Battle Over Cancer Study
The Minnesota House approved a bill this week to hire University of Minnesota researchers to study mesothelioma in Iron Range miners. Virginia Lawmaker Tom Rukavina co-authored the bill. But Governor Pawlenty has threatened to veto the bill, not because he's against the study but because of the way its paid for. The bill would spend $5-Million from a special workers compensation fund. Pawlenty has suggested they use taconite production taxes collected from mining companies. Northern Minnesota Lawmaker Tom Anzelc helped cowrite the bill and thinks the study should be done first and then contact mining companies if they're found libel. The governor said using the workers comp fund will lead to higher assessments for all businesses statewide. Mesothelioma is a rare lung disease that occurs disproportionately high in mine workers.
MN House Passes Health Bill
The Minnesota House approved a health care reform bill last night. Those in support of the bill said the plan would cover more than 100,000 currently uninsured residents . The 93% of Minnesotans who already have health insurance will be urged to make changes in their lifestyle like losing weight and quitting smoking. Brainerd lawmaker John Ward likes the plan and said it makes a difference between security and stability or life filled with worry about paying the bills. Royalton lawmaker Al Doty said more people will be covered by health insurance with this bill. Doty said its a collection a lot of ideas "that people think are going to work, so its got to be good in the long run." But House Republican Leader Marty Seifert said this is but one more step down the road to single-payer, government-run health care. Seifert said there is little in the bill that will reduce cost, very few free market principles but more government involvement. Seifert said "we don't want to put Katrina-style bureaucrats in charge of the Mayo Clinic." The House bill now joins the Senate version in a conference committee.
Crow Wing Power Outages
Crow Wing Power Spokeswoman Char Kinzer said about 1800 electricity customers were without power at 9:30p Thursday night. High winds and heavy, wet snowfall were responsible. Kinzer said crews worked overnight and by 7am Friday morning, there were still roughly 600 isolated customers without power, primarily east and west of Brainerd and some north of Baxter. Kinzer said extra crews have been hired to return everyone to the power grid.
Food Shelf Venison To Be Destroyed
State Agriculture Department Commissioner Gene Hugoson has directed Minnesota food shelves to destroy any venison they have because it may contain lead. He suggested to consumers that if they have food shelf venison, they should throw it away. Officials say lab tests have confirmed varying amounts of lead fragments in venison samples collected from food shelves around the state. Hugoson said one person could get a high dose of lead while someone else eating the same venison get none at all. The Ag Commissioner said there's no way to tell which part of the animal has been affected.
St. Cloud Bridge To Be Replaced
Minnesota Transportation officials said Thursday they would start work this fall to replace the Highway 23 bridge near downtown St. Cloud. The four-lane bridge was closed abruptly last month when inspectors found at least four noticeably-bowed gusset plates. Flawed gussets are blamed in part for last year's collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. The bridge was scheduled to be replaced in 2015. State bridge engineer Dan Dorgan said the replacement will cost about $35-Million. He said construction is to start in September and be finished by November 2009.
Fire Destroys Two Breezy Point Homes
Fire destroyed two Breezy Point houses earlier this morning. Pequot Lakes Fire Chief Tom Nelson said the buildings were mostly engulfed when firefighters arrived just after 2am. The homes were near the Breezy Point Resort beach on Sand Beach Road. Nelson said the wind blowing in off the Pelican Lake whipped the fire out of control. Two people in one of the homes escaped without injury. The second house was empty. Nelson said both structures were totally destroyed.
Mexican Immigrant Play at CLC
The Central Lakes College Spanish Department will host a performance of the bilingual play "Help Wanted" on Tuesday, April 15th. Spanish Club Adviser Jan Kurtz said the play will be performed by three actors from the Minneapolis-based theater Teatro del Pueblo. Kurtz said she has not seen the play but has read the script and hopes the experience is not divisive. She also hopes that this play will begin a dialogue about immigration. The play "Help Wanted" begins Tuesday night at 7pm in the Chalberg Theater on CLC's Brainerd campus. Admission is $2 at the door and there will be time for questions and discussions after the show.
Bemidji Senator Mary Olson on Bonding
Bemidji State Senator Mary Olson has had a successful year in promoting public projects and getting them paid for. Olson said the Construction Projects bill signed by Governor Pawlenty this week was pretty good for District 4 but especially good for Bemidji. Olson said there was money for the hospital project in Walker, $20-Million for a Bemidji convention center, and money to finish paving the Paul Bunyan Recreation Trail. Olson said she believes there may be more projects bonded for before the end of this legislative session. She said many St. Paul Senators would like to see money for the Central Corridor Light Rail Project and the Governor would like money spent to prepare for the Republican Convention as well as money for a new state park near Lake Vermillion. The session ends on May 19th.
Governor's Fishing Opener Planning Continues
Planning for the 2008 Governor's Fishing Opener continues at a frantic but controlled and organized pace. Carol Altpeter with ExploreMinnesota Tourism said the main event has to do with tossing a line in the water on Saturday, May 10th, the opening of Minnesota warm water walleye season. But there's going to be other things going on too, like the large community picnic Friday afternoon. Altpeter said roughly 325 journalists and writers will come to the Lakes Area, enjoy themselves and go write about their experience, and it won't necessarily be all about fishing. The opening ceremony is scheduled for around 3pm on Friday and will include a performance of the By The Way Players and a tale of the way mail used to be delivered on the Whitefish Chain of lakes.
Last Ditch Try to Save JOBZ
The JOBZ program was not included in this year's Senate Finance Bill. Supporters of the program hope to add it during conference committee meetings. Rochester lawmaker David Senjem said the program helps businesses to expand and add jobs and Senjem said he doesn't care if the job comes from Halleck or Laverne or goes to Albert Lea or Rochester. Senjem said any new job is good for Minnesota and legislators should think of the program like that. Economic development leaders from around the state told lawmakers this week that the program is successful and helping promote employment in well-paying jobs.
Ward Supports New School Funding Plan
Minnesota legislative leaders announced a plan this week to increase school funding and shift property taxes to the state's general fund. Brainerd lawmaker John Ward said he supports the plan. The plan is being called the New Minnesota Miracle, a reference to a public education program in the 1970s that shifted most expenses from local property taxes to the state's general fund. House Education Finance Chair Mindy Greiling confirmed earlier this week that the new program would add $1.7-Billion to public school funding per year as well as shift $600-Million worth of property taxes to the state's general fund. Greiling said increases in Minnesota's income tax would cover the cost of the program.
Jenkins Township Seeks Annexation
The Jenkins Township Board decided earlier this month to ask to join the city of Pequot Lakes. And Pequot Lakes City Council members said they want to talk about it. Township Supervisor Sharon Thurlow told the Lake Country Echo that nobody seems to want to serve on the town board and Pequot Lakes planning department offers more solid development protection for the township's three lakes and a river. Jenkins Township has a population of 423 and an area of 13 and a half square miles. Pequot Lakes City Council member Dave Sjoblad toured the township recently, said its in pretty good shape, and the annexation shouldn't cost Pequot taxpayers any money.
Brainerd Serious Crime Drops Again
Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc reported at this week's city council meeting that serious crime has dropped for the second year in a row. Bolduc said he believes there are a couple of good reasons for the drops. Cheif Bolduc said one program - the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, involves landlords and tenants in watching for serious crime and doing something about it has had definite positive results. Bolduc said the Nieghborhood Watch program has also been very successful. And new laws restricting access to meth ingredients has brought about the near-disappearance of meth labs. Bolduc said good law enforcement has been an important element as well as a public willing to help. But he warns that all the positive gains from the last couple of years could be erased overnight if a new gang or criminal enterprise moved into the area.
Northland Arboretum Italian Food and Wine Night
The Northland Arboretum will host an evening of Italian food and wine Wednesday night starting at 7pm. Chef Sharon Wettyland said you should bring your appetite and your taste buds. She'll be making a sausage and penne dish, a rich pasta sauce which put Rome on the map, and end by creating a Merlot chocolate cake. Sharon said there is limited seating so if you have some time tonight and would like to go, call Northland Arboretum at 829-8770 to reserve your spot. Cost is $10 for members or $20 for non-members.
JOBZ Bill Progress
Minnesota Senate Democrats did not include Governor Pawlenty's JOBZ program in this year's Finance Bill but supporters hope to restore the program through the House/Senate conference committee. Fairmont Senator Julie Rosen said the program helps the economy by helping businesses. The program is administrered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Appeals Court Decision May Not End C-I Teacher Dispute
A Minnesota Court of Appeals spokesman said Tuesday the court upheld an arbitrator's decision to reinstate a Crosby-Ironton Spanish teacher. Maureen Morrow walked the picket line during the 8-week long 2005 teacher's strike. The school board made budget cuts and did not re-hire her following fall because she was not tenured. Teacher's Union Education Minnesota challenged the decision and insisted Morrow was let go because she was involved in the strike. C-I Superintendent Jaime Skjeveland said the board is studying the latest decision. Skjeveland said the decision could affect hiring practices of public employees and the question he and the board still have is did the arbitrator effectively give the teacher tenure. Skjeveland believes the teacher's union wants conclude the matter as soon as possible. He said the school board will probably decide what to do by the end of the month.
PL High School Actors Present Flora, the Red Menace
Pequot Lakes High School actors will open the Broadway musical, Flora, The Red Menace on Friday, April 11 for a four performance run. The John Kander, Fred Ebb musical tells the story of an out-of-work 1930s fashion designer whose boyfriend is a communist. Senior Jordan Zwart plays the part of Elsa, a friend who helps Flora discover who she wants to become. Zwart said her character helps Flora discover who she is and wants to become. Tanner Archambault plays the part of Mr. Weiss, the elderly jeweler. Flora, The Red Menace opens Friday, April 11 at 7pm. Tickets are $3 for students and $4 for adults. Kander and Ebb also created the Broadway musicals Cabaret and Chicago. Other performances include Saturday, April 12 and 19 at 7pm, and Sunday, April 20th at 2pm.
Accused Illegal Says She Wasn't Driving
The woman accused of causing the deaths of four children in a bus crash near Cottonwood said Tuesday that her boyfriend was actually driving the van that struck the bus. 24-year old Olga Franco has been charged with criminal vehicular homicide and insists her boyfriend Francisco was driving. She said he ran off because he didn't want to be deported. Federal immigration officials are considering identify theft charges and illegal use of a social security card against the Guatamalan woman. A state patrol spokesman said Franco was driving the van.
Senjem Likes Bonding Bill
Rochester State Senator David Senjem said he thinks the Construction Projects Bill Governor Pawlenty signed this week is still a workable, functioning plan. Senjem had predicted the governor would veto the bill because the conference committee compromise bill was about $100-Million more than the Governor Pawlenty had suggested. Senjem said we still have a fine bill that moves the state of Minnesota forward.
C-I Teacher Appeal Upheld
The Minnesota Court of Appeals said Tuesday it would uphold the reinstatement of former Crosby-Ironton Spanish teacher Maureen Morrow. The teacher was not hired after the 2005 eight week teacher's strike. Teacher's union Education Minnesota sued and an arbitrator decided the school district had violated a non-reprisal agreement signed after the strike was settled. The Court agreed. The union wants back pay and benefits for Morrow and for her to get her job back.
New Minnesota Miracle To Be Paid For With Income Tax Increases
The chairperson of the Minnesota House Education Funding Committee said her committee's plan to increase spending for public education will be paid for with increases in Minnesota's income tax. Roseville lawmaker Mindy Greiling said the proposed bill wouldn't be introduced until next year, would increase public education spending by $1.7-Billion per year and shift $600-Million worth of property taxes to the state's general fund beginning in 2010. Greiling said how much the income tax increase would be depends upon the House Tax Committee that would handle that portion of the program.
USDA Changes Minnesota TB Status
The United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has downgraded Minnesota because of the presence of bovine tuberculosis. The classification will make it more difficult to move or sell cattle from Minnesota to other states. Bovine TB has been detected in a number of northwestern Minnesota cattle herds and in the wild deer population as well. The state could have kept its advanced status if no more than three infected cattle herds had been discovered in the last two years. The USDA said that bovine TB can be deadly in animals and passed on to humans through raw but not pasteurized milk.
Larry Howes: Another Bonding Bill
Five-term Walker lawmaker Larry Howes thinks bonding for public projects may not be over yet. Governor Pawlenty line-item vetoed $70-Million for the Central Corridor Light Rail Project in St. Paul, a project he included in his own original preferences to be considered for bonding this year. Howes wonders if there could be a proposition to be made that would include light rail and a new state park on newly-available land near Lake Vermillion. The bonding bill passed out of conference committee totalled $925-Million but Governor Pawlenty trimmed it down to $717-Million. Howes thinks the state's credit limit may be able to afford enough additional borrowing to include both projects.
Mille Lacs Band Election
Two members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe will compete in the election for chief executive on June 10th. Current Executive Melanie Benjamin has held the post since 2000 and is running for her third term. Challenger Marge Anderson gained enough votes in the primary. The Brainerd Dispatch reports that Anderson was the band's first female chief executive and was elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1996. Current executive Benjamin came within four votes in the primary of being elected to a third term. If primary candidates in tribal elections get more than 50% of the vote, they win the position without a general election.
Governor Pawlenty Signs Reduced Bonding Bill
Governor Pawlenty signed a slightly slimmer 2008 Construction Projects Bill yesterday. The governor used his line-item veto to remove $208-Million from the $925-Million bill, primarily to stay within state borrowing guidelines. The only Brainerd Lakes area bonding projects vetoed were replacing the roof and new air handlers at Central Lakes College. House Republican Leader Marty Seifert believes the Governor acted responsibly and removed projects that didn't really have state taxpayer's best interests in mind. House Majority Leader Tony Sertich said Democrats were of two minds about the Governor's action; good news for community's whose projects were funded, bad news for those who were not. Other major Lakes Area projects included in the law are the anti-terrorism facility at Camp Ripley, trail development in the Cuyuna Recreation Area and a new fire alarm system for Central Lakes College.
Cancer Society's Hope Lodge
The American Cancer Society has opened a Hope Lodge in Minneapolis. Society spokeswoman Jari Allen said its located near many of the state's major medical center but you can stay there only if you live more than 40 miles away. Patients must be at least 18. There's no charge to stay at the Hope Lodge. Other Hope Lodges in the area are in Rochester and Marshfield, Wisconsin. Call 800-227-2345 to reserve a room or get more information on the web site www.cancer.org.
Sebeka Man Dies After Cow Attack
71-year old Robert E. Monson was moving cattle in a pasture Sunday afternoon around 6pm when one of the cows rammed him. Monson was knocked to the ground and complained of chest pains when he got up. He then collapsed and efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. Cass County Sheriff Randy Fisher said an autopsy has been scheduled.
CW County Sheriff Says Be Patient, Spring On The Way
Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl urged drivers not to get frustrated about the sudden return to winter driving conditions. We're tough, experienced drivers and this too shall pass. Dahl said he's been told that snow-removal crews are working hard at clearing streets and roadways and to be patient. Sure, three days ago we had a glimpse of spring. Just a few more days and we'll get the real thing.
Cancer Society Doesn't Like Smoker's Shack Bill
One of the 62 amendments attached to the House bill to revise the state budget last Thursday would allow bar and restaurant owners to build "smoking shacks" outside of their buildings for customers who want to light up and not suffer the elements. The American Cancer Society said it doesn't like the smoking shack bill which was apparently added on late Thursday night as debate on the budget bill wound down. House lawmakers spent 14 hours on the budget bill and approved it at 2:30am Friday morning. Cancer Society spokesman Mike Maguire said the smoking shack bill will weaken the Freedom to Breath Act and is bad public policy. Maguire said he hopes it is defeated in the House/Senate conference committee. The smoking shack bill passed the House 73-59.
Bruce Helmer at Crosslake Chataqua
Money will be the topic for his week's Crosslake Chataqua session on Wednesday, April 9th at 1:30-3:30. Bruce Helmer is a financial advisor and radio personality for the show Wealth Enhancement. Helmer said if there's one thing to remember about investing, its to try not to get emotional, especially the emotions of fear and greed. Helmer said there are lots of investors who saw the rapid rise of .com stocks and suffered when the 'bubble burst'. And there continue to be lots of others who panic when the market drops and get out when a stock's worth seems to evaporates. Helmer said a better choice is to chose investments using more research and know that there are ups and downs. The Crosslake Chataqua is held at the Crosslake Community Center.
Pawlenty Bonging Bill Action 2:30p Monday
Governor Pawlenty called the bonding bill "horribly misprioritized" on his radio show last Friday and said he would announce Monday afternoon what he would do about it. The governor can sign the bill, line-item veto the projects he doesn't like or veto the entire bill. The House/Senate conference committee approved a $925-Million bill of projects but also included $60-Million in bonded cash in the Transportation Bill. Pawlenty said the state budget won't allow borrowing more than $825-Million and bonding for more could jeopardize the state's bond rating. The governor has scheduled a 2:30pm news conference to announce his action.
Sergeant Curt Says Slow Down and Back Off!
Minnesota State Patrol Sergeant Curt Mower said its still a little early to put away your galoshes and ice scraper. And Sergeant Curt said to hang onto your good winter driving habits as well. Mower said driving a motor vehicle is one of the most dangerous things most of us will ever do. Sergeant Mower had two tips for winter driving; slow down and back off.
House, Senate Budget Suggestions
The Minnesota House and Senate passed bills last week to trim the state budget by $935-Million. The February economic forecast indicated tax revenue could be nearly a billion dollars less than expected. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said she hopes the Governor approves of their suggestions. The budget bill includes a 1% increase for public education and a 2% cost of living allowance for nursing home workers, borrows money from the state's budget reserves and cuts money to state agencies.
Minnesota Bill Limits Tailpipe Emissions More
A bill up for discussion in a Minnesota joint legislative hearing on Monday would reduce tailpipe emissions for vehicles sold in the state. Brooklyn Park lawmaker Melissa Hortman said the bill will be heard Monday afternoon at 3pm. Hortmann said some ethanol producers are concerned that the bill could lower demand for the corn-based fuel. She said the bill would require auto manufacturers to offer more efficient, less polluting cars in four years.