Good morning, and welcome to Wednesday. Here’s the Digest.
1. Legislators and the governor are talking about ways to make schools safer. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to outline his school safety plan on Wednesday. “I’m willing to consider anything and everything,” he said last week. A House panel on Tuesday discussed a bill introduced by Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, that would allow schools to use for the first time a routine maintenance fund for safety upgrades, including secure entrances, security cameras and communications devices. Attitudes about school safety have shifted across the state since the Florida shootings, Grace Keliher, government relations director for the Minnesota Association of School Boards, said at Tuesday’s House Committee on Education Finance hearing. “Enough is enough,” she said. (Star Tribune)
2. Fighting continues over MNLARS. A Minnesota House committee advanced legislation Tuesday that provides $10 million for repairs to the state’s troubled motor vehicle licensing system. But Democrats say it won’t pass in time to keep the repairs on track. The bill provides $10 million from existing DVS accounts. But it requires Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration to replace the money by cutting an equal amount from executive branch budgets. The bill also requires a detailed project schedule and performance measures for MNLARS, as well as an informal feasibility study on turning the project over to a private vendor. Dayton again Tuesday accepted blame for the problems with the rollout. But he said legislators must now share the responsibility of getting it fixed. Dayton said the House Republican proposal is a nonstarter. “That’s not a solution,” he said. “That’s just batting the problem around. I’m not going to cannibalize the rest of state government for this. If they don’t want to fix it or improve it, then so be it. It will have to sit until they decide to provide money.” (MPR News)
3. Audit faults structure and management for backlog of elder complaints. A highly critical report on Minnesota’s Office of Health Facilities Complaints concludes that problems with the investigative structure and mistrust in management are to blame for an inadequate response to abuse allegations. Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles released the lengthy report Tuesday after a nearly year-long review by his office. Auditors documented lapses in record keeping, overburdened investigators, high staff turnover and low morale at the office created to keep watch over licensed health care facilities that care for vulnerable and older adults. “The problems at OHFC are deep and pervasive and they have been there a long time,” Nobles told a Minnesota House committee reviewing the report. “They are rooted in poor management that was tolerated and ignored far too long.” Allegations received by the health facilities office have risen in recent years, topping 24,000 in the last full year reviewed by auditors. That was up from about 15,700 five years earlier. While the office’s funding and staff complement have gone up, too, it hasn’t been enough to keep up. Some investigators had more than 40 open cases assigned to them, far more than the goal of 15. (MPR News)
4. Dayton launches another clean water effort. Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled a revised measure Tuesday to reduce elevated nitrate levels in water supplies that includes restrictions on the application of farm fertilizers in the fall, his administration’s latest move as it seeks to make protecting water a hallmark of his final term. The rule would create a system of voluntary and mandatory mitigation practices in vulnerable areas with porous soils, and in locations that have high nitrate levels in public water supplies. Dayton and Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson announced the update after holding 17 public meetings attended by over 1,500 farmers, landowners and other Minnesotans, and receiving more than 800 written comments on an initial draft that was released last summer. “One of the ways in which we’re protecting water quality in Minnesota is by asking farmers to look twice at their practice of spreading nitrate … on their land in the fall,” Dayton said at a news conference. (AP)
5. St. Paul Council member pleads not guilty in voting case. St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao pleaded not guilty to three misdemeanor charges in Ramsey County District Court Tuesday. While running for mayor last year, Thao, 42, allegedly drove an elderly Hmong woman who did not speak English to a polling place and helped her fill out her ballot. According to a criminal complaint filed last month, Thao confirmed that version of events to investigators. In a statement the day charges were filed, the council member said he was simply trying to help the woman vote. After the hearing before Ramsey County Judge Richard Kyle, Thao’s attorney, Joe Dixon, said there’s not a dispute about the facts of the case. He also said there was no interpreter available at the polling place on the day Thao took the woman to vote. “We contend that his conduct was lawful,” Dixon said. (Star Tribune)