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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUND-UP:Bonding bill clears State Senate, legislature adjourns early

ST. PAUL -  An $846-million-dollar bonding bill easily cleared the Minnesota State Senate Friday following an early morning vote in the House.  The legislation now goes to Governor Dayton who's expected to sign it. 

Lawmakers generally had good things to say about the bill, but state Senator Dave Senjem (R-Rochester) says it should have canceled a mandate for fire sprinklers in high-priced new homes.  He called it "the unaffordable house act" claiming they're making larger homes less affordable by requiring sprinklers.  Governor Dayton threatened to veto the entire bonding bill if lawmakers didn't leave the sprinkler requirement in place.  Senjem says the debate will be back.


With the bonding bill out of the way the Minnesota State Legislature wrapped up its 2014 session three days before Monday's midnight adjournment deadline.  After some lawmakers worked all night, votes were take on a second round of tax cuts and a supplemental budget bill that would spend part of the state's budget surplus, both of which passed  And a compromise medical marijuana bill was also passed 89-40 in the state House of Representatives before legislators went home and began the campaign season.  State Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) says the message to Minnesotans is "one party control can actually deliver on the priorities of citizens and do it on time -- without a special session."  Republicans on the campaign trail will blast DFLers for last year's tax increases and problems with the MNsure health insurance exchange.


The Minnesota Nurses Association is supporting the House-Senate compromise on medical marijuana that Governor Dayton intends to sign.  The MNA says the bill will help patients with cancer, chronic pain, ALS and seizures to improve the quality of their lives.  RN Charlotte Zabawa said "there are thousands more patients who also need treatment...lawmakers must revisit this program and improve it going forward." Meanwhile, the Minnesota Medical Association does not support the bill, but remains neutral because it begins gathering clinical data and removes doctors from the role of prescribing a Schedule 1 controlled substance.  


The U.S. Coast Guard says it has finished ice-cutting in the Sault St. Marie sector of the Great Lakes, which includes Lake Superior.  An especially brutal winter left the shipping routes choked with ice across the Great Lakes, and nine U.S. and three Canadian cutters had been leading the way for ships from early December until yesterday - a total of 160 days.  A statement from the Coast Guard says the 2013-14 season produced the thickest and most expansive ice cover the Great Lakes has experienced in 35 years."  The first load of iron ore shipped from Two Harbors to Gary Harbor in Indiana took 13 days to deliver because of the ice; it's normally a three-day trip.


Construction is expected to resume soon on a taconite mine and processing center in Nashwauk.  Officials with Essar Steel Minnesota say they've raised $450 million in a bond sale to resume construction on the $1.7 billion mining operation.  Company officials say Essar will be the first new pellet plant constructed in over 35 years in the Mesabi Range, and the on-site steel-producing plant would make it the first facility in the U.S. with a mine, ore processing and a steel mill at the same location.  Essar broke ground for the new mine and processing plant in 2008 and has all the necessary government permits to finish work and start production, but financial problems have caused significant delays.  


A Duluth man will spend more than eight years in federal prison on felony weapons charges.  Thirty-nine-year-old Nino Franklin pleaded guilty in October to being an armed career criminal in possession of a firearm. Franklin received the 200-month sentence for possessing a nine-milimeter semi-automatic pistol and a 12-gauge shotgun.