Daily Digest: A penny-a-pill to fight opioid abuse

Good morning, and happy Thursday. Here’s the Digest.

1. A 19-year old went back to his old school in Florida and opened fire. An orphaned 19-year-old with a troubled past and an AR-15 rifle was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning after being questioned for hours by state and federal authorities following the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in five years. Fourteen wounded survivors were hospitalized as bodies were recovered from inside and around Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Just before the shooting broke out, some students thought they were having another fire drill. (AP)

2. Dayton proposes plan to fight opioid abuse. Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday laid out a broad plan to tackle Minnesota’s opioid crisis, including a significant increase in funding for prevention and treatment, and a penny-a-pill fee paid by drug companies to help pay for it. The centerpiece of the proposal is the “stewardship fee” required of opioid manufacturers that would be used to fund opioid treatment and recovery programs to curb abuse. Fully implemented, it would be expected to raise about $20 million a year. The idea had bipartisan support on Wednesday. “Something needs to be done. People are dying,” said state Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar. While Republicans may debate whether to call it a fee or a tax, Baker said he would tell the GOP caucus that “for this issue today, this is the best option for us to help fix this problem.” (MPR News)

3. Wellstone Action ousts Wellstones. A liberal campaign organization dedicated to the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone is pushing out the senator’s two sons. Wellstone Action informed David and Mark Wellstone on Wednesday that they would be voted off the governing board in the coming days, following what group leaders described as months of friction. They said the Wellstones have pushed repeatedly to shift focus from training progressive candidates and campaigns to more aggressive issue advocacy following Donald Trump’s election as president. Board chairman Jeff Blodgett, Paul Wellstone’s campaign manager and co-founder of Wellstone Action, told The Associated Press the “necessary but sad step” of removing the brothers from the board comes after months of tension. But David Wellstone said the dispute is over the group’s finances and an audit he was not allowed to see. “I want to make sure that everything’s done above board and up and up and so when you’re not able to look at that it raises questions, right? And so then when you told you’re going to be tossed off the board it kind of raises more questions for you,” Wellstone told MPR News. Blodgett countered by calling the financial issues “red herrings.” (AP and MPR News)

4. Trump targets heating assistance program. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is slated for elimination in the budget President Donald Trump proposed this week. Doing so would save the federal government $3.3 billion in 2019, according to the proposal — the largest single savings in the entire spending plan.  The prospect of cutting the program has sparked alarm among lawmakers from cold-weather states; prior to the release of Trump’s budget, a bipartisan group of lawmakers including Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith asked Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to prioritize the program. In Minnesota, about 126,000 households rely on federal heating assistance, and three-quarters of those include seniors, children under six, or people with disabilities. The program will cost $102 million this year, a figure that has dropped from a peak of $162 million during the financial crisis but is back to roughly the same amount as a decade ago. Households qualify if they earn half or less of the state’s median income. Two thirds of the the recipients live in Greater Minnesota. (Star Tribune)

5. Lots of people prepaid their property taxes. Hennepin County property owners hoping to benefit from a vanishing tax break paid $198 million in advance taxes last year, more than 30 times what was prepaid in 2016. Taxpayers lined up to pay before the end of 2017 in hopes of a bigger deduction on their federal tax form. Unfortunately, the Internal Revenue Service still doesn’t have a definitive answer whether the early efforts will pay off. The rush to pay taxes in advance was prompted by the newly enacted federal law that will cap the annual state and local tax deduction at $10,000 as of Jan. 1. That change has created an unprecedented surge in prepayments across the nation. (Star Tribune)

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