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Minnesota News Briefs: Dayton's State of State Address tonight

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Minnesota News Briefs: Dayton's State of State Address tonight
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

ST. PAUL -- "A very important political moment," says a top analyst about Governor Dayton's State of the State speech tonight at the Capitol.

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There will likely be no new major initiatives announced -- but Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier says the governor has a lot of work to persuade the legislature and the public about tax increases and spending increases in his budget plan. Scheir says the governor is on the defensive and will probably view the speech as a chance to get some momentum behind his plan. Dayton will address a joint session of the Minnesota House and Senate.

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A gun-control bill debated at the State Capitol last night would allow Minnesotans -- say those with mental illness -- to notify law enforcement that they don't want to be allowed to purchase a gun for some period of time. People also could temporarily turn over firearms they own to law enforcement. Saint Louis Park resident Diane Sellgren, whose daughter committed suicide in July 2011, supports the bill. Sellgren says she found out that when her daughter requested a gun permit, a complete background check was done, but no hospital visits, doctors visits or suicide watches were on the list to prevent her from getting a gun. Some lawmakers expressed concern about the cost to cities and counties to maintain lists of those who don't want to be able to purchase a gun -- and Good Thunder Republican Tony Cornish questioned whether people would actually do it. Cornish said it seems problematic that someone would call the sheriff and say, I'm having mental problems and I'm coming over with a load of guns.

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It's day two of public hearings on gun bills at the Minnesota Capitol. This morning a House committee examined controversial bills sponsored by Saint Paul Democrat Alice Hausman which would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. President Obama's visit earlier this week spotlighted the issue. Last night (Tues), that same panel debated a gun-control bill to protect the mentally ill..tougher penalties for those who buy guns for people who aren't allowed to have firearms...and two measures dealing with firearms in schools.

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Despite having majority control of the Minnesota Legislature in 2013, Democrats have had their share of bumps in the road so far. Austin Representative Jean Poppe says in one party you don't neccessarily have a unanimous way of thinking - but she thinks the goal at the end of the session is what they're all focused on. Poppe says her first month of duty this session has been consumed by hearings and meetings in the House ag committee.

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A St. Paul police officer has apologized for dressing in a hijab for Halloween, and for posing for the picture that was eventually brought to the attention of department supervisors. Officer Robert Buth says he was at a private Halloween party on his off time, and he never intended for the image to become public. The internal affairs investigation is ongoing, but Police Chief Thomas Smith believes the apology is sincere, and that Buth will use his 13 years of experience within the department to rebuild the community's trust. The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has suggested that Buth receive diversity training, and acknowledges that the apology is a good first step. Buth remains assigned to the St. Paul Police department's K-9 unit.

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A Little Falls teenager who once worked odd jobs for Byron Smith has been charged with breaking into Smith's home last summer and fall, months before the homeowner shot and killed two other teens that later broke into the house. 17-year-old Cody Kasper worked for Smith alongside 17-year-old Nick Brady, one of the teens killed in the Thanksgiving shooting. 64-year-old Smith is charged with second degree murder in the shooting deaths of Brady and Brady's 18-year-old cousin Haile Kifer, and his lawyer says fears over these earlier break-ins led Smith to fire several shots at the teens as they entered his basement. Smith did not report the shooting, and police were not aware of what happened until a neighbor called the next day. Assistant Morrison County attorney Todd Chantry says a search of several homes and properties connected to Kasper turned up several stolen items, including a shotgun that belongs to Smith. Kasper is facing two felony burglary charges.

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A grand jury will decide if a St. Paul man accused of killing and dismembering his wife last month will be charged with first degree murder. Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Yasmin Mullings says 34-year-old Steven Johnson was prepared to plead guilty to second degree murder in a hearing yesterday, but hasn't said why the court chose to pursue a grand jury indictment instead of accepting that plea. Investigators say Johnson shot his wife Manya in the head after she told him she was leaving him, and then used a saw to dismember her body before placing it in plastic bins that he stored at a friend's home.

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Xcel Energy is looking for an additional 200 megawatts of wind power to qualify for a federal tax credit that was extended through 2013. Regional vice president Laura McCarten says the utility notified state regulators it plans to issue a request for proposals and it's an invitation to any developer that has a wind project. McCarten says the decision will be based on whether purchasing more wind power is cost effective for their customers. Xcel Energy owns the Nobles Wind Farm in southwestern Minnesota which produces about 200 megawatts.

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The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities has its annual lobbying day at the State Capitol today. Luverne City Administrator John Call says local government aid remains a very high priority for non-metro communities. Call says the state aid continues to keep the tax rate lower than it would otherwise be. He says it's kind of a "spread the wealth" program, because 70 percent of the tax base is in the Twin Cities. The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities represents 85 communities across the state.

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A grand jury will decide if a St. Paul man accused of killing and dismembering his wife last month will be charged with first-degree murder. Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Yasmin Mullings says 34-year-old Steven Johnson was prepared to plead guilty to second-degree murder in a hearing Tuesday, but hasn't said why the court chose to pursue a grand jury indictment instead of accepting that plea. Investigators say Johnson shot his wife Manya in the head after she told him she was leaving him, and then used a saw to dismember her body before placing it in plastic bins that he stored at a friend's garage.

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