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Mequon man among Oscar winners; eased frac-sand bill gets hearing Monday; more state news

Wisconsin is a big winner at the Oscars. Mequon native John Ridley won an Academy Award last night as the Best Adapted Screenplay for the film “Twelve Years a Slave.” It was also named Best Picture. Lupita Nyong'o won the Best Supporting Actress award for the film.

"Twelve Years a Slave" was based on the story of Solomon Northup, an African-American who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South before the Civil War. In accepting his Oscar, Ridley gave total credit to Northup, saying "Those are his words ... That is his life."

Ridley also thanked his parents, who still live near Milwaukee.

"Twelve Years a Slave" had garnered nine Oscar nominations. "Gravity" won the most Academy Awards with seven.

Mequon is located about 15 miles north of Milwaukee in Ozaukee County.


Hearing Monday on revised frac-sand bill

MADISON -- State lawmakers were to hear what people think Monday about a compromise bill to scale back strong local regulations on frac-sand mines.

The Assembly and Senate mining panels were to hold a joint public hearing at noon at the State Capitol on a revised measure proposed last week by Senate Republican Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst.

It would prohibit existing mines from facing new regulations and would not prohibit local governments from slapping a number of regulations on new silica-sand facilities, including local air and water quality standards, banning sand blasts and making frac-sand shippers pay advance fees to cover road damage.

Wisconsin towns and counties said Tiffany's original bill would have stomped on local control. Tiffany says those groups don't object to his compromise.

He says he's trying to make sure local governments don't legislate frac-sand mines into disappearing.

The Sierra Club environmental group still accuses Tiffany of selling out to the frac-sand industry.


GOP makes plans to oust Assembly majority leader

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans are planning to meet tomorrow to consider removing Bill Kramer as the majority leader of the lower house.

Kramer's office confirmed to several media outlets during the weekend that the Waukesha lawmaker checked into a treatment facility. His staffers would not say why.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on Saturday that Kramer was accused of sexually harassing two women last week at a fundraiser in Washington for state Assembly and Senate Republicans. A legislative staffer and a lobbyist were said to be the women making the allegations.

Yesterday, the paper said Kramer was scheduled to meet with GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos about his possible future in the leadership position, but that meeting never took place.

Vos issued a statement indicating that Assembly leaders planned to strip Kramer of the leadership post he assumed just last fall after Scott Suder resigned.  Considering that there's only a month left in the current session, the Journal Sentinel says the majority leader's post may stay vacant for now.

Kramer, 49, has been in the Assembly for just over seven years.


Trek to Apostle Islands ice caves continues

Thousands of people are still making the trip to Wisconsin's Apostle Islands to see the majestic ice caves.

The National Park Service said almost 78,000 people have visited the frozen sea caves between Bayfield and Cornucopia from Jan. 15 through the end of February. That's almost 10 times as many visitors as in 2009, the last time people could make the necessary two-mile-trek on the Lake Superior shore from Meyers Beach.

Five years ago, the Park Service said the ice caves had one of their longest seasons in February and March. About 84,000 visitors showed up then.

Of course, that was before social media and the Internet were able to turn the attraction into a world-renowned phenomenon. Once the topic got hot on Facebook, traditional media like the Wall Street Journal came a calling.


Marshfield lawmaker pressing medical marijuana bill

MADISON -- A Wisconsin Assembly Republican is trying to get his colleagues to look past the medical marijuana debate and approve the use of a marijuana extract for treating seizures.

First-term representative John Spiros of Marshfield says he's not sure if the Assembly will act on his bill as the current session begins its final month. Spiros says the extract can help kids who have up to 100 seizures a day live normal lives.

The Assembly Children and Families Committee passed his measure eight to one in February, but Spiros fears that many colleagues will confuse his proposal with the arguments over allowing marijuana for general medicinal purposes.

Legislative majorities of both parties have rejected that idea for years, fearing that legal pot would get into the wrong hands. Spiros said he, too, was skeptical at first but after hearing the pros and cons, he's certain there's no potential to abuse the anti-seizure extract for recreational purposes.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Icy grip on Great Lakes, Pepin, shows little sign of retreat

March came in like an icy lion on both of Wisconsin's Great Lakes. With spring less than three weeks away, Lake Michigan still has about 85% of its surface covered with ice more than in mid-February.

The Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab says about 95% of Lake Superior remains frozen over just a little lower than the previous week. This is the iciest winter on the Great Lakes since 1994 when 94% of the world's largest fresh-water system was covered.

Meanwhile, officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have decided to delay sampling ice thickness on Lake Pepin because Nature is showing so little sign of any warm-up.

The Corps will begin weekly sampling on March 12, some two weeks later than other years. Read more about it here:


Walker's office denies attempts to influence Parole Commission

MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker's office denies telling the state Parole Commission to reduce the number of prisoners being released early.

The Wisconsin State Journal said only 6% of parole requests were approved last year. That's down dramatically from the 13% of parole requests approved in 2010, the year before the Republican Walker replaced Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

The state ended parole for new inmates in 2000 after the truth-in-sentencing law took effect. But almost 2,900 people who were sent to prison before then remain eligible for early releases. Many were given long sentences with a chance for parole in some cases after only a quarter of their terms.

Madison priest Jerry Hancock of the Prison Ministry Project says the Parole Commission has essentially ended parole and it was not the intent of the judges who sent the affected inmates behind bars.

The governor appoints the parole commissioners, but Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said his office never gave a directive to reduce the early releases. The Parole Commission has not commented.

The corrections department has previously said 95% of those eligible for parole had committed violent crimes like murder and sexual assault.


Tossed food, nixed fundraisers are fallout from new school lunch mandates Wisconsin schools are facing unintended consequences with a two-year-old federal law aimed at getting kids to eat healthier at lunch.

They include more fruits and vegetables being thrown away instead of eaten, more parents packing bag lunches as school lunch prices go up and the prospect of school fundraisers being eliminated because the food that's sold does not meet federal guidelines.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act continues to be phased in, and schools are working with food service providers to find things kids will eat. Under one new requirement, youngsters must pick up a fruit or vegetable in the lunch line.

Lynette Zalec of the company that provides food for the Manitowoc district says more of that food is going in the garbage now.

School official Ken Mischler tells the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter that a Valentine's Day fund drive which sells popular heart-shaped suckers might go out the window. That's because the new food standards will also apply to school fundraisers.

He said more kids are bringing bag lunches or not eating at all because schools had to raise the cafeteria prices.

Zalec says the government wants to stop the practice of schools charging less than what Washington reimburses to give free lunches to low-income students.

Mischler says many schools use some of the government money to cover losses for the paid lunches so those close to the poverty line can eat at a reasonable price.


Continued chill defies calendar

With spring just 17 days away, you might not believe that this is one of coldest mornings of a brutally cold winter.

It was 32 below in Land O'Lakes at 6 a.m -- and minus 30 in Phillips and Tomahawk.

It's a saving grace that the winds are either light or nonexistent. Camp Douglas has the coldest wind chill in the state this morning at -36. That's a far cry from the -55 almost two months ago in far northern Wisconsin.

Forecasters say it will remain bitter cold for most of the week, but it might actually get above freezing on Friday.

Much of the far south had up to 2.5 inches of new snow early Sunday.

Light snow is in the forecast Monday evening for northern and central Wisconsin.

Spotty snow showers are also expected tomorrow and Thursday in parts of the state.


Northern Indian tribe aims for high-speed Internet

A remote Indian tribe in northwest Wisconsin is slowly working to provide a regional high-speed Internet service to its members.

The Lac du Flambeau tribe -- headquartered 12 miles northwest of Minocqua -- has completed a feasibility study and is now working on getting federal money.

Tribal education director Joni Theobald says her group is tentatively looking at a fiber-optic system with commercial-sized bandwidth. She said a mapping project has been completed, and the idea is to create a slow rollout as funds become available.

Band leaders say they're looking at several funding options, but one has too many strings attached. The project could run into the millions of dollars, but Theobald says it's manageable and the high-speed Web service is important to meet educational needs in the Northwoods.

--Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander


Drive-by shooting in St. Louis kills Waukesha student

A pharmacy school student from Waukesha was killed in a drive-by shooting over the weekend in St. Louis.

Police said Nicholas Kapusniak, 20, was at a backyard party with a group of friends early Saturday when somebody in a white sedan fired shots from an alley nearby. Kapusniak was a student at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

The head of the school's pharmaceutical fraternity, Jacob Beyer, said there were gangs in the area but he knew of nobody who wanted to hurt Kapusniak.

Police said they weren't sure why it happened, either. A $1,000 reward is being offered for information.

Kapusniak graduated from Waukesha Catholic Memorial High School in 2011.

Beyer said the victim was almost halfway through a six-year pharmaceutical study program and he didn't have an enemy in the world.


St. Germain man dies of exposure

EAGLE RIVER -- A man froze to death just outside his home in far northern Wisconsin. Authorities said alcohol might have been a factor.

Vilas County sheriff's deputies said Wade Willey, 49, of Saint Germain was frozen to the ground just outside his front door Saturday evening. He had been missing for about 17 hours when his body was discovered.

Officials said Willey apparently succumbed to the extremely cold temperatures.


Mechanical woes prompt Coast Guard chopper's landing

STURGEON BAY -- A Coast Guard helicopter that was heading across Lake Michigan made an emergency landing on Door County's Washington Island.

Officials said four crew members escaped injury when the chopper had flight control problems Sunday morning, about 30 minutes into the trip.

The Coast Guard said the M-H 65-C Dolphin chopper was flying from an air station at Traverse City in lower Michigan to Iron Mountain in the Upper Peninsula. The helicopter was planning to take part in a search and rescue mission, but it returned to Traverse City after its Door County landing.