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Grand Rapids high-schoolers roll to national win with energy-efficient car

Minnesota county health rankings; stadium plan still going; tougher synthetic-drug bill advances; new Target Field foods; voter fraud found; and more.

A bunch of Grand Rapids kids won a national competition for energy-efficient vehicles. John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune writes: “The car is nicknamed ‘the Cure’ and, except for the Shell Oil logo and the pink breast cancer awareness ribbon emblazoned on the side, its black carbon fiber frame makes it look pretty mean. But those stealth fighter looks belie an energy-sipping design that on Sunday took home national honors at the Shell Eco-Marathon on the streets of downtown Houston. Born in a high-tech Grand Rapids High School classroom, the Cure won first place in the Eco Marathon’s ‘urban electric’ category and grabbed the $2,000 prize money. The car used the least kilowatt hours of battery electric power as it completed the 6-mile course, all while keeping up an average speed of at least 15 mph. For senior Brian Namyst, the victory was the culmination of hundreds of hours of work since school started last fall. Namyst is the Cure’s team leader for the group of seven students who worked on the car.” Very cool.

Steele County — home to Owatonna is the healthiest in the above-average healthy state of Minnesota, according to a Wisconsin-based study. Elizabeth Dunbar of MPR writes: “An annual rankings project on Tuesday named Steele County Minnesota’s healthiest county, but the report shows some Minnesota counties continue to struggle. Cass County in north central Minnesota was last in health outcomes for the second year in a row, according to the rankings issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The ranking project, in its third year, measures both health outcomes and health factors. Health outcomes look at measures such as premature death, low birth weight, and the number of days a survey of county residents shows they have poor health. Health factors look at health behaviors, education, income and the environment where people live.”

You’re excused if you’re suffering from Vikings stadium set-back/recovery fatigue … but the saga slogs on. Don Davis and Danielle Nordine of the Forum papers report today: “A Vikings stadium construction proposal took its biggest step forward ever Monday night when a House committee approved the nearly $1 billion plan. After a decade of discussion about whether to build a new stadium, the House commerce committee decided on a split voice vote to advance the plan. Since the bill missed a legislative deadline, the House rules committee now must give it special permission for more committee hearings if it is to remain alive. The panel also approved a funding plan in a separate bill. A similar stadium bill is stalled in a Senate committee. … Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the team opposes the surcharge and tax on boxes and suites. The Hennepin County board chairman said he questions the portion that affects his county’s taxes.”

The Glean

Neil deMause’s take, at Field of Schemes is: “The tipboards are projected to bring in $16 million a year toward the stadium deal, so if those are struck down, that’s a huge chunk of money that would need to be replaced. And if the Vikings refuse to accept luxury suite and ticket taxes, then that blows an even bigger hole in the stadium budget, now that charities would need to be paid $36 million a year in tax relief in exchange for them signing off on the deal. In any case, though, the cobbled-together plan did get passed by a state house committee, so the stadium bill lives to fight another day. At this rate, though, it looks like it’s going to be fighting on multiple fronts, and we know how well that usually turns out.”

Davis and Nordine also file a report on the proposed new synthetic drug law: “Consequences for selling synthetic drugs soon could be stronger in Minnesota. The state Senate unanimously approved a bill Monday that would make the sale of synthetic drugs or analogs — compounds meant to mimic the effects of the actual drugs — a felony. It would carry penalties of up to five years in jail. Currently, the punishment for selling analogs is a gross misdemeanor. Giving away such compounds would become a gross misdemeanor under the plan, and possession would remain a misdemeanor. While there already is a law against selling analogs in Minnesota, it essentially has been ignored by sellers like Jim Carlson, owner of the Last Place on Earth in downtown Duluth, who have challenged it by arguing that it’s too vague and the compounds they sell can’t be identified as analogs. For months, customers have lined up outside Carlson’s head shop most mornings waiting for him to open for business. Police raided the Last Place on Earth in September, seizing synthetic drugs, $83,510 in cash and 28 guns.” … Just in case he had to Stand His Ground …

Somebody had a fool for a client. David Chanen of the Strib reports: “A man who was convicted of murder at a trial in which he represented himself received a 35-year sentence Tuesday in Anoka County District Court. Mo Hicks, 36, showed no emotion when Judge James Cunningham Jr. announced the sentence, which was a significant departure from the state sentencing guideline for second-degree unintentional murder. Hicks was given an additional 14 years because of the particular cruelty with how he disposed of Judy Rush’s body more than four years ago, Cunningham said. … Hicks, 36, was convicted of killing Rush, his girlfriend, in August 2007 and dumping her body in a park in Brooklyn Park. Skeletal remains were found in the park last spring by a group of students, and DNA testing determined they were those of the 56-year-old Rush. Hicks was only the second murder defendant to represent himself in the metro area in the past decade, and the first ever in Anoka County. Wolanda Shelton, a court-appointed attorney, advised him during the trial. When the trial ended in February, Cunningham praised Hicks’ professionalism. Hicks is alleged to have killed Rush by smashing her skull with a hammer after she refused to have sex with him. Bloody footprints from Hicks’ tennis shoes were left in the hall of Rush’s Columbia Heights apartment. There were no witnesses and no hammer was recovered, but Kish said the amount of circumstantial evidence against Hicks was overwhelming.”

While we await the Supreme Court’s verdict on “Obamacare,” a Strib commentary by Amy Lange, a registered nurse and policy fellow for the Growth & Justice think tank, makes a lucid argument for single-payer coverage in Minnesota: “Together with the expertise of the Lewin Group, a highly regarded national consulting firm, we analyzed the benefits and costs of a unified and universal health care system for Minnesota, often known as ‘single-payer.’ Here’s what we found: If Minnesota adopted a unified system with a statewide risk pool, continuous coverage, a common benefit set, and uniform payment rates and reimbursement rules, the annual administrative savings would approach $5 billion. The negotiating clout of a single buyer could save Minnesotans nearly $1 billion on prescription drugs and medical equipment. And with a single claims administrator and the subpoena powers of a state program, we could reduce fraud and realize another $200 million in savings. Paying for the system with a progressive tax structure, rather than increasingly expensive premiums, would reduce average health care costs for all households, except for those in the very highest income brackets. These combined savings are more than enough to offset both the increased utilization that would result from covering every Minnesotan, and the elimination of deductibles, coinsurance and most copays. In fact, even with a benefit package covering medical, dental, mental health, hospitalization, rehab, vision, hearing and prescription medications, a unified system would save us $4 billion overall in 2014, a 9 percent decrease in health spending. These savings would be achieved despite covering the additional 262,000 Minnesotans who are expected be left uncovered by the ACA.”

Even if the 2012 Minnesota Twins make you wistful for the days of Disco Danny Ford and Larry Hisle, the food at Target Field is getting another upgrade. A PiPress story says: “The Minnesota Twins are bringing Iron Range meatballs, fried pickle chips and a baked potato bar, among other new food offerings, to Target Field for 2012. The Murray’s steak sandwich, Walk A Taco and Tony O’s Cuban sandwich will return from last season, and so will the walleye, pork chop on a stick and cheese curds from the stadium’s first year. For the adults, there’s even a new cocktail made with locally based 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey and new taps with local craft beers.” Give me a triple Two Gingers every time Gardy makes a call to the bullpen.

Voter fraud confirmed! Mark Stodghill of the Duluth News Tribune writes: “A former Duluth woman pleaded guilty Monday … to voting in the 2008 general election while ineligible. Alfreda Denise Bowman, 47, entered the plea before Judge Heather Sweetland in St. Louis County District Court in Duluth. Bowman is a convicted felon. Under Minnesota law, a person is ineligible to vote if their civil rights had not been restored after being convicted of treason or any felony or while under a guardianship in which a court order revoked the ward’s right to vote or if found by a court of law to be legally incompetent.” It has to be worth at least a couple million to stop her from doing this again.

Now THIS is an episode of bona fide drama … The AP says: “An 80-year-old woman was able to successfully land a twin-engine airplane in northeastern Wisconsin after her husband became unconscious at the controls and died. … The pilot, an 81-year-old man from the Sturgeon Bay area, had suffered a medical emergency and was unconscious. His wife, who was the passenger, was flying the plane. A certified pilot was able to fly alongside the plane and coach the wife. Just after 6 p.m., her right engine ran out of fuel and lost power. She was able to land at Door County Cherryland Airport. The wife suffered minor injuries. Her husband was pronounced dead.”