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Wisconsin roundup: Kind joins House GOP in striking down Obama gun restriction; UW to review ban on considering criminal records for admissions; and 10 more state news stories

WASHINGTON, DC -- La Crosse Democrat Ron Kind joins House Republicans in striking down a rule that stops at least some Social Security disability recipients from buying guns.

Kind joined four Wisconsin Republicans Thursday in dropping Barack Obama's rule to force the Social Security Administration to send the names of mentally ill recipients to the FBI's background check system for gun purchases.

Wisconsin House Democrats Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan voted against the GOP bill, and they sided with the rule's supporters who say it keeps guns away from those with schizophrenia and severe anxiety attacks.

Critics say the Obama rule takes away Second Amendment gun rights for those without dangerous mental health conditions, like those with eating disorders. Thursday's strike down vote was 235-180.


UW to review ban on considering criminal records for admissions

MADISON -- The UW System will review its policy against using criminal records in deciding who gets admitted as students.

That's after Madison student Daniel Dropik tried starting a chapter of the white nationalist American Freedom Party -- and it was later learned that he was convicted of starting fires at black churches in Milwaukee and Lansing, Mich., in 2005.

Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank recently said she would ask the Board of Regents to review the policy on banning criminal histories in deciding admissions -- and while the Board did not discuss the matter Thursday, System President Ray Cross said the UW would see how other schools deal with the matter. And if a change is needed, Cross said it could be adopted in the fall of 2018.


Trump praises Harley in White House meeting

WASHINGTON, DC -- President Donald Trump praises Milwaukee's Harley Davidson for "building things in America."

The Republican Trump held a luncheon meeting at the White House Thursday for executives and union leaders from the motorcycle maker.

It came after the White House canceled a Thursday appearance by Trump, in which media reports claimed that Harley was uncomfortable with the protesters that would have followed the president to its Menomonee Falls plant. Both Harley and the White House denied those assertions -- and the president made room on his Thursday White House schedule to highlight Harley, federal health care and tax reforms, and his "America First" trade policy.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump held a rally Thursday night, in which about 100 people "celebrated" Trump's canceled visit to the city.


Summit: State needs more houses on the market

MILWAUKEE  -- Economists say Wisconsin needs more houses for sale -- and if it doesn't happen soon, Marquette analyst David Clark says existing home sales could hold steady or even go down. Clark spoke Thursday at a home real estate summit in Milwaukee.

Chief economist Robert Dietz of the National Association of Home Builders says new home construction can help alleviate supply shortages -- but it won't be enough because there are shortages of both construction workers and lots that are ready for development.

Wisconsin realtors say they're coming off a record year for home sales, with a 6.1 percent increase from the previous year. They say the dwindling inventory has caused prices to go up -- and the numbers of homes available for sale dropped from 40,000 to about 33,000 throughout Wisconsin in December alone.


State investigates police shooting death near Elkhorn

ELKHORN -- The state Justice Department will determine whether officers were justified in shooting and killing a man near Elkhorn Thursday night.

Walworth County Sheriff Kurt Picknell says one of his deputies and an Elkhorn police officer were involved in the incident. It happened about 7:45 p.m. near a rural intersection on County Trunk H south of Elkhorn in the town of Geneva.

The officers were not hurt. No names were immediately released, and officials did not give other details about what led to the shooting.


Wisconsin snaps 26-month cheese production growth streak

MADISON -- For the first time in more than two years, Wisconsin's cheese production is less than the same month the previous year.

The USDA says the Badger State made about 271 million pounds of cheese in December, seven-tenths-of-one-percent less than the year before.

The Wisconsin Ag Connection says it's the first time in 26 months that the state's year to year cheese output went down.

Italian cheese was the only category to have a higher output from last December in the state, with an increase of  2.1 percent as Cheddar, American and mozzarella all had decreases ranging from 1.7 to 3.2 percent.

Wisconsin remains far and away the nation's top cheese producer, making 55 million pounds more than second place California with a total national output of a little more than one billion pounds for December.


GOP lawmakers hire legal firms to defend redistricting

MADISON -- Majority Republicans are hiring two high powered legal firms to try and preserve state Assembly and Senate districts that a court said were highly gerrymandered in the GOP's favor.

The Assembly Organization Committee voted 5-3 Thursday, and a similar Senate panel voted 3-2 to hire the international firm of Kirkland and Ellis, and the Madison firm of Bell/Giftos/Saint John to try and overturn a recent ruling that the 2011 GOP district maps were unconstitutional -- and that new maps need to be drawn for the 2018 elections.

All Democrats voted no, and they objected that the meetings were closed to the public. Republicans have already billed taxpayers  $2 million for legal assistance on redistricting -- and they do not know how much their new help will cost.

Democrats won a lawsuit last year that challenged the GOP redistricting, and they've hired attorney Paul Smith to try and ward off a successful appeal.


Watertown woman charged in fatal motorcycle crash

WAUKESHA -- A Watertown woman is due in court Monday after she was accused of driving into a motorcycle head on, killing its driver and injuring another biker.

Twenty-year-old Danielle Grooms was charged Thursday in Waukesha County with felony counts of homicide by negligent driving, and causing injury by reckless driving.

Prosecutors say Grooms was passing another car while driving uphill in a no passing zone, and her vehicle struck and killed Mark Galluzzo on his motorcycle -- while Craig Knox fell and slid from his bike. It happened Aug. 5 in Eagle on Waukesha County Road NN.

Police quoted Grooms as saying she was eating fast food while driving home from work, and she passed a car that was going slow and swerving while its driver appeared to be on a cellphone.


Kohler buys British maker of clean electric generators

KOHLER -- The Kohler Company near Sheboygan has bought a British firm that makes clean producing electric generators.

Kohler's engine and generator division said Thursday it purchased Clarke Energy Limited of Liverpool -- and financial terms were not disclosed.

CEO David Kohler says it will add the distribution of clean, large "gaseous" generators to Kohler's product lines. He says it will be an "ideal complement" to his company's diesel generators for "standby applications."

Kohler has 32,000 employees throughout the world, and Clarke Energy has 1,100 workers with sales of about $350 million in 2015.


Walker appoints new Vets Secretary, wants assessment of nursing homes

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker has named a retired Army officer as the new head of the state Veterans' Affairs Department. He also ordered a full review of the troubled vets' nursing home at King.

Walker told Daniel Zimmerman Thursday to start a "thorough assessment" of both veterans' nursing homes, and improve communication with "regular discussions" for county veterans service officers and other service groups.

Zimmerman replaces John Scocos, who left in January amid reports of care problems, the mishandling of dangerous liquid oxygen, and a diversion of federal funds for the King Veterans Home in Waupaca County.

Walker said the vets' homes serve some of the most "vulnerable" veterans, and he expects “nothing short of the best when it comes to the care of these patriots."


Baldwin says she'll vote against Supreme Court nominee

WASHINGTON, DC --  U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin now says she'll oppose the nomination of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the nation's highest court.

The Wisconsin Democrat tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Gorsuch does not have a "mainstream record," and she believes Americans deserve an independent justice who will "protect constitutional rights."  

Baldwin said Tuesday night she would fully review the nominee's record and give him "fair consideration." After her review, Baldwin now says she will not be one of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster and force a Senate vote.

President Donald Trump has asked his GOP Senate allies to abandon the filibuster rule if it comes down to that.


Suspect in theft of Crest White Strips, Rogaine arrested in Chicago

CHICAGO  -- A woman suspected of stealing thousands of dollars worth of Crest White Strips and other articles from Northeast Wisconsin pharmacies has been arrested in Chicago.

Television station WBAY reports that Green Bay police say 20-year-old Lovea Moore is believed to be responsible for the theft of almost $18,000 worth of Crest White Strips, Rogaine for Men and shaving cartridges.

The thefts happened in Green Bay, De Pere, Oshkosh, Kaukauna, Neenah and Appleton. Theft charges have been filed against Moore in Brown and Outagamie counties.

The items reportedly are re-sold on internet sites like eBay. Police say the “steal and re-sell” scheme is common in the area and can be hard to prevent since most retailers tell their employees not to stop the thief because of the lawsuits that can come from accusing someone of stealing.