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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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.
The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected an appeal of the woman convicted in the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean three years ago. Wednesday's ruling says Amanda Lea Peltier's trial was fair and her life sentence, with the possibility of supervised release after 30 years, will stand. The case drew strong emotions because Pope County officials had received 15 reports warning that Dean was being abused.
Health care for Minnesotans with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, kidney failure and heart disease costs eight times more than for people without them.
Democratic and Republican legislators agree on many goals for rural Minnesota, but often differ on how to reach them. House Democrats unveiled their rural legislative plan last week, mostly the same as they pushed a year ago, calling for better rural schools, improved roads and more jobs. "It's time to level the playing field for greater Minnesota and that won't happen unless this Legislature truly makes greater Minnesota a priority," Deputy House Minority Leader Paul Marquart said.
Every Minnesota legislative session seems to produce one issue no one saw coming, at least to the scale it reaches. Perhaps that issue this year will be privacy. When Minnesotans hear comments like from Rep. Peggy Scott, it could attract attention. "In today's schools, the highly sensitive and personal information ... now is being uploaded up on third-party servers," the Andover Republican said when she and Democrats joined together Wednesday in announcing a series of bills designed to protect Minnesotans' privacy.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton knows his $1.4 billion public works project plan cannot happen as proposed. "It's like pushing a boulder uphill," he said Friday in announcing his proposal, one of the largest such requests in history and a big target for Republicans who prefer spending much less. Knowing the opposition he faces, he began a campaign for the measure saying this is a good time to borrow money, through the state selling bonds. "Today is the day we talk about investing in the future of Minnesota," Dayton said.
Minnesota cities, especially small rural ones, ask the state for money almost every year to improve their sewage treatment systems. Same for their water treatment plants. Wadena is among the list. With a new law requiring farmers to separate cropland from water with vegetation, they also seek financial help. Those and other water-quality issues equal a big problem for Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton said as he proposed that the state borrow nearly $220 million to improve the state's water.
Most of the recent high-level discussions about rural Minnesota have centered on Iron Range problems created by a weak American steel industry, but even state leaders who live near where miners are laid off stay it is just part of a statewide rural problem. "There is an issue of our rural economy," Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook said. "You go all across these rural towns and we are going to have to discuss what we can do." While broadband is important, Bakk added that extending high-speed Internet service is not a cure-all for rural Minnesota.
Americans may board commercial airlines for at least two more years with state identification cards that do not meet new federal guidelines, but it was not clear after Friday's announcement if a rush to change Minnesota law will continue. The federal Department of Homeland Security announced it will not require Real ID-compliant cards until Jan. 22, 2018. However, states making progress to distribute the enhanced IDs could receive extensions until Oct. 1, 2020, when everyone would be required to use Real ID cards or another form of ID such as passports.