MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Willmar teen pleads guilty to Murder charge
WILLMAR, Minn. -- A 19-year-old Willmar man has pleaded guilty to the murder of Lila Warwick. Brok Junkermeier pleaded guilty yesterday (Wed) to a charge of first Degree Murder, and will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole next Wednesday. The trial began last Friday, and yesterday (Wed) the jury watched Junkermeier's 4-hour interview with investigators, in which he admitted planning to rob and murder 79-year-old Lila Warwick in July of 2013. His attorney, Kent Marshall, said Junkermeier told him Wednesday morning that he wished to plead guilty to the most serious charge, first Degree Murder, because he didn't want Lila Warwick's family or his own to have to endure any more testimony. Still to stand trial in the case is the alleged mastermind, 18-year-old Robbie Warwick, Lila Warwick's grandson. A third defendant, 16-year-old Devon Jenkins of Willmar, pleaded guilty to second Degree Murder in December.
Controversial anti-bullying legislation is up for debate and a vote in the Minnesota Senate today (Thu). The bill would require public schools have a policy in place to prevent and prohibit student bullying, and districts would have to discuss the policy with students, personnel and volunteers plus provide training. Parent acitivist and former teacher Susan Richardson has spoken out against the bill, in part because she claims it takes families out of the equation. DFL Senator Susan Kent of Woodbury says that's absolutely untrue. She says the bill does have strong parental notification language, both for the student who is being bullied and for the actor, so the parents are aware of what's involved. Backers say Minnesota's current anti-bullying law is inadequate and among the shortest in the nation. Opponents warn the proposed law burdens financially-struggling schools with another layer of bureaucracy and will do little good.
The House Ways and Means Committee passed the Women's Economic Security Act omnibus bill yesterday (Wed), clearing the way for a vote in the full House. Representative Carly Melin of Hibbing says it would level the playing field for female workers by breaking down barriers that are also putting a block on the state's economy. She says it requires private businesses that contract over 500-thousand dollars with the state, to do some equal pay reporting to make sure that they're paying men and women equally. Other components include employers accommodating for nursing mothers, employers accommodating for pregnant women, and providing some more time off for either moms or dads after the birth or adoption of a child. Melin says the bills would also expand access to child care by removing a $5,000 cap on early learning scholarships, and provide a state-run retirement savings plan for Minnesotans who work for companies without one.
Minnesotans for Compassionate Care is running a new T-V ad that criticizes Governor Dayton for not supporting medical marijuana legislation. Angela Garin of Inver Grove Heights says marijuana reduced her son Paxton's seizures by 88 percent during a trip to Oregon, and she's shocked the governor is blocking the bill. She says her family deserves better, Minnesota deserves better. The governor proposed a study to investigate the therapeutic effects of the marijuana compound cannibidiol for patients with epilepsy. Medical marijuana advocates are delivering Dayton a petition today with 49-hundred signatures (Thurs1pm).
There appears to be border confusion when it comes to e-cigarette laws in Minnesota and North Dakota. Even if they don't emit smoke, those trendy e-cigarettes that are becoming more popular, aren't allowed in bars, restaurants and other public places in North Dakota. Holly Scott of Fargo-Cass Public Health says they're starting to get complaints of people using the devices to "vape" indoors. The statewide Smoke-Free law in North Dakota prohibits use of electronic cigarette in all of the same places a traditional cigarette is prohibited. Scott says some people may be confused because Minnesota's smoke-free law doesn't ban e-cigarettes. Minnesota lawmakers are deciding how to proceed on e-cigarettes after Governor Dayton said he didn't feel comfortable putting them in the same category as conventional cigarettes.
It may be time to get those shovels out--not for gardening, but for snow. A winter storm watch is in effect today (THU) through tomorrow (FRI) for most of the state. National Weather Service meteorologist Tony Zaleski says it looks like the southern half of the state will be hardest hit, with much of central, south-central and southwest Minnesota getting six to 12 inches of new snow. Zaleski says we can expect wet, heavy flakes with temperatures expected steady at freezing or just above. He calls it "heart attack" snow and urges everyone take it easy when shoveling.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is defending the statements made by Archbishop John Nienstedt during a four-hour deposition on Wednesday. The four hour session ended abruptly according to the attorney of one of the men suing the Catholic Church for alleged sexual abuse by priests. Attorney Jeff Anderson said the archbishop walked out after being pressed to turn over more files related to accusations against priests to police. The Archdiocese says Nienstedt accepted responsibility for mistakes made since he became archbishop in 2008 and expressed regret for how the sexual abuse allegations were handled in the past.
The Minnesota House is set to debate and vote on a bill today (noon start) that would spend 322 million dollars -- about a quarter of the state's budget surplus -- to increase funding for a variety of programs. Most visible, a five-percent wage increase for those who provide in-home and community-based care to Minnesotans with disabilities. House Republican Minority Leader Kurt Daudt asked Democrats yesterday (Wed) for a separate vote on that provision -- saying "don't bury it in a bill with a bunch of other bad provisions." DFL House Majority Leader Erin Murphy responded the bill Daudt labels "garbage" also provides funding for schools and broadband Internet access in Greater Minnesota. The bill also includes 50 million dollars for pothole repair.
The interim head of the state's MNsure health insurance exchange testifies in Washington D-C today (time unavailable) at a hearing called by U-S House Republicans. Governor Dayton says it's billed as an investigation into failures of Obamacare's state-run exchanges, demonstrating the bias of the committee and House Republicans -- namely, "let's find everything wrong we can point to." Dayton says MNsure has seen significant improvements and is making progress. Republican Representative Tara Mack from Apple Valley responds taxpayers expect someone to call for accountability on what people are getting for money spent. Mack says nearly three-quarters of those enrolled in MNsure are on publicly-subsidized programs and there are nowhere near enough "paying" clients to make it work.
The recent blizzard in the Red River Valley should not have a significant impact on the flood forecast, although heavy snow did put the spring thaw on hold. But Greg Gust of the National Weather Service in Grand Forks says odds of flooding go up, if there's a repeat performance or two. To this point, Gust labels the risk "low" for substantial flooding in the Red River Valley this spring. Northwestern Minnesota is expected to see the least snowfall from incoming winter storm.
The mayors of Worthington and Luverne are at the State Capitol today (time unavailable) lobbying for additional funding for the Lewis and Clark regional water system in southwest Minnesota. That project has been in progress for a number of years. Governor Dayton says the 20-million-dollar appropriation in the House version of the bonding bill is "vital to the continued economic growth in Worthington, Luverne and that area." The Luverne and Worthington mayors are also meeting with area lawmakers about the project.
House lawmakers continue working out details of an 800-plus-million-dollar bonding bill for state buildings and other public works projects, but there are some things Governor Dayton isn't happy with. The governor wants 64 million dollars for "significant upgrades" at the Saint Peter Security Hospital and for sex offender program facilities -- but the House has only 41 million dollars in its bill. Dayton says both facilities are "just really decrepit" and the legislature has refused for the last three years to support upgrades for either. Dayton also wants 125 million dollars in the bonding bill to complete major renovations of the State Capitol building. Lawmakers are talking about using money from the budget surplus instead, but Dayton argues that doesn't make economic sense.