- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015
Ethanol leaks into Mississippi River after train derailment

ALMA, Wis. (AP) - Five tanker cars of a BNSF Railway freight train that derailed Saturday in western Wisconsin were leaking ethanol into the Mississippi River, the railroad said.

The train derailed about 8:45 a.m. Saturday, around 2 miles north of Alma, a town along the Mississippi, BNSF said. Some of the 25 derailed cars were empty auto racks and tanker cars carrying denatured alcohol, also known as ethanol, the railroad said.

BNSF said the railroad is working to contain the spill, but it didn’t say how much ethanol has leaked so far. It said there is no threat to the public. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said there was no estimate yet on how long the cleanup would take or when the railway might reopen.

A voluntary evacuation was lifted about 2 p.m., according to a Buffalo County sheriff’s dispatcher who could not provide his name because of department policy. Highways that also were temporarily closed have reopened, he said.

Up to 150 people left their homes during the evacuation, Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Colin Severson said.

Some of the derailed cars were upright, some were on their sides and some were partially in the river, Severson said. Heavy equipment was being brought in to remove the cars, and authorities will assess the damage after the scene is cleared, he said.

BNSF said there were no reports of fire, smoke or injuries. The Federal Railroad Administration will investigate.

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Police find vehicle in fatal Milwaukee hit-and-run

MILWAUKEE (AP) - Milwaukee police say they have found the vehicle that struck and killed a woman in a hit-and-run.

Police say the vehicle was located in Franklin on Friday. Two juveniles who were passengers - a 17-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl - were taken into custody. Police are still looking for the 19-year-old man who was driving.

Thirty-five-year-old Reeanna Ramazini was struck while walking near an intersection on Milwaukee’s south side Thursday night.

Two off-duty police officers saw the woman lying in the road and tried to resuscitate her. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Senate GOP votes to overhaul campaign finance, revamp board

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Republicans early Saturday pushed through a pair of bills to loosen campaign finance law and end the state’s nonpartisan elections board after hours of late-night debate in the state Senate.

The Assembly is to convene Nov. 16 for final votes on both measures. Approval would send them to Gov. Scott Walker.

No Democrats voted for the proposals, which Republican backers argue are needed to bring the state’s campaign finance law in line with recent court opinions and fix what they say is a failed experiment of a nonpartisan elections board consisting of six retired judges.

Opponents argue the bills weaken oversight of the state’s elections and ethics laws, while making it easier for shadowy third party interest groups to influence campaigns without the public knowing who is spending on the races.

And despite assurances earlier Friday from Republican senators that they were going to require campaign donors to disclose their employer, as is required under current law, the final version approved does not mandate such reporting.

The Senate’s specially called rare Friday session, which didn’t conclude until about 2:30 a.m., brought accusations from Democrats that Republicans were trying to sneak the changes through without public scrutiny.

“You’re doing it on a Friday when you knew most media wouldn’t be around,” Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said during debate on the campaign finance bill. “It’s happening in the dark of night. Everybody looks half-tired and beat and we’re doing legislation that will ultimately be the death of clean, open, fair government in Wisconsin.”

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Big spending expected for state legislative races in 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - While the presidential campaign commands the public’s attention, political parties and financial contributors are quietly preparing for another less glitzy yet significant set of elections a year from now - battles to determine control of dozens of state legislative chambers.

National Republican and Democratic groups have set record-high fundraising goals as they try to influence the outcome of 2016 state legislative races. Independent political committees appear likely to join the fray.

With Congress frequently paralyzed by partisanship, legislative elections are gaining attention because states are the ones pushing change. In recent years, state legislatures have been addressing gun control, infrastructure, education standards, renewable energy, marijuana and transgender rights.

The races also are critical to political parties because legislatures in most states are responsible for drawing the boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts. The party in charge can help ensure favorable districts - and thus potentially remain in power - for a decade to come.

In the 2012 elections, for example, Democratic candidates for the U.S. House received about 1.4 million more votes than their Republican opponents, yet the GOP won a 33-seat majority in that chamber, partly because GOP-dominated state legislatures drew political maps to favor their party.

While the next round of redistricting in 2021 may seem far away, it often takes several elections for parties to build a majority or chip away at one.

That’s why some Democrats have described next year’s state legislative elections as vital if they are to begin reversing recent Republican gains. The GOP controls 69 of the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers, its most ever.

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