News Day – January 15

“What part of justice do you want us to stop doing?” That’s the question posed by MN Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson in a highly unusual news conference making the case for increased state funding for the court system. “Flanked by county attorneys, sheriffs, public defenders and district judges, Chief Justice Eric Magnuson said the entire court system in Minnesota is already $19 million short and will suffer under a 10 percent budget cut,” reported MPR’s Elizabeth Stawicki.

“Trespass, worthless checks, traffic and ordinance violations, juvenile truancy, runaways, underage drinking, consumer credit disputes, property related and small civil claims. Imagine we take all that off the table because we can’t do it,” Magnuson said. Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom spoke on behalf of Minnesota prosecutors and said in addition, the courts won’t be able to process harassment cases, putting many people in the state at risk of harm.

In the Strib, Rochelle Olson reported that Magnuson pointed out that courts account for only two percent of the state budget and that judges are not getting raises, though union employees will get contractual raises. He said the courts need an additional $43 million, not the cuts that the Pawlenty administration has asked for.

Pawlenty spokesperson Brian McClung responded that courts need to “reexamine their priorities” and cut budgets.

“Report says security at RNC was a success” Ya think? While the Strib headline makes nice, Grace Kelly at the Minnesota Progressive Project blog pulls no punches, noting that “Over $100,000 of St Paul money was spent on an RNC Commission consisting of carefully government-connected people,” to produce what she terms “a whitewash.” Over at the Minnesota Independent, Paul Demko offers “What a riot: Outside panel presents mild critique of RNC policing. Read the report on the St. Paul city website

Preventing the next recount? Instant Run-off Voting, approved by Minneapolis voters by a 65-35 margin in 2006, won again yesterday in court. Implementation has been delayed by a MN Voter’s Alliance court challenge, but Hennepin County District Judge McGunnigle ruled that they “have failed to demonstrate that IRV is either unconstitutional or contrary to public policy.” MVA said it will appeal.

Jeanne Massey, chair of FairVote Minnesota, which has backed IRV, said:

There is now great awareness about the need for runoff elections in our state contests that are highly competitive, because we have a strong third party presence in the Independence Party, and we no longer have majority winners in our high-stake elections.

In St. Paul, the Strib noted, the Better Ballot Campaign petitioned for a referendum on IRV, but decision on the referendum was postponed, pending the outcome of the Minneapolis lawsuit.

IRV provides that if no candidate gets a majority of the votes, the lowest candidate is eliminated and those voters’ second choice candidate gets their vote. If that doesn’t result in a majority, the next-lowest candidate is eliminated and their votes redistributed. The process is repeated until one candidate gets a majority of the votes.

Ice-cold electricity Grand Meadow Wind Farm started selling electricity December 4, reports the PiPress, and is now fully operational. Xcel Energy’s first wind energy facility is a 100.5 megawatt wind farm east of Austin. The Minnesota Municipal Power Agency and Avant Energy of Minneapolis also have projects under development. By 2020, MN law requires at least 30 percent of power from renewable resources.

MN Job Watch Ecolab announced a thousand layoffs yesterday, including 100 in Minnesota. Jessica Mador at MPR reports that the MN cuts will be divided equally between Ecolab international HQ in downtown St. Paul and a research center in Eagan.

[Company spokesperson Michael] Monahan said the restaurant and hotel-related segments of the company’s business have been hardest hit by the downturn. He said the company is still growing in health care, pest elimination, and fast food industries, as well as in Latin America.

A SCHIP in time? Congress passed a bill to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program on Wednesday. The bill, previously vetoed by King George II, has the “enthusiastic support” of President-elect Obama, reports the NYT, which says Obama will likely sign the bill soon after his inauguration. First, the Senate must sign the bill. The main point of difference between Senate and House, says The Daily Kos, is the Legal Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act (ICHIA), eliminating the current five-year waiting period for legally residing immigrant children.

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