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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: December unemployment numbers due out today

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ST. PAUL -- State officials are set to release December employment figures later this morning(10am). Minnesota's unemployment rate is currently at four-point-six percent and officials are hoping the downward trend continues. In November employers shed 800 jobs. However, the small decline was offset by an upward revision to the October numbers. State job analyst Steve Hine says in November government lost 32-hundred jobs while information led all sectors with 13-hundred jobs gained. Minnesota remains well below the U-S jobless rate of 6.7 percent.

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The Little Falls man accused of killing two teens on Thanksgiving day in 2012 is back in court today for a plea hearing. 65-year-old Byron Smith is expected to plead not guilty to the first degree murder charges. Prosecutors allege Smith shot 17-year-old Nicholas Brady and 18-year-old Haile Kifer several minutes apart after they broke into his house. Smith's lawyers say their client was acting in self-defense and was defending his home. Under Minnesota law, a person may use deadly force to prevent a felony from taking place in one's home or dwelling. Prosecutors argue Smith went beyond self-defense when he shot the two teens several times at point-blank range. Authorities weren't notified of the killings until the following day when Smith asked a neighbor for a good lawyer and later asked the neighbor to call police.

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The Chippewa County Board of Commissioners this week voted unanimously to move forward with plans to bring a veterans nursing home to Montevideo in western Minnesota. The board committed three million dollars to the project. The overall cost is estimated at 33- million, 22-million of which will be funded federally. The city of Montevideo has also committed five million dollars to the project, two million of that has already been pledged by local veterans groups and private donations. It's unknown whether the Legislature will approve the project this year, but state Senator Lyle Koenen of Clara City believes the amount of support and community donations will play a big role in moving the 90-bed facility along.

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Faculty layoffs at Minnesota State University-Moorhead may be less than originally proposed by the administration. A revised plan would result in the elimination of three faculty jobs instead of six. The new proposal also calls for the merger of the theater and music departments. Programs with low enrollment would still be done away with, but new courses have been added due to student and employer demand. The school could face an $8 million deficit within two years without any changes. The faculty has been asked to respond to the latest proposal within 10 days.

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Because of the high demand, starting on June 16th, United Airlines will be offering a fourth daily nonstop flight from Duluth to Chicago. The additional flight will leave O'Hare in Chicago at 3:45 p-m and arrive in Duluth at 5:17 with the turnaround departure scheduled for 5:50 from Duluth arriving in Chicago at 7:20 Currently, the Duluth airport offers three daily flights to Chicago from United, six daily flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul and two to Detroit on Delta and twice weekly flights to Las Vegas, Phoenix-Mesa and Orlando-Sanford from Allegiant.

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As dangerously low temperatures and wind chills continue, a number of schools across the state have either closed for the day or announced late starts. The National Weather Service has a windchill warning in effect for much of the state through noon today.(thurs) Windchill readings are expected to be as cold as 35-to-40 below this morning, which could cause frostbite within five to ten minutes. 

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The number of serious mistakes made by Minnesota hospitals and other facilities dropped 18 percent in 2013 -- although the number of errors causing death or harm to patients stayed about the same. But Rachel Jokela with the state Health Department notes numbers have come down in the ten years they've tracked such problems. Fifteen patients died in 2013 because of errors at hospitals and other facilities. Ten of those deaths were related to falls. The state tracks 28 kinds of mistakes, including wrong-site surgeries and serious medication errors.

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The U-S Senate has included increased heating assistance for seniors in a bipartisan spending bill. The measure contains three-point-four billion dollars nationwide for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance, or LIHEAP program -- a 169-million-dollar increase from sequester levels. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken are applauding the move. Klobuchar says the recent cold snap demonstrates Minnesota winters can be more than uncomfortable -- they can be life-threatening. Franken adds home heating during Minnesota winters is not a choice -- it's a necessity.

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State officials are waiting to see what a judge says about a new 90-million-dollar office building for the state Senate after Wednesday's court hearing. Former State Representative Jim Knoblach, a Republican, is suing to block construction, alleging Democrats put funding for the structure in a tax bill when it should have been in a bonding measure. Knoblach suspects the Senate Office Building provision ended up in a tax bill because it took fewer votes to pass it that way. Democrats respond the legislature a number of times before this has funded building projects in tax bills.

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