Good morning and welcome to Tuesday. Here’s the Digest.
1. If you’re looking for information on past harassment settlements at the state Capitol, you won’t find it. The Minnesota Legislature prides itself on conducting public business and protecting taxpayer money. But when it comes to allowing for the scrutiny of employee complaints, legal settlements and lawmaker misconduct, the Legislature lives in a black box. Employee records, legislative budgets and email correspondence are all exempt from the state’s open records laws. That means the public has to rely on whistleblowers to learn about any alleged misdeeds involving senators or representatives.Legislative leaders in the House and Senate have declined to disclose sexual harassment complaints involving senators or representatives. They also say there is no record of settlements involving taxpayer money — a statement difficult to verify considering their budget documents are not accessible to the public. (MPR News)
2. Special elections to replace two Minnesota lawmakers resigning amid sexual misconduct claims will be held on Mon, Feb. 12. Gov. Mark Dayton said he chose the date because it won’t conflict with precinct caucuses the Tuesday before nor will it interfere with a previously scheduled school board election in one of the districts the day after. Voters near Mankato will pick a House replacement to seven-term Republican state Rep. Tony Cornish. His resignation was effective last week. People in a suburban district south of St. Paul will replace first-term DFL Sen. Dan Schoen. He has delivered a letter saying he will resign as of Dec. 15. Both men are stepping down after multiple women alleged misconduct by the legislators. (MPR News)
3. Schoen wants to keep his other job on the Cottage Grove police force. His letter of resignation from the Senate was delivered Monday to Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk. “It has been my honor and privilege to serve the constituents of my community for five years, I am proud to say that I was elected by a community of my peers to serve the greater public good, which I will continue to do as a peace officer,” Schoen said in the two-sentence letter to Dayton dated Nov. 28. After the allegations of misconduct first broke, the city of Cottage Grove placed Schoen on “administrative duties until the allegations have been investigated by the state.” It’s unclear if any investigation was actually opened, or if one will will continue. Schoen’s attorney said he’ll cooperate with any city investigation. Cottage Grove officials could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon. (Pioneer Press)
4. The tax bill in Washington has created some big unknowns for Minnesota’s economic outlook. Minnesota officials are set to get an update today on the state’s financial standing, but the ongoing effort by Congress to overhaul the tax code means the numbers behind the surplus or deficit will provide little comfort or clarity. The economic forecasts that help set the stage for legislative sessions are always a guessing game, balancing the constantly changing streams of tax revenues and government expenditures that can soar or sour with the national economy. But the potential for trillions in federal tax breaks looms large over Tuesday’s economic update in Minnesota. With few specifics set in stone, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday that any readout of the state’s financial position would be “speculative at best.” He’s not laying out any budget plans for 2018 until at least March, after Minnesota gets an updated economic forecast. (AP via Star Tribune)
5. Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura spoke publicly for the first time about his settlement with the estate of Chris Kyle. Ventura on Monday said he feels “vindicated” after settling a defamation lawsuit over the book “American Sniper” — an autobiography about author Chris Kyle’s commando training and multiple tours of duty in Iraq. A federal jury awarded the former governor $1.8 million in 2014, but an appeals court overturned the verdict, saying some statements by Ventura’s attorney improperly influenced the jury. Ventura said he can’t comment on the terms of the settlement, but said he never would have sued if Kyle had only apologized, and Ventura “would have gotten nothing then.” (MPR News)