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Byron Republican Quam is a big introducer of legislative bills

ALSO: New nursery opens in Bemidji; Willmar Cash Wise rents its last video; lots of people getting the flu; and more.

Rep. Duane Quam

Nearly one-third of the 80 bills filed thus far in the Legislature have come from the pen of Byron Republican Duane Quam. Heather J. Carlson of the Rochester Post-Bulletin reports that Quam filed 27 bills last Thursday and has another couple dozen ready to go. While some are mundane, others are controversial, Carlson writes: “One would prohibit criminal or civil penalties from being levied against individuals or organizations that refuse to allow their facilities or property to be used for activities that violate their religious beliefs. That could include business owners declining to allow a same-sex couple to be married on their property.” Quam said, “Just because an issue may be uncomfortable to discuss doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be discussed. And even if a bill is not passed and become law, having that conversation and that public discourse I think helps all sides.”

Talk about a 50-50 split: The Austin Daily Herald reports that Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin saw 747 babies born in 2016 — 374 girls and 373 boys. Here are the top three girl names in Austin: Sophia, Paisley and Genesis. The top three in Albert Lea: Aria, Kinsley and Sophia. The top three boys names in Austin are Ayden, Bennett and Jackson, and in Albert Lea: Henry, Mason and Asher.

Speaking of babies, Sanford Bemidji Medical Center will open a new nursery for special care infants. Grace Pastoor of the Bemidji Pioneer reports that the $1.4 million nursery means families won’t have to make the long trek to the Twin Cities when their children get sick or they have a difficult birth. The nursery will open the third week of January and treat special-needs babies born after 32 weeks of gestation. It will also be equipped to treat infants exposed to drugs during a pregnancy.

While one era begins in Bemidji, another ends in Willmar: Cash Wise has rented its last video in the city. Shelby Lindrud of the West Central Tribune reports that the store began marking down its videos last week. Coborn’s, which owns Cash Wise, has been closing the chain’s video stores for the past few years; the Cash Wise Video in Fargo closed Dec. 31 and the Waite Park store was closed in February 2016.

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Minnesota is seeing a 33 percent increase in flu hospitalizations since the beginning of the year. Ty Filley of the Fargo Forum says North Dakota is undergoing a similar increase. “It’s not that uncommon to see an increase of cases this time of year,” but experts can’t explain exactly why, said Kylie Hall, project manager for NDSU’s Center for Immunization Research and Education.

A barn fire southeast of Hartland Saturday destroyed between 7,500 and 8,000 pigs. Sam Wilmes of the Albert Lea Tribune reports that the fire started near an office area, spread up the wall and into the ceiling. Geneva Fire Capt. Alex Beenken said the barn for feeder pigs was completely engulfed when he arrived. The barn was reported a complete loss and the cause of the fire has not been released. No humans were injured and damage was limited to the barn.

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis was sworn in to his fourth term Monday night. Jenny Berg of the St. Cloud Daily Times reports that former Mayor Chuck Winkelman, who served from 1989 to 1997, administered the oath of office. Kleis was first elected mayor in 2005 and ran unopposed in 2008, 2012 and again in 2016.

As Dave Barry would have said, that would be a great name for a band: The Winona Daily News reports that Shane Michael Cronin, 27, of Lake City, who was wanted on a warrant for burglary, led Wabasha and Goodhue county deputies on a chase Thursday that resulted in a crash near the Olmsted County line. The chase didn’t end there, though, as Cronin reportedly fled into the woods on foot, pursued by Goodhue County police dog Ambush, who used “jaws and teeth to restrain the fugitive,” the newspaper reported. Cronin escaped by stabbing Ambush in the shoulder, shedding his clothes and scrambling up a tree in -10 degree temperatures. Bitten, frozen, scratched and naked, Cronin decided to surrender. Ambush is expected to make a full recovery.

Janessa Lynn Peters, 22, of Eveleth, was sentenced to nearly 29 years in prison for arranging the 2014 murder of Harley Joseph Jacka, 28, of Virginia. Tom Olsen of the Duluth News Tribune reports that 6th Judicial District Judge James Florey denied a motion that would have cut about 12 years off her sentence. Jacka was stabbed more than a dozen times in a Virginia apartment and three suspects were taken into custody. Peters came forward 16 months later, expressing guilt and pleaded guilty to intentional second-degree murder. She said she arranged the murder because she was having difficulty ending a relationship with Jacka. While defense attorneys cited her remorse and cooperation, Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jon Holets argued that “the defendant put a hit on her boyfriend — arranged for him to be brutally killed.” Anthony James Isham, 45, admitted he stabbed Jacka and was sentenced last month to more than 30 years in prison. John Edward Isham, 40, is serving six years for aiding an offender. Bartholamy Jake Drift, 42, faces about 32 years in prison when he is sentenced later this month.

The Willmar School Board was told that new member Tammy Barnes’ employment as a field representative for Education Minnesota doesn’t create a conflict of interest. Linda Vanderwerf of the West Central Tribune reports that Superintendent Jeff Holm asked the district’s lawyers to look into the possibility. They reported back Monday that since Barnes doesn’t work with the Willmar teachers’ bargaining unit and doesn’t stand to gain any financial benefit, there wasn’t a conflict of interest.