Legislators dig into frac sand mining gun violence; fur trappers tend to the old ways

Silica sand
Stockpiles of silica sand are piled at Modern Transport Rail loading terminal in Winona, Minn on Feb. 13, 2012. The stockpile has become an icon that frames the local debate about the sand rush -- and the complex decisions and opinions of all parties involved.
AP Photo/The Winona Daily News, Andrew Link

Today on the MPR News Update: What the frac sand mining debate in St. Paul means for southeastern Minnestoa, the fate of a comprehensive health insurance exchange bill, a look at fur trapping past and present as a way of life in Minnesota, why there are more blizzards but less snow, and more.

OFFICER'S HEARTATTACK: First, Tim Nelson reports that St. Paul police are saying a five-year veteran officer who died over the weekend suffered a heart attack on duty.

THROUGH THE ICE: Rupa Shenoy says a search was suspended Sunday for the second of two snowmobilers who went through the ice this weekend at different points on the St. Croix River.

FRAC SAND MINES: At the Capitol, hearings begin this week to address the fast-growing frac sand industry. The sand -- made of silica and used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract natural gas and oil from the ground - is plentiful in southeastern Minnesota and local lawmakers are grappling with how to zone and regulate the industry. But rules differ from city to city and county to county, and as Elizabeth Baier reports, many local officials would welcome streamlined regulations from the state.

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HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGE: Legislation that would create a new online marketplace for Minnesotans to buy health insurance will be making its last state Senate committee stop this week. More than a million residents are expected to use the so-called insurance exchange as a web-based gateway to comparison shop for coverage and enroll in government plans. Elizabeth Stawicki says that in order for the exchange to open for business in October as required by federal law, state lawmakers must pass a bill by the third week in March.

INSURANCE COSTS ITEMIZED: Stawicki also has a report on how workers at large companies will notice a 'health insurance cost' entry on their W2 forms. The federal health care law now requires larger employers that provide employee health insurance to list the total cost of that health insurance.

GUN BILLS: Advocates on both sides of the gun debate will gather at the State Capitol this week when the Minnesota Senate holds a series of hearings on proposed legislation. Tim Pugmire says the Senate Judiciary committee hearings Thursday and Friday will look a lot like the recent House hearings on similar bills.

GUN CONTROL, OR PROTECTION? Congress' latest crack at a new assault weapons ban would protect more than 2,200 specific firearms, including a semi-automatic rifle that is nearly identical to one of the guns used in the bloodiest shootout in FBI history. "What a joke," former FBI agent John Hanlon, who survived the 1986 shootout in Miami, told The Associated Press. He was shot in the head, hand, groin and hip with a Ruger Mini-14 that had a folding stock. Two FBI agents died and five others were wounded.

FUR TRAPPERS: Minnesota trappers have just wrapped up the busiest part of their winter season. Next week, furs worth millions of dollars will be sold at an international auction house in Toronto. Fur prices are up this year, so that makes it a boom time for trappers. Nearly 10,000 people bought trapping licenses this season. That's more than any time in the past 25 years. Tom Robertson takes a look at an industry that's controversial for some, and for others, a way of life.

GUINNESS RECORD: A Guinness World Record judge on Saturday named St. Paul the home of the "the largest Lite Brite picture" ever. The mural, 12 feet tall by 24 feet long, made its debut at the Union Depot as part of the kick-off of the Minnesota Idea Open Forever St. Paul Challenge. Rupa Shenoy has the story of Ta-coumba Aiken, whosays he designed the Lite Brite mural to reflect St. Paul's nature.

PRAIRIE PROTECTION: Federal legislation designed to discourage farmers from plowing up native prairie areas includes a co-sponsor from Minnesota. U.S. Reps. Tim Walz, a Democrat from southern Minnesota, and Kristi Noem, R-S.D., introduced the legislation. The bill could help prevent the small amounts of native prairie left in the state from becoming cropland, Dave Nomsen, of Pheasants Forever, told Mark Steil.

CHILD-SLAPPING CHARGE: A man charged with slapping a toddler on a Minneapolis-to-Atlanta flight is out of a job, his former employer said Sunday. Joe Rickey Hundley, 60, of Hayden, Idaho, is no longer an employee of AGC Aerospace and Defense, Composites Group, the company says. The boy's mother, Jessica Bennett, 33, told the FBI their flight was on final descent into Atlanta when her 19-month-old son started to cry due to the altitude change. Hundley "told her to shut that (N-word) baby up," she says.

SOUTH HIGH BRAWL: Classes were back in session at Minneapolis South High School on Friday, the day after a lunch room brawl involving hundreds of students. South High officials told Tim Post they are trying to move beyond yesterday's fight, which some students say was caused by racial tension at the school. The fight has other districts examining how they respond to problems among groups of students.

REAL WAR GAMES ON VIDEO: There's nothing new about a roomful of guys playing video games. But at the National Guard's Camp Ripley in central Minnesota, one video game could have life or death consequences. Jessica Mador spent time with Minnesota National Guard officers who are using simulators to train troops in very real and potentially deadly skills -- from shooting to driving to combat.

MORE BLIZZARDS, LESS SNOW: With scant snowfall and barren ski slopes in parts of the Midwest and Northeast the past couple of years, some scientists have pointed to global warming as the culprit. Then when a whopper of a blizzard smacked the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow in some places earlier this month, some of the same people again blamed global warming. How can that be? It's been a joke among skeptics, pointing to what seems to be a brazen contradiction. But the answer lies in atmospheric physics.