Local/state briefs

Judges: Utilities allowed to pass along extra storm costs

ST. PAUL (AP) –Two administrative law judges say Minnesota natural gas utilities should be allowed to pass on an extra $660 million in costs related to storm damage to their customers.

The state Department of Commerce and Attorney General’s Office allege the utilities made critical mistakes in their gas procurement procedures during the February 2021 storm and because of the mismanagement, customers should not pay for the extra costs.

In a decision released Tuesday, the judges rejected the state agencies’ contentions.

The judges’ decisions are not binding, but they can influence the state Public Utilities Commission which has the final say. The commission is expected to decide the matter this summer. It will also consider the positions of the Commerce Department, the Attorney General’s Office and other parties, the Star Tribune reported.

The PUC last year ordered an investigation into the extra costs — 62% of which were run up by the state’s largest gas utility, CenterPoint Energy. The other utilities involved are Xcel Energy, Minnesota Energy Resources Corp. and Great Plains Natural Gas.

Wholesale gas prices in Minnesota and many other states soared in February 2021 when the storm hit Texas and other natural gas-producing states. Temperatures plunged, gas field equipment froze up and supplies dwindled just as demand soared.

Chicago-area man gets year in prison for throwing explosive

CHICAGO (AP) — A suburban Chicago man who admitted throwing an explosive at police during a violent demonstration in June 2020 was sentenced Wednesday to one year in federal prison.

Christian Rea, 21, of Aurora, pleaded guilty last year to obstructing law enforcement when he threw a lit incendiary device at a line of uniformed police officers, injuring several of them, the Chicago Tribune reported.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin also ordered Rea to pay $13,585 in restitution to the city of Naperville.

Officers injured by the device said they suffered from repeated headaches, ringing in the ears and vision loss, prosecutors said.

At the time of the June 1, 2020, disturbance following a George Floyd-related protest, officials said the explosion occurred at the outset of the violence. More than 20 restaurants, stores and other buildings had windows broken and some were broken into and looted. At least one restaurant was damaged by incendiary devices, and one person stabbed while trying to stop vandalism from occurring.

Rea was among about a dozen people who were arrested. Two burglaries occurred at the same time in other parts of town and may have been orchestrated to take place while police were centered downtown, officials said.

Recreational pot validated for ballot in South Dakota

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota voters are set to vote again on whether they want recreational marijuana legalized for adults after the secretary of state on Wednesday validated the initiated measure for the November ballot.

Secretary of State Steve Barnett announced that a random sample of petition signatures showed that South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, the group campaigning to legalize pot, had easily collected enough valid signatures to surpass the roughly 17,000 needed to place the initiated measure on the November ballot. It will appear as Initiated Measure 27.

The proposed law would allow people 21 years old and over to use and grow pot for personal use. It would place a 1 ounce (28 gram) limit on the amount that people could use or share.

Marijuana legalization has spurred political fights among South Dakota’s dominant Republican party in recent years and tested faith in a form of direct democracy — the ballot measure. A citizen-proposed constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis passed by 54% in 2020, but Gov. Kristi Noem sponsored a lawsuit to challenge it and the state Supreme Court ruled last year that it violated the state Constitution.

The secretary of state’s validation may be challenged within 30 days.

Life in prison for sexually abusing child, witness tampering

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota man has been sentenced to life in prison for sexually abusing a child and witness tampering.

A federal judge this week sent 40-year-old Kimo John Little Bird to prison for life on his conviction of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. An additional 10 years in prison was imposed for committing the crime while he was required to register as a sex offender. Little Bird was sentenced to five years in prison for witness tampering, to be served concurrently with the other counts.

Little Bird was indicted by a federal grand jury in March 2020 and found guilty by a jury last November.

Little Bird was convicted of sexually abusing a minor in 2006 and was required to register as a sex offender. In 2016, Little Bird sexually abused an 11-year-old girl. Prosecutors said prior to his trial, he contacted a number of potential witnesses in an effort to have them pressure the girl into recanting her accusations.

“The criminal actions by this defendant were egregious. The federal penalties for child sexual abuse offenses are severe for a reason, and the district court’s sentence ensures that this defendant will never again have the opportunity to victimize children or otherwise harass vulnerable citizens,” said U.S. Attorney Alison Ramsdell.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Office of Justice Services-Standing Rock Agency.

Little Bird was turned over to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Iowa Legislature ends session known for big tax cuts

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa lawmakers ended their legislative session early Wednesday, about five weeks behind schedule because of a dispute over education spending.

The Senate and House adjourned just after midnight without reaching agreement on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal to divert $55 million from public schools toward taxpayer-funded scholarships for up to 10,000 students to attend private schools.

Since convening in January, Republicans who hold large majorities in each chamber did work with the governor to pass significant legislation, including big tax cuts that create a flat income tax, ends taxes on retirement pensions and lowers taxes for corporations. When fully implemented, the cuts will lower annual state income by about $2 billion.


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