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Utilities still toil to undo storm-related outtages; Ryan favors some facets of Obama budget; researcher charged with formula theft, more state news

Wisconsin utilities made a lot of progress Wednesday in restoring electricity but about 8,500 customers were still in the dark this morning, after a second day of heavy rains, sleet, ice and light snow.

Places with freezing rain are being hit the hardest. Wisconsin Power-and-Light had 5,100 customers out as of 6:30 a.m. Thursday and about a thousand remain disconnected in the Fond du Lac area.

We Energies had 3,300 customers out, mostly in the Oshkosh region. Wisconsin Public Service had fewer than 100 customers in the dark today, after 90 of its crews made repairs Wednesday at 270 locations.

Officials said heavy wet snow broke some utility poles. Spokeswoman Kelly Zagrzebski said crews will be at-the-ready again Thursday, with freezing rain forecasts and advisories posted for about the southern three-fourths of Wisconsin.

The far north could get up to 11 inches of snow.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Ryan: Obama's budget plan still too expensive for America

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville says President Obama's new federal budget plan shows that the two parties are "operating from different planets."

Ryan said he did like some of the ideas the Democratic White House put forward Wednesday, including a means-test for Medicare benefits, and a new formula which would slow the increases in Social Security benefits.

Ryan says he'd like to interpret it as an effort to get an agreement on the budget this year. Still, Wisconsin's highest-ranking House member calls the Obama package a "status quo" budget that spends too much, and does not embrace the entitlement reforms that majority House Republicans voted for.

Many Democrats also criticized the Social Security benefit change. Mark Pocan of Madison said it would result in lower benefits for those just getting by.

La Crosse House Democrat Ron Kind praised the Obama budget for making more investments in job training, education and more high-speed Internet coverage.

Menomonee Falls House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner says the Obama package never balances - and he says it's "irresponsible and not what the American people are looking for."

Proposed budget would spend $300 million on Great Lakes clean-up

President Obama's federal budget package would spend another $300 million dollars to clean up the Great Lakes.

The Restoration Initiative was a product of the second Bush presidency but nothing was budgeted until Barack Obama took over, and allocated almost $1.5 billion over the last four years.

Since then, the project has given over 1,500 grants to state and local governments, scientists, and non-profit groups to clean up Great Lakes shorelines in Wisconsin and seven other states.

The clean-ups have improved sewage emissions, battled invasive species, reduced algae, restored wildlife habitat, and more.

Chad Lord of the Healing Our Waters Great Lakes Coalition says the new budget proposal keeps the restoration on track.

This year's budget called for $300 million in clean-ups but the total might drop under the automatic federal spending cuts which took effect March 1st. The EPA has not said how much funding might be cut.

Employer-offered health plans shrinking

About 400,000 fewer Wisconsinites are getting their health insurance from an employer, compared to a decade ago.

According to a study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 69 percent of Wisconsinites under 65 were under employers' health coverage in 2010 and '11. That's 10 percent less than the 79 percent covered in 1999 and 2000.

Wisconsin companies still cover about 10 percent more people than the national average of 59.5 percent - which dropped by 10 points from the previous decade.

Just under half of all Wisconsin employers offer insurance to workers and their families. That's also down 10 percent from 2000, when 59 percent provided coverage. The biggest decline is in companies with less than 50 employees, as observers say more small businesses are getting priced out of the market.

Wisconsin had the largest drop in the country among small businesses offering coverage. Some 72 percent of small firms offered health insurance in 2000 while just 51 percent offered it a decade later.

Future of circus museum debated at Joint Finance hearing

LAKE DELTON -- The future of the Circus World Museum in Baraboo generated a debate Wednesday among those testifying at a legislative hearing on the proposed state budget.

The Joint Finance Committee heard comments in Lake Delton about Gov. Scott Walker's two-year budget, which would put the State Historical Society in charge of the circus museum.

The state now owns it, but a private group of donors operates it.

According to WISC TV in Madison, one donor accused museum directors of mismanagement during the budget hearing but museum director Steve Freese said the remark was misinformation from those who support the Historical Society's takeover and he said the current public-private set-up is best.

The TV station said the museum and the Historical Society have had an ongoing dispute over debt.

Assembly Democrat Fred Clark of Sauk City has asked for a state audit of the museum's finances, and the relationship between the museum and the Historical Society.

Before the hearing, jugglers entertained people and wore T-shirts reading, "Save the Circus." An antique circus wagon was parked outside while it rained and a critic told the committee quote, "None of us would transport our prized car or antique in an open trailer in this kind of weather."

Walker told WISC afterward that his only goal was to keep the Circus World Museum viable and open to visitors.

Researcher accused of cancer drug theft due in court

A researcher in Milwaukee is due in federal court this afternoon on charges that he stole a potential cancer-fighting chemical, so he could introduce it as his own in China.

Hua Jun Zhao, 42, has been in jail without bond and he was indicted by a grand jury this week on charges of computer fraud and lying to a federal agent.

A charge of economic espionage was filed earlier by prosecutors. A judge is expected to decide Thursday whether there's enough evidence to order a trial.

Zhao, a researcher at the Medical College of Wisconsin, allegedly stole three containers of the cancer-fighting compound from an office at the campus on Feb. 22nd. Prosecutors also said he tried to delete research data from the school's computers.

Medical College officials said he was disciplined several months earlier, for putting the school's research data onto his personal computer.

Prosecutors said he wanted to take the data and the compound back to China, where he's listed as an assistant professor at Zhejiang University.

Lutheran bishop says he was heading to church when he struck woman

SUN PRAIRIE -- A Lutheran bishop told police he was rushing to a Sun Prairie church for a sermon last Sunday, when his sport utility vehicle struck and killed distance runner Maureen Mengelt.

A criminal complaint against the Reverend Bruce Burnside quoted him as saying he did not have any alcohol or drugs but police said his blood alcohol level was .128, over one and a half times the state's limit for intoxication.

The 59-year-old Burnside made his first court appearance Wednesday on Dane County charges of negligent and drunken homicide, and two hit and run counts - one for causing death.

He pleaded innocent to his hit-and-run misdemeanor. The other charges are felonies.

A $150,000 cash bond was expected to be modified to a signature bond Thursday, and he's due back in court May 13th.

According to witnesses, Burnside had just left the Hwy. 151 freeway when he crossed a median and knocked down a lamp post, struck and killed Mengelt before hitting a guard rail. He told officers he was adjusting his radio and looking at his GPS monitor as he left the freeway ramp.

He said he hit his brakes, but made no mention of seeing the 52-year-old Mengelt. She was training for a 20-mile run in Stoughton next month.

Burnside remains the bishop of the Madison Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, serving 145 congregations and 110,000 Lutherans in south central Wisconsin. The church was expected to offer a statement about his status today.

Judge may force township to issue permits for mega-dairy

A judge could decide Thursday whether to force a town government south of Wisconsin Rapids to issue building permits for a proposed mega-dairy farm.

The Wysocki family filed suit last summer, saying the Wood County town of Saratoga put a moratorium on new construction after the family met all the requirements to get building permits the Golden Sands Dairy.

It would be a 7,000-acre farm that would have 5,300 dairy cattle plus supporting crops.

The town's building inspector, Lorelei Fuehrer, has refused to issue the building permits.

Town officials said the Wysockis did not submit all the required information before the moratorium but family insists otherwise.

Four cranberry growers filed a legal brief last month opposing the project. They said the farm would add nitrates and other contaminants to nearby water supplies and the growers said it would endanger their organic classification for their cranberries.

Visiting Judge Tom Eagon of neighboring Portage County held a hearing on the matter, and is expected to make the ruling.

West Allis man arrested for stabbing officer at state office building

MILWAUKEE -- A 25-year-old West Allis man has been arrested for the stabbing of a State Capitol police officer at the state's office building in downtown Milwaukee.

The 66-year-old officer is reported to be in stable condition at Milwaukee's Froedtert Hospital, with non-life-threatening injuries. His name was not immediately released.

Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said the officer was stabbed in the neck around 1 p.m., Wednesday, after he and a second officer responded to an emergency alarm on the fourth floor of the Milwaukee state office building.

The suspect reportedly confronted the two officers just before the stabbing.

Authorities have not said what caused the incident - or how and where the suspect was arrested.

Fond du Lac house explosion investigated

FOND DU LAC -- A house exploded in Fond du Lac Thursday morning.

The Fire Department wrote on Twitter that it responded to the blast around 6 a.m. at Moonlight Lane and Twilight Trail.

Officials also tweeted photos of a ranch-style house with a corner of its roof blown off, and two garage doors collapsed amid apparent flames.

No other details were immediately available.

Campbellsport teen responsible for 3 deaths ordered to pay $70,000

A Campbellsport teenager who killed three of her friends in a hill-jumping sport utility vehicle crash has been ordered to pay 70-thousand-dollars to the families of her victims.

Fond du Lac County Circuit Judge Dale English held a restitution hearing Wednesday for 19-year-old Carly Ottery, who was sentenced last November to a year in jail and six years of probation. Part of the money will be used to put memorial benches at the victims' gravesites.

The judge also told Ottery that she needed to put her friends' families in the same economic position they were in before the crash when they ended up losing wages and paying for funerals.

Authorities said Ottery drove a Ford Expedition at 109 miles-an-hour over a hillcrest in February of last year, after she and eight other girls' soccer players left a slumber party. The vehicle hit a bump before it flipped in a field.

Sabrina Stahl, Katie Berg, and Caitlin Scannell were killed. The other six, including Ottery, were injured.

Ottery's jail sentence lets her be released for work, school, and counseling.

Some people wrote the judge, complaining that Ottery was not in jail enough.

Judge English said "If it were up to me, she'd be sitting in jail the whole year. This was a very, very serious offense."

Alleged horse mistreatment under investigation

KENOSHA -- Authorities in Kenosha County are still investigating an apparent mistreatment of numerous horses.

Police were called to a stable near Pleasant Prairie on Tuesday.

A search discovered that five horses had died, and 24 others were in poor condition.

Broadcast reports said a nearby stable was caring for those animals.