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Right-to-work clears Senate, passage 'virtually a given'; DNR makes huge land-buy

MADISON -- Wisconsin's right-to-work bill moves on to the state Assembly next week, after the Senate approved it 17-to-15 Wednesday evening.

Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon joined all 14 Democrats in voting no. As a former electrical union member, Petrowski said he was not convinced that the bill's purported benefits would materialize and it could have a disruptive impact on the economy.

His GOP colleagues claim that right-to-work would attract more business to Wisconsin, and give workers the freedom to decide whether to join their companies' unions or pay dues to them.

Democrats said it would weaken unions, reduce wages, and hurt working families. They said a business coalition with over 440 companies opposed the bill as did 1,700 people who registered against it at a public hearing on Tuesday.

Majority Republicans tossed out a number of Democratic amendments during eight hours of debate. Among other things, the Democrats wanted to delay the bill's implementation for three months, and prevent a proposed criminal misdemeanor for violators.

Other amendments would have spent $30 million more for worker training, and increase poverty aid for public schools.

About a dozen spectators were removed by police for disrupting the debate. They chanted "Shame" afterward -- reminiscent of the 2011 Act 10 protests, but on a smaller scale.

With the Assembly's 63-36 Republican make-up, passage of right-to-work is virtually a given.

Gov. Scott Walker plans to sign it and then the law will take effect immediately, making Wisconsin the nation's 25th right-to-work state.

DNR land buy is largest ever in Douglas, Washburn counties

MADISON -- The largest land conservation purchase in state history was completed Wednesday.

The Natural Resources Board voted 7-to-0 to pursue the second- and final phase of a land acquisition in Douglas County that protects another 22,000 acres of mainly forest land.

The first phase preserved about 41,000 acres, at a price of $11 million. The state will spend almost

$2 million on the new phase, as its share of a $5.6 million purchase of easement land now owned by the Lyme Lumber Company.

Federal funds will cover the rest.

The state's acquisition began in 2012 at what will now be called the Brule-St. Croix Legacy Forest.

The lumber company has been allowed to continue managing the land for timber production, with new recreation opportunities at the Brule River State Forest. Also, there's a plan to clear-cut sections of forests to form pine barrens that could attract sharp-tailed grouse and other wildlife.

The land has almost 40 lakes and ponds, and the easement includes eight miles of snowmobile trails.

The latest purchase was not affected by Gov. Scott Walker's state budget proposal to freeze land purchases under the state's Stewardship program starting July 1.

Read more specifics about the purchase here:

Habitat restoration near Great Lakes aimed at better water quality

The federal government will spend almost $8 million to restore wildlife habitat near the Great Lakes, with a goal of improving water quality.

The parent agency of the National Weather Service is providing the funds for a group called the Great Lakes Areas of Concern. Michigan's two U.S. senators announced the grant Wednesday.

Senator Gary Peters said it would help ensure safe drinking water for 33 million Americans who get their water supplies from the Great Lakes. Senator Debbie Stabenow said the grant would also protect the Great Lakes, other nearby waterways, and wildlife habitats.

The restoration projects will be determined by a regional partnership that includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Great Lakes Coalition, Wisconsin and the other Great Lakes States, and local agencies.