Midnight madness Just moments before midnight, the legislature passed a new tax bill, but it faces certain veto by the governor, MinnPost reports. Governor Tim Pawlenty claimed that he offered a “choice” to DFLers in the legislature, which came down to: you can keep me from making unilateral cuts by agreeing to those cuts, which would make them … not unilateral. Or, as Sen. Tarryl Clark put it: “He left us with two choices. We could do it his way or he would do it his way.’’
In other action during the closing days of the session:
• Legislators authorized medical use of marijuana. Pawelenty said he will veto the bill.
• New seatbelt legislation will allow law enforcement officers to pull over a vehicle because someone in it is not wearing a seatbelt. Pawlenty has said he will sign it.
• The legislature passed an anti-bullying amendment, over strong Republican opposition. The Minnesota Independent reports that the bill specifically includes gay and lesbian students, students with disabilities and children from different socioeconomic strata
Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, gave a passionate speech about being bullied in school because of his disability.
“People that get bullied are often the people who look or act different. I remember being on the playground and continually being teased or picked on because of how I looked,” said Ward. “All children deserve to be treated fairly and equitably and with respect. When you talk about special groups being named… Anything we can do to move in that direction is progress.”
• MinnPost: The legislature agreed to “give local governments the right to give “domestic partners” the same rights as married couples have; meaning cities such as Minneapolis would be able to give health insurance to domestic partners. Under current state law, municipalities can’t do that.” The governor has said he will veto this legislation.
• A new election law would move party primaries from September to August and standardize collection and counting of absentee ballots, MPR reports. The bill does NOT provide for early voting, which DFLers wanted, or for a photo ID requirement, which Republicans wanted.
• The Legacy Amendment 3/8 cent sales tax begins in July, with collections estimated at $230 million next year, reports MPR. On the cultural heritage side, appropriations include millions for MPR and TPT, as well as grants for library and zoo programs and for preservation of the Native languages. On the environmental side, the largest amount is “$36 million to ensure access for hunting, hiking and public recreation on land owned by the UPM Blandin paper company near Grand Rapids,” with smaller amounts going to a number of programs, including some money to fight emerald ash borers and for sewage treatment.
Former Sen. Bob Lessard, whose name is on the amendment, criticized the broad focus of environmental funding. According to PIM, he and Sportsmen for Change “object to a set of values described in the bill as ‘enhance,’ ‘protect’ and ‘restore.’ Leaf said those values are too broad. Instead they should be fish, wildlife and game.”
MN Job Watch North Memorial Hospital is cutting 100 jobs, about two percent of its total workforce, according to the Strib. The job cuts follow others at hospitals across the state. North Memorial eliminated 380 jobs in December.
And these cuts are clearly not the end for health care. MPR reports:
President and CEO Brock Nelson said Region’s will lose $35 million next year and likely millions more from unpaid medical bills. Nelson said the financial impact is devastating.
“The burden for the state’s budget problem is being placed on the backs of a few hospitals that serve the safety net patients,” Nelson said. “And we have to bear the burden for the entire, a substantial part of this deficit. And that’s what hurts because it’s inequitable.”
The Star Tribune sued its drivers in an attempt to cancel their contract and stop funding their pension plan. The Strib report on the conflict said the drivers’ union had no comment.
The Minnesota Senior Foundation, which laid off seven workers in April, will close its doors entirely, reports the Strib.
The Legacy Amendment may result in something like the 1930s WPA and CCC, says MinnPost. The Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps both put people to work during the Great Depression, and included major building projects in parks. MinnPost says that the Minnesota Conservation Corps “could see its $3.1 million budget grow to $5.7 million under the Legacy funding.”
Media Minute Smaller newspapers are suffering the same fate as their larger colleagues. Close to home, the PiPress reports that the Stillwater Gazette is up for sale, and weekly newspapers in Stillwater and Lake Elmo closed May 5, with no warning to employees. Those papers were part of Forum Communications, headquartered in Fargo. Meanwhile, American Community Newspapers, which owns dozens of other local newspapers (think Sun and Current), declared bankruptcy in April, and expects to auction off its papers. In February, ACN had closed newspapers covering Inver Grove Heights, Mendota Heights, South St. Paul and West St. Paul.
In February, ACN killed the Sun Current edition covering Inver Grove Heights, Mendota Heights, South St. Paul and West St. Paul.
NYT and Plagiarism On Sunday, NYT columnist Maureen Dowd lifted a paragraph from Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo), without attribution or quotation marks. Called on it, she waffled, denied, attributed, and finally was excused by her bosses, reports the Daily Kos:
There was no plagiarism, even though the paragraphs were word for word and comma for comma almost entirely the same. And since Josh Marshall isn’t throwing a hissy fit about it, it’s all kosher! It was just a mistake. A mistake in which someone else’s words were magically transposed into the column of a major NY Times columnist. Like tripping or making a typo! So innocent!
• President Obama is ready to issue new auto emissions guidelines, according to AP. Roland Hwang, the vehicles policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the proposal is expected to include standards for fuel efficiency and for greenhouse gas emissions and to raise the target miles per gallon from 35 mpg by 2020 to 35 mpg by 2016.
• Every local jail inmate will be checked for immigration status under an Obama administration expansion of a Bush administration initiative, reports the Washington Post. “Inmates in federal and state prisons already are screened. But authorities generally lack the time and staff to do the same at local jails, which house up to twice as many illegal immigrants at any time and where inmates come and go more quickly. generally lack the time and staff to do the same at local jails, which house up to twice as many illegal immigrants at any time and where inmates come and go more quickly. ”
Somalia Eyewitnesses say Ethiopian troops have crossed back into Somalia, reports BBC. The Ethiopian government denies the reports. According to BBC, “On Sunday, fighters from the al-Shabab group, which is linked to al-Qaeda, took the key town of Jowhar from government forces. ” Al-Shabab also controls large chunks of the capital, Mogadishu, as well as territory in central and southern Somalia.
Afghanistan BBC: “Ahmad Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president, says he has survived an ambush on his convoy in the east.”