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Daily Glean: Two bucks doesn’t make you a smoking actor

By David Brauer | Friday, May 16, 2008 In Friday’s local news roundup, the woman accused of driving a van that killed Cottonwood school kids wins twice in court. Also, smokers lose big in Scott County.

It was a good day in court for Olga Franco, the alleged van driver accused of killing four Cottonwood school kids. First, a federal agent testified that Franco was not alone in the van, the Strib’s Pam Louwagie reports. This could complicate pinning the crime on Franco. Prosecutors contend no evidence “even remotely suggest[s]” someone else was driving. AP says a judge also ruled certain Franco statements inadmissible because of Miranda violations.

Everyone laps up a Scott County judge’s slap-down of an Elko bar’s pro-smoking “theater nights.” Jurist Jerome Abrams said merely paying $2 for a “Actor’s Guild” pin doesn’t make one an actor, the Strib’s Mary Lynn Smith notes. The PiPress’s Jason Hoppin says the bar owner will start writing scripts to beef up the theatrical cred; that should be fun for all. The judge’s restraining order is limited; bars elsewhere plan to keep going until stopped.

DFLers agreed to Gov. Pawlenty’s 3.9 percent property-tax cap, writes the PiPress’s Rachel Stassen-Berger. The offer might not last long, she adds. DFLers want $75 million more in state local-government aid, plus $30 million in direct aid to homeowners. The guv wonders how the $155 million (in the next biennium) will be paid for.

Cargill is adding to the nation’s arsenal of artificial sweeteners — but there’s a good backstory,the Strib’s Matt McKinney reports. The non-sugar is called Truvia. Unsurprisingly, the company’s research says it’s safe for humans! Truvia is a derivative of the South American shrub stevia, which the FDA has ruled unsafe. (The PiPress is more upbeat about the product.) Note to tea drinkers: some Celestial Seasonings brews contain stevia, but the company slipped the FDA noose by relabeling them dietary supplements.

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State unemployment hit a four-year high in April, the PiPress’s Julie Forster notes. The Strib’s Mike Meyers says six months of employment growth were wiped out by a 10,100-job decline. Construction and manufacturing were hardest hit. Finance & Commerce reports that the state actually has 19,000 more jobs than a year ago, but Meyers notes that’s not enough to keep ahead of population growth. Our 4.8-percent unemployment rate is below the nation’s 5 percent average.

More unemployment: State population growth is slowing because of our job sickness, state economist Tom Stinson posits. New unemployment claims aren’t rising, but the number of Minnesotans exhausting 26 weeks of benefits is.

Hat tip to for tipping me to a long USA Today story featuring Minneapolis’s Hawthorne neighborhood. The story highlights residents’ lawsuit against mortgage companies for accepting inflated appraisals and neglecting the subsequently foreclosed properties. [Note: if you haven’t been paying attention, USA Today has steadily made itself into a quality news source.]

Fresh off the “smiley-faced” murder exposé, KSTP’s Kristi Piehl digs into state spending on education diversity. It’s an $85 million a year program — successful, the Pawlenty administration says — but Piehl focuses on $293,163 spent for food. One school board is being fed every month. The legislative auditor favors tougher oversight, but lawmakers haven’t acted. The Taxpayer’s League gets a shout-out for fingering the spending. Drink a shot every time Piehl stresses “your money.”

Jesse Ventura is talking about running for U.S. Senate. He has a book out.Need we say more? OK, just this: only 50 people turned out for a book-signing at the Mall of America, the Strib’s Sarah Lemagie reports.

Vetoes in 30 seconds: As expected, Pawlenty nixed the minimum wage bill, the Strib reports. He wants tipped waiters to be paid less. He also vetoed a bill raising the standard of evidence for  removing “criminally suspect care workers from contact with children,” and a “paint stewardship bill” that would levy a 40-cent tax to aid responsible paint disposal.

On the other hand: the guv said OK to 4 a.m. bar time for the GOP convention, the PiPress’s Tad Vezner reports. The St. Paul City Council, which initially opposed the move, seems likely to OK some scheme, but a plan hasn’t coalesced.

Today’s talker: 19-year-olds. One threw himself into a Roseville wood chipper — and survived. Another, serving as an NWA Airlink flight attendant, forced his plane to land by setting fire to an airplane bathroom. He was mad he had to work a Minneapolis-Saskatchewan route. I know flying’s become a low-wage business, but they let teens be flight attendants?!

Jammie Thomas might get a new trial; she’s the Brainerd woman fined $222,000 in the nation’s first illegal music downloading conviction. Thomas actually uploaded music, but prosecutors might have to prove someone — other than authorities — downloaded it, AP reports. Federal Judge Michael J. Davis said he might’ve mistakenly instructed jurors last fall. The Strib’s Larry Oakes says settlement talks are likely.

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Entertaining report from WCCO’s Frank Vascellaro on rising prices at the Nicollet Mall Farmer’s Market. Of course, this time of year it’s all non-local stuff affected by high transportation costs, so we’re not too sympathetic. 

Oy: Carl Eller. Now he’s been cited for riding his motorcycle without specially coded license plates denoting past alcohol offenses, KSTP reports.

Nort spews: The Twins are fully back to earth and back to .500 after being swept at home by the Blue Jays. The Strib’s Judd Zulgad has a nice update on the Pohlad family’s plans to create an all-sports station. That’s right, another one, considering KFAN and its AM cousin KFXN. The Pohlads have cash while KFAN’s parent is debt-saddled.