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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP: Klobuchar grills GM officials during Senate hearing

WASHINGTON D.C. --  U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (DFL-Plymouth) pressed General Motors for answers on their long-delayed recall linked to crashes and deaths in Minnesota and across the country. 

At a Senate hearing, Klobuchar questioned GM's CEO about why they failed to act more aggressively in the face of mounting evidence of defective ignition switches.  She asked why GM opened numerous internal reviews but did not elevate the issue to a formal investigation until 2011.  "Why was GM's management not aware of critical decision being made related to the defect?"  and "Did GM disclose the issue during the company's bankruptcy proceedings?"  Klobuchar also highlighted the tragic death of Natasha Weigel, a Minnesota woman who was killed in a 2006 car crash involving a Chevy Cobalt that had a faulty ignition switch.


The Minnesota Department of Transportation is planning 308 construction projects in 2014 at a cost of $1.1 billion.  MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle says these projects are important in a number of ways.  He says they represent thousands of jobs and are essential for maintaining and improving the transportation infrastructure that's critical for Minnesotans' quality of life and our economy. Zelle compared the 2014 construction program to building the Vikings stadium in one season.  It includes 74 projects in the Twin Cities and 194 in Greater Minnesota. 


A job fair was held this afternoon in south Minneapolis for people looking to work on the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.  Mortenson Construction, the Employee Assistance Firm and contractors will help connect skilled workers with positions on the stadium site and offer others training and career opportunies in the construction field.  A percentage of the stadium jobs will be aimed at women, minorities and military veterans. 


The state Senate Finance Committee intended to approve the  supplemental appropriations bill today and pass it on to the full Senate -- but the Republican minority was blindsided by an announcement that multiple changes have been made over the past 24-hours and it wouldn't be called for a committee vote.  DFL Senator Richard Cohen of St. Paul chairs the committee, and is hopeful members will spend their day poring over those changes.  Republican state Senator Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville questioned the wisdom of pushing through a radically-changed bill with limited time for debate.  She said her understanding is that Cohen wants to handle the bill on the Senate floor Monday and he responded that he's not sure.  There were whispers from some Republicans that the changes and the delay sounded politically motivated.


Authorities in Douglas County are searching for a missing Garfield man.  Deputies believe 35-year-old James Piere was last seen Tuesday night walking from a home on the Douglas/Otter Tail County line with his black lab.  Foul play is not suspected but family members are concerned due to past chemical dependency and mental health issues.  Piere is a white male with shaggy brown hair and a goatee.  


Flu activity continues to decrease across Minnesota.  The state Health Department has downgraded the geographic spread of influenza from "local" to "sporadic."  There were 22 flu-related hospitalizations in the week ending March 29th compared to 38 the previous reporting period.  Two schools reported flu outbreaks and there were none in the state's nursing homes.  The flu season usually runs from October through May in Minnesota. 


Driving north from Battle Lake in west-central Minnesota there is an unusual site on a frozen pond.  Dan Feda with Network Battle Lake says you can see cattails in the foreground and a boat sitting on the ice with an assistant trying to put the water plug in upside down.  He says it's basically going to be set there until it floats or the ice goes out.  He says the assistant is a mannequin, and he's looking for more.  Feda says they hope to incorporate something similar to this in an ice-out event fundraiser for the Battle Lake 125-year anniversary in 2016.  This year's spoof was a test run.  The pond is located north of Battle Lake on Highway 78.