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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Whistleblower reports threatening phone call

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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Whistleblower reports threatening phone call
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

ST. PAUL -   A whistleblower who raised concerns about the Minnesota Department of Human Service's payment practices claims he received a threatening phone call at home -- and, according to his caller I.D., the call was made from his desk at work. 

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State Patrol confirms it's investigating after an unnamed DHS employee called Capitol Security to report the threatening call.

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About 133 dogs seized from a breeder near Pine River in July - and their new puppies - are going up for adoption this weekend (Sat).  Kathie Johnson with the Animal Humane Society says they've been waiting three months to find good homes for the dogs.  Johnson says many of the dogs were pregnant when they were taken and their five shelters are now caring for 198 dogs and puppies.  The Animal Humane Society will have pictures of those available for adoption posted on their website by 8 p.m. today.  (animalhumanesociety.org)

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The nine-year-old boy who sneaked onto a plane bound for Las Vegas out of MSP is expected back in Minnesota today.  The boy had been in protective custody since arriving in Nevada last Thursday.  The boy's father says his son has been a challenge, and up until now the family has been unable to get help.  He says he's tired of people saying because his son is a minor, there's nothing they can do.  A family spokesman says help has been offered through Hennepin County Social Services when the boy returns.

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Starving horses and dogs were seized from property in east-central Minnesota yesterday for a second time.  Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole says 14 horses and 15 emaciated dogs were rescued.  One horse was found dead on the property near Pine City, and Cole says they apparently had been dead for some time. County officials say they chased cats all over the property all afternoon.  The owner, 65-year-old Kathy Doenz, was raided just four weeks ago and in that investigation 12 starving horses, 21 dogs, 84 chickens and 18 ducks were rescued. Two of the horses were put down.  Cole says they'll turn over the report to the county attorney for possible charges.  Doenz was convicted and sentenced in 2006 for cruelty to animals.

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It hasn't received much attention, but Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie launched an online voter registration system last month and now the state legislative auditor is joining others in questioning the creation of the system without legislative approval.  Auditor James Nobles is investigating not just the implementation of the system but whether private voter data it collects is secure.  Ritchie's office says the online system follows the same requirements as paper registration but simply makes those forms available on the web.  MnVotes.org was launched two weeks ago and about 500 Minnesotans used it to update their existing registrations and 110 new voters have registered online.

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Many Minnesota small business owners are calling on Congress to overturn the portion of the Affordable Care Act that mandates they carry insurance coverage on all employees.  Jack Bienko at the U.S. Small Business Administration says defining employees over 30 hours as full-time, rather than using the traditional 40-hour work week, has caused businesses to reduce the number of workers and the hours they're allowed to work.  He says the 30 hour definition is a major change that could have far reaching consequences we have not yet begun to see.  The revision of the new definition of full time employee for the purpose of the Affordable Care Act is a common sense solution that will put the ACA in line with many other federal wage hour regulations.  Dean Baker with the Center for Economic and Policy Research told the same Congressional panel that claims of harming small business and stopping economic growth are inflated.  Baker adds the number of part time workers who wish to work full time are no different from past counts.

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First time unemployment claims were up 47 percent in Minnesota after the first week of the federal government shutdown -- far ahead of the nationwide number, which rose just 21 percent.  The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development says about 2,000 of the 5,000 new applications came from employees linked to federal government.  Russell Prince with Minneapolis-based Ameriprise Financial says the spike won't represent a change in employment dynamics if the shutdown ends soon, and Congress agrees to raise the nations debt limit before the cap is reached on October 17.

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The latest update shows Minnesota's tax collections pretty close to forecast, but officials are worried about a protracted government shutdown.  State economist, Doctor Laura Kalambokidis (Colombo-keedis), says states that have more federal procurement and federal employees will feel the pinch more -- but Minnesota has less exposure than states like Maryland or Virginia.  Kalambokidis says if the shutdown continues, eventually more federal payments to Minnesota residents will be delayed.  She says if those payments are not made up, there will be more of an impact on Minnesota.  One thing that could lessen the effects, she says, is if furloughed federal employees receive back pay.

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The U-of-M Board of Regents is expected this morning (about 11am) to give thumbs-up to a 300-million-dollar bonding request that they'll ask the legislature to approve next year.  There's $100 million dollars to maintain current buildings, $85 million to renovate the Tate Science and Teaching Building on the Minneapolis campus, $45 million for a new microbial science research building on the Saint Paul campus and money for invasive species research and for replacing the bee laboratory.  There's also money for a campus wellness center in Crookston and a sciences and advanced materials building at UMD.

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Rosemount Police have released the names of the couple who died this week in what investigators are now confirming was a murder-suicide.  Officers went to the Rosemount apartment after a call requesting a welfare check on the couple that lived there and found the bodies of 32-year-old Steven Vassey and his 31-year-old wife Melissa.  The investigation shows that Steven was shot several times before Melissa shot herself.  Detectives say there was no sign of a struggle, and police had not been called to the apartment in the past.

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 When pheasant hunters hit the fields for this weekend's opener, they may have to search longer and harder for the ringnecked birds.  The DNR's Rachel Curtis headed-up the pheasant survey this year and says populations in the state are down an estimated 29-percent from last year.  Curtis says part of the reason for the decline is loss of undisturbed grassland habitat.  She notes more farm acres have been taken out of the Conservation Reserve Program.  The good news for hunters is the adult pheasant population made it through last winter's heavy snowfall remarkably well. 

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