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Wisconsin roundup: Lawmakers continue UW tuition freeze, drop 2018 tuition cut; 10 more state news stories

MADISON — UW-System students who live in Wisconsin could have their tuition frozen for two more years.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 Thursday to drop Gov. Scott Walker's plan to cut the undergraduate tuition by 5 percent in the fall of 2018, in the second year of the next state budget. All Democrats voted no, saying the continuation of the 4-year-old tuition freeze was a budget cut — because the university would not get an extra $19 million to cover inflation.

They said the DOT was criticized for ignoring inflation in its cost estimates for road projects, and they argued that the UW should not ignore it, either — but Senate Finance Chairwoman Alberta Darling says the UW budget adds $36 million in general state funds, which she called a "huge investment." Also, the panel approved $42 million in performance based funding for the university.

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State closer to requiring work/drug screens to get Medicaid

MADISON — Wisconsin is one step closer to being the first in the nation to make lower income, able bodied adults seek jobs and pass drug screenings to get Medicaid.

The state Legislature's finance panel voted 12-4 Thursday to go along with Gov. Scott Walker's plans, but to review them further before they take effect. Republicans say the measures would encourage more people to be independent, but Democrats say the drug tests are expensive and not effective.

Childless adults would need 80 hours per month of work or job training to get Badger Care — those below the poverty line would pay $1 to $10 monthly for their coverage — and premium breaks would be given to those with healthy behaviors. Also, the work mandate for those getting FoodShare benefits would be extended to adults of school age kids, instead of just childless able bodied adults in a pilot program that the committee decided not to expand statewide before 2020.

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Cause of fatal Chetek-area plane crash under investigation

BARRON — Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald says he has no idea why a single engine plane crashed near Chetek, killing the 17-year-old pilot and injuring his passenger.

A relative tells WQOW-TV that Owen Knutson of rural Chetek was an experienced, licensed operator who came from a family of pilots in which his father and grandfather had both flown for commercial airlines. The sheriff says Knutson and 18-year-old passenger Hunter Gillett of Cameron left the pilot's family airstrip Wednesday evening — and there was no word on where the craft was headed as it crashed in the Red Cedar River south of Chetek.

Gillett — who was scheduled to graduate Friday from Cameron High — is hospitalized in serious condition after being taken off the critical list Thursday. Federal officials are investigating the crash.

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Gas prices edge higher than 2016, but still cheap for holiday

Memorial Day weekend travelers will find gasoline to cost a little more than last year, but still on the cheap side.

The auto group AAA says one gallon of regular unleaded costs an average of $2.37 throughout Wisconsin Friday morning. That's five cents more than last Friday and $0.01 more than last Memorial Day — but GasBuddy.com says fuel prices are at their second lowest in the past decade and "substantially lower" than the average of $3.15 the past 10 years. As with every holiday weekend, the state DOT will order major road construction to end at noon Friday and resume early Tuesday. The DOT says drivers will find lane closures and restrictions in places that include Interstate 43 in parts of Manitowoc County and the Green Bay area, and I-39-90-94 north of Madison.

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Defense lawyers again seek more to represent the poor

MADISON — Wisconsin continues to pay private defense lawyers the lowest rate in the nation to represent the poor in court.

It's been $40 an hour since 1978, and the state's Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers held a news conference Thursday to seek public backing to have the State Supreme Court raise that to 100 dollars an hour. Attorneys Jerome Buting and Dean Strang from the Steven Avery "Making a Murderer" case helped make the pitch — which Buting calls a "constitutional crisis" as he and others say fewer attorneys would accept indigent clients if the payment is not raised.

In the words of Milwaukee attorney John Birdsall, "Having a lawyer without resources or the incentive to defend a client is like having no lawyer at all." The group says it would cost the state about $34 million each year to raise their reimbursement for about 55,000 cases.

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Johnson whistleblower protection bill passes on second try

WASHINGTON — Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson has finally succeeded in getting the U.S. Senate to pass his bill to stop retaliating against federal employees who expose wrongdoing.

Last year, former Democratic leader Harry Reid blocked Johnson's effort to pass the measure with unanimous consent. Now that Republicans are in control, the chamber took the same action Thursday and sent the bill to the House. Johnson named the measure for Chris Kirkpatrick, a psychologist who took his own life after he was fired for blowing the whistle on his bosses at the Tomah VA Medical Center. His concerns about patient medications broke wide open after a national media report that the over-prescribing of painkillers led directly to a patient's death at Tomah.

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Population estimates: Madison grows, Milwaukee shrinks

WASHINGTON — The Madison area has made huge population gains during the 12 months ending last July, while the city of Milwaukee lost 4,000 residents.

The U.S. Census Bureau says Madison added almost 4,000 people and is now at 252,000 residents. That is almost 80,000 more than in 1970. Four other Dane County communities that surround Madison were also among the 10 largest gainers of cities, villages, and towns in Wisconsin. Fitchburg had the second largest number of new residents, with 920. Sun Prairie was sixth, Verona seventh, and Waunakee 10th. Meanwhile, Milwaukee has shrunk to an estimated population of 595,000 — well below the 717,000 Milwaukee had almost 50 years ago.

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Farm loans, deposits help with banks' steady growth

The head of the Wisconsin Bankers Association says the farming sector helped the state's banks grow during the first quarter of 2017.

The FDIC says the 221 banks headquartered in the Badger State had a total net income of $280 million from January through March, almost six-percent more than the same quarter of last year. Rose Oswald Poels, the state bankers' CEO, says banks normally show steady growth early in the year, and 2017 reflects that as well. She says a 12 percent jump in farm loans and a 2 percent rise in deposits helped. Total bank loans in the state grew by almost three-percent with fewer reserves set aside to cover a smaller amount of delinquent loans.

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Video of Milwaukee carjacking resister makes national news

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee police continue to look for carjackers who made national news when their victim jumped on the hood of her car to keep the thieves from driving away.

The incident happened Tuesday afternoon at a BP service station in Milwaukee's Third Ward near the downtown area. Surveillance video caught 27-year-old Melissa Smith grabbing her receipt at a gas pump as a man left another car, sneaked into her auto, and tried driving it away. Smith immediately jumped onto the hood, but the man kept going until he suddenly stopped and grabbed her purse.

The thieves fled in another car. Smith's car stayed in drive, but she was able to stop it before it could hit anything else on the adjacent street. ABC, CNN, and other networks have shown the video that has also been posted on social media.

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Trucker dies in crash of 2 semis

EDGAR — Marathon County sheriff's deputies continue to investigate a crash of two semi-trailers in which one of the drivers was killed.

Deputies say an eastbound rig crossed a median about 6 a.m. Thursday on the Highway 29 expressway near Edgar, west of Wausau — and it collided with an oncoming semi in the westbound lanes. The driver whose truck crossed the median died at the scene, and his name was not immediately released. Media reports say cheese boxes were scattered, which were being hauled by one of the units.

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Assembly panel considers woodchuck hunting

MADISON — Woodchucks are said to be eating up farm crops in Wisconsin and digging holes that can damage gardens, livestock, and farm equipment.

That's what state lawmakers were told Wednesday, when they held a public hearing on a bill to allow the hunting of woodchucks. It would allow trapping, as a number of communities ban the use of firearms within their borders. GOP Rep. Andre Jacque of De Pere proposed the measure, and Assembly Natural Resources Chairman Joel Kleefisch says the hunting should be allowed after lawmakers have tried and failed in the past to allow it. Landowners can trap and hunt woodchucks on their own property, but he says their growing numbers have become a problem that people cannot legally do anything about.

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