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Wisconsin roundup: DOT to seek input on bridge improvements at Prescott; 10 more state news stories

The Wisconsin DOT wants to hear what people think about a proposed new bridge across the St. Croix River between Prescott and Hastings. Image courtesy of Google Maps

PRESCOTT — The Wisconsin DOT wants to hear what people think about proposed bridge improvements across the St. Croix River between Prescott and Hastings.

A public meeting is planned for Aug. 22 at 5 p.m. at the Prescott City Hall, where transportation officials will explain the project, answer questions, and get ideas from people on what the work should include. The project is scheduled for next year, and the bridge is expected to stay open while crews fix the surface, put on a new overlay, and do some painting.

The DOT says the 26-year-old bridge has "structural deficiencies" that need to be addressed to cut maintenance costs. Any work that affects boat traffic would be done outside the April through October navigation season.

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Regents form new panel to study hiring outside academia

MADISON — The University of Wisconsin System regents have named a new panel to work on increasing the number of job applicants with non-academic backgrounds.

Regents President John Behling on Monday released the names of regents on the panel. He says the group will review the hiring process for top positions and provide recommendations this fall.

Behling said last month that he wants leaders from outside academia, saying university hiring from the private sector is a trend. The Legislature's finance committee added provisions in the state budget in May blocking the regents from adopting policies requiring them to consider only faculty or people with tenure or terminal degrees for top positions.

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No hearings set on renewed state immigration bills

MADISON — State GOP lawmakers have not scheduled public hearings yet on two bills introduced in March that crack down on sanctuary cities.

Rep. John Spiros of Marshfield has a bill that requires police to jail those accused of crimes for an extra 48 hours if they're suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. Cities that don't do that would lose $5,000 of state aid each day. A second bill from Menomonee Falls Republican Janel Brandtjen would let residents file suit against local governments for not enforcing federal immigration laws.

Similar efforts were turned back in the last session after heavy protests from immigrants, including a pair of separate "Days Without Latinos" protests in which immigrants rallied instead of working. Spiros says his bill is more relaxed than one rejected last year on jailing those suspected of being in the United States illegally.

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Crop conditions improve

MADISON — Wisconsin farmers are getting better weather to grow their crops.

Officials say corn pollination was in full swing last week and soybeans were showing more maturity — even though uneven conditions are still seen across the Badger State in the wake of the sporadic heavy rains and floods the past few weeks. The maturity stage for the Wisconsin corn is still four to eight days behind last year, and 70 percent of the total crop is good to excellent — unchanged from the previous week.

Seventy-five percent of the soybeans are good to excellent, one point higher than the week before. Fifteen percent of Wisconsin potatoes are harvested, and 80 percent are good to excellent.

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New home construction down slightly in largest state metros

OSHKOSH — The building of new homes is down slightly in Wisconsin's two largest metro areas for the first seven months of the year.

MTD Marketing Services of Oshkosh says there's almost a 1 percent decrease in building permits for one and two family houses in metro Milwaukee to 803 — and Dane County, which includes Madison, had 734 permits issued, a drop of four from January through July of last year. But new housing starts have grown by double digit percentages in other Wisconsin metros — 28 percent more in the Racine/Kenosha region, 22 percent more in Green Bay and Door County, 16 percent more in the Wausau area, and 13 percent more in the Fox Valley.

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PDQ plans layoffs as it sells to Kwik Trip

MADISON — PDQ convenience stores says it will lay off 313 employees the week of Oct. 9, while the chain is sold to Kwik Trip.

In a notice to state officials, the company said an undisclosed number of the affected employees could work for Kwik Trip — but the workers would have to reapply and nothing is guaranteed. Last month, the La Crosse-based Kwik Trip said it would create about 1,000 new jobs when the company refurbishes PDQ's 34 stores throughout southern Wisconsin.

Kwik Trip expects to finalize its purchase in October. It has not said whether the affected stores would be shut down during the PDQ stores' changeovers to Kwik Trip.

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State Rep. Wachs announces run for governor

MADISON — State Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire has announced his expected run for governor.

He's the third Democrat to officially declare his bid for Republican Scott Walker's seat, joining Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik and former California congressional hopeful Bob Harlow — and five other Democrats have filed the necessary paperwork to start their candidacies including state public school Superintendent Tony Evers. The 60-year-old Wachs is an attorney who's in his fifth year in the state Assembly after three years on the Eau Claire city council.

Wachs says he wants to "level the playing field" for all Wisconsinites — and he says he would be the first challenger to Walker who's not from the Milwaukee or Madison areas. The state GOP was ready with its criticisms of Wachs, saying he has filed "frivolous" lawsuits as a lawyer to "pad his own pockets."

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Teacher suspected in sex case apparently takes own life

WHITEFISH BAY — A suburban Milwaukee teacher suspected of having a sexual relationship with a student has taken own life.

Milwaukee Police said Monday that 39-year-old Christian Tomsey died suddenly in the county jail, and the death is being investigated as a suicide. That word came the same day that officials at Whitefish Bay Dominican High School told parents that Tomsey was fired after a thorough school investigation — and that they learned of his death.

Whitefish Bay Police say their probe continues, and charges were not filed. Officials say Tomsey was booked into jail last week on possible charges of sex assault by a school staffer and possessing child pornogrpahy.

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New plan unveiled to keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes

CHICAGO — The Army Corps of Engineers plans to spend $275 million on new technology to try and keep the invasive Asian Carp out of Lake Michigan.

Strong water jets and underwater noise devices are among the things planned at the Brandon Road lock and dam near Joliet, Illinois on the Des Plaines River. The plan was announced Monday after several months of delays by the Trump administration.

The National Wildlife Federation says the plan appears to be a good one, saying a combination of options could reduce the chances of the bloated carp getting into the Great Lakes — where it can put a large crimp into the region's commercial fishing industry as the carp often eat 20 percent of their body weight each day of food meant for native fish. A 2-foot carp was pulled from the Chicago Ship Canal in June, about nine miles from Lake Michigan.

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Teen drowns in rough waters at Kenosha

KENOSHA — An 18-year-old man has drowned after jumping from Kenosha's North Pier into Lake Michigan.

Witnesses called 911 around 6:30 p.m. Monday after hearing the victim scream for help. Police say he tried swimming to a break wall when strong currents from the Kenosha harbor forced him below the water, and a friend made it back safely.

Rescuers found the victim after a one hour search — paramedics tried saving him but couldn't — and the teen's name was not immediately released. The Kenosha News says a Monday night concert was canceled nearby to celebrate a new hip hop gospel single by 16-year-old artist Ben Woods.

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Trempealeau County farmer wins stray voltage case against Xcel Energy

GALESVILLE — A Trempealeau County farmer could be awarded up to $13.5 million after winning a five-year legal battle against an electric services company over stray voltage.

Dairy farmer Paul Halderson tells the La Crosse Tribune that his herd of nearly 1,000 cows dealt with illness and decreased milk production for more than a decade because of Xcel Energy's improperly grounded power lines.

A Trempealeau County jury found the company was negligent and didn't follow state regulations, causing Halderson nearly $4 million in losses. The jury awarded Halderson about $4.5 million, but the court may triple that amount because the company was found in willful, wanton or reckless violation of statutes.

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