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7th District congressional race sets record for spending; Don't-call-and-drive law in effect for young drivers; more briefs

The Seventh District race in northern Wisconsin has become the most expensive U.S. Congress contest in state history.

Federal reports show that more than $8 million have been raised by the two candidates and outside groups. That breaks the state's previous spending mark set in 2006 when Democrat Steve Kagen beat out Republican John Gard for an open House seat in northeast Wisconsin.

In the Seventh District race, Republican Sean Duffy of Weston raised $2.3 million through September in his bid to win a second term. Former state Senate Democrat Pat Kreitlow of Chippewa Falls raised $1.1 million. Special interest groups pumped in another $3.6 million through mid-October.

Duffy says redistricting is one reason for the higher costs - especially the addition of St. Croix County, where folks get their local TV from the Minneapolis-St. Paul stations where it's more expensive to advertise.

Kreitlow agrees somewhat, but he says the cost is more about the people running plus the outside money.

Both candidates say they'd like to see less spending and more transparency. Kreitlow said today's technology should make it easier to see who's putting the money behind the political action groups.

State elections' officials have tried to force more disclosure, but they've been stymied by legal challenges.


Don't-call-and-drive law goes into effect for young drivers

It's Day One of a new Wisconsin law that prohibits young drivers from chatting on the phone while behind the wheel.

Anyone with an instruction permit or a probationary license cannot use cell phones for any reason while driving - except to report an emergency.

Fines for first-time violators are from $20 to $40.

State Patrol Major Sandra Huxtable said the goal is to deter teens and other inexperienced drivers from talking on their phones while driving. She calls it a dangerous distraction.

State law already prohibits texting behind the wheel for all drivers, regardless of age.


People, pets rally as woman accused of poisoning dog has court hearing

About 100 people brought their pets to the courthouse in Wausau Wednesday, the same day a woman appeared in court for the torturing and death of her boyfriend's dog.

The case of Sean Janas, 20, of Wausau has attracted international publicity. Prosecutors said she wrote in a diary about enjoying how four-year-old Mary - a German shepherd and Labrador mix - was suffering.

Officials said Janas poisoned Mary to death in June.

Wednesday Janas was ordered to stand trial after she waived her right to a preliminary hearing in Marathon County Circuit Court. She's expected to enter pleas Nov. 12 to charges of animal mistreatment, poisoning an animal and obstructing police.

Yesterday's pet demonstration was called the "March for Mary." Stacy Cole of Wausau radio station WIFC has been making people aware of the dog's plight. She said people from around the world are asking the defendant be fully punished, and they're also asking for tougher anti-cruelty laws.

Almost 50,000 people have signed online petitions in support of the dog that was killed. Prosecutor Lamont Jacobson said he has received thousands of emails saying the same thing.


Year later, AG says concealed-carry law going OK

Today is the first anniversary of Wisconsin's concealed weapons law, and the state's attorney general says it's working as well as expected.

About 138,500 state carry permits were granted in the first year - 13,000 more than what JB Van Hollen predicted six months ago. Around 150,000 people have applied for concealed weapons licenses. Van Hollen said many of the ones rejected were for clerical errors.

There were long delays at first in getting the applications processed. But the backlog has disappeared, and Van Hollen said the review process is now going smoothly.

Wisconsin was the 49th state to allow concealed carry, and Van Hollen said the state has not become the "Wild West" like opponents claimed it would be.

The only high-profile shooting was in January in Milwaukee. A grocery shopper at Aldi's with a concealed carry permit shot at two men who were trying to rob the store. The place had a sign banning concealed weapons, but prosecutors decided not to charge the shooter.

Meanwhile, training standards for permit holders are still in limbo. The Justice Department is still using temporary rules that require weapons holders to get training, but the rules don't spell out anything specific.

State lawmakers are still considering tougher standards that require lessons on using deadly force and the safe use of firearms and bullets. Lawmakers are expected to act on the new rules early next year.


Check out disaster relief efforts before donating, warn officials

If you want to help the relief efforts for Superstorm Sandy, Wisconsin consumer officials say to use your head as well as your heart.

The Consumer Protection Bureau says criminals often use disasters to take advantage of people's generosity.

Officials say people should make sure the charities to which they donate are established and reputable. You can do that by checking with the Better Business Bureau.

Also, state officials say you should never send cash, be cautious about telephone solicitations and don't respond to unsolicited emails or click on their links or attachments.

If the past is any indication, you'll hear about volunteers stealing assistance that was meant for storm victims. In the days after Hurricane Katrina, at least one Wisconsinite was charged with stealing assistance cards that he volunteered to hand out at the Gulf Coast. The same thing happened in Milwaukee during the heavy floods in 2008.


Lawmakers demand investigation of police policies after spa deaths

A dozen Wisconsin legislators are demanding an independent investigation of the Brown Deer Police Department and its policies for dealing with domestic violence.

But Milwaukee County's chief prosecutor defends the department, saying it's generally aggressive in dealing with domestic cases.

Ten Democrats and two Republicans called Police Chief Steve Rinzel to task yesterday. They said his officers let mass murderer Radcliffe Haughton off the hook in previous domestic incidents.

Haughton killed his estranged wife and two others at a Brookfield spa 11 days ago before killing himself.

The lawmakers, led by Assembly Democrat Terese Berceau of Madison, accused Brown Deer Police of not following the state's mandatory arrest law on at least two occasions when they believed Haughton should have been taken in. Also, the legislators say the chief was wrong to blame the victim when he said Zina Haughton did not cooperate with police in those cases.

The lawmakers said the state needs to get involved because Brown Deer's police commission has kept its distance. Village officials have not commented on the lawmakers' concerns.

Most criticism has involved a 2011 police standoff in which Haughton apparently pointed a gun at his wife. The standoff ended with no arrests.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said the case presents some "complicated questions." In general, Chisholm said he's impressed by the way Brown Deer Police investigate domestic violence complaints.

Earlier this week, Chief Rinzel asked the state Justice Department to provide additional training to officers in handling domestic disturbances.


Taxpayers will pay for Democratic redistricting challenge

Wisconsin taxpayers will pick up the legal fees of Democrats who challenged the boundaries of the state's new legislative districts.

A settlement was announced Wednesday in which the state will pay over $257,000 to the Milwaukee law firm of Godfrey and Kahn. It helped Democrats and Hispanics pursue a case that challenged the constitutionality of the districts which were secretly drawn by majority Republicans last year.

A three-judge federal panel ruled that all but two of the 132 districts met the constitutional requirements of being relatively equal in population according to the most recent census. The judges ordered that two Milwaukee Assembly districts be redrawn, to assure that Hispanics are represented in the lower house.

Taxpayers have covered several hundred thousand dollars for the GOP's legal bills, and the clock is still ticking.

The plaintiffs have accused the Republicans of hiding some of its information on how the districts were drafted and approved - even though the court demanded that it all be disclosed. Recently, a law firm found 34 Republican emails that were never released, and a search continues for more.


Two deputies, child injured in fiery I-94 crash

Two Waukesha County sheriff's deputies were among three people injured overnight in a fiery freeway crash.

The incident happened around 2:40 a.m. this morning on I-94 in Brookfield.

According to the State Patrol, the deputies were monitoring traffic while their squad car was in a median strip and an eastbound auto drove through the median, hit the back of the squad car and started on fire.

A child in the burning car was taken to Milwaukee Children's Hospital, while the deputies were sent to Milwaukee's Froedtert Hospital.

The driver of the wayward auto was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.