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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Sen. Franken says Farm Bill extension is a workable compromise

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. House passed a stopgap farm measure while lawmakers wrap up a new farm bill. The bill extends current law until January 31. Democrats, which are in the majority in that chamber, oppose it but Minnesota Democratic U-S Senator Al Franken says it's a workable compromise and the goal can be accomlished the first week lawmakers return from the holiday recess. Franken is pleased with the direction that work on the 5-year bill seems to be heading and says portions of it will have strong support on both sides. Without a farm bill in place, dairy subsidies would have reverted on December 31 to terms of an underlying 1949 law that analysts say could have doubled the price of milk in grocery stores. Democrats argue the "dairy cliff" is a fiction.

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Minnesota National Guard veteran Keith Novak is due in federal court in Minneapolis on Monday on fraud charges. The "Star Tribune" reports the 25-year-old Novak is accused of stealing security clearance information, Social Security numbers and names of 400 people in his former Army unit. Federal prosecutors accuse him of running a militia and stealing the information to make fake ID cards for militia members.

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Authorities are investigating after emergency responders pulled an 88-year-old man from an indoor pool Thursday afternoon at Courage Center in Golden Valley. The victim was unresponsive and was taken to North Memorial Hospital but no information on his condition is immediately available. Police say they're trying to determine how it happened.

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A lawsuit challenging Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's on-line voter registration system is the subject of a court hearing in Saint Paul this morning (930am). Opponents say Ritchie exceeded his authority. Ritchie responds the legislature authorized electronic signatures 13 years ago. Andy Cilek with the Minnesota Voters Alliance says that particular law isn't relevant in this case. He says state statutes are clear that a voter registration form has to be submitted by mail or in person or by commercial carrier. Ritchie says on-line voter registration is more secure than the current paper system. Opponents respond that's the legislature's decision, not his.

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 Governor Mark Dayton is upset with the number of problems with the MNsure program. The governor told reporters yesterday that the next ten days are a "very critical period" for leaders of the health insurance program. Minnesotans are faced with a deadline of December 23 to purchase private health insurance through the state exchange. Hour-long waits have become common for those calling for help, and the website has been crashing due to overwhelming traffic.

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Top elected officials, religious leaders from a number of denominations and representatives of foreign governments will be on hand tomorrow afternoon (Sat 1pm) at the Cathedral of Saint Paul for the Minnesota memorial service for the late South African President Nelson Mandela. The event begins at 1 p-m and lead organizer, retired Hennepin County District Judge LaJune Lange, says they're asking people to arrive by 12:30 because they expect a huge turnout. Lange adds they're honored that the Cathedral of Saint Paul is allowing them to use their facility. Lange says the Minnesota memorial service is at the request of the South African government.

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The University of Minnesota's Masonic Cancer Center is doing a first-of-its-kind study on the health impact of electronic cigarettes. Associate Director Doctor Dorothy Hatsukami (hot-soo-KAH'-me) says they're looking for volunteers to participate in the study. Hatsukami says compared to traditional cigarettes, there are significantly less toxic chemicals in e-cigarettes. She notes that there are hundreds of e-cigs on the market and they are not regulated by the F-D-A. (www.cancer.umn.edu or 612-624-2620)

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Minneapolis mayoral candidate Jeffrey Alan Wagner is being recognized by a "Washington Post" blog as having the worst political ad of 2013. Wagner is seen walking out a lake without a shirt and holding a coffee cup, says he'll stop going to strip clubs and is "cool with making 100-thousand dollars a year." He went on to yell to voters to wake up, dropping a bleeped F-bomb into the mix. Wagner received a total of 465 first and second choice votes combined in November.

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Despite the cold weather, Minnesotans still have to be careful venturing out on the ice. Two fishermen found out just how unsafe it can be. They were on Lake Ida in Douglas County Wednesday when both their fish house and SUV plunged through the ice. Luckily, both men inside the truck got out okay. The DNR recommends four inches of ice for fishing, five inches for a snowmobile or ATV, and 12 to 15 inches for a medium truck.

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If Brian Thole and Shawn Powell decide to fight their firings by the Minneapolis Police Department they will do it without any help from the city's police union. The two were fired recently after a racially-charged incident in June in Green Bay, Wisconsin. KARE-11 reports the union has decided it will not represent either man and won't contest their dismissals. Powell and Thole were off-duty when they got into a fight with several black men outside a bar and allegedly made racial slurs at a Green Bay police station later.

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 The Chippewa National Forest in northern Minnesota has been selected to provide the 2014 Capitol Christmas Tree. The tree has been a tradition at the Capitol in Washington D.C. since 1964 and has been chosen from a national forest since 1970. The last time the tree came from the Chippewa National Forest was 1992. A tree that matches the requirements for the Capitol Tree will be chosen and decorations will be handmade by area school children over the next year.

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