Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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Minnesota drug overdose deaths have jumped four-fold since 2000, the Minnesota Health Department reported Friday as state legislators made attempts to slow the increase. Opioid pain relievers such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, morphine and codeine have become the drugs most associated with overdose deaths, the department said. Of 572 overdose deaths last year (compared to 129 in 2000), 216 were from opioids. More than half of the deaths were associated with prescription drugs rather than illegal street drugs.
House and Senate leaders are far apart about how much to spend on public works projects. Nearly $1 billion apart. Minnesota Democratic senators Monday unveiled a plan to borrow money for $1.5 billion for public works projects, things such as finishing the project of bringing water to southwestern Minnesota, fixing state buildings and constructing water treatment projects in small rural communities.
Minnesota lawmakers do more than legislate; they also sometimes ask people to investigate, and they want to see those reports. Such is the case in a couple of recent issues: a state worker who seemingly emailed opposition to a northern Minnesota oil pipeline and a Commerce Department official accused of improperly ordering destruction of documents.
Warning bells figuratively clanged Friday when a Minnesota state Senate committee held its first hearing on new legislation to force railroads to release more information about hazardous materials they haul. Even some Republicans who generally support railroads warned that railroads need to work better with public safety officials.
A Minnesota Senate committee supported a pilot project for vehicles that drive themselves, but on the same day Reuters news service reported that things are not going well for some of the vehicles in California. "Volvo's North American CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, lost his cool as the automaker's semi-autonomous prototype sporadically refused to drive itself during a press event at the Los Angeles Auto Show," Reuters reported. "'It can't find the lane markings!' Kerssemakers griped to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was at the wheel. 'You need to paint the bloody roads here!'"
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton wants to increase education spending $77 million in the next year, mostly for his plan to offer classes for four-year-olds. But there is a catch. Many school officials say they are running out of room, especially after lawmakers last year passed a Dayton proposal to expand kindergarten to full days. If Dayton's new pre-kindergarten program is approved, schools would need to fund any expansion they need themselves. "We could not squeeze it into this," Dayton said.
Packed precinct caucuses, and reports that thousands left in frustration due to overcrowding, are leading more Minnesota political leaders to push a presidential primary election. The latest is Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, who on Friday said he would support a modified primary system, connected to the state's traditional caucuses. Republican state Chairman Keith Downey said he is open to looking at change.
Minnesota joins Super Tuesday this year, but the question is whether the day will be super for any of the presidential candidates. It has not always been. Super Tuesday, March 1 this year, is the day when several states hold primaries or caucuses, in part to pick delegates to the two major parties' national conventions. It is dubbed "super" because generally more states are picking delegates that day than any other. This year, Minnesota joins a dozen states.
Two relatively obscure special legislative elections Tuesday confirmed what many politicos already knew: The Minnesota Legislature election is attracting lots of attention. After Republicans won House and Senate seats to replace lawmakers who resigned, the national Republican State Leadership Committee issued a news release saying it already had named the Minnesota House and Senate "top targets for 2016." Republicans already hold a majority in the House, but Democrats control the Senate. The national committee says the Senate is "a top offensive target for pickup."
U.S. Sen. Al Franken is taking on rural health care in his second term. The Minnesota Democrat is co-chairman of the Senate Rural Health Caucus and has traveled the state discussing the topic. "The conversations were vivid and personal, but also immensely practical," Franken told the National Rural Health Association. "What became clear is that access to care, or lack thereof, was the top issue for folks in my state." Franken told the association about what he and his staff members discovered in their tour of the state.