HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGE Minn. health care exchange heads for final votes ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – The Minnesota House is preparing for what could be its final vote on a bill creating an health insurance exchange, but the debate could steer into abortion politics. A House-Senate conference committee finished the bill late Wednesday. The House debate and vote is scheduled for Thursday evening. The exchange, an online marketplace for buying health insurance, is the centerpiece of implementing federal health care changes. It’s meant to extend coverage to about 1.3 million Minnesotans, including 300,000 who currently don’t have health insurance. Gov. Mark Dayton says Thursday he will “enthusiastically” sign the bill if it gets through the House and Senate. But the conference committee eliminated a House provision to bar plans sold on the exchange from covering abortions. That could mean trouble for the bill with a handful of House Democrats opposed to abortion.
STABBING DEATH-DULUTH Teen charged in Army vet’s stabbing death in Minn. (Information in the following story is from: Duluth News Tribune, http://www.duluthsuperior.com ) DULUTH, Minn. (AP) – A 17-year-old Duluth boy is charged with killing a U.S. Army veteran who suffered more than 50 wounds to his head, face, neck and back. A juvenile delinquency petition filed Thursday charges the teen with second-degree murder. He’s accused of intentionally causing the death of 27-year-old Bryan Starnes at Starnes’ Duluth home last Saturday. St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin says his office also is asking the boy be certified as an adult. Starnes was an Army veteran who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The Duluth News Tribune reports his injuries were consistent with the use of a hammer and a knife-like instrument. The prosecution asked the court to keep the teen in custody. A judge granted that request and also ordered the teen undergo a psychological study.
FLU-MINNESOTA Minn. flu death toll rises to 176 (Information in the following story is from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mpr.org ) ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Minnesota’s death toll from influenza this season has climbed to 176. The Minnesota Department of Health said Thursday seven more influenza-related deaths were confirmed last week. Minnesota Public Radio News (http://bit.ly/YumQPd) reports the 176 deaths are the most the state has recorded in at least five flu seasons. Comparisons before that time are limited due to a change in the way the state Health Department calculates flu deaths. Flu illnesses continue to decrease. Last week 37 people were hospitalized in Minnesota. One long-term care facility reported a flu outbreak, as did two schools. DAYTON BUDGET-REAX Minn. Dems say income tax hike likely; GOP resists
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Top Minnesota legislative Democrats say they’re almost certain to grant Gov. Mark Dayton’s wish to raise income taxes on the state’s richest people. Reaction Thursday to his revised budget fell along party lines. Republican leaders say hope to marshal opposition to the Democratic governor’s income tax proposal like they did with his now-abandoned sales tax expansion. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Paul Thissen say they expect lawmakers will create a new fourth-tier income tax, though the parameters are still unresolved. Dayton wants couples earning more than $250,000 in taxable income and singles making more than $150,000 to pay more. Democrats say the money would balance the budget and boost education funding. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt says it’s unclear if the GOP will propose an alternate budget.
WOLF HEARING Senate panel passes wolf hunt moratorium 7-6 ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Opponents of wolf hunting win a victory as a Minnesota Senate panel votes 7-6 for a five-year moratorium on future wolf seasons. Wolf hunting opponents argued before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee on Thursday that the state acted too hastily when it decided to resume sport hunting and trapping after the region’s wolves came off the endangered list early last year. Hunters and trappers then killed 413 wolves during the state’s inaugural wolf season, which ended in January. Supporters of the wolf hunt told the committee the state’s wolf population has recovered enough to allow for properly managed hunting and trapping, and that the decision was made after years of study and court battles. The bill now goes to a Senate environment budget committee, where its prospects are uncertain.
DAYTON BUDGET Dayton wants tax hike on wealthy for schools ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Gov. Mark Dayton is asking Minnesota’s wealthiest citizens to pay more than a billion dollars in new income taxes in order to boost state funding for schools and colleges by nearly $640 million. The Democratic governor released the updated budget proposal Thursday. As expected, Dayton dropped a proposed sales tax overhaul that generated strong opposition from business leaders. Dayton also jettisoned a $500 yearly property tax rebate, but puts additional money into an existing program that provides property tax rebates and beefs up a property tax credit for renters. He boosts state aid programs to city and county governments, and wants money for local economic development initiatives. Dayton also continues to call for a tobacco tax increase and for eliminating tax loopholes that benefit corporations. He says it’s not responsible budgeting to simply draw a line against all tax hikes.
DNR-EAGLE EGGS DNR: Last of 3 eagle eggs also expected to fail ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Tens of thousands of viewers have logged onto a live camera trained on an eagle’s nest in the Twin Cities, waiting for three eggs to hatch. An eagle still tended to the eggs Thursday, but the state Department of Natural Resources says it appears none of the chicks will hatch. The DNR says the eggs were laid about the first week in January, but because temperatures dipped below zero during the 35-day incubation period, it became apparent the eggs were going to fail. DNR wildlife experts say the final egg will likely break apart like the first two. The DNR says its EagleCam (http://eaglecam.dnr.state.mn.us/ ) averages about 15,000 viewers a day. It says Minnesota has more bald eagles than any other lower-48 state. The majestic bird has made a dramatic comeback after once facing extinction.
FRACK SAND-ST CHARLES Some investors pull out of frack sand project (Information in the following story is from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com ) MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Some investors have pulled out of a major frack sand project proposed for Winona County of southeastern Minnesota after losing a critical vote. Rick Frick is one of two remaining principals in Minnesota Proppant. He tells the Star Tribune (http://bit.ly/ZqzgqD ) the other investors got fed up and decided to focus on Wisconsin, which he says is much friendlier to the industry than Minnesota. Frick says he’ll find another site if the city of St. Charles doesn’t want the plant. The St. Charles City Council on Tuesday refused to go along with the proposal, which was envisioned as the world’s largest frack sand processing and rail-loading facility. The silica sand underneath southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin is highly prized by oil and gas drilling companies, which use it in hydraulic fracturing.
GRADUATION TESTS Proposal would end high school graduation tests (Information in the following story is from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com ) ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Lawmakers are considering a bill that would do away with high-stakes graduation exams for high school students. Instead, students would take tests designed to gauge whether they are ready for college or the workforce. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports (http://bit.ly/Ydig5t) the tests wouldn’t require a certain score to get a diploma – and that’s something some Republican lawmakers and business owners disagree with. Republican Sen. Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes says many agree some reform is needed, but getting rid of benchmarks is baffling. Democratic Sen. Kevin Dahle of Northfield says a group of educators voted in November to drop the graduation tests and he’ll resist efforts to a certain score a prerequisite to a diploma. Under the bill, students would start taking college readiness exams in eighth grade.