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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Arbitrator says Mankato Football Coach firing was wrong

MANKATO -- An arbitrator has ruled that Minnesota State University Mankato was wrong to dismiss football coach Todd Hoffner and his four-year contract should be reinstated.  In 2012, child pornography charges were filed against Hoffner after nude images of his young children dancing were found on his cell phone, but those charges were later dropped.  The arbitrator says Hoffner's suspension and firing were not for just cause.  Hoffner's attorney is calling for a house-cleaning at MSU-Mankato.  School officials weren't immediately available for comment.


The Minnesota House passed a minimum wage increase Thursday afternoon and sent the bill to the governor, shortly before the legislature recessed for Passover and Easter.  The Senate before going home for spring break passed its bill for a second round of tax cuts that includes relief for veterans, volunteer firefighters, businesses and transit users -- but that legislation is much less focused than a House bill that emphasizes property tax relief.  The two sides must work out their differences when they return to the Capitol. The Senate package does push the Dayton administration to try to resolve the dispute with Wisconsin over income tax reciprocity, affecting border communities like Duluth/Superior, Winona, Wabasha and Red Wing.  When lawmakers come back to Saint Paul the Tuesday after Easter they have a number of items still on their plate, most notably a bonding bill and medical marijuana.  


House Republicans say Democrats cut a deal with their Senate counterparts over the minimum wage and Minnesotans should be outraged.  Republicans claim Senate Democrats stalled on a minimum wage increase until their House colleagues agreed to approve a new 76-million-dollar office building for the Senate across the street from the Capitol.  House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt asked Democrats, how will they explain that to voters?  Daudt says people will ask when legislators are back home for spring break -- and lawmakers will have a rude awakening.  House Majority Leader Erin Murphy fires back Republicans are spinning yarns, to deflect why they voted against a raise for 350 thousand Minnesotans.  Republicans warn a minimum wage increase will force employers to cut thousands of jobs in Minnesota.


This could be one of the latest ever openings of the navigation season on the Upper Mississippi River.  Patrick Moes with the U-S Army Corps of Engineers says the thickest ice measurement was taken this week at river mile 767, right around 22 inches.  He says ice is starting to melt on Lake Pepin, but it's still pretty thick and they're waiting for Mother Nature.  Moes says the farthest north barges have gotten this spring is Guttenberg in northeast Iowa.  Last year's April 8th opening date was the latest since historic flooding in 2001 delayed the first tow until May 11th. 


Today (Friday) kicks off a statewide 10-day distracted driving enforcement and education campaign.  State Traffic Safety Director Donna Berger says 25 percent of all crashes are related to distracted driving.  Berger says in 2013 alone, nearly 18-thousand crashes, 68 deaths and more than 8-thousand injuries in Minnesota were related to distracted driving.  April is "Distracted Driving Awareness Month" and tickets are 130 dollars a pop. 


The ex-fire chief in Babbitt has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for setting fires in the Superior National Forest.  Thirty-year-old Ryan Scharber admitted to igniting multiple fires in the Babbitt fire protection area which prompted emergency responses from firefighters and law enforcement officers.  Scharber also pleaded guilty to attempted arson of a building on Mattila's Birch Lake Resort.  His lawyer says Scharber has been diagnosed with pyromania.  Scharber was ordered to pay just over 27-thousand dollars in  restitution. 


Police in riot gear were called to Dinkytown last(thurs) night to help get control of a large crowd of University of Minnesota students and fans celebrating the Gophers last-second Frozen Four semifinal win against North Dakota.  Minneapolis Police say some students threw beer bottles and cans at officers and a couple of squad cars where damaged.  There were no reports of injuries, but some arrests were made.  U-of-M President Eric Kaler sent a university-wide email Thursday afternoon warning against a riot.  The Gophers will take on Union College tomorrow(sat) night for the NCAA Men's Hockey National Championship.  


A former bookkeeper from the ELCA's northwestern Minnesota synod will go to prison as part of a plea agreement with Clay County prosecutors.  Robert Larson of Wolverton stole about 700-thousand dollars while he worked for the synod between 2004 and 2011.  Assistant County Attorney Heidi Davies says Larson's four-year sentence would be an "upward departure" from state guidelines.  She says Larson pled guilty to count one of the complaint which was miss appropriation of corporate property in the excess of 35-thousand.  With that plea, he's going to receive a sentence of 48 months in prison.  Larson stole the money by forging checks made out to himself and his wife.  Much of the money was used to remodel Larson's home, which was put up for sale to help cover the restitution costs. As part of the agreement, prosecutors will not file charges against Larson's wife. 


Attempted murder charges are pending against a man being held in the Clay County jail. Sheriff Bill Bergquist says 34-year-old Michael Karaux was arrested Thursday morning.  Karaux is being held in Moorhead on suspicion of attempted murder, first-degree assault, interference with a 9-1-1 call and five unrelated warrants.  Details about the incident are not being released.  Formal charges against Karau are expected to be filed Monday.


It appears the end of the flu season is here.  During the latest reporting week ending April 5th, there were 20 flu-related hospitalizations, compared to 26 last week.  Health officials say there were no school or nursing home outbreaks and have categorized flu activity around the state as sporadic.    


 The housing market was as cold as the winter weather in the Twin Cities last month, as sales fell by 16-point-seven percent compared to a year ago.  The Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors reports median prices, however, were up seven-point-six percent to 190-thousand dollars.  The number of homes on the market in March was the lowest in a decade at 13-thousand-86.  St. Paul Area Association of Realtors president Michael Hunstad expects the market to improve with the warmer weather.