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Wisconsin roundup: Bidding farewell to a warm, wet 2016; oversight at vets' home could hinge on appointment; 8 more state news stories

Plum Creek in Plum City, normally a docile stream, looked more like a lake after a heavy storm in July. (File photo)

Wisconsin is about to finish one of its warmest and wettest years.

The National Weather Service says 2016 is the fourth warmest on record in Milwaukee and the seventh warmest in Madison through Wednesday, with average temperatures of around 50 degrees.

Rhinelander set a new record for its total annual precipitation with 42.75 inches of precipitation. That's no surprise, considering that virtually all regions of the state had places with massive downpours and flooding this summer.

Milwaukee has had almost 19 inches of snow this month, making it the 11th snowiest December on record. Much of far northern Wisconsin had at least 1 inch of new snow Thursday, and Gile in Iron County had 3.3 inches. Forecasters predict light snow and freezing rain for much of the state Friday and Saturday.


Legislative action at King may hinge on governor's appointment

MADISON — State Sen. Luther Olsen says he might seek more oversight at the veterans' nursing home at King, depending on who the governor appoints as the new veterans secretary to replace the resigning John Scocos.

Earlier reports have documented problems with nursing care and a diversion of federal funds for the vets' home in Waupaca County -- and the federal government has just given the home seven citations for medical care issues, and confirmed that staffers mishandled dangerous liquid oxygen that leaked into a ventilation system as workers were told not to report what happened. Olsen says that unless Walker appoints a new veterans secretary who will "clean house" at King, the senator will seek legislative action to prevent more cover-ups.

Senate Democrat Jon Erpenbach of Middleton tells the Madison Capital Times he filed a complaint with the federal government because the leak had to go on record. Veterans officials say they're fixing the problems and Olsen, a Republican whose district includes the vets' home, says it should be reporting its own issues instead of fessing up when the feds expose problems.


Minimum wages to rise in 19 states, but not Wisconsin

Nineteen states will raise their minimum wages at the start of the New Year, but Wisconsin will not be one of them.

Washington state and Massachusetts will have the nation's highest minimums, at $11 per hour. Wisconsin's minimum wage remains at $7.25 -- same as the national minimum wage that was last raised in 2009. Majority Republicans side with business groups which say that raising the minimum wage will reduce jobs and raise prices for things like restaurant meals.

Fast food workers in the state have occasionally picketed as part of a national campaign for a $15 minimum wage plus the right to unionize. In September, a statewide Marquette Law School poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed favored a $15 minimum wage in the Badger State -- and 23 percent of Republicans supported it.


Federal lawsuit accuses grocery chain of trademark infringement

MADISON — A Wisconsin grocery chain is being sued for allegedly infringing on a trademark from another grocer that highlights locally produced food.

Metcalfe's Markets, which has two stores in Madison and one in suburban Milwaukee, says it was the first to use a logo shaped liked a police badge that identifies local food items as "Wisconsin Food Miles." Festival Foods, a chain of 25 stores based near La Crosse, uses a somewhat wider badge to promote what it calls "Locally Grown" items. Metcalfe's lawsuit was filed this week in federal court in Madison -- and it seeks unspecified damages, plus an order to make Festival stop using its logo. Festival has not commented.


Prosecutor: Appleton threat suspect talked of 'shooting up' mall, hotel

APPLETON — A man accused of making threats that evacuated the Fox River Mall near Appleton allegedly talked of "shooting up" the mall and the Copper Leaf Hotel.

The Outagamie County District Attorney's office has filed a more detailed complaint against 28-year-old Christopher Hawkins of Green Bay, who's charged with making terrorist threats on Tuesday. Prosecutors say Hawkins argued with his girlfriend in a parking ramp, left with a gun, called the girlfriend 10 minutes later, and said he would "shoot up" the mall and she may as well call police.

Hawkins is quoted as telling the woman, "I guarantee by the end of the night someone is going to die." Officials say Hawkins never went into the mall -- and he was arrested Wednesday in Minneapolis, where he remains in jail awaiting extradition to Wisconsin.


State panel votes on new protections for Indian burial mounds

MADISON -- A study committee is voting by mail on whether to recommend more specific rules to protect Wisconsin's Indian burial mounds.

Ballots are due Friday on a proposal by a Legislative Council study panel that more clearly determines when the State Historical Society can protect burial mounds from development, create a system for landowners to challenge protection orders, and remove sites from the protection list when remains are taken away.

Business leaders on the panel say it should be easier, not harder to remove burial mounds -- while tribal leaders say the mounds are religious and cultural sites that must be preserved. If the study panel endorses the measure, it will be submitted to the Legislature. The panel was formed after a quarry near McFarland got into a legal battle when an effigy mound blocked the owner's ability to extract nearby minerals.


Law enforcement weighs in on new state drunk-driving crackdown

WAUSAU — Tougher penalties take effect on New Year's Day for Wisconsin's most chronic drunk drivers.

But at least one law enforcement official is not sure whether the new law will discourage drinkers from driving when they've had one too many. The law affects those with at least four OWI arrests -- and Marathon County Sheriff's Lt. Mark Wagers tells Wausau TV station WAOW it "remains to be seen" whether it will deter people from getting their first, second, or third drunk driving convictions.

The law makes fourth offenses a felony regardless of how long it's been since a driver's third conviction -- and maximum prison sentences will increase by as many as 2 ½ years for those with five OWI offenses or more. Wagers says he hopes the higher penalties will help, but it won't necessarily "break the cycle" of drinking and driving.


Alderman to criminals: 'You may meet your match'

MILWAUKEE — A man walking his dog in a quiet Milwaukee neighborhood shot two people who tried robbing him, prompting Alderman Mark Borkowski to say it should put criminals on notice that "you may meet your match."

Seventeen-year-old Deonte Thomas was killed, and his 18-year-old companion was wounded and remains hospitalized. Police say the two were looking for someone to rob when they stopped the 36-year-old dog walker late Tuesday night.

He had a state concealed weapons permit when he pulled out his gun and shot the two. The Milwaukee County district attorney's office will decide if charges are warranted against the shooter. Alderman Borkowski says the two teens were "looking for trouble." Milwaukee police say the two may have robbed someone just one hour before they were shot.


Inmate illnesses halt visitors at Oshkosh prison

OSKOSH — Visitors are not being allowed at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution due an increased number of inmate illnesses.

Department of Corrections spokesman Tristan Cook says other operations are also being limited. Cook says movement throughout the institution is being curtailed to minimize contact between inmates and allow inmates to recover before resuming normal operations is part of the department's effort to mitigate the spread of illness.


Madison's Great Wolf to buy waterpark hotel near Mall of America

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — One of America's largest waterpark hotel owners that's based in Madison is said to be working on a major acquisition.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune says Great Wolf Resorts is acquiring the Water Park of America and its connected Radisson Hotel in Bloomington. It's across from the Mall of America. Despite the waterpark's name, it's not part of the nation's largest shopping mall.

Great Wolf reportedly plans to eliminate the confusion by putting its own name on the facility, and the firm has submitted plans to Bloomington officials to add retail and entertainment areas including a bowling center and a bar. The Star Tribune says that if the city approves the plans, the renovations to the 403-room hotel could be done by next November.