Good morning and happy Tuesday. Here’s the Digest.

1. Driven by the recent resignations of two state legislators over sexual misconduct allegations, Rep. John Lesch and Rep. Marion O’Neill on Monday unveiled a plan to remake the Capitol’s sexual harassment reporting system. .Under their proposal, a complaint made with specific factual evidence would automatically be referred to the House Ethics Committee. That panel, with equal members from both parties, would have to decide within 30 days if probable cause exists. If it doesn’t, nothing would become public. If there is a probable cause determination, a full-blown investigation that includes a public hearing would be held and a ruling would come within two months of that. Confidentiality would be provided and that complaints could come from anyone with a tie to the Capitol, including staff, lobbyists and visitors from the public. (MPR News)

2.  Lake Crystal Mayor Brad Ahrenstorff has bowed out of the legislative race for District 23B. Ahrenstorff said Monday morning he was suspending his campaign in part because of the short turnaround between now and the Feb. 12 special election. “It just wasn’t working out with my family and my work.”  Ahrenstorff has been mayor of Lake Crystal for 14 years. His exit leaves one Republican left, rural Lake Crystal businessman Jeremy Munson. Munson has been active in local Republican politics for a decade and was elected chair of the 1st Congressional District GOP in April. Lake Crystal social worker Melissa Wagner says she’ll run as a Democrat. Local DFL and GOP officials are setting up endorsing conventions over the next few weeks. Candidates can file to run from Jan. 8-11. Tony Cornish, of Vernon Center, resigned from the seat at the end of November after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment. (Mankato Free Press)

3. The task force headed by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum identified some major changes to the stalled Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project in its final meeting on Monday. However, many legal, technical and financial questions remain to revive the more than $2 billion plan for diverting the Red River and hold back flood waters around the two cities. And changes to the project will likely bring significant cost increases. The task force began work this fall after a judge halted construction on the project, saying the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources needed to permit work any work affecting the state’s waters. The group did not reach consensus on a specific plan, but agreed on some parameters, including that the project should provide protection for a 100-year flood event. (MPR News)

4. 2018 could see a big slowdown in the number of refugees coming to Minnesota.  President Donald Trump this fall set the maximum number of refugees nationally at 45,000 for the fiscal year, slashing that ceiling by more than half. But more recent administration guidelines could mean an especially marked slowdown in Minnesota, traditionally one of the country’s key resettlement destinations. Even as it rolls out more intense vetting for all refugees, the United States is extending a pause on arrivals from 11 countries, including Somalia, a top country for refugees coming to this state. The administration also suspended indefinitely a program known as “follow-to-join,” used by many refugees resettled here to reunite with spouses and children. (Star Tribune)

5. The latest DFL candidate to join the 2018 race for Minnesota state auditor says she wants to be a resource for local government officials.  Julie Blaha, a former math teacher and the current secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, announced her candidacy over the weekend. She said she will seek the DFL party endorsement and abide by the result. Blaha said as state auditor she would highlight and support the work of cities, townships and counties. “Regular people need somebody to help them out while they’re doing great things,” Blaha said. I would love to be that person who can provide the information, the accountability to ensure that their solutions turn into reality.” So far, no Republican has announced a run for state auditor. (MPR News)

The latest DFL candidate to join the 2018 race for Minnesota state auditor says she wants to be a resource for local government officials

Julie Blaha, a former math teacher and the current secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, announced her candidacy over the weekend. She said she will seek the DFL party endorsement and abide by the result.

Julie Blaha, a former teacher and the current secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, has announced she’s a DFL candidate for state auditor. Photo courtesy of the candidate.

Blaha said as state auditor she would highlight and support the work of cities, townships and counties.

“Regular people need somebody to help them out while they’re doing great things,” Blaha said. I would love to be that person who can provide the information, the accountability to ensure that their solutions turn into reality.”

This is Blaha’s first run for elected office. She said she hopes to have support from organized labor.

Blaha is the third Democrat in the race. She joins Jon Tollefson, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Nurses Association, and Jack Dickinson, Minneapolis small business owner. Incumbent DFL auditor Rebecca Otto is running for governor.

So far, no Republicans have announced they are running for state auditor.

 

Good morning, and welcome to Monday and the start of another work week. Here’s the Digest.

1. The big question is still the governor’s choice for interim U.S. Senator.  Gov. Mark Dayton is due to be in Fargo today, so it doesn’t look as if today is the day he will announce his pick for the person to fill the vacancy created by Sen. Al Franken’s pending resignation. Meanwhile because Franken said last week that he will resign in the coming weeks, there is a push among his supporters on social media for him to change his mind and stay. Former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson joined that call yesterday, saying Franken should rescind his resignation until after “a prompt and thorough review of all allegations by the Senate Ethics Committee.” He adds that Franken “was elected by we, the people, and he should continue to serve until a legal determination has been made.” (MPR News)

2. Sen. Amy Klobuchar says qualifications are more important that gender when it comes to replacing Franken. “The governor has made it clear it’s his decision,” Klobuchar said when asked if she had any input in the decision. Dayton said he will decide “in the next few days,” she said. It is important to have two senators, she said, citing the six months she was the lone senator from Minnesota during the recounts and lawsuit in connection with the Franken-Norm Coleman election in 2008-2009. There is major legislation that needs to be worked on regarding taxes, budgets and the farm bill “that would greatly help our state,” Klobuchar said. The children’s health care bill alone, she said, could almost erase the state’s budget deficit. Asked about the appointment of a woman or a woman of color, Klobuchar said, “I think it’s really important that the person is qualified to do the work.” While there is a need for more female senators, “There are plenty of men and women who could fill the seat again.” (Star Tribune)

3. Farmers are closely watching the tax package a congressional conference committee is finalizing in Washington, D.C. Experts say many provisions will benefit agriculture, but some will make farm management more complicated and one provision could cost some farmers thousands of dollars. That provision raising concern across the agriculture sector would end a deduction that will affect cooperatives. The Section 199 deduction, also called the domestic manufacturing deduction, allows deductions for income earned from manufacturing or production. For cooperatives like Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar, the savings are passed on to 2,800 cooperative members. “For us it’s sort of an unfair situation where we don’t get any benefit of the lower corporate tax rates but we lose the deduction. And that deduction is worth $10,000 to $15,000 a year for our average shareholder, so it’s a significant, significant issue,” said American Crystal President Tom Astrup. (MPR News)

4. Property taxes are on the rise again across the metro area. Double-digit percentage hikes that had drawn complaints in St. Paul are popping up in the suburbs, too — in Columbia Heights and Fridley, where home values are rebounding, and in Dayton, Blaine and Shoreview, too. “It does appear that the value of existing properties is continuing to march upwards,” and that change often triggers higher tax bills, said Gary Carlson, intergovernmental relations director for the League of Minnesota Cities. Hopkins residents also may find themselves inching nearer a 10 percent increase mark after voting in November to approve school spending proposals. Because the cost of those levy votes do not appear on the Truth in Taxation statements sent to individual property owners in November, homeowners in Scott County — where a majority of the school districts had proposals on the ballot — can expect bigger increases when their 2018 bills arrive in March. That will be the case in Roseville, Shoreview and Mounds View as well. (Star Tribune)

5. A plane bound for Somalia carrying deportees, including two Twin Cities men, returned to the United States on Friday, landing in Miami. One of the passengers told his St. Paul attorney that the plane ran out of food, the bathrooms were too full to be used and that, overall, he and the other passengers remained shackled for a total of 46 hours before the plane returned to the United States. According to a statement released by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, the flight, containing 92 deportees, turned around after stopping in Senegal to refuel. “Upon landing for a refueling and pilot exchange at Dakar, Senegal, ICE was notified that the relief crew was unable to get sufficient crew rest due to issues with their hotel in Dakar,” the statement said. “The aircraft, including the detainees and crew on board, remained parked at the airport to allow the relief crew time to rest. During this time, the aircraft maintained power and air conditioning, and was stocked with sufficient food and water. Various logistical options were explored, and ultimately ICE decided to reschedule the mission to Somalia and return to the United States with all 92 detainees.” (Pioneer Press)