News in brief

By Emma WestRasmus

Congressional delegation, Pres. Obama, honor St. Paul soldier killed at Fort HoodRep. McCollum and Sens. Klobuchar and Franken were among those on hand on Wednesday at Fort Hood, Texas, to mourn the loss of 13 people, including Private First Class Kham Xiong, a soldier from St. Paul killed in last week’s shooting on the Army base. The elected officials were joined by many other members of Congress who flew to Texas for the memorial service, reported MinnPost. President Obama mentioned each of the deceased by name during his 17-minute remarks, noting Xiong’s family’s ties to the military. His brother, Nelson Xiong, is a Marine stationed in Afghanistan, where Kham Xiong was scheduled to be deployed next month. “Private First Class Kham Xiong came to America from Thailand as a small child,” Obama said. “He was a husband and father who followed his brother into the military because his family had a strong history of service. He was preparing for his first deployment to Afghanistan.”

U of Minn. piling up stimulus funds with $211 million so far

The latest in a series of 226 grants the University of Minnesota has received under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, U of M researchers have been awarded a $2.2 million grant from the federal stimulus bill to study whether certain bacteria can be used to produce biofuels. This most recent award brings the U of M a total of $211 million so far in federal stimulus funds, of which $122 million are direct grants and an additional $89.3 million are federal stimulus funds from the state’s share for economic stabilization, reported MinnPost. Richard Pfutzenreuter, the U of M chief financial officer, described the importance of the stimulus funds supporting new research activity that otherwise would not have been undertaken. “These funds are not replacing other funding, they are incremental,” he said. “Every week we see more” stimulus funds awarded to the University, Pfutzenreuter said. The grants have been spread among 17 different departments, and the University is using more than half of the $89.3 million in State Fiscal Stabilization Funds to moderate tuition for resident undergraduates for two academic years. As a result, this year’s tuition and fees for resident undergrads will not increase more than 3.1 percent, or $300.

New sculpture in St. Paul celebrates free speech

A new sculpture entitled “Democracy Speaks” has been installed in St. Paul’s Western Sculpture Park to celebrate free speech, reported MinnPost. The 17-foot-long steel megaphone is painted bright yellow and, appropriately, points right at the state Capitol, located just a few blocks to the east. The sculpture was created by Minnesota artists John Hock and Andrew MacGuffie on a commission from Public Art St. Paul. MacGuffie is well-known in the region for his work, and Hock helped establish Western Park’s sculpture exhibition in 1998 and has been engaged by Public Art Saint Paul as its exhibition curator for the past 11 years.

Summit on preventing sexual violence set for St. Paul

Efforts to prevent sexual violence will be explored next month in St. Paul with a two-day forum sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault and five state departments, reported the MinnPost. Organizers say they will use a prevention model to combat sexual violence because the problem “costs Minnesota $8 billion annually and afflicts more than 61,000 Minnesotans of all ages every year.” At the summit, state leaders will discuss ways to support Minnesota’s Sexual Violence Prevention Plan, which aims to stop violence based on sex before it starts, rather than deal with it after the fact with treatment and prosecution. The “Summit for Prevent Sexual Violence” will be held Dec. 3 and 4, and organizers say this Minnesota Summit will be the first of its kind and a model for other states, adding that a National Summit is to be held in June 2010 in Washington, D.C.

Palin coming to Mall of America for book signing

Former governor of Alaska and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will be at the Mall of America Dec. 7 to sign copies of her new memoir, “Going Rogue: An American Life,” at 7 p.m. According to the Pioneer Press, the details are still being smoothed out, and there is no information about how long she will be signing books or if she’ll do other public events during her visit. Palin received an advance of about $7 million from HarperCollins, and the book is scheduled to be published Nov. 17.

McCollum votes yes on health care, Franken and Klobuchar want changes in House bill

Minnesota’s two Democratic senators have signaled their approval of the House-passed health care reform legislation, but both indicated that they also saw room for improvement as the debate pivots to the Senate, reported MinnPost. Sen. Klobuchar said she was “pleased” that the House legislation included a government insurance option that would have to negotiate rates with providers, as opposed to another option advocated by liberals in the House, which would have attached the public plan to Medicare rates. “It was historic,” Klobuchar said of the bill’s passage. “But, my other reaction was that . it is now on our plate.”
Sen. Franken, who has been a staunch advocate of a public option, also said that he supported the plan in the House health care bill but that he was displeased with the House’s approach to the last-minute abortion provision. “I am not happy with it,” Franken said. “I mean basically it says that a woman cannot buy a policy on the exchange that covers abortion . even with [her] own money, and I think that is not right and we will try to change it.” Minnesota Democratic Reps. Tim Walz, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison and Jim Oberstar voted in favor for the bill, which passed in the House 220 to 215, while Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Minnesota Republican Reps. John Kline, Erik Paulsen and Michele Bachmann voted against it.

1,250 Twin Cities janitors reportedly fired over immigration status

Roughly 1,250 Twin Cities janitors with suspect employment documents were fired from their jobs in October as their company carried out an audit prompted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, reported the Pioneer Press. John Keller, executive director of the nonprofit Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said the firings happened in phases over the month of October. “We don’t really know what initiated the investigation,” Keller said. In the Twin Cities audit, Keller said that to his knowledge, the vast majority of the 1,250 fired workers turned out to be undocumented, but no one has been arrested or deported.

Minneapolis listed among safest cities for pedestrians and cyclists

Minneapolis has joined Boston, New York, Pittsburgh and Seattle in receiving the rank of safest metros for cyclists and pedestrians from Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, both advocates for what they term “complete streets” with separate areas for walking or biking, reported MinnPost. “When you look at those that are safest, they are mostly older cities-except for those who have focused on a full variety of options,” said Anne Canby, executive director of the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. “Minneapolis, for example, is one of those places that has spent a lot of money to make it safer to walk and bike.” The ranking found that the most dangerous places to walk or ride a bicycle in America are in the South, in fast-growing metropolitan areas that have built their streets mainly for automobiles. Four of the five worst metro areas for walking or biking are in Florida: Orlando-Kissimmee, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, and Jacksonville, with Memphis, Tenn., rounding out the list.