- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015
Serious strain of bird flu found in Minnesota turkey flock

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A strain of bird flu that’s deadly to poultry has been found in a Minnesota commercial turkey flock but the risk to humans is low, state and federal officials announced Thursday.

It’s the same highly pathogenic H5N2 strain of avian influenza that’s been confirmed in backyard and wild birds in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, but it’s the first appearance of the strain in the Mississippi flyway, said Dr. Bill Hartmann, Minnesota’s state veterinarian.

The virus devastated a flock of 15,000 turkeys in western Minnesota’s Pope County. Fewer than 100 were still alive by Thursday, Hartmann said. The flock has been quarantined and the remaining birds were being killed. No other commercial flocks are nearby, he said, but “backyard flocks” within a 10-kilometer area were being tested for the disease.

“We’re encouraged that we’ll be able to prevent the spread of the disease,” Hartmann said. “We should be able to contain this without much difficulty.”

The virus is carried by wild waterfowl that aren’t sickened by it. The incubation period is about 21 days.

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House debates reducing seniority as teacher layoffs factor

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Debate is stretching on in the Minnesota House as lawmakers take up a Republican priority to rework the teacher layoff system statewide.

The Republican proposal would minimize the role of seniority in layoff decisions and require that evaluations of teachers be taken into account. Debate over the bill, which would also streamline the licensing process for out-of-state teachers, could last hours, as minority Democrats criticize what they say would lead to cutthroat competition between educators.

“Now, layoffs are something no one wants to happen in their schools,” said chief author Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie. “Right now the state statute provides that seniority is how those decisions will be made.”

House passage is likely but doesn’t guarantee the bill will become law. Gov. Mark Dayton in 2012 vetoed a similar change to Minnesota’s “last in, first out” layoff system, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, has said he doesn’t support it.

Republicans have several allies in their push, including the Minnesota School Boards Association and the state Business Partnership, which represents some of Minnesota’s biggest employers. Proponents say basing layoff decisions on seniority - as more than half of the state’s districts currently do - stifles classroom innovation because young teachers are the first to go when districts fall on hard times. The bill’s layoff changes wouldn’t kick in until the 2017-2018 school year.

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Timberwolves waive forward Robinson, claim center Hamilton

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The Minnesota Timberwolves have waived forward Glenn Robinson III to make room for center Justin Hamilton.

The Wolves claimed Hamilton off waivers Thursday. The 24-year-old Hamilton appeared in 24 games for the Miami Heat this season, averaging 2.8 points and 2.0 rebounds.

Hamilton was traded to New Orleans on Feb. 19 but did not appear in a game for the Pelicans. He was waived Tuesday.

With starting center Nikola Pekovic struggling with a sore right ankle, the Wolves needed some depth in the front court.

Robinson was a second-round draft pick this season. But he played only sparingly while being caught in a log jam on the wing behind Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad, Gary Neal and Chase Budinger.

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Minnesota could add civics test to diploma requirements

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota could join other states in requiring high school students to pass a civics test before getting a diploma.

A new bill at the Capitol would add the U.S. citizenship exam on civics to graduation requirements starting with the 2016-2017 school year. North Dakota and Arizona have already enacted similar laws.

A group of more than 20 House legislators, most of them Republican, introduced the bill Thursday. A conservative institute is pushing the issue nationwide.

The national test includes questions like how often the country elects a president and what the Emancipation Proclamation did. The bill introduced Thursday would require high school students to correctly answer at least 60 percent of them. They would get as many chances as they needed to pass the exam.

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