Minn. leaders try to steer around session pitfalls
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Make no waves.
That's a guiding principle for the Democrats in charge of Minnesota's Legislature, which gathers Tuesday for an annual session that could extend into mid-May. Party leaders are eager to prevent, or at least contain, controversy that can leave a bad taste for voters or alienate important constituencies in a year when the Democratic House majority and Gov. Mark Dayton's re-election are on the line.
Lawmakers have an $825 million surplus at their disposal, and few must-do items on their list. House Speaker Paul Thissen acknowledged last week that the session could seem boring to the public compared with the recent past, when stadium and gay marriage debates stirred passions at the Capitol and beyond.
Topping the Democrats' "must do" list are a borrow-and-build plan for government construction projects and a boost in the state's minimum wage — "bread-and-butter issues," as Thissen framed the agenda.
But there's already friction just below the surface over medicinal marijuana, a costly Senate office building, a confinement program for sex offenders, oversight laws related to the beleaguered health exchange and a new mining venture in northeastern Minnesota. Republicans see openings to expose Democratic rifts, but may encounter limited chances to do so.
Obama to speak at St. Paul event, open to public
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — President Barack Obama will be in St. Paul this week to discuss a new competition encouraging investments to create jobs.
The White House says Obama will speak at Union Depot on Wednesday. The event is open to the public but attendees will need tickets.
Tickets will be handed out free on a first-come, first-served basis starting Monday at 10 a.m. at the Union Depot, Suite 120. There's a limit of one ticket per person.
The actual event will be Wednesday. Doors will open at 11:30 a.m.
Attendees won't be allowed to bring bags, signs or banners, and they'll pass through airport-like security.
Lawmaker: Compromise on medical pot gaining ground
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Supporters of medical marijuana say the state's upcoming 2014 legislative session could represent Minnesota's best chance in years to see pot legalized for medical use.
Gov. Mark Dayton has urged supporters to negotiate with opponents in law enforcement to reach a compromise, and that effort could finally be gaining momentum, the St. Cloud Times reported (http://on.sctimes.com/1k2FPxmhttp://on.sctimes.com/1k2FPxm ).
State Rep. Carly Melin, a Hibbing Democrat who's the lead House sponsor of medical marijuana legislation said she tried negotiating with law enforcement groups but they refused to listen. But some of those groups have begun softening their stances and are at least willing to consider permitting marijuana extracts, she said.
The state association of police chiefs has open to discussing allowing extracts in pill, liquid or inhaler form, she said.
The Minnesota County Attorneys Association is also open to the idea. Executive Director John Kingrey said his group still opposes any bill making it legal to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes, but extracts might be a viable compromise.
County gets $1M in state grants for clean water
STILLWATER, Minn. (AP) — The state is providing more than $1 million in grants to help clean lakes and rivers across Washington County and restore their surrounding areas.
Several projects were already underway in the county's seven watershed districts, but the grants will be used to fund additional projects that are a little more expensive, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported (http://strib.mn/1flGsQthttp://strib.mn/1flGsQt ).
One project involves spending $360,000 to modify an existing wetland in Bixby Park in the Forest Lake area. The aim is to improve water quality and reduce dissolved phosphorus that accumulates downstream.
It's all part of a larger effort to transform the park, formerly a city compost site, into a 100-acre nature preserve. The work will also undo the consequences of a ditch that ended up compromising the wetland's natural ability to filter out phosphorus and other chemicals.
"We want to kind of turn back time and bring back the character that wetland had before," said Greg Granske, the watershed district's engineer.