, Russia's "malicious activities here and abroad must not go unanswered."

Until Wednesday, Democrats were the only ones from Wisconsin making statements about Tuesday's firing. The New York Times is keeping a running tab on who in Congress is speaking out and who's not — and as of Wednesday night, 171 Republicans and about 20 Democrats of the 535 in Congress had not said a word about Comey's firing.

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Senate votes to make DOT provide updates on highway projects

MADISON — The Wisconsin Senate has approved a bill to make the DOT provide updates every six months on highway projects.

That's after a recent audit showed that the agency underestimated project costs, because it did not account for inflation — and the costs for major road work doubled from the time they were planned until the time they were finished. The measure now goes to the Assembly.

Also Wednesday, senators gave final legislative approval to bills that reduce state rules for fish farms — allow minors to be alone at festivals that serve alcohol on private land — and end the requirement that 16-and-17-year-olds get work permits and parents' permission to get jobs.

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Senate GOP leader proposes tolls, borrowing to build roads

MADISON — The Wisconsin Senate's GOP leader proposes tolls and borrowing to come up with the needed money to build and fix state highways.

Scott Fitzgerald said Wednesday he sees little support among GOP senators for last week's plan by Assembly Republicans to apply the state sales tax to gasoline — something Gov. Scott Walker opposes. WisPolitics.com says the Revenue Department estimates a sedan owner would pay $39 more in fuel taxes each year in the Assembly proposal, and an SUV owner would pay $54 more.

The Republican Walker reiterated to reporters Wednesday that it would result in a "massive tax increase." Fitzgerald says his fellow Republicans in the Senate must decide how much borrowing they're comfortable with, and it would be paid back with general tax dollars instead of revenues from the gas tax.

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Assembly votes on Lincoln Hills policies, welfare drug testing provisions 

MADISON — The Wisconsin Assembly has sent a bill to Gov. Scott Walker to make guards at the state's juvenile institutions report child abuse.

It's the first legislative action that addresses alleged inmate abuse that the FBI is investigating at the state's Lincoln Hills boys school and the Copper Lake girls' school, both in Lincoln County. Also Wednesday, the Assembly approved several bills to force people getting government assistance to follow work and/or drug testing requirements.

Democrats opposed the assistance-related bills — including a pilot program for a work mandate for those living in federally subsidized housing outside Dane and Milwaukee counties. GOP lawmakers say it would make recipients more self sufficient, while Democrats say it would increase homelessness.

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Bat disease spreads to 14 Wis. counties

MADISON — The bat disease white nose syndrome is spreading in much of Wisconsin, potentially causing major problems for farmers.

The state DNR now says the deadly disease has been confirmed in 14 counties, after it arrived three years ago in Grant County. Much of the southern one third of Wisconsin is affected, along with counties close to the Mississippi River and the far northwest part of the state. Wisconsin is said to have one of the largest populations of hibernating bats in the Midwest, and that has triggered concerns for cave visitors as well as farms that rely on bats for eating insects before they can damage crops. DNR officials say the spread of white nose syndrome is "catastrophic," and they're trying to find out why higher percentages of bats survive in certain areas where they hibernate in the winter.

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Clarke for FBI director?

There's at least some talk in Washington that Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke could replace the fired James Comey as head of the FBI.

Two reports list Clarke as a possibility, but they say the avid Trump supporter would be a "highly political" nominee for an agency that's supposed to be independent — and Clarke does not have much experience as an investigator or a prosecutor. Still, Heavy.com says "crazier things have happened” so far during Donald Trump's presidency, and his name has been thrown around as an early replacement.

USA Today mentions former House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers as a possibility, along with former Justice official Ken Wainstein, and former top FBI assistants Michael Mason and John Pistole among others. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe heads the bureau until a new person is set.

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State bill would make credit card skimming a felony

MADISON — A new Wisconsin bill would make it a felony to possess a skimming machine that gives people's debit and credit card data to a potential identity thief.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing Tuesday on the measure, which comes after realistic looking card readers were found to divert customers' card numbers from gas pumps and ATMs in close to 40 Wisconsin places since 2015. Senate Republican Rob Cowles of Green Bay proposed the bill, after learning that Wisconsin does not criminalize card skimmers.

He told lawmakers that prosecutors' hands are tied in such cases, because they can charge offenders with nothing worse than trespassing. Cowles' bill includes prison sentences of up to six years for those possessing and using card readers to commit ID theft, or to sell data from a skimming device to somebody else.

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HyVee now provides opioid antidote without prescriptions

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — HyVee grocery stores in Wisconsin and three other states are among the latest to offer Naloxone without prescriptions.

That's the antidote for opioid and heroin overdoses, and HyVee has joined certain CVS and Walgreens locations around the country in offering the drug so abusers can get the antidote without a need to see doctors for prescriptions. In announcing the move Wednesday, HyVee said it's following rules from Wisconsin's Pharmacy Examining Board for training and other requirements.

HyVee has three locations in the state, all in the Madison area. Wisconsin first legalized Naloxone for ambulance personnel a few years ago, as part of an ongoing series of laws from State Rep. John Nygren aimed at fighting the growing problems with opioid and heroin abuse.

Former Congressman Green gets post in Trump administration

WASHINGTON — Former Wisconsin Congressman Mark Green has been named the new head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The White House announced the appointment Wednesday. Green represented northeast Wisconsin in the House, and he ran for governor as a Republican in 2006 against Democrat Jim Doyle. Since then, Green has been a United States ambassador to Tanzania — and he now heads the nonprofit International Republican Institute, which seeks to promote democracy throughout the world.

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Woman charged for letting 8-year-old drive

MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee woman is free on a signature bond after she allegedly let her 8-year-old son steer her SUV while on her lap while she was drunk.

Thirty-seven-year-old Carrie Bernard is charged with reckless endangerment, three-time OWI with a child in her vehicle, and driving with a revoked license. She's due back in court next Tuesday for a preliminary hearing. Prosecutors say a sheriff's deputy saw Bernard's SUV going out of control on a freeway ramp entering Highway 145 last Thursday. The deputy reportedly saw the young child at the wheel on Bernard's lap. Officials say Bernard did not do well on a field sobriety test. Reports say she has previously been convicted of two incidents that involve alcohol.

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