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Capitol Chatter: Obama promotes his rural agenda

Many rural Americans, who are heavily Republican, are not happy with how President Barack Obama has dealt with their issues as he nears the end of eight years in office.

The Democratic president says he has done well.

"I've spent most of my life living in big cities," Obama recently wrote. "But the truth is, a lot of what's shaped me came from my grandparents who grew up on the prairie in Kansas. They taught me the kind of values that don't always make headlines, let alone the daily back-and-forth in Washington."

The values, he said, include honesty, responsibility, hard work, toughness against adversity, keeping your word, giving back to your community and treating folks with respect, even if you disagree with them.

The president said that while rural Americans show high values, they face many problems.

"An economy that's been changing for decades -- more automation, more global competition -- has, in many ways, hit rural communities particularly hard," Obama said.

Besides economic woes, he added, rural communities too often lack high-speed Internet service and too many families outside the big cities "have been ravaged by the heartbreaking epidemic of opioid use."

In what seems like an exit report, he trumpeted things he has done to help rural America, such as spending money on rural schools, supporting rural small business owners, deploying high speed Internet and wireless and helping people retrain for new careers.

"Today, rural unemployment has dropped from a high of about 10 percent during the Great Recession to 6 percent," he said. "The rural poverty rate is dropping, and rural median household incomes are rising again."

Special talk continues

Incumbent legislators would love to let voters know they fixed health insurance rates, but they will not get that chance before the Nov. 8 election.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and other House Republicans have drilled home their desire to hold a special legislative session to reduce insurance premiums of people who buy their own health insurance policies. State Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman says those policies' prices will soar 50 percent to 67 percent.

Some of the proposed solutions include asking the federal government for permission to take actions the state now cannot. So even if there were a special session before the election, Minnesota would not know if Washington approves the requests.

And then there is the fact that Gov. Mark Dayton, the only person who can call a special session, will not do it right away.

"The governor is currently considering the options, but would not call a special session before the election," said Sam Fettig, Dayton's spokesman.

The regular 2017 session is set to begin less than two months after the election.

"I hope the governor takes a special session seriously," Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, said.

Klobuchar: Protect from furniture tip-overs

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is pushing Congress to pass legislation to protect children from furniture that may tip over.

The Minnesota Democrat said a new Consumer Product Safety Commission report shows that more than 15,000 children are injured each year by furniture, televisions and appliances that tip over.

Klobuchar got Ikea to recall a type of dresser that fell on and killed a 22-month-old Apple Valley, Minn., child. She has shifted attention to getting Congress to pass legislation she co-authored, known as the Sturdy Act, would order federal officials to adopt a stronger, mandatory stability standard for storage units.

"No family should live in fear that their child could be severely injured or even killed by a preventable tip-over of household furniture," Klobuchar said.

$270 million in state overtime

A new legislative auditor report shows Minnesota paid almost $270 million in overtime during the past three years.

Minnesota State, the new name for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, was the top state agency, with a $64.8 million overtime bill. The Human Services Department's $58.9 million was the only agency close to Minnesota State.

Other agencies spending more than $13 million for overtime were Transportation, Public Safety, Corrections, Natural Resources and Veterans Affairs.

The report said the OT often was related to road construction projects and emergency situations.

Four technology employees each received more than $50,000 in overtime pay in 2016, the report showed.

The most, $117,791, went to a Human Services security counselor. The department has had extensive security problems in its State Security Hospital in St. Peter.

Don Davis
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.