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Wisconsin roundup: State budget talks could resume soon; 7 more state news stories

Wisconsin Republicans will try again this month to settle their differences on a state budget that's now six weeks overdue. File photo

MADISON — Wisconsin Republicans will try again this month to settle their differences on a state budget that's now six weeks overdue.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he hoped to restart the budget negotiations the week after next, and perhaps put more revenue aside to cover possible shortfalls. He says other state leaders in the Midwest have told him that the growth of their tax revenues are not as high as they projected.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke tells WHBY Radio in Appleton there's optimism in his chamber as well — and a vote there could come in early September. State lawmakers disagreed on highway funding and the amount of school aids before they became consumed with developing a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn to locate its LCD screen plant in the state. All states have two year budget periods that begin in July — and Connecticut is reportedly the only other state which does not have a budget yet.

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Walker suggests voters should re-elect him if they want Foxconn

WAUSAU — Gov. Scott Walker says there's a "compelling argument" that people should re-elect him next year so he can help get the Foxconn factory going.

In Wausau, the Republican Walker mentioned that Foxconn never built a plant it promised in Harrisburg, Penn., earlier in the decade. Walker said the main reason is that voters "changed the governor in the middle of the deal."

Walker has championed Foxconn's plans to build a $10 billion factory in Racine or Kenosha counties, hiring 3,000 people when it's due to open in 2020 with 13,000 workers at its peak. Walker says Wisconsin should have the same governor for "four or five years" to avoid what happened in Pennsylvania.

Eight Democrats have registered to challenge him. Senators have been trying to slow down consideration of a $3 billion package of state incentives, saying they need time to determine if it's a good deal.

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Wis. to use electric fences to stop bear-crop damage

MADISON — Wildlife officials in Wisconsin may use methods such as electric fencing to stop bears from damaging crops.

Department of Natural Resources wildlife damage specialist Brad Koele says there are about 28,000 bears across the state. He says problematic bears are typically trapped and relocated, but that finding them all can be challenging.

Koele says the state is giving more farmers bear hunting permits, and that the agency plans to help farmers install electric fences. Wisconsin Public Radio reports that over the last seven years, about 275 farmers have enrolled in a state program that compensates farmers for damage bears cause. Last year's appraised damage was $220,000.

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State OKs 2-year rate freeze for We Energies, Public Service

MADISON — Wisconsin utility regulators have agreed to let We Energies and the Public Service utility freeze their electric and natural gas rates for the next two years.

The freezes are part of a settlement involving the parent group for both utilities, the WEC Energy Group. The regulatory panel said it would have to deal with several issues that involve We Energies' deferred costs dating back to 2002 which have not been incorporated into the utility's customer rates. Those deferred costs are expected to reach $500 million by the end of the year, and there were reports this week that We Energies customers would face big rate increases to cover those costs. But the parent firm agreed to create a new account and recover the money in a 50 year stretch — and the state panel accepted that.

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Man accused of strangling woman who appeared dead in car crash

MILWAUKEE — Prosecutors say a Milwaukee man never told police that he strangled a woman who appeared to be found dead in a traffic crash.

Thirty-three-year-old Jose Galvan is charged with reckless homicide in last weekend's death of 40-year-old Maria Mexicano. Police say they found a car that had a crashed into a utility pole early last Sunday, and Mexicano was found dead in the auto. But the Milwaukee County medical examiner conducted an autopsy and found that Mexicano was strangled. Galvan made his first court appearance in his case on Thursday, and he was sent back to jail on a $100,000 bond with a preliminary hearing set for next Thursday.

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‘Slender Man’ suspects will get sequestered juries

WAUKESHA — Juries in the Waukesha Slender Man case will be sequestered, so they're not exposed to media coverage or undue influence during the expected long trials.

Fifteen-year-old Anissa Weier has a two week trial set to begin Sept. 11 and Morgan Geyser, who's also 15, has a three week trial slated to start in mid October. On Thursday, Circuit Judge Michael Bohren approved a defense request to put local jurors up in secured hotels when they're not in the courtroom.

Bohren says more than 100 potential jurors have answered questionnaires for each defendant, so there should not be a concern that the length of the trials would encourage people to skirt jury duty. Weier and Geyser have both pleaded insanity to adult charges of attempted homicide for the 2014 stabbing of their middle school classmate Peyton Leutner in reported allegiance to the online horror character Slender Man.

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Car crash kills Whitewater man

DELAVAN — Walworth County investigators say high speed may have been a factor in a car crash that killed a 26-year-old Whitewater man.

Brian Blucher died at the scene of Thursday morning's crash near Delavan. Sheriff's deputies say Blucher was not wearing a seatbelt when his car veered out of control and hit a tree on the left side of the road. Deputies and the Walworth County medical examiner's office continue to investigate.

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State farm production costs hold steady

MADISON — New figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show production costs for Wisconsin farmers remained steady in 2016.

The average Wisconsin farm spent nearly $159,000 on feed, labor, machinery, fuel and other items last year. That's just a fraction of one percent more than in 2015.

University of Wisconsin-Extension farm management specialist Kevin Bernhardt tells Wisconsin Public Radio expenses have remained low over the last few years due to falling oil prices. Bernhardt says farmers are likely to see a small increase in production expenses this year, as grain and dairy prices start to improve.

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