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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Tornado reported in southwest Minnesota

ST. LEO, Minn. - An odd mix of March weather has impacted Minnesota, including a rare March tornado. 

The National Weather Service in Chanhassen confirms that the tornado touched down just east of Saint Leo, in southwest Minnesota.  Yellow Medicine County officials say several homes and outbuildings were damaged by the tornado, which touched down at about 4:00 yesterday afternoon, but nobody was hurt.  Meanwhile, northwestern Minnesota may see as much as 20 inches of fresh snow once the blizzard gripping the area finally lets up.  Much of the state is experiencing either light snowfall or light freezing rain this morning, which is expected to taper off as the sun rises.  The 35-to-45 mile per hours winds are expected to diminish as well.

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The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis has turned over documents pertaining to four potentially sexually abusive priests to Ramsey County District Court in a civil case, and spokesman Jim Acurso says the release of information is the first of several that will happen in the coming weeks.  The information includes allegations against former priest Paul Palmitessa - and claims that while the Archdiocese wasn't told about a possible instance of sexual abuse that may have occurred in 1982 until eight years later, in 1990, the Goodhue County Sheriff's Department had investigated the allegations shortly after they occurred.  The documents state that the victim chose not to pursue charges because he did not want his community to know about the abuse.  In May 1999 the victim of Palmitessa's abuse killed his wife and then committed suicide.

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The deadline to sign up for health insurance through MNsure is now passed.  The agency is expected to release final numbers later today for how many Minnesotans obtained insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange in the state.  Phone lines were jammed all day Monday as people tried to get signed up at the last minute, with over 96-hundred calls logged by noon.  Headed into the final day, over 152-thousand people had enrolled in coverage through MNsure.

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A house explosion and fire in St. Louis Park Monday night injured a woman who was in the home.  Fire fighters arrived at the home to find it fully engulfed in flames, and officials say the elderly woman was already outside when they got to the scene.  She was taken to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.  Centerpoint Energy crews did not find any issues with gas service in the home or neighborhood that may have caused the explosion.  While the homeowner used oxygen tanks to combat a health problem, it's not clear yet whether that was the cause of the explosion, which remains under investigation.

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 A spate of recent home fires has prompted officials to urge residents to stay current on their fire prevention plans.  That includes having working smoke detectors -- and in the case of newer homes, installing sprinklers.  Saint Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard  says residential fire sprinklers combined with working smoke alarms give a more than 90-percent likelihood that someone will survive a fire in their home.  Zaccard (ZAK-erd) says that even though most of us feel safe in our homes, it's really the most dangerous place to be when there's a fire.  Nationally, 80-percent of fire deaths occur in the home.  

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St. Louis County Sheriff's deputies helped rescue several fisherman from Lake Superior in Duluth last night.  Officials say high winds and warm temperatures at Brighton Beach caused the ice to break away from the shoreline, leaving open water between the anglers and the sand.  The fishermen were all safely escorted back to shore by the Duluth Fire Department.

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An attempt to overturn DUI immunity for Minnesota state lawmakers didn't move forward last week in the state senate, but it looks like there could be a new push in the House.  The issue was raised in research by students, who found that DUI arrests of state lawmakers stopped during legislative sessions, and resumed when sessions were over.  State Representative Tony Cornish is advocating the change, and says the current law is, "A black eye for the state of Minnesota."  Minnesota House Speaker Paul Thissen (DFL-St. Paul) also supports the bill, writing on Twitter that he wants to change the law by the end of this year.

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Minnesota House DFLers this morning unveiled the details of their $850-million bonding proposal for state buildings and other public works projects.  Capital Investment Committee Chair Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) says higher education projects are always the biggest part.  Hausman says wastewater infrastructure, transportation, public safety and corrections are also included, and there are some economic development projects and some parks and trails projects.  It's likely there will be money in the bonding proposal for convention center upgrades that Rochester, Saint Cloud and Mankato have been requesting for years.  In addition to $850 million dollars in borrowing, House Democrats want to take $125 million of the expected budget surplus, probably to complete major renovations of the State Capitol building. 

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A key Minnesota state House committee this morning puts final touches on a second tax-cut bill with a floor vote possible as soon as Friday.  The legislature has already used $400 million of the state's expected $1.2 billion budget surplus for tax relief, a bill the governor signed into law the week before last.  This second round of tax cuts in the House plan is just over a hundred million dollars.  Sponsors say more than 90,000 homesteaded farms in Minnesota would receive property tax relief averaging $460.  All homestead credit refunds paid to homeowners in 2014 would see a one-time increase of three percent, which backers say would help half-a-million Minnesotans.  Renters would also see a one-time increase in Renters' Credit refunds, and small businesses would also get a property tax cut. 

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A Senate tax committee today debated an education funding bill, which includes early learning, school lunch, and other state education expenses for preschool through 12th grade.  DFL Senator Chuck Wiger of Maplewood answered the top question most Minnesotans may have -- will it mean an increase in the tax levy?  He said the answer is no, and, in fact, with the amendment the property tax goes down slightly - by $2,000 statewide  In addition to the funding, the bill would not just make sure that kids who receive reduced price lunches are covered if their parents don't send lunch money to school, it also requires schools to ensure that any reminders for payment of outstanding student meal balances do not demean or stigmatize any child.  In addition, the legislation also requires school administrators to tell other districts if a former employee they are considering for hire committed acts of violence against or sexual contact with a student. The bill now goes back to the Senate Finance Committee.

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Crime is on the rise in Waite Park in central Minnesota and it's putting a strain on the police department and the city's budget.  City leaders have convinced state Senator John Pederson of St. Cloud to introduce a bill that would raise the sales tax in Waite Park by a quarter cent.  Pederson says Waite Park is already at the maximum property tax level allowable by state law -- and he says the city doesn't qualify for any local government aid from the state, which is how many cities help pay for public services.  City Administrator Shaunna Johnson says additional revenue from a quarter-cent sales tax would be used to hire more police officers.

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The Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is making a push to decriminalize the drug for all users in the state.  NORML spokesman Nathan Ness says they supported the medical marijuana bill as a first step before the ability to smoke it was taken out.  Ness calls it "absurd" and labels it "for-profit policing" that's blocking the effort.  NORML says the state spends 150-million dollars a year prosecuting marijuana-related offenses and 68 percent of all drug arrests are for pot.  Ness says that's the amount of tax revenue Colorado will take in this year from legalized marijuana sales. 

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting last night to discuss its latest safety assessment of Xcel Energy's nuclear power plant in Monticello.  Overall the NRC found the Monticello plant operated safely last year. 

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Douglas County Sheriff's deputies say an Alexandria man was injured while target shooting over the weekend.  First responders discovered that the 52-year-old had a significant wound to his lower leg.  During the investigation deputies learned that the victim had filled a metal container with Tannerite - and explosive marketed primarily for making exploding targets.  The man and his companions apparently shot the container, and when it exploded metal shrapnel flew back at them.

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A 14-year-old was arrested in Fergus Falls shortly after a worker at Trinity Church reported his car stolen.  The victim admitted that he left his keys in the ignition when he arrived at the church, and about three hours later he noticed his car was no longer in the parking lot.  A couple of hours after the report was made officers spotted the car in town, pulled over the driver, and arrested the teenage boy behind the wheel.

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Bison could be coming back to Minneopa State Park.  The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will hold an open house later this month on April 22 at the Blue Earth County Public Library in Mankato to discuss the proposal.  Minneopa State Park was established in 1905 and is home to the largest waterfall in southern Minnesota.  The DNR has bison at Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne.

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Denver-based Chipotle is moving the Cultivate music and food festival out of Denver.  The company tells the "Denver Business Journal" it wants to grow audiences outside the Mile High City.  The festival originated in Chicago and was expanded to Denver two years ago.  It will now move to Dallas-Fort Worth and Minneapolis for the first time.  Organizers say the whole idea was to expose new markets to the festival.

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