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Brainerd residents speak up on minimum wage

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The Minnesota House Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs met Monday in Brainerd and heard from 20 business people, labor supporters and others about legislative attempts to raise the minimum wage.

Brainerd residents gave lawmakers an earful during an open meeting about raising the minimum wage. The meeting was part of a multi-city listening tour to gather ideas about the minimum wage, writes Mike O’Rourke of the Associated Press and published in the Brainerd Dispatch. The Minnesota House Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs met Monday in Brainerd and heard from 20 business people, labor supporters and others about legislative attempts to raise the minimum wage. Mark Ronnei, general manager of Grand View Lodge, said many in service jobs receive tips and that should be taken into account in any minimum-wage increase. Mike Brusseau, co-owner of Rafferty’s Pizza Restaurant, said an increase could cost him $35,000 a year. On the flip side, the East Central Labor Council is in favor of the increase, said Wayne Fleischhacker. Mark Innes, general manager of Rapid River Lodge and Water Park, noted that Brainerd’s paper plant is gone. “Good jobs aren’t coming into Minnesota,” he said. “They’re leaving Minnesota.”

I commend to you the first of a two-part series on child sex trafficking by Julie Buntjer of the Worthington Daily Globe. The problem is more prevalent than most people know and is more rural than most people realize. Men using Internet sites such as Backpages and Craigslist are routinely arrested for specifically soliciting minors as young as 10 years old for sex. An FBI report shows the Twin Cities rank 13th in the nation for children involved in prostitution. Buntjer talked to Thi Synavone, program director at the Southwest Crisis Center, who said she recently worked with two teen girls who were sold for sex to provide the family with extra money. “The mom was actually selling her own children for that,” Synavone said, adding that the girls saw themselves as doing a job to help support their family. Sara Wahl, executive director of the Southwest Crisis Center in Worthington, said, “What we’re dealing with is not buying and selling women from other countries, it’s girls who are here who are having trouble in school or who are homeless. Homelessness and truancy are the two biggest factors for girls who get into sex trafficking. They’re forced or coerced to give sex for money.”

Sun means days in the field, but it also means a lack of moisture, says the weekly USDA crop report as published in the Fargo Forum.  An average of 0.10 inch of rain fell in Minnesota last week, and topsoil moisture fell to 52 percent adequate to surplus for this time of year. Subsoil moisture was rated 61 percent adequate to surplus. State Climatologist Mark Seeley says Minnesota is suffering from “abnormal dryness,” but officials are not putting any counties on drought status yet.

OK, OK, it was just a joke. In an effort to drum up a little excitement, the New Ulm Convention-Visitors Bureau teamed up with marketing firm Haberman’s Modern Storytellers to say that a four-foot imprint of Hermann the German’s foot was found in the Chamber of Commerce’s basement, with a handwritten note that said “all who touched the footprint would have more fun for a day,” writes New Ulm Journal editor Kevin Sweeney. Local artist Jason Jaspersen was commissioned to design the footprint. The Journal whipped up an article on the “find” and CVB director Terry Sveine followed his talking points about the footprint when anyone asked about it. But then the Mankato Free Press wrote about the artifact, and the story was picked up by the Associated Press and a version of the story went onto its wires. It was at this point that Sveine and the marketing firm realized the story was getting too big, so they contacted the AP and admitted the hoax. The AP moved a story headlined “New Ulm tourism chief admits faking story.” “I felt bad all along. You know, I was an altar boy for six years. I feel very un-altar-boyish,” Sveine told the AP. Newspapers as far away as Miami have picked up the story, Sweeney reports.

A recent lightning bolt has caused more than its share of troubles for the Truman school building, writes Kylie Saari of the Fairmont Sentinel. First, the lightning knocked out two sump pumps and the elevator shaft flooded with 5 feet of water, causing $9,000 in damage. While insurance most likely will cover that damage, Superintendent Tom Ames said floor and ceiling damage, along with the roofing problem that caused the leak, likely won’t be covered. The storm also took out the school’s phone lines. While under repair, the lines were hacked. Principal Tate Jerome said 146 international calls were made in one day, followed by another 40. Ames said the district has taken international calling capabilities off the district’s plan to prevent more problems, since the school doesn’t typically make such calls.

The Fargo-Moorhead diversion plan, long considered the best option for Red River flood-prevention by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will face a lawsuit to stop it, reports Kyle Potter of the Fargo Forum. The lawsuit accuses diversion leaders of unnecessarily expanding the scope of the flood protection project, which will damage farm lands where water would collect during a severe flood. That expansion, according to the suit, will protect land closer to Fargo for future development – at the cost of communities upstream. Nathan Berseth, a spokesman for the Joint Powers Authority, which is filing the lawsuit, said it is an effort to protect the 20 cities and townships in Richland and Wilkin counties, plus other communities in rural Cass and Clay counties that fall in the staging area, from irreparable damages to their tax bases and property values.  Diversion Authority Chairman Darrel Vanyo said he isn’t surprised by the lawsuit. He said the Corps’ plan is the only approach that will protect the Red River Valley from a 100-year flood and give officials the ability to fight a 500-year flood. 

The Iron Range will become the backdrop for a movie about a female Eastern European sniper, writes LaReesa Sandretsky of the Duluth News Tribune. “Sdanka’s War” is the story of a woman who is the only survivor of an attack on her family and then becomes a highly skilled sniper. Ryan Kern, who produces the Duluth Airshow and other local events, is the producer of “Sdanka’s War.” He describes the film as a mix of “LaFemme Nikita,” “Predator” and “The A-Team.” Tino Struckmann will direct and Kern said they’ve already signed some “recognizable names” to star in it. Funding was secured from the Snowbate program, which offers incentives from the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund for filmmakers who spend at least $1 million or film outside of the Twin Cities. They also will receive dollars from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. Kern said after the movie is produced, they hope to pitch the concept as a TV series. “As Duluthians and people in northern Minnesota, we need to demonstrate that we can do this sort of thing,” Kern said.

The National Association of Agricultural Educators has given Fairmont ag teacher Amber Seibert a national award, writes Kylie Saari of the Fairmont Sentinel. The “Teachers Turn the Key Award” award recognizes teachers in their first through fifth year of teaching to encourage them to continue their professional growth. Seibert said the award gives her a free trip to the group’s annual convention. Seibert is beginning her second year teaching the new ag program, which is funded through private donations and corporate sponsors. Besides a basic ag class, students can take classes in agriculture leadership, agriculture business and economics, the principles of animal science, the principles of plant science, small animal care and management, wildlife management, and landscaping.

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