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Joint Finance affirms 20 percent cut for local recycling programs; midnight fire destroys Woodruff senior center; 12 more Wisconsin stories

MADISON -- It appears that local governments will have to make do with less funding from the state to help pay for their recycling programs over the next year.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee agreed Tuesday to a one-year reduction in state recycling aid from $20 million to $16 million starting in July.

Gov. Scott Walker included the funding cut in his proposed state budget. It would be restored in July of 2016.

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said it's not known how many counties and communities will have to change their recycling programs because of the state funding cut.

The Fiscal Bureau said recycling costs have risen over the last decade, while the amounts of state funds to off-set those costs has dropped.

Recycling has been a state mandate for Wisconsinites since the early 1990's.

State lawmakers seek Congressional help to limit fed-imposed student testing

MADISON -- More than 20 Wisconsin lawmakers have asked their congressional representatives to limit federally-required tests for public school students.

Assembly Democrat Eric Genrich of Green Bay was behind the request. Most of those signing a letter to the state's congressional delegation are Democrats. They favor a bill to require only one test for elementary students, one for middle-school youngsters, and one exam for high school students.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires public schools to test kids each year from third- through eighth grades, and once in high school. The U.S. Senate is expected to debate the measure when the No Child Left Behind Act comes up for re-authorization this month in Washington.

Wisconsin had problems administering a new online achievement this spring -- and Gov. Scott Walker has proposed different exams in his proposed state budget for the next two years. Lawmakers in Madison have not acted on that request yet.

State epidemiologist issues Lyme virus warning

MADISON -- With Memorial Day Weekend just two weeks away, Wisconsin officials are out with their annual warnings about Lyme Disease. The holiday marks the unofficial start of summer, as more folks in the Badger State venture into the woods and waters -- where ticks can take hold and spread the Lyme virus.

State epidemiologist Diep-Hoang Johnson said folks who spend time outdoors should constantly check themselves, wear long clothing to reduce skin exposure and use tweezers to remove ticks near the skin before they can settle in and make you ill.

Johnson also suggests showering once people come inside, and check their entire bodies for the pests.

Lyme Disease is named after the town in Connecticut where it was discovered in the early 1970's. A Marshfield Clinic doctor discovered Wisconsin's first Lyme cases in the same decade.

Johnson said cases were confined to northern parts of the state at first but now, they can happen in any region.

There were over 3,400 cases of tick-borne diseases in Wisconsin last year -- most of them Lyme cases.

-- Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander

No new avian flu cases reported Tuesday

MADISON -- No new cases of the bird flu were confirmed in Wisconsin Tuesday. That's after the state's ninth and tenth discoveries of the H-5 virus were announced on Monday.

Barron County has five of the cases, Jefferson County three, and Juneau and Chippewa counties one each. Jennie-O, the nation's second-largest consumer turkey producer, reports on its Web site that all five Barron County cases -- plus the one in Chippewa County -- involve farms where birds are grown for Jennie-O's Turkey Store facilities.

The company also listed 38 infected sites in neighboring Minnesota. On Tuesday, the firm said it would reduce its workload to one shift at its turkey processing plant in Faribault, Minn. Some 233 employees are being laid off due to a decline in available birds for processing. The company says they'll return once the supply gets back to normal.

Jennie-O's processing plant in Barron employs approximately 1,100 people. No lay-offs have been announced yet there.

Minnesota has 82 sites affected by the avian flu, in which 5 million birds were killed due to quarantines. Wisconsin has 1.7 million birds affected by its 10 cases.

On Monday, Raechelle Cline of the state agriculture department tried putting it all in perspective, saying the 10 affected sites are among 19,173 registered poultry premises in the Badger State.

-- WSAU-Wausau & Minnesota News Network)

Railroad's enforcement of property rights cramps fishermen's access

LA CROSSE -- Folks on the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin are apparently being told to stay away from spots where they've hunted and fished for decades. Those people must cross over 200 miles of Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad tracks that run close to the river's edges. Now, the firm has an officer patrolling the water, and urging people not to commit trespassing by walking across the tracks.

The La Crosse Tribune says the effort might cut off public access to thousands of acres of recreational land along the Mississippi. The BN-SF says that's not the goal. Spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the goal is to prevent deaths and injuries by avoiding the potential for walkers to be hit by trains. She calls it an educational campaign for now.

One long-time ice fisherman told the Tribune he was threatened with a trespassing ticket by a railroad officer. Charles Burch said there's no other way to reach his favorite backwater near Genoa -- so he has ended his 40 years of ice fishing there.

Railroad conductor Rick Hauser says people have no idea about the risks. He said engineers constantly must use whistles at people walking down the middle of railroad tracks with fishing poles. Others have climbed through and under parked trains -- which Hauser calls "unbelievable."

McBeth says folks should use roads or sidewalks to get across the tracks. Outdoor enthusiasts said the railroad's going overboard, and they wonder why it's fixing something that's not broke.

Ash borer discovered in Portage

PORTAGE -- Portage is the latest Wisconsin community to be hit with the tree-killing emerald ash borer.

A urban forester for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources found that at least two ash trees in the city were infested with larva from the green beetle.

The Portage Daily Register reported that the discovery came just a few weeks after the community was named a "Tree City U.S.A." for the 20th straight year by the National Arbor Day Foundation.

The leader of the Portage parks and recreation department said there are up to 1,000 ash trees on public property in the city.

Portage is the county seat of Columbia County, which is already under an ash-borer quarantine after the bug was discovered earlier. It means that people cannot take firewood from Columbia or the state's 36 other quarantined counties to those without quarantines.

Also, commercial ash products must be certified as pest-free before they can be sold in the state's 35 non-quarantined counties.

The emerald ash borer is native to China. It spread from Michigan over the past 13 years, was its presence was first confirmed in southeast Wisconsin in 2008.

Menasha shooting survivor's condition upgraded to 'serious'

MENASHA -- The Neenah woman injured in Sunday night's shooting spree in Menasha is improving.

Theda Clark Medical Center took 32-year-old Erin Stoffel off the critical list Tuesday. She's now in serious condition with the gunshot wounds she suffered.

Menasha Police said the gunman, UW Oshkosh student Sergio Valencia del Toro, grabbed two handguns and rode his bike onto a park trail in Menasha before he opened fire at random.

Erin Stoffel's husband and 11-year-old daughter were killed, as well as Appleton man before Del Toro turned the gun on himself.

His fiancee denied police reports that she and Del Toro had broken up. She also told the Oshkosh campus newspaper it wasn't true that she argued with him shortly before he committed the killings.

Winnebago County sheriff's officials said they only reported what people told them as they were investigating.

The trail and its connecting park in Menasha re-opened Tuesday.

Calumet Co. highway worker dies, 8 days after car-sweeper collision

NEENAH -- A second person has died in a crash in which a car rear-ended a road-sweeper in eastern Wisconsin.

Calumet County officials said Derrick Burkhalter, 50, of Hilbert died on Monday at a Neenah hospital, after he was critically injured in the April 27 accident.

The car driver, Andrew Graverson, 28, of the town of Menasha, died at the crash scene.

The State Patrol said Burkhalter was operating a Calumet County sweeper-truck that was trailing two road graders on a shoulder when the sweeper was rear-ended.

The crash happened east of Menasha on Hwy. 10/114 in Harrison.

Meanwhile, authorities have released the name of a woman killed by a car in central Wisconsin.

Marathon County sheriff's officials said Phyllis Pawlowski, 67, of Athens was walking on Hwy. 97 near Athens on Saturday night when the car struck her. She died at the scene.

Deputies do not suspect drugs o -alcohol as factors on the female driver's part. She has not been cited.

-- Damon Ryan, WOMT-Manitowoc and Raymond Neupert, WSAU-Wausau

Companion of alleged teen murderer strikes plea agreement

RHINELANDER -- A 22-year-old man has pleaded no contest to having illegal child sex with Ashlee Martinson, the Rhinelander area teen who's accused of killing her parents.

Circuit Judge Patrick O'Melia approved a deferred prosecution agreement Tuesday, in which Ryan Sisco would eventually have his charge dropped if he stays clean for a year. His conduct will be reviewed at a hearing on May 2, 2016.

Authorities said Sisco escaped with the 17-year-old Martinson, before they were arrested near Indianapolis on the same day as the murders on March 8.

Sisco was not charged in the homicide case, but Oneida County prosecutors did charge him with a misdemeanor of having sex with a juvenile 16 or older.

Sisco told officers he started a relationship with Martinson about three months ago, and he assumed she was a legal adult. He told officers he saw the girl buy cigarettes at a Rhinelander area store, which is legal only for those 18-and-over. He said he didn't suspect she was a juvenile until somebody told him on Facebook.

Martinson is charged with two counts of homicide in the deaths of her 40-year-old mother Jennifer Ayres and 37-year-old stepfather Thomas Ayres at the family home near Three Lakes. She's also charged with three counts of false imprisonment, for allegedly locking her three younger sisters in a bedroom before getting away. Martinson has a preliminary hearing set for June 5 on those five felony counts.

The three younger girls are being cared for by social services' officials.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Former teacher pleads guilty to assaulting girls

ABBOTSFORD -- A former high school math teacher in central Wisconsin has pleaded guilty to three- of nine charges in the sexual assaults of two 17-year-old female students.

Andy Follen, 26, of Spencer taught at Abbotsford High for four years, until he resigned just before the first of three rounds of criminal charges were filed.

Follen is scheduled to be sentenced July 16 in Clark County, after he struck a plea deal that convicted him of two felony exposure charges and misdemeanor fourth-degree sexual assault.

Two felony counts of sex assault by a school staffer were dropped, along with two subsequent bail jumping charges plus an allegation that he intimidated a witness by urging one of the victims to convince prosecutors to reduce his charges.

Follen is due back in neighboring Marathon County Circuit Court on Aug. 7. He's charged there with two counts of sex assault by a school staffer, for allegedly having sex at his home with one of the girls. A four-day trial in that case is set for Sept. 9.

The alleged incidents occurred in 2013 and early last year. Officials said one of the assaults took place during a basketball tournament at the school on a Saturday.

Midnight fire guts Woodruff senior center

WOODRUFF -- Fire destroyed a senior citizens' center overnight in Wisconsin's Northwoods. Woodruff fire crews were called just after one this morning to the Lakeland Senior Center in the community that's bounded to the south by Minocqua.

The center provided a host of services for the elderly including health clinics, social and recreation activities, and dining. The center's Meals on Wheels program that serves the homebound has been suspended until further notice.

Woodruff Fire Chief Mike Timmons called the center a total loss. The cause is under investigation.

-- Mike Michalak, WHDG, Rhinelander

Body of Scandia, Minn., man found in St. Croix River

Authorities have recovered a second body over the course of two days on the St. Croix River on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border.

A fisherman found the body of Troy Henry, 41, on Monday night just north of the Log House Landing in Scandia, Minn., the town where Henry lived. Washington County authorities said foul play is not suspected, and an autopsy would determine the cause of Henry's death.

Officials also said there's no evidence the death was related to that of Fall Creed native Abbey Russell. Her body was found Saturday in the St. Croix River, north of Stillwater. Again, foul play was not suspected. An autopsy was conducted on Russell but results will not be made public until toxicology test results are known in about four- to six weeks.

Montana trucker pleads to negligence charge in crash that killed student teacher

MADISON -- A truck driver will spend ten months in jail for killing a student art teacher in a chain-reaction crash at a rural Dane County high school.

Gary Lammert, 51, of Deer Lodge, Mont., pleaded guilty Tuesday to a reduced charge of causing injury by negligent driving.

He was originally charged with negligent homicide and causing injury by reckless driving. Those counts were dropped in a plea deal.

The crash occurred in May, 2012 in front of Wisconsin Heights High School. It killed student-teacher Katie Binning, age 22.

Authorities said she slowed down to turn left into the high school parking lot, when her car was rear-ended by Lammert's truck. Binning's vehicle was then pushed into the opposite lane, where a van struck it. Binning died at the scene. Lammert's attorney was hoping to give his client another month before he starts his jail sentence.

Circuit Judge David Flanagan refused and he imposed a sentence that's eight months longer than the two months attorneys on both sides recommended in the plea deal.

Minnesota squad car stolen from UW-Superior campus

SUPERIOR -- Authorities are asking for the public's help in locating a St. Louis County Sheriff's Dept. squad car stolen Monday night while it was parked on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus.

The black, unmarked squad car is a 2013 Chevrolet Impala with Minnesota license plate number 301 LVL.

"We'd love to have the public's help in determining the whereabouts of the vehicle," said St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman. "I've been doing this for 12 years and its the first motor vehicle assigned to this office we've had stolen. It's rare and it's very brazen for somebody to do this."

Litman said the squad was taken at about 6 p.m.

Because the investigation is ongoing he would not say what was in the car. He said the Superior Police Department and other law enforcement agencies are searching and looking out for the vehicle. As of Tuesday afternoon there were no leads, Litman said.

"I can see if it were night time, intending to steal a vehicle and breaking into it — 'Oops, this is a law enforcement car,' " Litman said. "But in broad daylight, one can easily look in. It makes one wonder if their intent was to steal (a squad car)."

Litman said the deputy who drove the car had the sheriff's permission to be on the campus with the vehicle.

It is not known how the vehicle was accessed.

"We have no idea," said Gary Gulbrandson, UWS director of campus safety and parking services. "There was no glass on the ground; no evidence outside."

Anyone with information on the location of the vehicle is asked to call 911.

-- Forum News Service