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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Black ice causing accidents, tying up traffic throughout the state

ST. PAUL - It's proving to be a rough morning for commuters statewide, with multiple spinouts and slideoffs on several highways. 

The Minnesota Department of Transportation's Kevin Gutknecht says black ice is a problem, especially on bridges and overpasses.  He says plow crews are out laying salt and sand, but it's not nearly as effective with temperatures this low.  He is urging drivers to slow down, and reminds Minnesotans that as cold as it is today, "It's a bad day to crash."


Governor Dayton has declared a state of emergency due to the severe shortage of propane and other heating fuels that are used by many rural Minnesota residents and farmers for heat. The Governor is calling on the state office of Homeland Security to activate the Minnesota Emergency Operations Plan to resolve the shortage.  He also authorized Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman to protect consumers from price gouging.  Prices nearly doubled in the past week, to near five-dollars per gallon, compared to $1.59 a year ago.  Rothman says human lives, property, and livestock are threatened by the propane shortage.


Governor Dayton has ordered the National Guard to call up necessary personnel and equipment to aid in rescue and sheltering of motorists stranded by recent blizzards and extreme cold.  The governor says resources of counties and other local governments have been inadequate to meet the demands and several sheriffs have requested assistance from the National Guard.  


A 55-year-old man from rural Stewart was found dead Monday morning in central Minnesota after his vehicle got stuck in the extreme cold.  McCleod County Sheriff's officials say they received a report of a missing man who had not been heard from since late Sunday night.  Around 20 sheriff's officials and Stewart firefighting personnel searched the area before the man was found deceased about two-and-a-half miles from where his vehicle got stuck.  The victim's name has not been officially released.  Officials say if your car does get stuck, it's best to stay in your car for protection.  Also when traveling in extreme cold be sure to have a long a winter survival kit. 


A number of schools in Minnesota have canceled classes again today (Tues) as extreme cold and dangerous windchills continue to grip the state.  Among the districts with no school today are Duluth, Rochester, Saint Cloud, Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Anoka-Hennepin -- the state's largest school district.  All of Minnesota is under a wind chill warning until noon; a wind chill advisory will then be in place into tomorrow (Wed) morning, with slightly warmer temperatures that still remain dangerously cold.


Two Minnesota snowmobilers missing since Sunday are now recovering after being found in the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Michigan State Police say Benjamin Jenney Sr. and Benjamin Jenney Jr., from Albertville, MN, became lost Sunday afternoon and had no survival gear with them. The father and son were able to send a text saying they were stuck in the woods, and the Civil Air Patrol used the cell phone to locate them.  WBUP-TV in the UP reports that both men were taken to the hospital to be treated for hypothermia and dehydration.


U.S. House and Senate negotiators say they've reached agreement on a new five-year Farm Bill.  The bill reportedly would cut funding for food stamps about one percent per year, or about $800 million dollars.  That's more than the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate wanted, but much less than the Republican-controlled House proposed.  The bill would end direct payments and other farm programs but backers say at the same time it strengthens crop insurance and also sets up a permanent livestock disaster and drought assistance program.  Seventh District Congressman Collin Peterson (DFL-Detroit Lakes), top House Democrat on the conference committee, says it's no secret he doesn't support some of the bill's provisions but, quote, "my reservations are outweighed by the need to provide long term certainty for agriculture and nutrition programs.  This process has been going on far too long." 


Residents at a senior living complex in northwestern Minnesota say they want their elevator back. It's been well over a month since the elevator at Northside Terrace in Hawley has worked, meaning those who use wheel chairs or walkers have been stuck in their apartments.  Those who can walk say it's still difficult to get up and down the stairs.  Manager Tom Olson says he and the owner of the complex have tried working with Otis Elevator to act quickly to bring the elevator up to code.  He says residents are running out of patience.  Olson says he has been told time and time again that the parts would be in next week.  Residents say yesterday was the first time in three weeks they've seen someone working on the elevator.


The Minnesota Association of Realtors' annual report shows an increase in pending and closed sales, median prices and new listings in 2013.  CEO Chris Galler says we have a more balanced marketplace following the recession and housing crash.  He says they anticipate there will be more inventory available this year and buyers will still be out there looking for good values because of low interest rates.  Galler is expecting solid numbers in the first quarter, but not double-digit increases we saw last year.  He says a 27-percent decrease in distressed and foreclosed properties was one key finding in the report. 


A man is charged with two counts of second-degree assault after a woman was stabbed at a residence in rural Roseau County early Sunday morning.  Authorities say the victim called for an ambulance and when authorities arrived they arrested Kirk Hamre.  He made his first court appearance Monday and is being held at the Roseau County Detention Center.  The victim was taken to a hospital in Grand Forks, North Dakota.


The annual report from the Minnesota Association of Realtors indicates 2013 was strong year for the state's real estate market.  CEO Chris Galler  says a key statistic was a 27-percent decrease in distressed and foreclosed properties  Galler says as prices recovered there were fewer properties in trouble, so they've gotten rid of most of that inventory.  He says buyers are looking for traditional homes right now that are in good condition.  Galler says the median sales price increased more than eight percent last year, pending and closed sales were up three-and-a-half and five percent, and new listings rose more than four percent.


A state lawmaker is proposing a $10 surcharge on Minnesota auto insurance policies to improve emergency medical care in the state.  State Representative Dan Schoen, a DFLer from Saint Paul Park, says the fund would provide supplemental payments to ambulance services, additional training for emergency medical personnel, and improve trauma-readiness at Minnesota hospitals.  Schoen is unveiling his bill today (12:30 p.m.) one month before the 2014 legislative session begins.


 So-called "superweeds" that are resistant to Roundup herbicide is the focus at a State Capitol hearing this morning.  State Representative Andrew Falk, a farmer from Murdock in western Minnesota, says biologists talk about antibiotics we use that create "superbugs" -- and now because of reliance on just a couple chemicals, we are creating 'superweeds.'  Falk says farmers might have to go back to more conventional forms of tillage and different types of crop rotation.


The Minnesota Department of Human Services will soon be providing services to youth victimized by sex trafficking.  The department is spending one million dollars to help ensure healthy futures for those who have been abused.  Human Services Commissioner Lucinda  Jesson says the money will go for support services, emergency shelter and transitional housing.  Jesson says the four organizations receiving funds are Breaking Free in St. Paul, Heartland for Girls in Benson, Life House in Duluth, and the Link in the Twin Cities metro area.