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Wisconsin roundup: State clamping down on cellphones in work zones; right to work law upheld;

MADISON -- It will soon be against the law in Wisconsin to talk on a hand-held cellphone while driving through a construction zone.

Starting Saturday, those who don't stop chatting when passing orange barrels and highway workers can be given a $40 ticket. The only exception is for calling 911.

Hands-free and Bluetooth cell devices will remain legal. It's already against the law to write and read text messages while behind the wheel. David Hunt of the state transportation department says drivers who enter work zones need "undivided attention," and in the five years ending in 2015, Wisconsin has had 47 deaths in highway construction areas -- and another 36-hundred were injured.


Judge upholds Wisconsin right to work law

MADISON -- Two labor unions say they will appeal a federal judge's ruling that upholds Wisconsin's right to work law.

Milwaukee District Judge JP Stadtmueller threw out a challenge Monday to the 2015 law that prohibits companies from making workers pay union dues as conditions of employment. Stadtmueller notes that the federal appeals court in Chicago upheld Indiana's right to work law -- but two locals of the International Operating Engineers union said the Wisconsin law was unconstitutional, claiming it took revenue from the unions without being compensated.

State Attorney General Brad Schimel says he rejects the notion that the state took away union property -- namely the dues paid by both union and non union workers. A similar lawsuit is pending in a state appeals court.


UW Credit Union expands eligibility to all college students

MADISON -- UW Credit Union is expanding its membership eligibility to include all current and former college students who reside in Wisconsin. 

Gov. Scott Walker is touting the move as a way to help students refinance their loans. The governor and credit union officials announced the expansion at a news conference Tuesday. Until now the credit union has generally served only current and past University of Wisconsin System and Madison Area Technical College students. It offers interest rates ranging from 2.2 percent to 6.8 percent.


Tuition increase for some proposed at UW-Madison

MADISON -- It could soon cost more for out-of-state students to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank is also seeking to increase tuition for students in professional schools. During her State of the University speech Monday, Blank also told faculty that the flagship school in Madison will distribute $9 million in raises and bonuses to faculty and academic staff.

Blank said the university needs to stabilize its financial basis as state funding declines. The last time regents approved tuition increases for non-resident and professional school students at UW-Madison was in spring 2015.


Sheriff: Unruly airline passengers should be charged federally

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke says disruptive airline passengers should face federal charges instead of lesser state or local violations.

Clarke was referring to 36-year-old Preston Bluntson, who was arrested for a pair of criminal misdemeanors after he allegedly badgered Clarke and others on a flight Saturday from Milwaukee to Charlotte. Bluntson, who's from Milwaukee, is free until a court appearance Oct. 28 in Charlotte.

In a brief statement, Clarke said such incidents should be reviewed by U.S. attorneys to send a message that berating passengers and flight crew members will not be tolerated.


Wisconsin soils mark record saturation

MADISON -- Many Wisconsin soils cannot absorb much more rain, after record saturation levels from the heavy downpours and floods.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says 40 percent of Wisconsin farm fields had surplus topsoil moisture as of Sunday -- and 35-percent of subsoils had excess moisture. Those are the highest percentages for any week since the Ag Statistics Service began collecting data on topsoil moisture in 1995, and subsoil moisture in 2013.

The National Weather Service says southwest Wisconsin had a record 13.4 inches of rain this month, 5 inches more than the previous mark set in 1998. Two people were killed and a train derailed in the region, and flood warnings continue. The USDA says the September rains in La Crosse are 7.5 inches above normal, and the rains in Madison are six point seven inches above the norm.


Report: Domestic violence killed 58 last year in Wisconsin

MADISON -- A new report says domestic violence killed 58 people in Wisconsin last year.

That's according to an annual report from the End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin organization. The group links 48 homicides to domestic violence, along with nine suicides of abusers, and one killed by law enforcement -- and the deaths were reported in 21 counties.

The group says the numbers are among the highest since it began releasing annual reports in 2000, and memorial walks have taken place in Milwaukee, Madison, and Stevens Point where the victims' names were read aloud. The group also says the 2016 numbers show another significant increase, and group director Patti Seger says the deaths "need to move us toward change."


House candidate hit for taking state pay raise during recession

U.S. House candidate Tom Nelson says he's being unfairly criticized for taking a pay raise in 2009, when he was a state lawmaker during the Great Recession.

His campaign manager says Nelson, an Appleton Democrat, gave all his raises since 2009 to charity or his home county both as a legislator and the Outagamie County executive. Nelson showed the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel his income tax returns to back up his claims -- even though he didn't say anything about his donations in the past.

GOP challenger Mike Gallagher has run campaign ads saying Nelson took a pay hike when he was raising taxes -- and one raise came during as the former Marine said the American Dream was "collapsing." Lawmakers must pay full taxes on their salaries, but a Gallagher spokeswoman says some lawmakers still gave their raises back to taxpayers in 2009, and not charity.


Almost $6.5M in new flood damage so far

MADISON -- Damage is almost $6.5 million and rising from last week's floods in the western half of Wisconsin.

State officials say about three-fourths of the reported damages are from washed out roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure. Vernon County has reported $2 million of damage to public facilities but no residential damage yet -- even though a home was destroyed there as it fell down a mudslide onto a highway and killed the resident inside.

Richland County has reported almost $1.3 million in both public and private damages -- Clark County listed almost $880,000 -- and other counties with new flood damage are Adams, Chippewa, Eau Claire, Jackson, La Crosse, and Monroe, along with the Canadian National Railroad in Chippewa County. Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency in 13 counties -- and while several rivers continue to recede, officials say many county and town roads remain closed.


State sends postcards to those not registered to vote

MADISON -- If you have a Wisconsin driver's license but are not registered to vote, you can expect to hear from state officials soon.

The Elections Commission has started mailing 1.3 million postcards to tell unregistered adults how to sign up for November. Close to 500,000 postcards were mailed out Monday, and officials say they should all be delivered by the middle of next week.

The Pew Charitable Trusts are covering about two-thirds of the $225,000 cost of the mailings, which are required after Wisconsin joined the Electronic Registration Information Center that seeks to keep people's voting records up to date. Meanwhile, hundreds of people cast absentee ballots in Milwaukee and Madison on the first day that early voting began in both cities.


Pence's Waukesha visit postponed

WAUKESHA -- Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence has postponed his appearance in Waukesha Tuesday night.

The Indiana governor was scheduled to hold a public rally at Weldall Manufacturing. A campaign spokesman for White House nominee Donald Trump cited a scheduling conflict and said Pence's visit would be reset.

Trump still plans to visit Waukesha Wednesday night for a rally at the Waukesha County Expo Center, just two days his contentious debate with Democrat Hillary Clinton.


Rains cause farm erosion, delays in harvesting

MADISON -- Wisconsin farmers say they'll need several days of dry weather before they can get back to harvesting their crops.

Last week's storms dumped more than 10 inches of rain in western parts of the state. The Wisconsin Ag Statistics Service says a number of fields had flash floods, erosion damage, and large hail. Some of the corn had mold, but 87-percent of the state's crop is still rated good to excellent -- and 2 percent of the corn for grain has been harvested, along with almost two-thirds of the corn for animal feed.

The Wisconsin soybean harvest is also underway, and 84-percent of that crop is rated good to excellent. Almost 60-percent of Wisconsin potatoes have been harvested, about six days behind last year.