MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: E-Cig bill clears Senate committee
ST. PAUL -- E-cigarette sales to minors would be prohibited everywhere in Minnesota and people couldn't use them wherever regular cigarettes are banned, under a bill that passed a Senate committee Wednesday afternoon at the State Capitol. City Council President Linda Krug told lawmakers Duluth banned e-cigs indoors and regulates them as other tobacco products, because of growing concerns from health care providers, teachers, parents and restaurant owners. Krug says people were concerned that e-cigarettes were available at convenience store counters right next to Snickers bars...and some objected to those who wanted to 'vape' after their meal at restaurants. But Republican Senator Branden Petersen from Andover says "it's irresponsible to put forward legislation that has no rational scientific basis, and impede upon the free activities of people." The bill now heads to the state Senate Commerce Committee.
Customers stayed away from Target stores in January due to the credit and debit card data breach. The consulting group Kantar Retail found a 22-percent drop in the percentage of American households that shopped at Minneapolis-based Target in January compared to a year ago. The groups avoiding Target the most were Generation Xers, low-income shoppers and infrequent shoppers. A senior Kantar Retail analyst says the drop in traffic is partly due to the data breach and partly a long-term trend.
Federal prosecutors have charged a Utah truck driver arrested in Moorhead for kidnapping a female relative and using her as a sex slave. 53-year-old Timothy Vafeades has been in custody since December, when a state trooper arrested him at the I-94 weigh station. Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Reisenauer says a second victim came forward after she learned about Vafeades' arrest. The Salt Lake City man is charged with kidnapping, transportation for illegal sexual activity and possession of child pornography. Vafeades is in federal custody. All state charges have been dropped.
A St. Paul man is facing a second-degree murder charge for a brutal attack that killed 43-year-old Joseph Saros early Tuesday morning. A witness who was in the apartment on East Third Street told police Peter John and another man were kicking Saros in the head like it was a football, with the attack lasting about a minute and a half. That witness called police after going to sleep for a few hours and waking to find the victim on the floor with blood everywhere. John was charged in Ramsey County District Court yesterday.
State officials release January unemployment numbers later this morning. Typically they'd be releasing February's data, but due to benchmarks and revision to employment data from the previous 21 months by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, release dates have been pushed back. February's employment data is set to come out March 27th. December's jobless report showed the state's unemployment rate holding steady at 4.6 percent, with Minnesota employers adding 95-hundred jobs.
The Minnesota House votes this afternoon (3pm debate start) on a three-and-a-half-million-dollar increase for the state's school lunch program. It's in response to a report that many schools refuse hot lunches, often providing something less nutritious, to students whose families can't pay. Bill sponsor, Minnetonka Democrat Yvonne Selcer says some students skip lunch because they know mom and dad, because of stretched financial circumstances, may not have paid this month's lunch bill. Selcer's proposed legislation not only increases state funding for the school lunch program, but also requires any district taking the money to provide no-charge lunches to all qualifying students.
Medical marijuana advocates are not giving up their push to legalize the drug in the state and have an afternoon rally at the Governor's Residence A House committee postponed a second hearing on the bill after supporters could not reach a compromise with law enforcement. Heather Azzi (ozzy) of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care says Governor Dayton cannot allow them to control the legislative process and needs to be a "partner who will negotiate in good faith with the best interest of Minnesotans in mind." Law enforcement groups say they'd accept marijuana derivatives but not the drug in its raw form with dispensaries all over the state.
Minnesota Senator Al Franken last month urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to establish security standards for the nations electric grid, on concerns prompted by damage to a critical power station in California last year, which could have caused a blackout there and in surround states. Franken says the event was a "wakeup call", and while he is encouraged by the improvements utilities have voluntarily made over the past year the grid could still benefit by implementing federal standards. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has heeded that wakeup call and has now instructed the North American Electric Reliability Corporation to establish security standards for substations and other physical pieces of the grid.
While state lawmakers try to pass an increase in the minimum wage to nine-dollars-50-cents an hour, there is at least one group that wants more. Calling themselves 15 Now, they plan to hold a rally at Incarnation Catholic Church in Minneapolis Saturday as they push for a 15-dollar-per-hour wage. The group formed in Seattle and will also be demonstrating at a fast food restaurant
A St. Paul man has pled guilty to running from police and causing a crash that killed one man and injured another in Minneapolis. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman says 34-year-old Yia Her also pleaded guilty to the aggravating circumstances of having been on parole at the time and driving on a suspended license with no insurance -- which means the county attorney� office can seek a prison sentence longer than required by Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines. In a rambling speech through an interpreter, Her said several times that he was "so drunk" that he wasn't aware of what he was doing the night he ran from an I-94 traffic stop into downtown Minneapolis. Her ran a red light and hit a vehicle broadside, killing driver Brody Sotona and severely injuring passenger Connor Macklin. He had a blood alcohol content of .16. Her will be sentenced April 10.
This year could wind up being the last one for St. Patrick's Day to be celebrated on a Monday in St. Paul. Mayor Chris Coleman's arts and culture adviser is calling for the city to only hold St. Patrick's Day parades on Saturdays, regardless what day of the week March 17 falls on. The "Minneapolis Star Tribune" reports there is opposition from the St. Patrick's Association, which says holding the parade on any other day would take away from the meaning and importance of the holiday. Association vice president Jeff Schmidt adds a Saturday parade would also cost about double what they spend for police, parking, and cleaning up.
They've been a popular tourist draw in Bayfield County and, with temperatures finally warming, they will be closing soon. The Apostle Island Ice Caves will be closing for the season no later than Sunday night. Officials cited rapidly changing ice conditions and growing day-to-day uncertainty about safety in making that decision. The closing could come sooner if ice conditions deteriorate before Sunday.