Good morning and welcome to Thursday. Here’s the Digest.
1. Gov. Dayton touts budget progress, calls for tax and gun changes. Tilting toward the end of a career in public office, Mark Dayton drove home messages Wednesday he views as the hallmark of his two terms as governor: Giving schools a budget boost, protecting the state’s water quality and taking Minnesota off the fiscal rollercoaster. The DFLer’s eighth and final State of the State address concentrated as much on memories as on his remaining mission. “My father used to say, ‘Time flies when you’re having fun; and even when you’re not,'” Dayton said before a joint session of the Legislature. He sketched out a path ahead for the session that aligns with Republican lawmakers in some areas and departs from them in others. Dayton said he wants to work with them on dramatic tax changes, but he also challenged them to take up new gun restrictions. Dayton will provide more detail on Friday about how he intends to carry out goals for this legislative session. That’s when he’s due to release his proposal for the projected $329 million budget surplus. He also intends to outline how he would remake the state tax code to account for a federal overhaul. (MPR News)
2. Minnesota students join national school walk-out over guns. Hundreds demonstrated outside Harding High School in St. Paul, where Mayor Melvin Carter joined in chants of “books not bullets!” during one of the state’s largest observances of the #ENOUGH National School Walkout. In Minneapolis, around 80 North High School students trickled into the school’s courtyard and held hands while they observed a moment of silence for the victims of a gunman in Parkland, Fla., on the one-month anniversary of the shooting. “Those were innocent lives,” said Lexe Khrystal, a North High senior who prayed quietly with her peers. “That could have been us easily.” Across the metro, students abandoned their classrooms during coordinated 17-minute protests meant to raise awareness about the impact of gun violence and pay homage to the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The peaceful actions ranged from solemn to lively, where students waved homemade signs and shouted into megaphones while standing in the cold. (Star Tribune)
3. Emmer backs measure aimed at preventing suicide on the farm. 6th District U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer is drawing attention to farmers’ mental health and a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found people in agriculture have the highest suicide rates compared to other professional groups. Emmer has sponsored a bill to support local mental health services to farmers and ranchers in the U.S. He hopes and expects it to be included in the newest version of the Farm Bill, which is being drafted and debated. Emmer proposed his bill Tuesday. It’s called the Stemming the Tide of Rural Economic Stress and Suicide — STRESS — Act. It’s based on a policy that passed in 2008, but never received funding to get off the ground. Funding will be the challenging part, Emmer said. He’s confident the House Agriculture Committee is interested and now is a good time for the policy. “We’re really reaching a saturation point when it comes to people recognizing the mental health challenges we have in this country,” Emmer said. (St. Cloud Times)
4. MNsure head leaves. MNsure CEO Allison O’Toole announced her resignation at the health care exchange’s board meeting Wednesday afternoon. O’Toole joined MNsure in 2014 as the director of external affairs. She took over the leadership position the following year. “I’m so proud of the strong progress our dedicated MNsure team has made over the last few years, and I know they will continue to improve in the future,” O’Toole said Wednesday. MNsure credits O’Toole with boosting enrollment and improving customer service. O’Toole will join a new non-partisan nonprofit organization called United States of Care. The group pledges to work with patients, caregivers, policymakers and other leaders to ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care regardless of their health status or income. After O’Toole’s resignation, the MNsure board named chief operating officer Nate Clark as the exchange’s acting CEO. (MPR News)
5. Lawmakers move to close “fanny patting” loophole. Groping someone’s buttocks, even through clothing, may soon join the state’s list of sex offenses. A Minnesota House committee approved a bill Wednesday that strikes a longstanding exemption in criminal statute for “the intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of the buttocks.” “I have actually been asked the question whether or not it’s illegal under our criminal sexual conduct laws to touch somebody’s clothed buttocks. And I have to say it may be illegal, but not in the way you expect it,” said Caroline Palmer, legal affairs manager with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “It’s not a violation under our criminal sexual conduct codes,” said Palmer, who testified Wednesday before the House public safety committee. “Maybe it’s an assault. Maybe it’s disorderly conduct. But that is not going to match the way a victim might feel when they are violated in this way.” The language dates to 1987, when an amendment by state Sen. Allan Spear, DFL-Minneapolis, addressed what the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper called “fanny patting” back in the day. “I don’t want anyone to think this is proper behavior,” Spear told the paper then. “But sometimes we must make a distinction between behavior that is improper and unsocial and behavior that we ought to criminalize.” (MPR News)