MADISON - A public hearing is set for Wednesday on a plan by state Assembly Republicans to encourage new iron ore mines like the one planned in northern Wisconsin. The GOP unveiled a 183-page bill yesterday. And the Assembly Jobs Committee will hear comments about it at State Fair Park near Milwaukee.

The bill speeds up the process of granting state permits for iron ore mines -- partially by easing environmental requirements and limiting delay tactics by opponents. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said the bill would help Gogebic Taconite create hundreds of what he called "generational jobs that will be there for a long time." But Senate Democrat Bob Jauch of Poplar, who represents the place where the mine would go, says it's an insult to people to give them only six days to digest the package. The proposed mine is between Upton and Mellen in Ashland and Iron counties. It would have a life-span of 30 years or more. The bill requires state action within 360 days after an application for an iron-ore mine is submitted. Protections would be eased for wetlands and groundwater, with fewer restrictions for disposing waste rock. Opponents could not challenge DNR decisions in contested-case hearings, and lawsuits against mining proposals would no longer be allowed. But Assembly Democrat Brett Hulsey of Madison says opponents will simply file federal lawsuits which allege violations of the national Clean Water Act. The Bad River Indian tribe near Ashland says the mine would hurt local water quality. But local business groups and governments say the project would bring back some of the jobs that have been lost for years in the far north.

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State Senate Democrat Bob Jauch of Poplar questions the credentials of a group that's looking into a possible effort to recall him. Shirl LaBarre of Hayward and the northern Wisconsin branch of the Citizens for Responsible Government filed paperwork today to create an exploratory committee. Jauch called the CRG a "group from Milwaukee." And he told the Journal Sentinel it wants to quote, "meddle in the politics of a district they know nothing about." The group says it's targeting Jauch because he refuses to support the Assembly version of a state mining regulation bill. The measure could pave the way for the proposed iron ore mine in Jauch's district. He has said he would support a speed-up of mining permit reviews, as long as the environment is protected -- and he stood by that today. But Jauch said the mining bill from Assembly Republicans is not responsible, in part because it would not let citizens challenge the DNR's mining decisions in contested-case hearings. Jauch said he could support other parts of the Assembly package. But LeBarre said Jauch is not doing enough to support the Gogebic Taconite mine for the many people in far northern Wisconsin who need jobs. She did not say when the group might decide whether to seek Senator Jauch's recall.

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A new national study shows that growing numbers of drivers are thumbing their noses at laws against texting behind-the-wheel. Thirty-five states ban the practice, including Wisconsin. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says one of every 100 U-S drivers at any given time are texting, e-mailing, Web surfing, or using some hand-held device. And that's gone up 50-percent in the last year. Six-thousand drivers were polled over the past month. Two of every 10 admitted sending texts or e-mails while driving, including half of all 21-to-24-year-olds. Wisconsin banned the writing and sending of text messages a year ago. But only about 160 tickets had been issued in the first 11 months. Half of drivers in the national survey said texting or using hand-held cell phones does not affect their driving performance. They said other drivers are the problem -- and 71-percent favored bans on hand-held cell phones, and 94-percent support bans on texting behind-the-wheel. Wisconsin has rejected several efforts to ban cell phones while driving. Some cities ban it, like Marshfield and Wisconsin Rapids.

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The closing of the Wausau Paper plant will take away an estimated $27-million a year from the economy of central Wisconsin. That estimate comes from the Marathon County Development Corporation. About 450 employees will lose their jobs when the century-old mill in Brokaw closes next March. But Dave Eckmann, who heads the development group, says another 650 jobs could be lost in industries where the mill workers spend money -- homes, health care, and everything in between. Eckmann said he used state-and-federal labor data to come up with the estimates. This week's announcement of the plant closing was no surprise, since Wausau Paper said a few weeks ago it would sell its premium-print and color-paper division. Neenah Paper bought it, and it's moving the Brokaw production to its plants in Neenah, Appleton, and Stevens Point.

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A man has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing a west central Wisconsin man in a drunken rear-end crash in Great Falls, Montana. 30-year-old Loren Spotted-Eagle of Great Falls pleaded guilty two months ago to drunken vehicular homicide and criminal endangerment. 23-year-old Jason Jowett, a former football player from Black River Falls, was killed in the crash on June third. Police said Spotted-Eagle was driving up to 70-miles-an-hour when his mini-van rear-ended a pick-up truck that was stopped for a red light in downtown Great Falls. Jowett was a passenger in the truck. Spotted-eagle told a judge he drank eight pitchers of beer that day, and his blood alcohol level was point-30. Court records show that Spotted-eagle had three misdemeanor OWI convictions before the fatal crash.

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A Green Bay man is due in court this afternoon for allegedly beating a 13-month-old girl to death in August. 29-year-old Daniel Vega was charged in mid-September with first-degree reckless homicide and two counts of felony child abuse. A Brown County judge issued a warrant for his arrest at the time -- and he was picked up in Phoenix a short time later. But police said it took almost two months to extradite Vega back to Wisconsin to face his charges. He's also making an appearance today on an unrelated theft count. According to authorities, Vega claimed that 13-month-old Lilly Tebeau fell from a bed on August 18th. But doctors said her injuries did not match that claim. She had a skull fracture and severe head trauma. Prosecutors quoted a witness as saying Vega arranged for the girl's mother and two other women to work as prostitutes.

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A trial date of April ninth has been set for an eastern Wisconsin man charged with killing his mother. 34-year-old Randal Rosenthal of Brillion pleaded innocent yesterday in Outagamie County Circuit Court. He's charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting death of 52-year-old Kathleen Remter of Forest Junction. Her body was found in the Fox River on July 22nd near a dam in the town of Buchanan. Defense lawyer Kevin Musolf asked that the charge be dropped, claiming a lack of evidence at a preliminary hearing in October. But Judge Mitch Metropulos said there was enough DNA evidence for the case to continue. Prosecutors said Rosenthal wore blood-stained jeans the day Remter was killed -- and the blood had the victim's DNA.

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The head of the state elections' agency says it will take longer than the legal time limit to validate up to one-and-a-half million recall petition signatures. Kevin Kennedy says the Government Accountability Board will need 60 days to determine if there are enough valid signatures for recall elections against the governor, lieutenant governor, and four GOP state senators. The board will need a court order to run the process for that long -- because the time limit is only 31 days. Kennedy says up to 50 temporary employees will be needed to review the petitions, which must be filed by January 17th. Kennedy says the workers would be separated into teams led by people with more training. The full accountability board is expected to finalize the process when it meets next Tuesday. State Democratic chairman Mike Tate says his party might have some objections with the review procedures -- but he says they appear reasonable considering quote, "the unprecedented nature of the undertaking." The state Republican Party has not commented. Meanwhile, lawsuits are pending in both state-and-federal courts asking that the Senate recall votes use the new districts drawn up this summer. Kennedy says the Board will need guidance from the courts, because the petitions are being circulated in the old districts.

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Coyotes are spreading into Wisconsin cities -- and the DNR urges residents to make plans for living with them. Officials say coyotes are now in all parts of the state, from the remote Northwoods to Milwaukee's city limits. The DNR says urban coyotes can get so comfortable around people that they'll follow them around -- and pets could be attacked as a result. Wildlife experts say people should not let their pets roam free, not leave food outside for animals, and to secure the tops of their garbage containers. The DNR says city dwellers should be alert at night when coyotes are most active -- as well as in February and March, which is their breeding season. During that time, experts say coyotes are likely to attack dogs whom they consider as competition.

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Wisconsin residents can now register on-line if they want to be notified when pesticides are about to be applied in their neighborhoods. About 950 people have traditionally mailed in paperwork to get on the registry. But for the first time, the state Agriculture Department is taking registrations at its Web site, accessible at Wisconsin.gov. The deadline to sign up is February first. Letters are being sent to those who have registered by mail, telling them how to use the on-line system. The first notices of pesticide applications normally go out around March 15th by phone or mail.

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The S.S. Badger car ferry wants more time to replace its coal-fired boilers. The ferry, which runs from Manitowoc to Ludington, Michigan, has asked the federal EPA for an individual water discharge permit instead of a general vessel's permit. That would give the company another five years to upgrade its technology. The 58-year-old Badger has been given until the end of next year to stop dumping almost four tons of coal ash per day into Lake Michigan. It's the last remaining coal-fired steamship on the Great Lakes -- and the owners say they've been having trouble finding an appropriate new technology. The firm says natural gas boilers seem to be the best alternative for now. Meanwhile, a government panel is expected to consider a proposal next spring to declare the Badger a national landmark -- which would let the boat keep dumping coal ash. A competing car ferry that runs from Milwaukee to Muskegon Michigan has fought that move. Aaron Schultz of Milwaukee's Lake Express says all ferries should have the same environmental rules.

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A Milwaukee police officer has pleaded innocent to misdemeanor endangerment, after his gun went off at a shopping mall while he was off duty. Sergeant Michael Edwards was at a pretzel shop at Southridge Mall on November second. Prosecutors said he reached for his wallet -- and his police weapon slid from his waistband, fell to the floor, and fired a shot. A nearby woman was grazed on one of her legs. Edwards has not been disciplined in his 25 years on the Milwaukee police force. He's on administrative duty until the case is resolved.

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A cat that was rescued in October has come to the rescue of the shelter that saved him. Daniel, a white-and-orange tabby with a rare 26 toes, is helping the Milwaukee Animal Rescue Shelter raise money for a new building. The center saves unwanted pets that could otherwise be euthanized -- and it learned that its rent at a shopping mall would double next month. So the shelter decided to build its own place. And Daniel has become the center of a fund drive to get donations of 26-dollars -- a buck for each of his toes. That effort has raised $50,000, and the new facility has a total of 80-thousand so far. That's enough to secure financing, but the shelter hopes to raise 120-thousand by Christmas so it can be more financially secure. Cats normally have 18 toes, but a genetic mutation resulted in Daniel having 26 -- two short of the Guinness world record.

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The economy is not the best, but thousands of people found $275 in their budgets to claim a share of the Green Bay Packers. Team president Mark Murphy said yesterday that 185,000 shares had been sold in the first two days of the sale on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Packers were only planning to sell 250,000 shares by the end of February -- and for now, Murphy could not commit to making more shares available. The stock cost 250-dollars a share plus a $25-dollar handling charge. The Packers have netted $46-million dollars so far, to help pay for a renovation of Lambeau Field that includes seven-thousand new seats. Murphy said the Internet makes it much easier to buy Packer stock than the last time it went on sale 15 years ago. People from all U.S. states and territories are snapping it up -- and while Wisconsin Cheeseheads still remain the biggest buyers, the percentage is not as big as last time. The stock never increases in value, and transfer rights are almost nil. But it does let fans vote on the Packer board, buy stockholder merchandise, and brag about being a National Football League owner.