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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Franken optimistic a Farm Bill will be passed next month

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A Minnesota Senator is offering reassurance to farmers - saying that while a final Farm Bill isn't likely to see a vote before lawmakers take their holiday break it won't be long. U.S. Senator Al Franken says top negotiators have told him that the most contentious aspect - the level of SNAP, or Food Stamp, funding had been "largely hashed out" and will be closer to the higher Senate level than the lower House proposal. Franken believes the farm bill will be approved in January.

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Minneapolis police are looking for suspects after a 31-year-old businessman was gunned down early Wednesday morning. Relatives of the victim have identified him as Faud Ali and say he died yesterday (Wed) afternoon at Hennepin County Medical Center. The man was found by police just before 1:00 a.m. laying in the street on Pleasant Avenue South. Ali immigrated to the U.S. from Somalia roughly a decade ago and was expecting his third child with his wife.

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A top Democrat likes that Governor Dayton is thinking about proposing a 975-million-dollar bonding bill for public works projects -- 200 million dollars more than the number he floated earlier. Saint Paul Democrat Alice Hausman, who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee says, quote, "it's a very fine number and I would happily write a bill at that size." But Hausman's counterpart in the Minnesota Senate, Plummer Democrat Leroy Stumpf, is reserving comment on a larger-than-expected bonding bill. Democrats would need Republicans' help to pass it. House G-O-P leader Kurt Daudt says it's not surprising that Democrats not only want to spend the expected budget surplus, but charge more on the state's credit card as well.

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Three people, including two former Minneapolis City Council presidents, are fighting the proposed Downtown East development next to the new Vikings stadium. Stephanie Woodruff, Dan Cohen, and Anoka County prosecutor Paul Ostrow filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging the city's planned use of 65-million dollars in bonds to pay its part of the 350-million dollar project. Their lawsuit argues the bonds, which will be voted on tomorrow by the City Council, "violates the limitation on city funding for stadium improvements." The project calls for hundreds of apartments, a park, parking and retail stores.

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It will likely be January before influenza activity is considered "widespread" in Minnesota. The flu season is off to a slow start with 27 hospitalizations, 11 school outbreaks and zero deaths. The state Department of Health's Kris Ehresmann (AIRZ'-men) says flu activity recently went from "sporadic" to "local." Ehresmann says this year's vaccines appear to match the flu strains circulating in the state. Last season there were 231 flu-related deaths and more than three-thousand hospitalizations.

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If you're struggling with the frigid temps lately, you're not alone. That's why the state Department of Commerce has set up a new "Stay Warm Minnesota" web site. There's information on financial assistance for heating bills, plus tips on making homes more energy-efficient. State Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman says there are also links on the site to nonprofit organizations and other publications with energy-saving tips. For more information you can log on to the commerce department's web site.

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One-third of Minnesota's commercial licensed drivers have yet to comply with federal and state regulations and could lose their driving privileges at the end of January if they don't take action and submit the proper paperwork. Of the state's 250-thousand CDL holders -- which includes school bus, semi-tractor trailer and garbage truck drivers -- nearly 82-thousand have not yet provided certification of their commercial driving status and in some cases, proper medical documentation. The deadline to provide all documentation is January 30th. CDL holders not in compliance by then will be downgraded to a Class D license, leaving most drivers unable to legally engage in commercial driving. For more information and forms you can go to the Department of Public Safety's website.(dvs.dps.mn.gov)

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University of Minnesota-Duluth sophomore Alyssa Jo Lommel remains in stable but critical condition at a Twin Cities hospital after being found unconscious last weekend following a heavy night of drinking. 19-year-old Lommel spent around nine hours after falling asleep on a neighbor's porch in 17 below zero temperatures after being dropped off by friends following a party.

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Police in the Twin Ports have made several arrests over the past six weeks related to human trafficking. Investigators from the Superior Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Duluth Police Department and the Lake Superior Drug and Gang Task Force conducted three separate stings that involved online advertising for paid sex -- and arrested two Superior women suspected of prostitution and a total of seven suspected "Johns". Superior Police Deputy Chief Nicholas Alexander says such stings are important because many of those engaged in prostitution are not doing so voluntarily, and someone may be forcing them into it by withholding money or drugs, threatening to take away food and shelter, or threatening or using physical harm.

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A casting call is set for next weekend at the Mall of America for anyone interested in seeking fame overseas in a Norwegian reality TV show. The English translation of the show's name is "The Great Norway Adventure," and follows 12 Norwegian-Americans as they go back to their ancestral roots. The show has won awards, and a few of last year's cast members were from Minnesota. The casting call will be Saturday, December 21 in Bloomington, and applicants will have to prove they have Norwegian ancestry. 

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