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News Briefs: Gun restrictions pass

The following is a collection of news briefs from Forum Communication Company newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Minnesota

Gun restrictions pass

ST. PAUL -- A bill to take guns away from Minnesota domestic abuse suspects awaits Gov. Mark Dayton's signature.

The Senate passed the measure 60-4 Monday, the final step before the governor signs it into law.

Protect Minnesota Board President Joan Peterson applauded the vote. Peterson's sister was killed with a gun by her estranged husband. "If this had been law 25 years ago, my sister might be alive today," Peterson said.

Diane Sellgren, a domestic violence survivor, was at the Capitol Monday: "This will save the lives of women and children."

During the bill's trip through legislative committees, members learned that a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of a woman's death by 500 percent.

The bill would give judges the right to order that a domestic abuse suspect or someone convicted of the crime give up any guns he owns. However, the gun owner still would own the guns and could get them back at some point.

Growlers taken out of alcohol bill

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota supporters of Sunday alcohol sales are growling today.

The Senate Taxes Committee Monday removed a provision from an overall alcohol bill to allow the sale of growlers on Sundays.

Growlers, refillable beer containers, would have been allowed to be sold on Sundays at craft beer locations under a provision by Sen. Roger Reinert, D-Duluth.

"It's very disappointing to see a bill that passed the Commerce Committee on a nearly unanimous voice vote now be stripped of these reasonable provisions," Reinert said. "The Legislature's inconsistency on liquor issues is increasingly frustrating."

Reinert is a long-time supporter of allowing Sunday alcohol sales. The growler provision was one of what he called "baby steps" being taken to his eventual goal.

A Reinert provision remaining in the bill would allow taprooms to be open on Sundays.

A House alcohol bill still contains the growler provision.

Suspects arrested in Virginia death

VIRGINIA, Minn. — Three people wanted in connection with the death of a Virginia man on April 29 are in custody, the Virginia Police Department said Monday.

Harley Joseph Jacka, 29, was found dead in a home in Virginia last week, with officials saying an autopsy showed he died from “homicidal violence.”

Anthony James Isham was arrested Sunday evening at a Duluth home without incident, Dennis Benz, Virginia police chief, said in a statement. A warrant had been issued for Isham’s arrest in connection with the death, and he is currently being held on an outstanding warrant for burglary.

Isham was apprehended by agents from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension with assistance from the Virginia Police Department and the Duluth Police Department

The other two persons of interest, Bartholamy Jake Drift and John “Ojiy” Edward Isham, were already in custody on unrelated charges.

North Dakota

Blue Cross Blue Shield fires CEO

FARGO - Blue Cross Blue Shield North Dakota has fired their top official.

The insurance giant fired President and Chief Executive Officer Paul von Ebers, the company announced in a statement Monday afternoon. Von Ebers had held the position since 2009. His dismissal is effective immediately.

The move comes less than a week after the company announced a dismal financial year: The Blues lost nearly $73 million in 2013, according to records submitted to the North Dakota Insurance Department. Of that, $51 million was attributed to subsidiary Noridian Healthcare Solutions, which sustained heavy losses from a contract to build the bungled Maryland health care exchange.

“The board felt it was necessary to make a change at the CEO position in order to ensure confidence in the future financial direction of our organization,” Ann McConn, president of the company’s board of directors, said in a statement.

Von Ebers came to the company in 2009 after more than 20 years with Blue Cross Blue Shield divisions in Iowa and South Dakota.

The company’s chief operating officer, Tim Huckle, will step up to serve as interim president and chief executive officer.

American Airlines adds Bismarck service to Chicago, Dallas

BISMARCK – American Airlines is adding daily direct flights to Dallas and Chicago from the Bismarck Airport starting Oct. 1.

The airport and the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce announced the service Monday.

Bismarck Mayor John Warford said the addition of service to Dallas will serve the state’s burgeoning energy industry, while the Chicago route will create an additional eastern connection for business and leisure travelers.

“We are positioning Bismarck-Mandan as the destination community in the Upper Midwest,” he said in a chamber news release.

The city received a $500,000 Small Community Air Service Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this year to provide incentives for airlines to add service to Texas and Chicago. The grant required a private-sector match of $500,000.

The Bismarck Airport currently has service from Allegiant, Delta, Frontier and United airlines.

EERC director put on leave

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- The longtime director of the University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center was placed on paid administrative leave Monday, according to the university.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson confirmed Gerald Groenewold is on leave until further notice, but declined to say why that action was taken. Tom Erickson, the center's associate director for business, operations and intellectual property, will be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the EERC, Johnson said.

Groenewold was named director of the EERC in 1987. Since then, "the EERC has undergone a total cultural change from a former federal (research and development) facility to a practical, entrepreneurial, market-driven organization with national and international clientele, emphasizing working partnerships with private industry, government agencies, academic institutions, and the research community," according to his biography on the EERC's website.

The website refers to the EERC as the primary research entity at UND, and Groenewold directs a science and engineering team of about 300 people. Private business contracts include work for the oil industry.

Southwest Water Authority requests $93M

DICKINSON, N.D. -- The Southwest Water Authority has formally requested $93 million to build more pipelines, increase water treatment capacity in Dickinson and create reservoirs.

In late April, Southwest Water Authority CEO Mary Massad asked for money from the North Dakota State Water Commission and Resources Trust Fund. The authority supplies water to more than 56,000 people in communities, farms and companies in southwest North Dakota as well as South Dakota’s Perkins County.

The request includes $13 million to complete construction in Oliver, Mercer and northern Dunn counties in 2014.

“It would have been foolish to wait until the next (year) when the contractor is doing the project now,” Mike Dwyer, water authority legal counsel, said at a board meeting Monday.

Because of population growth, the authority will use the remaining $80 million in 2015 through 2017 to build pipelines in Dickinson, from Zap to Richardton and from Richardton to Dickinson. Second reservoirs will be established in Dickinson, Belfield, Richardton and near Davis Buttes northeast of Dickinson.

The Dickinson water treatment plant’s capacity will be increased by six million gallons per day, pending funding.

Man gets life sentence for luring girls

BISMARCK – A Washburn man who posed online as a female modeling agent to lure young girls into his web of child pornography and sexual assault was sentenced to life in prison Monday.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland said he doesn’t take handing out a life sentence lightly.

“But I’ve reviewed a lot of materials in this case, and I think you’ve earned it,” he told 39-year-old Travis Lee Guenthner.

Hovland handed down a harsher sentence than the 50 years in prison recommended as part of a plea agreement in which Guenthner agreed to identify his victims – 23 in all.

The case began when U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and Bismarck police received separate calls about a man trying to obtain images of underage girls online.

A Bismarck detective posed as a young girl online and set up a meeting for sex with Guenthner, leading to his arrest. Guenthner pleaded guilty in November to five counts of sexual exploitation of minors and two counts of coercion and enticement.

Investigators said his victims included relatives, acquaintances and strangers he met online.

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