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More deaths than births in one-third of Minnesota’s counties

Minnesota expects poor grade from civil engineers; House and Senate DFLers consider cuts in health and human services budget; taconite producers want more time to meet air quality standards; and more.

Dave Peters at MPR looks at life and death issiues in the state’s 87 counties. “People are dying faster than they’re being born in more than a third of Minnesota’s 87 counties now. You may have seen the national analysis of census numbers last week showing ‘natural’ increases and decreases in population, but a look at the trends in Minnesota provides a few interesting lessons. As you might expect, Minnesota’s ‘natural decrease’ — more deaths than births in the year ending July 1, 2012 — is taking place in rural areas, mainly northeastern Minnesota and along the western and southern flanks of the state. But some of the counties in those tiers run counter to the larger trend, and one explanation seems to be immigration.”

Minnesotans are bracing for a poor grade from the country’s civil engineers. At KARE-TV Allen Costantini says: “Minnesota has not received a grade, as yet, from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The group gave the nation, as a whole, a ‘D +.’ ‘Our status is similar to the national status,’ said Seth Spychala, president of the Minnesota Chapter of the ASCE. ‘It is clean water. It is waste water. It is mass transit. It is a lot of different things, but roads and bridges come to mind in Minnesota when people talk about infrastructure.’ The ASCE report card notes that 9.1 percent of Minnesota bridges are considered ‘structurally deficient.’ Fifty-two of Minnesota roads are in ‘poor or mediocre’ condition.”

It’s a new world when the Democrats are talking about hacking big chunks out human services budgets. Says Jennifer Brooks of the Strib: “House and Senate DFLers are eyeing Minnesota’s health and human services budget and sharpening their knives. ‘It’s going to swallow up our entire budget,’ said House Speaker Paul Thissen, who this week proposed cutting $150 million from the budget, shrinking the governor’s proposed $11.3 billion budget for health and human services to $11.2 billion. ‘It’s the part of the budget that’s growing too quickly to keep up with the revenues that are coming in.’ The massive health and human services budget serves some of the sickest, poorest and oldest Minnesotans and the agencies, hospitals and nursing homes that care for them. For advocates, the only thing that stung more than the DFL’s proposed cuts was that the House and Senate proposed budget increases for almost every other agency.”

In a similar vein, the AP says: “U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan says Minnesota taconite producers need more time to meet certain air quality standards. Nolan says he’s telling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the companies need up to five years to try out new technologies aimed at reducing pollution. The federal regulations are aimed at reducing haze over northern Minnesota’s wild areas including Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The federal plan requires taconite plants to install cleaner-burning furnaces over roughly three years. Nolan, a Democrat, says the companies just need a little more time so they can install the equipment without jeopardizing production.”

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Who says lobbying is overrated? Jim Spencer of the Strib says: “The [U.S.] Senate voted for the first time Thursday to make it a priority to repeal a newly implemented tax on medical devices. The 79-20 vote was only a sense-of-the-Senate measure; it contained no details and set no policy except to say that repealing the tax could not add to the federal deficit. A separate bill will be required to actually put the repeal in motion. That bill must find a way to replace the $20 billion to $30 billion the tax is expected to raise over the next decade. Nevertheless, supporters of the repeal, including Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, said they believe Thursday night’s vote was a major symbolic victory.”

Solid work from the Strib’s Matt McKinney and Maya Rao on the life of a gun on Minnesota streets. “[Thomas] Hoffman wanted the gun for personal protection. He paid $150 to the Red Bear Hunting Emporium and took home a Hi-Point C-9 9mm semiautomatic pistol, serial #P1352366. But soon the gun was stolen, changed hands, then changed hands again, spiraling beyond the bounds of lawful ownership. Young gang members in Minneapolis passed the Hi-Point among themselves and put it into action. They used the gun to shoot at people. They used it to rob. They used it to terrorize a neighborhood. The long and shadowy circulation of handguns like the Hi-Point often confounds police and can elude gun control laws.”

Iron Range mining interests were in DC arguing for easier regulatory rules. The Duluth News Tribune says: “[Harry Melander and Ruthe Batulis] are part of the Jobs for Minnesota coalition formed to promote Minnesota’s first-ever copper-nickel mining projects. The Minnesota duo said northern Minnesota is poised to become a global center for copper-nickel and other precious-metal mining but that federal regulatory efforts have been slow toward permits.”

The GleanNick Ferraro of the PiPress files a story about the Amish coming into St. Paul to recycle old buildings. “[Jonas] Hochstetler and eight other Amish men had just traveled nearly three hours from their hometown of Harmony, Minn., to West St. Paul on Thursday morning, March 21, to begin clearing out and dismantling the greenhouses left over from Wolters Greenhouse & Garden Center, which went out of business a decade ago. The city owns the property and greenhouses, along Bernard Street and adjacent to Harmon Park, and is allowing the Amish community to take the buildings back to Harmony, where they will be rebuilt and reused for growing organic fruits and vegetables. … West St. Paul Mayor John Zanmiller said the partnership between the city and Amish community makes sense. The city saves $30,000 in demolition and hauling costs, while the community gets the greenhouses for their produce operations — free of charge.”

The guy dubbed “the racist baby-slapper” has pled not guilty to … slapping a baby on flight from the Twin Cities to Atlanta. But listen to CNN’s story of why: “After the hearing, [attorney Marcia] Shein issued a statement on [Joe Rickey] Hundley’s behalf, saying that the day before the flight on February 8, her client had learned that his son had overdosed on insulin and was in a coma on life support. ‘Mr. Hundley had been up for 24 hours over this tragic news and was heading to Atlanta to decide, with his son’s mother, if they should take him off life support as he had no brain activity. On the flight he was in distress, upset and grieving,’ Shein said. His son died the next day, she said. According to court documents, the boy’s mother, Jessica Bennett, and her son were seated in Row 28, Seat B on Delta Flight 721, which originated in Minneapolis. She spent part of the flight in the rear of the plane to get away from Hundley, who she said smelled like alcohol and was slurring his speech, according to John Thompson, attorney for the child’s family. In her statement Wednesday, Shein did not address whether Hundley was drunk.” Or racist.