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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Minnesota State Patrol: Hundreds of crashes, one fatal

Minnesota State Troopers responded to at least 175 crashes statewide overnight.  State patrol Lt. Eric Roeske says 15 of those wrecks involved injuries - two serious and one fatal.  There were also nearly 400 vehicles that spun out or ended up in ditches or medians.  He says if drivers slow down and drive in a reasonable manner they will be a lot less likely to be involved in a crash or spin out.  Roeske says drivers shouldn't blame the snow if they land in the ditch because snow doesn't cause crashes, poor driving decisions do.


The National Weather Service is expecting eastern Minnesota, particularly the southeast portion of the state, to have ten fresh inches or more of snow by the time this storm is done today.  Areas to the east of Austin and Albert Lea, the Twin Cities, and Duluth have seen snow totals so far of as high as 10 inches.  White-out conditions continue to affect drivers, with sustained winds of 20 to 35 miles per hour and gusts as high as 50.  That means a mess for morning commuters, with considerable blowing and drifting snow.  In southeast Minnesota, officials say some roads are completely blocked by drifts and a no-travel advisory is in place.  


The Minnesota State Patrol closed southbound I-35 from Owatonna to the Iowa border early this (Fri)morning.  Strong winds have blown around the one-foot of snow that has fallen in the region, resulting in low visibility for drivers.  The road was already snow-covered and the interstate in that area has been particularly hazardous, with many vehicles involved in crashes there yesterday (Thu).  U.S. 63 is also closed between MN 60 and Wabasha County Road 2, 3 miles north of the Zumbro Falls area, because the road is blocked by deep drifts.  A "no travel" advisory remains in effect in southeastern Minnesota.  


The 2014 Minnesota legislative session begins in a matter of days.  State Representative Jeanne (GEEN) Poppe (PAH'-pee) of Austin believes that it will be an easier one for lawmakers because of the groundwork that was laid last session.  Poppe says lawmakers have a little more spending latitude this session, as the state's economy continues to improve, and that may lead to the repeal of two controversial taxes -- the agriculture equipment repair tax and the business to business taxes.


More than a thousand people will climb the steps in a downtown Minneapolis skyscraper Saturday to benefit the American Lung Association in Minnesota (Sat7am). Spokesman Bob Moffitt says the first event is called the "ultimate climb", with participants climbing up and down the steps as many times as they can in one hour.  Moffitt says the "firefighter climb" will feature at least 45 firefighter teams from Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.  Organizers hope to raise 300-thousand dollars this year.  


Roughly 191-thousand teething toys sold exclusively at Target stores are being recalled because they are a choking hazard.  The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission announced the recall, noting seven reports have been received of babies choking or gagging from the tail of the toy monkey.  The Go Gaga Squeeze & Teethe Coco the Monkey toys were sold in stores and online from December 2012 through this January for around 13-dollars.  Customers who purchased the recalled toys should contact Infantino LLC out of San Diego, California for a free replacement.


President Obama plans to visit the Twin Cities next Wednesday and his topic will be the economy.  Obama's stop will come a week after Vice President Joe Biden was in town for a Democratic fundraiser.  The last time the president was in Minnesota was in February 2013 to promote his plan to reduce gun violence after the Sandy Hook shootings.


The latest update from the state Health Department shows flu activity continues to wane in Minnesota.  Hospitalizations fell from 85 two weeks ago to 38 last week, while new school outbreaks went from eight to six during that same period.  There were three flu outbreaks in nursing homes.  The geographic spread of influenza remains "regional" in Minnesota.   ____________________

A federal judge did not rule Minnesota's sex offender treatment program unconstitutional, but says he "will not hesitate to take strong remedial action" if the legislature doesn't fix it.  Critics say sex offenders judged at high-risk of re-offending are being civilly committed to treatment after serving their prison terms, with little chance of ever being released.  The Senate passed a bill last year to address the situation and Mankato Democrat Kathy Sheran says the House needs to do the same.  State lawmakers are back at the Capitol next Tuesday to begin the 2014 session.


After a year of focused efforts to cut down on prescription drug abuse and opiate addiction in Minnesota, a new report shows progress has been made.  State Human Services Commissioner Lucinda (loo-SIN'-duh) Jesson says in 2013 they trained over 16-hundred professionals on handling prescription drug abuse, on treatment options for opiate addictions -- including heroin -- and on how to reverse overdoses.  Jesson says in spite of progress, there is still much work to be done.  She says a significant increase in heroin use throughout the state is of particular concern.  Jesson says the goal in 2014 is to continue reducing drug abuse, through new legislation and increased public awareness about the dangers of opiates and synthetic drugs.