Good morning, and welcome to Monday, the start of another work week. Here’s the Digest.
1. Push for expanded gun background checks becomes bipartisan. A Republican state senator who is an National Rifle Association member planned Monday to add his voice to a push for new gun restrictions in Minnesota. First-term Sen. Scott Jensen of Chaska was set to appear at a news conference with Democratic colleagues to announce proposals they hope can advance this legislative session. Fellow Republican freshman, Sen. Paul Anderson of Plymouth, is also listed as a participant with DFL Sens. Matt Little of Lakeville and Susan Kent of Woodbury. Jensen said he supports widening the use of background checks in gun sales in an attempt to prevent ineligible people from obtaining firearms. Jensen said the time has come for universal background checks. “We’re willing to do background checks on Sunday School teachers. When I hire a medical assistant in my clinic I can do a background check there,” Jensen said in an interview with MPR News. “But we want to be able to sell guns and handguns and assault rifles and not do background checks because they bought it over the internet or they bought it at a private gun show? That doesn’t make any sense.” (MPR News)
2. Family tries to change distracted driver law. The Minnesota State Patrol and families that have lost loved ones to distracted driving want lawmakers to turn Minnesota into the 16th hands-free driving state in the country. They’ll testify Tuesday before the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee, which is considering the bill. Under the bill, drivers would no longer be able to hold their phones while driving. For Greg Tikalsky, getting this law passed is personal. His father Joe was a school bus driver for several years in New Prague. Tikalsky, also of New Prague, said his dad prided himself in keeping children on the bus safe on the roads. “He had a lot of fun on the bus,” he said. “Maybe distributed more candy than needed to.” On Oct. 28, 2015, Joe Tikalsky died on the road outside his house on his way to get the paper from his mailbox. The woman who hit him with her car was texting behind the wheel. (MPR News)
3. How much school security is too much? How well-fortified do Minnesota’s more than 2,000 public school buildings need to be? Should they all have armed guards? Locked entrances with bulletproof glass? Teachers with weapons and tactical training to intercept a violent intruder? After 17 students and staff were killed on Valentine’s Day at a high school in Parkland, Fla., lawmakers across the nation have a renewed sense of urgency to make schools as safe as possible. Yet students and staff who spend their days in Minnesota’s public school buildings warn there is a fine line between improving school safety and militarizing places of learning. They’ve largely rejected proposals that would put guns in the hands of teachers and nonsecurity staff. “It definitely sends the wrong message to students,” said Dennis Draughn, an Apple Valley High School civics teacher and National Guard infantryman. “It sends the message we are in a police state. It sends the message that we are a society of fear.” (Pioneer Press)
4. Paulsen gets high profile political post. Rep. Erik Paulsen’s January appointment to the U.S. Joint Economic Committee by House Speaker Paul Ryan raises his profile in what promises to be a tough election year. Paulsen is one of the most politically vulnerable GOP members in the House and must hold onto his swing district against well-funded Democratic challenger Dean Phillips. Republicans have to defend at least two dozen seats targeted by Democrats to maintain control of the House amid a wave of lawmakers’ retirements. The bipartisan committee has 10 members each from the House and Senate — including Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a former chair — and makes recommendations on economic policy. Recent hearings have involved Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s economic outlook and the causes and consequences of declining economic opportunity in America. (Star Tribune)
5. Some Republicans say Muslims aren’t welcome. Phillip Parrish is a Republican candidate for governor who scored a surprising third-place finish in the February GOP caucus straw poll — despite not having any money or conventional campaign organization — on the strength of urgent warnings about Muslims overrunning Minnesota. Asked if America’s constitutional democracy and Islam are compatible, Parrish said, “No, absolutely not.” Parrish and Republican elected officials like state Reps. Cindy Pugh and Kathy Lohmer are speaking to the strongly held beliefs of a slice of the party. But the charged rhetoric — like a Facebook item that both Pugh and Lohmer posted warning Republicans about Muslim-Americans “infiltrating” their caucuses — threatens to further alienate Muslim-Americans, a fast growing demographic that is already trending DFL. (Star Tribune)