Good morning and welcome to a snowy Friday. Here’s the Digest.
1. The fight over legislative funding is officially over. The Legislature moved Thursday to end a protracted and bitter dispute over its own operating budget, quickly advancing a funding measure that restores money Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed last summer. The House and Senate swiftly approved a two-page bill unlocking $130 million to pay for salaries, staff, rent and other costs needed to run the Legislature through mid-2019. Dayton had wiped out two years of funding for the House and Senate. Dayton is expected to sign it Monday. One thing is not addressed by the bill: Money to pay the private lawyers the Legislature hired to challenge Dayton’s veto. The Minneapolis law firm has yet to submit an invoice, which would trigger a 30-day window for payment. Lawmakers have been limping along on emergency funding after losing a court fight with Dayton over his line-item veto authority. He said the veto was a response to problems he had with other parts of the state’s two-year, $46 billion budget. (MPR News)
2. Gun control supporters rally at Capitol. Hundreds of people concerned about gun violence gathered at the Minnesota Capitol Thursday to demand tougher gun control measures in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting that left 17 dead. Organizers of the afternoon rally that filled the Capitol Rotunda said students across the nation have been doing a better this week than adults talking about gun violence. Eva Goldfarb, a junior at St. Louis Park High School, was among the rally speakers. “Politicians, we are speaking to you. We are not just asking school shooters to stop shooting. We are asking our government to stop giving them the means to do so.” Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, the chair of the Senate judiciary and public safety committee, said all policymakers are struggling with how to respond to gun violence. “There is no easy solution to this and there is no one bill that will cure this problem. As a matter of fact, I’m the one being a realist, I don’t think any one bill will ultimately 100-percent stop people that have evil intent to do bad things to good people.” (MPR News)
3. Paulsen on guns. Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen on Thursday offered a list of ideas he’d support to prevent more gun violence like the shootings that killed 17 people at a Florida high school last week. Asked about the incident, he said he would support a ban on so-called bump stocks, that can dramatically increase the rates of fire of semiautomatic guns. He also said he’d like to see the FBI address its failings in the Florida case and strengthening background checks. “One thing we should do is lift the ban on federal research for gun violence because I think we can make smart, educated decisions as policy makers of where we need to go in this debate, if we have the facts,” Paulsen told reporters during a visit to Cardiovascular Solutions, a vascular device company in New Brighton. “And by lifting the ban on research, which has been around for about 20 years, we can actually make smarter decisions.” He also said he’d support so-called gun violence restraining orders that could allow a court to block someone’s access to firearms. (MPR News)
4. Another rally, this one against driving with cellphones. Calling distracted driving a critical public safety issue, Minnesota lawmakers and supporters rallied Thursday in favor of a bill that would prohibit motorists from using hand-held cellphones. “If we can get this to the floor, it will pass,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, during the rally in the State Capitol rotunda. He noted that House File 1180 and Senate File 837 have bipartisan support among the measure’s 40 sponsors. For the past four years, lawmakers have tried without success to get a bill out of committee, but this year there appears to be a groundswell of support for making Minnesota the 17th state with such a law. Much of that is coming from families who have lost loved ones in distracted driving-related crashes. On Thursday, they held large portraits of their children, husbands, wives and relatives who have been killed by drivers who were on their phones as they urged legislators to take action in 2018. (Star Tribune)
5. Targeting child hunger. A bipartisan group of lawmakers say they are teaming up to fix what they call Minnesota’s most “solvable problem” — child hunger. State Reps. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, and Rod Hamilton, R- Mountain Lake, announced Thursday they were forming a child hunger caucus to raise awareness and find new ways to feed hungry kids. “This has been a silent issue for far too long,” said Maye Quade, who noted that the rise in child hunger in her community inspired her to run for the Legislature. State leaders are working to expand the number of schools that offer breakfast at no cost to students. There also has been rapid growth of the state’s summer food program that provides meals to needy children when school is not in session. Last summer, more than 200 schools and organizations fed children at nearly 1,000 sites across the state. Despite the expansion, just 18 percent of students who qualify have access to summer food programs. (Pioneer Press)