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Flu now ‘widespread’ across Minnesota

Plus: Hennepin County board questions doubling of overtime expenses in sheriff’s office; the U of M exceeds performance goals; ex-Twin Juan Berenguer sues local law enforcement; and more.

The flu has been upgraded. In the PiPress, Deb O’Connor says, “The flu is beginning to show up in force in St. Paul and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan elementary schools. And within the past week, it has moved from geographically ‘regional’ to ‘widespread’ across Minnesota. Minnesota Health Department  epidemiologist Melissa McMahon said Thursday that so far most of it appears to be a strain called H3 Influenza A, which often leads to a worse illness than other strains. Overall, this year’s flu shot is not expected to offer good protection against the worst strain, but can be helpful with other strains and with lessening the severity of the illness, she said.”

Following up on Rep. John Kline’s move to attach a cut in some union pension benefits to the gargantuan spending bill, Brett Neely of MPR says, “Some unions and retirees are upset by the provision but in a speech on the House floor, Kline said it’s better for pension benefits to be cut rather than see the pension funds fail. ‘We have a choice between an ax in the hands of a first year med student or a scalpel in the hand of a trusted surgeon,’ Kline said. ‘This isn’t easy. No matter what happens, retirees will face some difficult hardships.’ The spending bill that the measure is attached to is in trouble.” And who is choosing the surgeon?

The sheriff’s overtime costs have doubled. In the Strib, Rochelle Olson writes, “Dismayed with doubled overtime spending by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, County Board members on Thursday parried with Sheriff Rich Stanek and discussed more strictly regulating his staffing levels and strategy. The board, meeting in a budget session, said it’s considering lowering the number of authorized staffers Stanek can have, holding back part his 2015 budget and sending in a consultant to find ways to hold down the department’s overtime costs, which doubled to $5 million this year.”  

It’s like industrial London out there. Says Paul Huttner at MPR, “In some situations, incoming warm fronts are especially good at blowing in warm air a few thousand feet up. In winter, with a snow pack on the ground, that can produce some big temperature contrasts aloft, as much warmer air filters in. The upside down temperature profile is good at trapping a stagnant air mass with drizzle, fog and pollutants near the ground where we live. The stagnant air mass has caused the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to issue an air quality alert into Sunday morning.”

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Speaking of London: Mitch LeClair at the St. Cloud Times writes, “Five days after Pilot Games won an international gaming award, CEO Jon Weaver said Thursday he is surprised, shocked and planning to add staff. Not a bad situation for a four-month-old firm. The Minnesota-based maker of electronic charitable gambling applications won the Innovative App of the Year honor at the first Gaming App Awards on Saturday in London. … Pilot generates about 90 percent of electronic gaming sales in Minnesota and has secured about 60 percent of locations. It launched a linked bingo game Nov. 20 that has generated $175,000 so far; a competitor’s tally was $127.”

Laura Yuen at MPR reports, “Twin Cities advocacy groups filed two lawsuits this week alleging sexual harassment by male landlords against their female tenants. In a case filed in Hennepin District Court, a single mother accused her former landlord of subjecting her to repeated sexual advances. Kim Malchow also alleges the landlord, Harvey Tam, intentionally walked in on her while she was breastfeeding. … In a case filed in federal court against landlords Thomas Lawrence Monson and Barbara Monson, renter Tasheena Lewis alleged that Thomas Monson installed a secret camera in her bathroom to watch her take showers.”

Hobby Lobby wins again. Chad Richardson in the Hastings Gazette reports, “A Hastings business won a key court battle today. United States District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson issued a final order and injunction for Hastings Automotive, Hastings Chrysler Center and owner Doug Erickson in their legal challenge against the Affordable Care Act. … said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for Liberty Institute, which represented Erickson. ‘The government should never coerce faith-based, for-profit businessmen to violate their religious beliefs.’” By “coerce” does he mean “make laws”? 

At MPR, Alex Friedrich writes, “For the past year, the University of Minnesota has been exceeding many lawmakers’ expectations. Campus officials told regents on Thursday the university has surpassed all of the academic and financial performance goals set as part of this year’s $600 million state appropriation. They also said the university has made some internal academic goals that indicate the U is enjoying some of its best years when it comes to undergraduates.”

Pathetic though it is, I get cops looking up TV anchors in the official data base. But El Gasolino? Michael Rand of the Strib says, “Former Twins pitcher Juan Berenguer has joined a growing contingent suing local entities — many of which are law-enforcement agencies — for what they say is a misuse of the state’s drivers license database. In a suit filed this week in U.S. District Court, it is alleged that ‘personnel from various entities in Minnesota illegally obtained Berenguer’s private, personal and confidential driver’s license information without a legitimate or permissible law-enforcement purpose or any other lawful purpose.’ The suit says his private information was viewed more than 125 times between 2005 and 2011, in violation of the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act.”