GUN SUMMIT Minneapolis, Milwaukee mayors hold gun summit MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Mayors, police chiefs and prosecutors from around the Upper Midwest say greater access to data on firearms purchases and strong community partnerships are just a few initiatives that could prevent future gun violence. The officials are meeting in Minneapolis for a daylong summit on gun policies. Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn says that while recent mass shootings require federal action, there is also a “slow-motion mass murder” happening in cities across America – and that daily violence can’t be ignored by lawmakers. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak says he and others will head to Washington D.C. next week to lobby for change to federal gun laws. Vice President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he has reached a consensus on some proposals, including banning assault weapons, and will present those ideas next week.
MINNESOTA REVENUE UPDATE Minn. tax collections up $114M in Nov-Dec ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Minnesota collected more tax revenue than forecast in November and December. Minnesota Management and Budget said Thursday that the state took in $114 million, or 3.9 percent, more than anticipated during the last two months of 2012. Corporate income taxes came in $93 million more than forecast and accounted for most of the additional revenue. Individual income taxes also exceeded the forecast, but recent sales taxes came in less than expected. The department cautions that the greater-than-expected revenues appear to be more likely related to one-time items and timing that increased economic activity. The numbers don’t give a full picture of the state’s budget, because they don’t reflect spending.
LEGISLATURE-PAY CUTS Tussle over staff pay sours Minn. session start ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – A tussle over pay cuts for Senate Republican staff members has caused an early rift in a legislative session where harmony was the goal. Moving from the majority to the minority has cost Republicans more than half of their staff. And most of the 39 remaining staffers are seeing their pay chopped by as much as 40 percent. Republicans howled over the cuts Thursday, decrying them as “mean-spirited” and “shameful.” They failed in an attempt to keep employee salaries from dropping more than 10 percent. But Democratic Majority Leader Tom Bakk argues some GOP staff members were hired near the top end of the pay scale two years ago and are falling back into jobs with fewer responsibilities. The Senate has about 200 employees, many of whom fill nonpartisan roles. Bakk says cuts are necessary because the Senate faces an internal budget pressures and unknown costs related to a former employee’s lawsuit over a sex scandal.
UNIVERSITY MONEY ‘Bloat’ criticism could hurt university at Capitol ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – State budget leaders have a message for the University of Minnesota: The money won’t come easy. The university already faced a difficult outlook in its funding quest thanks to a $1.1 billion budget deficit. Now, the university is being grilled about its cost-efficiency after the Wall Street Journal last month reported its administration grew almost twice as fast as its student body in the last decade. Democrats and Republicans are calling for more scrutiny of administrative costs before budget hearings begin. University President Eric Kaler says claims of administrative bloat are unfair. The university will seek $1.2 billion for its two-year budget – 8 percent more than it received in 2011.
WATER MAIN BREAK Mpls. fully restores water service after break MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Officials say Minneapolis has fully restored water service after a 3-foot water main was ruptured in downtown last week. Tests confirmed Thursday that the water is safe to drink. A backup system that crews put in place to provide temporary water service to six buildings near the break is no longer in use. Crews finished repairs to the water main on Monday. About 14 million gallons of water flowed out of the system after a break in the line at a construction site on January 3rd. Only one street still remains closed – a block of Second Street North, from Hennepin Avenue to First Avenue North.
MINNESOTA-FLU Minn. health officials: 27 flu deaths this season ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Minnesota health officials have confirmed 23 more flu-related deaths, raising the season total to 27. Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger told reporters Thursday the state is in the midst of its most severe flu outbreak in several years, and it’s putting stress on the health care system. More than 1,100 people have been hospitalized with flu symptoms across Minnesota this season. Several hospitals have restricted visitors in an attempt to protect patients and staff. Most of the deaths and hospitalizations have been people over 65. Ehlinger says it’s not too late to get a flu shot, but the sooner people who need them get them the better. He also says that people who are sick with flu symptoms can help blunt the outbreak by staying home from work or school.
INDIANA ABDUCTEE FOUND Indiana boy abducted in ’94 found in Minnesota WOLCOTTVILLE, Ind. (AP) – An Indiana woman whose son was abducted 19 years ago was “jumping up and down” after learning he’d been located in Minnesota living under a different name. Richard Wayne Landers Junior was 5 years old when he was abducted by his paternal grandparents during a custody dispute. Indiana State Police said Thursday the now 24-year-old man was found in Long Prairie, Minnesota. His grandparents were living nearby under aliases and confirmed his identity. Richard Harter says his wife, Lisa, was “jumping up and down in joy” when she learned in recent days her son had been found. Harter says she’s “the happiest woman on earth.” Police say Landers is married and expecting his first child. He was located in October after Harter gave his stepson’s Social Security card to investigators.
HEALTH CARE FRAUD Mpls. man charged with health care fraud (Information in the following story is from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com) MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The operator of a home health care agency in northeast Minneapolis is charged with filing bogus Medicaid billings totaling more than $400,000. Forty-year-old Abshir Ahmed of Minneapolis was charged Tuesday in federal court with health care fraud. Prosecutors allege that from 2008 through mid-2011, Ahmed submitted false claims through Lucky Home Health Care Incorporated for services by personal care assistants that were not carried out. A phone message left for Ahmed’s attorney was not immediately returned Thursday.
ELK HUNT EXTENDED Minn. DNR extends elk hunt ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has extended the elk hunt, starting Saturday. The agency cites the need to manage the size of the elk population in northwestern Minnesota and control depredation. DNR big game program leader Leslie McInenly says the rules for the elk hunt authorized an extended season if harvest goals were not met during the regular seasons. Only six elk were harvested in the September and December hunts. That’s well below a quota of 23 elk the DNR had set to meet population management goals and control depredation. Two small elk herds exist in northwestern Minnesota – one near Grygla (GRIG’-luh) in Marshall County and another in Kittson County. Minnesota’s elk population ranges from 80 to 120 animals.
ST PAUL SAINTS BALLPARK Ryan Cos. to build new St. Paul Saints ballpark (Information in the following story is from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mpr.org) ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Minneapolis-based Ryan Companies will build the new downtown St. Paul home for the Saints baseball team, after winning a competitive bidding process. St. Paul initially awarded the contract to Ryan in September, but put the project out for bids after The Taxpayers League of Minnesota filed a lawsuit. St. Paul Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm says that Ryan had the highest score and lowest price of three proposals. Details of the bids remain secret until St. Paul signs a contract with Ryan. St. Paul also received a $1 million state grant to clean up pollution at the site of the new ballpark. The state had already committed $25 million to the project. The Saints and the city will cover the rest of the $54 million budget.