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Wisconsin roundup: GOP takes redistricting appeal to SCOTUS; tariffs on Canadian lumber could raise U.S. home prices; 7 more state news stories

MADISON — Republican state lawmakers have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to keep their 2011 Assembly districts in place, calling it the "last hope for state autonomy" in the process.

The GOP is challenging a ruling from three federal judges who approved a Democratic lawsuit that accused Republicans of illegal gerrymandering. The judges also told lawmakers to redraw new district lines by November, for use in the 2018 legislative elections.

In a legal brief, the GOP lawmakers said it's hard enough to draw districts that follow what they call "competing demands" among various constraints in the process. And if the federal judges' ruling is allowed to stand, the GOP said it would be so difficult to draw legal boundaries, that the federal courts would assume the task on a regular basis.


Tariffs on Canadian lumber could raise domestic home prices

A move to support Wisconsin dairy farmers might hurt state residents who buy new homes.

The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on imported lumber from Canada, saying the United States could not sit quietly while Canadian dairy processors cut off their milk purchases from Wisconsin due to that country's new pricing policies. WKOW-TV of Madison says the state last year imported almost $200 million of the softwood lumber used for making house frames and furniture — and new houses with Canadian lumber could soon cost $1,000 more as the added import taxes are passed onto consumers.

But officials of Wisconsin's logging industry say the tariffs are justified, saying Canada provides what they consider as unfair subsidies to their lumber companies. The U.S. Commerce Department says Canada's subsidies were improper, and tariffs of 3 to 24 percent will begin as early as next week on lumber that crosses into the United States.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross calls this a "bad week for U.S./Canada trade relations." Trump told Canada's prime minister in February that he would only "tweak" trade relations with Canada as part of a renegotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. But on Tuesday, Trump tweeted, "Canada has made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult. We will not stand for this. Watch!"


State corn planting begins

MADISON — Wisconsin's first corn is being planted.

The state Ag Statistics Service says there are a few reports of planting, mainly in southern areas — and officially, 1 percent of the statewide corn is in the ground. Seventeen-percent of the state's potatoes have been planted, and oats are 19 percent — both behind the averages for the past five years.

Many fields are still too wet for spring field work, and just 13 percent of tillage is completed throughout the state. The winter's damage to alfalfa and hay are becoming apparent, especially in low lying areas.


Priebus: White House will appeal, prevail in immigration case

The White House and its Wisconsin-born chief of staff are none too pleased with a federal judge's decision to block the Trump executive order on sanctuary cities.

Kenosha's Reince Priebus says Tuesday's ruling from a San Francisco district judge shows a court "going bananas." He expects the ruling to be overturned after the White House appeals it.

Judge William Orrick says President Donald Trump had no authority to put new conditions on federal spending, especially if the spending had nothing to do with immigration enforcement. Last week, the Justice Department said Milwaukee County and eight other places could lose some of its federal funds if it does not follow laws to cooperate with federal agents in reporting the immigration status of inmates and others.


Ice storm advisories extended to more of far north

ASHLAND — It appears that much of northwest Wisconsin will not get as much of an ice storm as originally predicted, but it will cover more ground.

Ashland and Hayward reported freezing rain at 6 a.m. Thursday, and forecasters say rain elsewhere in the far northwest will change to snow and sleet in the afternoon. Ice of up to one quarter inch is expected, with strong winds.

Xcel Energy reported about 70 customers without power in the Ashland area as of 6 a.m., and there were no significant outages elsewhere in the region. Winter weather advisories that were supposed to run until Thursday will end at 7 p.m. in Douglas and Bayfield counties — but Ashland and Iron counties have been added to the advisory list, and those advisories run from seven p-m through ten Thursday morning.


Inquest continues into inmate's death

MILWAUKEE — It's the third day of an inquest into the death of Milwaukee County Jail inmate Terrill Thomas.

On Tuesday, prosecutors asked former jail commander Nancy Evans whether she misled investigators and did not keep all the evidence after the 38-year-old Thomas died from dehydration last April. Thomas had bipolar disorder, and investigators say he went for one week without water while in solitary confinement.

Evans testified that she could not say why a key surveillance video disappeared, and she denied hiding evidence from Milwaukee Police because it made her look bad. A six-person jury is hearing evidence, and will recommend whether charges should be filed in Thomas' death. He was jailed for allegedly shooting and wounding a man, and opening fire at the Potawatomi Casino at 3:30 a.m. last April 15.


Jakubowski pleads not guilty to state, federal charges

Joseph Jakubowski has pleaded not guilty to both state and federal charges that he stole 18 weapons in a gun shop burglary in Janesville, before leading officers on a manhunt for 10 days.

The 32-year-old Janesville man appeared Tuesday at a federal court arraignment in Madison, and a preliminary hearing in state court in Rock County. Officers feared that he might have tried pulling off a mass shooting in the wake of an anti-government manifesto he sent to President Donald Trump.

But his lawyer, Michael Murphy, tells WISC-TV that Jakubowski never meant to hurt anyone — and the guns were meant to protect himself and his family. Murphy said Jakubowski was heading to South Dakota as he traveled mostly on foot at night, avoiding homes and contact with people — but he did get a ride from a stranger before his arrest in Vernon County.


August trial set for former cop in suitcase murders

ELKHORN — A former West Allis police officer convicted of killing two women and dumping their bodies in suitcases near Lake Geneva has a trial date set for those dumpings.

Fifty-five-year-old Steven Zelich has been sentenced to 35 years in Wisconsin, and then 25 more in Minnesota for killing Jenny Gamez in Kenosha and Laura Simonson in Rochester, Minn. — both after he engaged them in separate incidents of sexual bondage. Officials say the victims' bodies were dumped in suitcases along a rural road in August 2014 in Walworth County, where he's still charged with two counts of hiding a corpse with a trial now set for Aug. 14-17. A proposed plea deal in that case was rejected last June, and a new district attorney — Zeke Wiedenfeld — was named later, so a plea deal is still possible. A pretrial hearing is set for August fourth in Elkhorn.


Milwaukee County executive praises judge's immigration ruling

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee County executive says he's glad that a federal judge blocked the Trump administration's efforts to withhold federal funds to "sanctuary cities."

The Justice Department told Milwaukee County last week it could take away $900,000 in justice assistance funds if the county interferes with local law enforcement's efforts to report the immigration status of inmates and others to federal agents. On Tuesday, District Judge William Orrick of San Francisco blocked President Donald Trump's executive order to withhold funds, saying Trump has no authority to put new conditions on federal spending — and even if he did, only funds directly related to immigration policies could be pulled back.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele says Trump's order was never based on a certainty that public safety was at risk, and he repeated that the county follows all immigration laws. The Justice Department says the court ruling and the lawsuit which spurred it are both premature, in part because the Trump administration has not defined "sanctuary cities" yet.