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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ST. PAUL—Rural Minnesota may never have been mentioned so often in a state Senate debate not about a specific rural issue. Small towns and farmers were featured Thursday, Jan. 12, before senators passed 35-31 legislation to help Minnesotans afford individual health insurance policies. Rural residents like farmers tend to rely on individual policies more than do those living in cities.
ST. PAUL — More than 200,000 Minnesotans soon will receive tax breaks Minnesota senators passed legislation 66-0 Thursday, Jan. 12, to cut taxes by making state tax law conform with federal law. The House already took the same action to help Minnesotans who are beginning to file income tax returns.
Minnesota legislators express nearly universal agreement that state roads and bridges need an infusion of money, but a deep divide about where to get the funds prevented action the last two years. The same disagreement exists as the 2017 legislative session begins, leaving in question whether anything significant and long term will be accomplished in transportation. Minnesota's roads face an estimated $16 billion funding gap over the next 20 years, according to calculations from the state Department of Transportation.
A new report says $100 million in state money is needed every two years to help expand broadband high-speed internet throughout Minnesota, but rural lawmakers have said relatively little about it leading up to the 2017 Legislature. In a series of Forum News Service lawmaker interviews before the session, none brought up the issue. When asked, rural legislators said more state aid is needed, but there was a feeling that the issue is less of a priority than in past years.
Preferred One dropped out. So did UCare. Blue Cross Blue Shield stopped offering its regular policies. Medica says it no longer will supply insurance for a state-run health insurance program. "We almost lost all of the private insurers over the summer," Democratic Gov.
Several legislators say that state-run college and university needs must be funded. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, who becomes minority leader in the 2017 session, told a recent Forum News Service forum that it is easy to keep state higher education funding down because the schools pick up the shortfall by increasing tuition. But that hurts higher education, he added. Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said more money is needed, but will be tough to find since Republicans who control the Legislature do not want to raise taxes.
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota may continue to put some of the worst sex offenders in prison-like facilities after they complete their sentences, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday, Jan. 4. The decision reverses a Minnesota-based federal judge's 2015 ruling that the practice was unconstitutional because it, in effect, extended prison sentences.
An Internet business news company says Minnesota is the second best-run state in the country, trailing only North Dakota. The news operation, 24/7 Wall St., basis its decision on state finances, as well as social and economic indicators.
What happens in Washington doesn't stay in Washington. A new president and a stronger Republican Congress are expected to make major changes in the federal budget, which Minnesota state budget writers said on Friday, Dec. 2, will affect their work. But they do not know how. "There is probably more than the usual range of uncertainty here," said Chairman Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, of the House Ways and Means Committee as state officials reacted to news of a projected $1.4 billion budget surplus.
The Nov. 8 election was unpredictable and the 2017 Minnesota Legislature likely will be, too. GOP candidates took many by surprise, including some fellow Republicans, and took over the state Senate. The GOP held a Senate majority in 2011-2012, but because of the election calendar this time it will be for four years, unless a Republican leaves office early.