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Wisconsin roundup: Woman, missing children found in River Falls; 9 more state news stories

A woman accused of abducting her children from their father’s home was arrested Thursday in River Falls after a statewide alert was issued.

Authorities said 29-year-old Michelle Siegert was found with the children in River Falls, where she was taken into custody and arrangements were made for the children’s return to their Chippewa Falls home.

The incident began on Saturday when the children’s father, who has full custody, reported the boy and girl missing. Siegert, who authorities said is “a known methamphetamine user” and was prohibited from seeing the children, was immediately suspected.

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Finance chair rejects claim that late budget puts schools in bind

MADISON — State Assembly finance chair John Nygren does not agree that the lack of a state budget stops public schools from filling their personnel vacancies as fall classes begin.

The Joint Finance Committee will consider K-12 school funding Monday for a budget that was scheduled to take effect July 1. Committee Democrats say the Onalaska schools are starting the year with substitute teachers for their vacant posts, and other districts have delayed new hirings and equipment because they're not sure how much funding they'll get.

But Republican chair John Nygren notes that Gov. Scott Walker proposed $649 million in extra school spending for the next two years — and Assembly and Senate leaders have proposed increases that are smaller with no cuts. But Senate GOP finance chair Alberta Darling agrees that schools are dealing with uncertainty, and lawmakers must get going on the budget, which she now expects will get final legislative approval in mid-September.

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State Patrol looking for semi involved in freak crash

DE FOREST — The State Patrol is asking for help to find a semi-trailer involved in a fatal incident on Interstate 94 in Waukesha County on May 22.

Fifty-one-year-old Jay Tichelaar of Brookfield died after a piece of flying debris from the semi hit Tichelaar's SUV and killed him. Officials say it was caused by a brake drum that ruptured, and Tichelaar was heading from Madison to Brookfield at the time. The State Patrol says it has identified the semi, and the DOT released a photo of it Thursday.

The photo was taken on I-94 near Highway 67 in the western part of Waukesha County, and the State Patrol is asking people who have seen the rig — or saw the accident — to call the patrol's office in DeForest.

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State budget panel drops tax, OKs DNR reorganization

MADISON — Home and business owners would no longer pay the state government's portion of their local property taxes in a budget measure endorsed Thursday.

The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 to drop the tax for forestry programs and use the income and sales taxes to pay for those. It would save the average homeowner about $26 a year, but critics say it could reduce funds to preserve forests. The finance panel held its first meeting since June 15 due to Republican disagreements about road funding — but panel leaders say they're close to a deal. The committee's final action on the budget is due the week after Labor Day.

Also Thursday, the committee voted 12-4 to reorganize the D-N-R, eliminating a water and fishery management division after a drop in agency employees — and the panel approved a 33 percent increase in what counties pay to send juvenile offenders to Lincoln Hills where fewer teens are being sent amid investigations into alleged inmate abuses.

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Democrat: Walker uses Foxconn to make up for ineffective job creation

MADISON — A Democrat questions whether Gov. Scott Walker is using Foxconn to try and make up for seven years of ineffective job creation in the state.

Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik is of one of four announced Democrats in an expected contest against the Republican Walker — and he says the state does not have enough information to make an informed decision on whether the state should offer$3 billion in incentives to get Foxconn to put its new LCD screen plant in Kenosha or Racine counties. Foxconn says it would employ up to 13,000 people, and Gronik calls it a "Hail Mary pass" on Walker's account. He made the remark Thursday at a luncheon in Madison put on by WisPolitics.com.

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Judge considers new trial in killing of estranged wife

MERRILL — A judge in north central Wisconsin will decide whether a man should get a new trial for the killing of his estranged wife.

On Thursday, Lincoln County Circuit Judge Jay Tlusty heard arguments on Mark Bucki's claim that his lawyer made mistakes and was ineffective in a trial that convicted him in the slaying of his 48-year-old wife Anita in April 2013. Bucki, who's now 53, is serving a life prison term at Waupun on convictions of homicide, hiding a corpse, and strangulation. The judge says he wants to see final written arguments before deciding on a new trial.

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State business group creates large lobby for Foxconn

MADISON — Wisconsin's largest business group is rounding up support for Foxconn.

It announced an intense lobbying effort Thursday by dozens of companies, trade groups, and chambers of commerce — all favoring the state's $3 billion incentive package to get Foxconn to locate its new LCD screen plant in Racine or Kenosha counties. The manufacturers and commerce group called it the "Wisconn Valley Jobs Coalition," taking a page from Gov. Scott Walker's recent news releases in which he called the state "Wisconn."

WMC lobbyist Scott Manley says his group wanted to demonstrate widespread support for the tax incentives. He also said the group would be active after the bill passes, showing there's an opportunity to bring a new American industry to Wisconsin with large numbers of suppliers coming on board.

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Gubernatorial candidate wants taxes waived to help grads pay student loans

MADISON — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Gronik says state income taxes should be waived for college graduates who have student loan debt.

The Milwaukee businessman says it would help the economy by helping bring college grads to Wisconsin to work. However, Gronik did not say how much of a tax break he proposes — and who would pay to make up for the lost revenue. Gronik announced the proposal at a luncheon in Madison sponsored by WisPolitics.com. He is among four Democrats who have announced their bids to run against Republican Governor Scott Walker next year.

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Convicted killer told to pay $16K to cover prosecution costs

WAUKESHA — An Oconomowoc woman who's been given a life prison sentence for killing her husband has been told to pay $16,000 in restitution.

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Ralph Ramirez ordered 54-year-old Amy Van Wagner to pay the district attorney's office to cover its costs of bringing in expert witnesses to testify against her at her trial — and to cover travel costs for a state witness. A jury convicted Van Wagner in March of first degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse for the shooting death of her husband Stanley in May 2015. The murder weapon was never recovered.

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Drunk driver killed in central Wis. crash

WISCONSIN RAPIDS — A 21-year-old central Wisconsin man has died in a one vehicle crash in which sheriff's deputies said he was driving drunk.

Ethan Smith of Vesper died at the scene, and his passenger — a 21-year-old Wisconsin Rapids man — was in serious condition at last word at a Wisconsin Rapids hospital. According to Wood County deputies, Smith was in the Rapids area when his vehicle lost control on a curve, went into a ditch, and overturned around early Thursday morning. Both were ejected and neither was wearing a seatbelt.

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