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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: State budget office forecasts surplus

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ST. PAUL -  Minnesota will have a good-sized state budget surplus, according to the latest economic forecast just released. 

Just over a billion dollars is the number, although the first 246 million of it goes to re-pay schools for the last of state aid payments that were delayed, to balance the budget when there was a deficit earlier.  DFLers say the remaining $825-million budget surplus proves that tax increases did not cripple Minnesota's economy as Republicans warned.  House Republicans respond,while Governor Dayton and the DFL celebrate taking more money that they can waste, Minnesota moms and dads are working two to three jobs to pay for the cost of everyday life.

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Two children are missing and an emergency responder is hospitalized after a fire at a southwest Minnesota home.  The Minnesota Department of Public Safety says two adults and several children were able to get out of the house in Lucan without injury after it caught fire Wednesday afternoon, but the house was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived and they were not able to get in to look for the children who were unaccounted for.  A firefighter from the neighboring town of Vesta was hospitalized after he slipped at the accident scene and was injured by a fire truck.  DPS spokeswoman Jen Longaecker says he may have been run over.  There is no current update on his condition.  Seven departments worked to put out the fire.

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The leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis promises more openness in disclosing information about priests accused of sexually abusing minors -- that on the day church officials have released the names of all 33 priests who have been accused.  Archbishop John Nienstedt says that, in the future, any time a sexual abuse claim against a priest is found to be credible and can be substantiated, the archdiocese's new disclosure practices will require that claim to be posted on the website (www.archspm.org).  The names of 29 "credibly" accused priests, plus four others that have faced claims that remain unsubstantiated, have all been posted online.  Nienstedt says the goal of the disclosures is to not only, "Protect the young and vulnerable and care for victims of abuse," but also to restore trust of the congregation, the community, and the clergy who are serving honorably.

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Now that the snow machine has wound down, Minnesotans are bracing for another wintery visit -- this one an arctic blast from Canada that will bring dangerously low wind chills tonight into tomorrow  morning.  Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen say a wind chill advisory will be in effect for the next several nights, with actual temperatures as low as 11-below expected in the Twin Cities, International Falls, and Duluth -- and wind chills dropping to 25 below.  Even the far southern tier of counties will not be spared from the frigid temperatures, which are expected to stick around into at least the middle of next week.

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The Minnesota State Patrol was busy yesterday, with hundreds of crashed across the state.  Lieutenant Eric Roeske (ROSS'-key) says troopers handled at least 368 crashes on Wednesday, including one fatal wreck and 44 that involved injuries.  Two semis jacknifed on slippery roads, and 462 drivers spun out or slid into ditches in just a single day.

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Congressman Keith Ellison (DFL-Minneapolis) is among those praising MnSure's November enrollment numbers.  State officials say about 15,000 Minnesotans signed up for health insurance through MnSure last month.  That's up from 11,000 enrollees in October.  Ellison says Minnesota continues to prove that the Affordable Care Act works in states where elected officials put politics aside and work together to expand health care coverage.  But Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Stillwater) claims so-called Obamacare has resulted in higher premiums for Minnesotans and major increases in deductibles.

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A Minnesota lawmaker and key farm bill negotiator is expressing doubt a farm bill deal will be ready in time for a House vote next week - the last week the House plans to be in session this year.  Top negotiators emerged from their latest session Wednesday, repeating a well-worn phrase that staff are working on specifics and negotiators are making "great progress." But top House Ag. Democrat Collin Peterson (DFL-Detroit Lakes) isn't so sure it will be done by the deadline.  Conferees are pushing hard to avoid a January timeframe when another fiscal cliff, election-year politics or farm bill objections by some ag interests could delay action even longer.

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State Senator Torrey Westrom is launching his campaign for Congress today in Minnesota's 7th District.  The Elbow Lake Republican is scheduled to make appearances in his hometown and Moorhead  Westrom hopes to challenge long-time Congressman Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.  Westrom lost his sight at age 14 in a car crash and is the only blind member of the legislature.  He served eight terms in the Minnesota House and was elected to the Senate in 2012.    

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