News Day: Waiting for the veto / “Independent” contractors / Playing to lose / more

Passed, passed, passed and waiting The legislature passed a number of bills yesterday, and the stack on T-Paw’s desk continues to grow. Will he sign or will he veto? Only the governor knows for sure. Among the bills awaiting decision:

Flat funding for P-12 schools and cuts for higher ed. Minnesota Miracle and expanded Q-Comp both lose out.

House and Senate leaders offered to plug about $2 billion of the budget gap with a school funding shift and use of budget reserves. That still leaves a billion dollar gap, which T-Paw wants to fill by borrowing and the House and Senate leadership want to fill with taxes.

The House and Senate passed a “lights-on” bill, which would keep the state running to July 2010, even if no budget agreement is reached by Monday.

The House and Senate passed the state bonding bill by wide and seemingly veto-proof margins, providing $300 million that would quickly create up to 3,000 construction jobs, provide flood relief to the Red River Valley and fund a new museum and rail projects in the St. Paul area.

Minnesota’s nuclear moratorium stands, as the Senate agreed to a compromise energy policy bill.

Freeze? What freeze? Though the governor declared a freeze on state hiring in February 2008, MPR reports that “The number of people on the state’s payroll has grown even though thousands of government employees have retired since Gov. Tim Pawlenty issued an executive order last year to implement hiring restrictions at state agencies.”

MN Job Watch One day after Park Nicollet announced that it will cut 240 jobs, the Hennepin County Medical Center said it will cut 100 jobs, and will require supervisors and administrators to take a two-day unpaid leave.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported an increase in initial unemployment claims last week: “In the week ending May 9, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 637,000, an increase of 32,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 605,000.” The total number of people receiving unemployment compensation remained at a record high.

A new twist on “independent contractors” comes in response to a state law that targeted abuses in the construction industry, reports the Strib.

The laws, which took effect Jan. 1, take aim at an old problem — contractors who illegally classify their employees as independent contractors to cut labor costs in the roofing, drywalling, remodeling and other building trades.

Such workers are shortchanged on Social Security, unemployment benefits and coverage for job injuries, and many don’t report all their income to state and federal tax collectors, a 2007 legislative audit said.

Now, often with employer encouragement, such workers are registering in record numbers as LLCs — Limited Liability Companies — with filings of new LLC registrations more than double the pace of a year ago. The situation is complicated by what workers and employers agree are onerous registration procedures for independent contractors that resulted from the new law, as well as by employers’ continuing reluctance tohire workers as employees, withhold their taxes and pay workers compensation premiums.

Playing to lose The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder reports that black athletes at the U of M are lagging significantly behind their white counterparts in graduation rates, and have not kept up with national improvements in black athletes’ graduation rates.

Unfortunately, at the University of Minnesota, the school’s top three revenue sports — football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball — are not doing as well in graduating their Black players. Their rates are 40 percent (football), 57 percent (women’s basketball), and 38 percent (men’s basketball), compared to Whites in football (73 percent), men’s basketball (50 percent) and women’s basketball (67 percent).

New power plant in Chisago county The Strib reports that a new, gas-fired power plant in Chisago County came one step closer to reality with tax breaks passed by the legislature. The plant still faces the PUC approval process.

The $300 million Sunrise River Energy station, an 855-megawatt natural gas-fired plant, would open by 2013 pending regulatory approvals, according to the company that would build it, LS Power, a private utility with offices in New Jersey and Missouri.

War Reports

Sri Lanka BBCA local doctor said that government forces shelled a hospital for a second day, killing 50 people, and government forces denied the report. Satellite images and UN sources seemed to confirm reports of shelling. Journalists cannot confirm or deny the reports, because the government does not allow journalists in the area.

DR Congo BBC Rwandan Hutu rebels killed more than a hundred people in the eastern DR Congo over the weekend. BBC notes: “Many of the rebels fled to DR Congo after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which some its leaders were accused of taking part.”

Pakistan BBC A school girl’s account of fleeing Swat:

… My sympathies are neither with the Taleban nor the army. Both have been cruel to us.

The Taleban have destroyed us and the army is murdering our people. …

National/World headlines

Burma BBC The Burmese government has taken ailing Nobel Laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from her home, where she has been under house arrest for 19 years, to prison. She is being charged with violating conditions of her house arrest after an American man, John Yettaw, was arrested after swimming across a lake to her house and staying there secretly for two days. Her lawyers say the man was not invited and BBC correspondent Jonathan Head says that, “it looks as though this is a pretext to keep her detained until elections due in 2010 which the generals think will give them some legitimacy.”

Haitians drown in attempt to reach U.S. NYT At least 10 of 27 would-be immigrants died when their boat capsized off the Florida coast.

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