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Wisconsin roundup: Report places Wisconsin last again in startup activity; 11 more state news stories

KANSAS CITY — For the third year in a row, Wisconsin is the worst state for the activity of startup businesses.

The Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City said Thursday that Wisconsin ranks 50th, same as last year, with Alabama second to last in a survey that gauges new entrepreneurs and whether they're working for opportunity or necessity. Kauffman ranks the state ahead of only Pennsylvania in the rate of state residents who become entrepreneurs in any given month — 210 of every 100,000 adults, 20 more than last year.

Madison startup mentor Scott Resnick tells the Capital Times he's not surprised by the continued low rankings — but he says Wisconsin is making some inroads after the state government lined up four venture capital firms to help plug money into startup firms. Gov. Scott Walker's office says the Kauffman report is not comprehensive because it does not include data like wages, total employment, long term success, and more.

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Republican Kurtz says he wont' run against Kind

PRAIRIE DU CHIEN — The last Republican on the ballot against Congressman Ron Kind says he will not run for the post next year.

Organic farmer Tony Kurtz of Prairie du Chien got almost 44 percent of the vote against the La Crosse Democrat in 2014. At a Third District GOP meeting recently, 93 percent of those answering a straw poll endorsed Kurtz. He tells WisPolitics.com that he sees a poor political climate for Republicans next year and he cannot devote full time to a congressional candidacy right now.

Kind, who's been in Congress almost two decades, was virtually unopposed last November when Republican Ryan Peterson got 0.6 percent in a write-in campaign. National Republicans are targeting Kind after Republican President Donald Trump won the normally Democratic district.

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State to appeal ruling that ends 'Cocaine Mom' law

MADISON — State Attorney General Brad Schimel says he will appeal a recent federal judge's ruling that struck down Wisconsin's "Cocaine Mom" law.

In the meantime, Schimel says he'll ask the federal appeals court in Chicago to keep the law in place until all appeals are exhausted — and on Wednesday, Madison District Judge James Peterson refused the state's request for a stay. The 1998 law allows the state to detain pregnant women if it's found that they put their babies in danger by abusing drugs and alcohol. A Taylor County woman challenged the law after she was sent to jail for 18 days while pregnant, and she was freed only after she agreed to take regular drug tests. Schimel says the law lets the state provide key services to pregnant women to protect their unborn babies, but Judge Peterson says the law is too vague.

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Finance panel to consider tech college tuition freeze

MADISON — State lawmakers will consider a proposal to freeze tuition at Wisconsin's 16 technical colleges.

Gov. Scott Walker proposed the freeze in his state budget package for the next two years — and the Joint Finance Committee will decide Thursday whether it should stay in the budget or be dropped. The Republican Walker has frozen UW tuition for the last four years. Technical college tuition averaged $3,900 last year for job programs, and $5,300 for science and liberal arts classes.

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Wednesday storm: Chetek area spared, other places hit hard

More thunderstorms rumbled through Wisconsin on Wednesday — and while the tornado ravaged Chetek area was spared, many other places were not.

Jackson County emergency management officials urged motorists to stay off the roads Wednesday night, with numerous trees and power lines down as well as flooding that caused Highway 121 and a number of town roads to close. Winds hit 66 mph in Marshfield in the afternoon, as utility poles snapped and one business was damaged.

Rhinelander had a record rainfall for the date of almost 2.2 inches, a barn was blown down near Darien, the Whitewater and Beloit areas had numerous trees down, and there was lesser damage throughout the southern half of Wisconsin. On Thursday morning, almost 18,000 electric customers throughout the state were without power — and forecasters predict only scattered rain showers throughout the day with much cooler highs in the 50s and 60s.

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Finance panel to consider dumping labor/industry review panel

MADISON — A long running state commission that settles workplace disputes would disappear in a budget measure to be considered Thursday.

The Joint Finance Committee will decide whether to go along with Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate the Labor and Industry Review Commission, and have the administration and workforce development agencies handle labor complaints. Officials say the numbers of appeals have dropped by 60 percent since Republicans took control of state government in 2011 — and dropping the 106-year-old commission would save $5 million during the next two years. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau says around 1,000 workplace disputes will end up in court if the commission is disbanded — compared to just 88 such judicial appeals last year.

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GOP bills define rioting, set new penalties for it

MADISON — You may think you know what a riot is, but Republicans say it's not defined too well.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine and Republican Rep. John Spiros of Marshfield have introduced bills that define rioting, and create laws against it. A riot would be a public disturbance with violent actions in groups of three or more people, with at least the possibility of injuries and damage if carried out — and it would be a felony to take part in a riot and carry weapons while doing it. It would be a misdemeanor to block traffic or buildings as part of a riot.

Spiros says the measures would protect public safety while guaranteeing rights of free assembly and gun ownership. The proposals come after two nights of violence last summer in a Milwaukee neighborhood that followed the police shooting death of Sylville Smith — and the blocking of freeway traffic in nearby St. Paul, Minnesota, as part of the Black Lives Matter protests.

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Weather service: Four tornadoes could have been one

The National Weather Service says a single tornado could have gone for more than 60 miles in northwest Wisconsin, killing mobile home park resident Eric Gavin near Chetek.

After surveying damage on the ground Wednesday, the National Weather Service says it might have to conduct aerial surveys to see if more than one tornado landed in parts of Barron and Rusk counties and possibly Price County. The confirmed tornado from late Tuesday was classified as an EF-2-plus with peak winds of 120 mph.

Barron County officials now say 38 mobile homes at the Prairie Lake Estates park near Chetek were destroyed, eight others had major damage, and three had minor damage — and two law enforcement officers had minor injuries while looking for victims, bringing the total number of injured to 27. Wisconsin Emergency Management says about 50 people used a temporary shelter — and after seeing the damage Wednesday, Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency for Barron, Rusk, and Jackson counties, paving the way for state agencies to provide assistance.

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Clarke appears to have jumped the gun in announcing Trump job

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke appears to have jumped the gun when he told a talk show he's taking a job in the Trump administration.

Homeland Security says nothing's official yet, but Clarke told Madison and Milwaukee conservative radio host Vicki McKenna Wednesday he'll leave his sheriff's post in June to become an assistant secretary — a liaison between Washington, and state and local law enforcement. The man he's replacing, Phil McNamara, confirmed the move and tweeted that Clarke wants to "strangle Democrats."

Clarke campaigned heavily for President Donald Trump last year, and there's been speculation for months that the sheriff would join the administration. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who has had public spats with Clarke, did not exactly wish him well, saying, "The last thing America needs is another loud voice angrily and unproductively telling you who to blame and who not to trust."

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New GOP bill makes it easier to prove child neglect

MADISON — Wisconsin's attorney general wants to make it easier to prosecute child neglect.

Republican Brad Schimel joined lawmakers from his party Wednesday when they reintroduced a bill setting up a graduated penalty system for neglect that puts children's health and safety at risk. It would also reduce the standard for prosecutors to prove child neglect to juries — and they would only have to show negligence, instead of having to show that the neglect was intentional.

Also, repeated acts of neglecting the same child would become a crime. A similar bill failed to pass in the last session, but Schimel says neglect can be just as damaging to a child as abuse — and eliminating the intent requirement for convictions would make it less confusing for jurors.

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Large-scale animal farms' expired permits raise concerns

MADISON — Wisconsin DNR data show that about 33 percent of the state's large-scale animal farms operate under expired permits, raising oversight-related concerns from residents and farmers.

Wisconsin Public Radio reports many of the permits for the concentrated animal feeding operations expired in 2016. The permits are issued every five years under federal and state rules, but it's not uncommon or illegal to operate a farm with an expired permit.

A Wisconsin Dairy Business Association spokesman says the rules allow permits to stay effective until they're reissued. DNR officials say staffing levels haven't kept pace with the growing workload as the number of large farms increases. DNR spokesman Jim Dick says the agency added four new positions to increase large-scale farm inspections.

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