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Tougher drunken driving sentence considered in Minnesota

ST. PAUL - The family of a baby who died in a motor vehicle accident say a bill named after the boy is needed for repeat drunken driving offenders.

Minnesota state Rep. Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, introduced "Drake’s Law" in honor of Drake Bigler, 5-month-old son of Southwest Minnesota State University head men's basketball coach Brad Bigler. The boy was killed in an accident involving a drunk driver in July 2012.

The bill increases the maximum sentence when a criminal vehicular homicide charge comes within 10 years of some types of a previous drunk driving charge.

The maximum sentence would go up from 10 to 15 years.

The driver of the other vehicle in the Bigler accident, Dana Allen Schoen, 38, of Starbuck, was sentenced to 32 months in prison and 16 months of supervised release.

"We understand that people make mistakes, we all make them," the boy's parents, Brad and Heather Bigler, said in a statement. "However, a mistake repeated is no longer a mistake."

Neither Swedzinski's bill nor a similar one in the Senate have been scheduled for hearings, with a Friday deadline approaching to pass it out of one chamber.

Minnesota exports grow to $5.4 billion in fourth quarter of 2013

ST. PAUL – Minnesota exports of manufactured, agricultural and mining products grew to $5.4 billion in the fourth quarter of 2013.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development reports that is a 6 percent increase from the same period a year earlier. It also is better than the 4 percent national export growth.

Manufactured exports alone, $5 billion in the fourth quarter, grew 7 percent from the same period a year ago.

“With three new foreign trade offices opening in Brazil, Germany and South Korea, the state is positioned to continue seeing healthy export increases in 2014,” DEED Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben said.

Sales to China and Mexico fed much of the increase. However, the state's largest export market, Canada, bought 7 percent less from Minnesota.

Dayton responds on payment to lawyer during state government shutdown

ST. PAUL - Gov. Mark Dayton has told a Republican senator that there was no attempt to hide a payment to a lawyer who helped him during the 2011 state government shutdown.

In a letter to Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, Dayton said he paid the law firm of David Lillehaug, who he later appointed to the Supreme Court, $77,000 to represent his office during the shutdown.

Before the shutdown, the governor said Lillehaug would work without pay.

The $77,000 was paid "well after" Minnesota Management and Budget prepared a report on the shutdown's cost, Dayton said.

The governor said his spending is available to the public, and five times in his letter told Osmek that Senate financial records are not public.

Veterans' business aid sought in Minnesota measure

ST. PAUL - A bill to give Minnesota veterans' businesses a foot in the door for public contracts is being considered in the House.

The bill by Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, would appropriate $100,000 to launch a program that would give preference to veteran-owned businesses that do business with state and local governments.

“We feel that many of our veterans that are coming home might want to start businesses, and we feel this might be a good way to get their foot in the door," Dettmer said.

A similar bill awaits Senate consideration.

Minnesota bill would prevent bans on rooftop solar panels

ST. PAUL - Homeowner associations could not ban homeowners from installing solar energy systems on roofs of their homes under a bill making its way through the Legislature.

The bill by Rep. Will Morgan, D-Burnsville, has passed one committee. A similar Senate bill awaits a committee hearing.

Under current law, homeowner associations regulate the appearance of the exterior of homes. Morgan's proposal would remove associations' authority to ban solar panels.

The bill is in response to a 2013 law encouraging the use of solar power.

Morgan said his bill is similar to a law that allows townhouse owners to install satellite television dishes and flagpoles.

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