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Wisconsin roundup: Private sector quicker with answers than Extension, Pierce County chairman says; more state news stories

MADISON — It's been two weeks since it was first announced the University Extension Service could be dissolved into the Madison campus.

We still don't know much more — and that's led to speculation by Extension employees and others that programs and jobs may disappear, especially in rural areas. The Extension is the UW's outreach arm and the main carrier of the Wisconsin Idea — the century long promise that the UW's learning opportunities are available statewide — but that's already become frail with a reorganization and 25 vacancies among farming educators.

Pierce County has been without an ag agent for two years, and County Board Chairman Jeff Hoist says he can get answers from private agronomists faster. The UW Board of Regents will vote next month on merging the Extension and other programs with Madison, with the two year colleges to be merged with their nearby four year schools.


Judge, Walker respond to Lincoln Hills attacks by inmates

MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker wants an interim superintendent to run the state's troubled juvenile institutions in Lincoln County.

Both the governor and Federal Judge James Peterson issued responses to Sunday's pair of assaults by teen inmates at Lincoln Hills that sent five staffers to a hospital. Walker told corrections chief Jon Litscher to hire somebody to replace Wendy Peterson, who stepped down and took a voluntary demotion at the facility in August.

Judge Peterson, who ordered reductions in using pepper spray, handcuffs, and solitary confinements in July, said he would not ignore inmates' or staffers' safety — and he wants the state and the ACLU to submit updates on the boys and girls' schools by Nov. 10. Also, a corrections spokesman denied claims that Sunday's incidents, in which inmates damaged property while confined to their rooms, was a "test" of how staffers might respond to a larger disturbance.


Private, public school leaders debate voucher growth

MADISON — Education leaders have renewed their debate about Wisconsin's private voucher school programs.

That's after state officials reported an 8 percent increase in kids with tax vouchers, as 36,250 of them attend private schools this fall. Jim Bender of School Choice Wisconsin says there's a growing demand for vouchers, as parents cite reasons like better academics and a safer environment at the private schools — and he expects those enrollments to keep growing.

But Tom McCarthy of the state's public education agency tells Wisconsin Public Radio there's a question of whether we can afford it. The DPI says the total vouchers cost $270 million, $25 million more than last year — and as the voucher program grows, McCarthy says home schoolers will someday get state money, too.


WEDC won’t release Foxconn contract until after it takes hold

MADISON — Wisconsin's job creation agency says it will not publicly release the state's contract with Foxconn until after it takes effect.

The subject came up Tuesday, when the Legislature's Joint Audit Committee held a public hearing on the latest review of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation — and some Democrats questioned whether the agency could handle such a large package. The WEDC board is expected to approve a deal as early as next month that spells out its assistance for Foxconn's $10 billion LCD screen plant at Mount Pleasant — in exchange for up to 13,000 jobs.

The WEDC Board normally gets summaries of the agency's "enterprise zone" awards — but Senate Democrat Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee says taxpayers, in his words, "must be protected" before the agency "turns on the spigot and the taxpayer dollars start to flow." WEDC officials say they've updated the board on their negotiations with Foxconn throughout its process.


Walker activates National Guard to help Puerto Rico

MADISON — As Puerto Rico struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria, Wisconsin National Guard troops are being called to help.

Gov. Scott Walker issued an executive order Tuesday activating Guard members for providing medical and other aid to victims of hurricanes Maria and Irma. It's not certain how many troops might go.

Walker says his order came after Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands made formal requests for assistance. Federal officials say less than one of five Puerto Ricans have electricity, weeks after Maria went through — and more than a quarter of residents still don't have potable running water. Also, power remains out in much of the Virgin Islands.


Walker OKs boost of mental health treatment funds

MADISON — Wisconsin's mental health and drug abuse programs will get more funds to treat low income people.

Gov. Scott Walker and the state's health services agency said Tuesday they would provide an extra $17 million to reimburse local agencies for more counselors and treatment experts. The money comes from existing health budgets and will start being available next year — and advocates hope it will provide more psychiatric tests, substance abuse treatment, and therapy for those without private health insurance.

Officials say the state's in a "crisis" that especially involves opioid abuse, and access to treatment needs to be improved. Exact reimbursement rates to providers won't come out until January, but officials say they'll be competitive with neighboring states and Medicare.


Poll: Almost two-thirds say Foxconn not worth it or not sure

MILWAUKEE — A newly released poll shows that only 38 percent of southeast Wisconsin residents think Foxconn will be worth what state taxpayers put up for it.

The Marquette Law School surveyed 1,200 adults in five Milwaukee area counties earlier this month. Forty-eight percent said the state's package of tax breaks, environmental law relaxations, and shortcuts for legal appeals are not worth the prospect of 13,000 jobs for the Taiwanese high tech screen maker.

Fifty-four percent did say the $10 billion plant at Mount Pleasant would substantially make the region's economy better. On other issues, the Marquette poll found that 25 percent of southeast Wisconsin residents thought the downtown Milwaukee streetcar was worth it, and 53 percent favored a regional sales tax to prop up the city's cultural attractions. But just 41 percent favored a sales tax for better highways in Metro Milwaukee.


Federal lab to see if UV light can save bats from fatal fungus

MADISON — A lab in Madison will find out if ultraviolet light can effectively kill the fungus that threatens bats, while saving Wisconsin farmers in the process.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has given a $156,000 grant to U.S. Forest Service pathologist Daniel Lindner. He'll study whether UV light can knock out the fungal disease that causes white nose syndrome. The disease has killed 6 million bats in the eastern half of the country, and experts say it also threatens farmers because bats eat millions of insects that would otherwise damage crops. The bat disease has been confirmed in 24 Wisconsin counties, after first appearing in Grant County in 2014.


Avery attorney cites new evidence in seeking new trial

MANITOWOC — Steven Avery's lawyer has kept her promise about seeking a new trial for a second time.

Kathleen Zellner has filed a 54 page request, asking the Manitowoc County circuit court to reconsider its Oct. 3 rejection. Judge Angela Sutkiewicz said Avery failed to establish grounds for a new trial, after he was sentenced to life in prison for the 2005 killing of Teresa Halbach at his family's auto salvage yard near Mishicot.

Evidence has been questioned in the case ever since the 2015 Netflix series "Making a Murderer." Zellner notes that the state agreed to let new evidence be tested — and among other things, she alleges that the brother and stepfather of codefendant Brendan Dassey gave false testimony for where they were the night of the murder — and Zellner said Halbach's vehicle had left the salvage yard.