Good morning, and happy Friday. Here’s the Digest.
1. Rep. Rod Hamilton accused of sexual misconduct. A woman who works as an advocate for a sexual violence center has filed a sex assault report with St. Paul police accusing state Rep. Rod Hamilton of touching her without her consent at his apartment. The St. Paul Police Department confirmed the report was filed last Friday against Hamilton, a Republican from Mountain Lake in southwestern Minnesota, and that an investigation is ongoing. A spokesman for the Ramsey County Attorney said the office spoke informally to a St. Paul police investigator regarding the allegations, and advised the investigator that more information was necessary before charges could be considered. “The case is still open and active, but based on the information we currently have we do not feel that there is enough for a criminal case,” St. Paul Police spokesman Sgt. Mike Ernster said. In an interview Tuesday night with the Star Tribune, Hamilton said the woman misconstrued his actions and that they were not sexual in nature. On Wednesday, Hamilton said he had reported the incident to the human resources department of the state House. On Thursday House Republican leaders said Hamilton has been removed from his post as a committee chair while the allegation is investigated. (Star Tribune)
2. Lawmakers make first move in budget endgame. The Minnesota Senate went from morning until night Thursday debating and voting on an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink budget proposal, which would lock up $80 million of a projected surplus and keep far more than that available for a forthcoming tax-cut measure. The sprawling, 579-page bill is the Republican Senate’s opening bid in negotiations that are ahead with the GOP-led House and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. A mix of money and policy, it covers everything from election administration to limitations on classroom political discussions to oil pipeline regulation to school safety. After almost 12 hours of debate, the Senate bill passed on a 34-31 party-line vote. In the House, focus was on an education budget bill, touching on public instruction from preschool through college. It passed on a 94-29 vote. Republican Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said the package of several school safety proposals has been a priority this session. (MPR News)
3. Gun debate fizzles. The deaths of two gun-control measures — expanding background checks for sales and creating so-called “red flag” protective orders — were cemented Thursday at the Minnesota Capitol without any actual votes on the ideas themselves. Both were shot down on the floor of the Senate in procedural votes, and the speaker of the House said Thursday that they’re “dead” in his chamber as well. The blow for gun-control advocates shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, since Republicans control both chambers, and the prospects for stricter gun laws were always bleak. The day before, House Speaker Kurt Daudt appeared to open the door on the proposals, or some form of new gun legislation, but on Thursday Daudt said there was confusion and misunderstanding over what he said, and he never meant to suggest either of those two measures were in play. (Pioneer Press)
4. Early childhood programs are confusing to families and policy makers. Minnesota’s early learning system is complex and fragmented, making it difficult for families to navigate and resulting in some children missing out on the educational head start they need to succeed. Those are the findings of an analysis of Minnesota’s early learning programs released Thursday by the state Legislative Auditor, a government watchdog. The organization looked at nine different programs that received state funding to provide preschool and other programs to young children. In a letter to the Legislature, Legislative Auditor James Nobles and his deputy Judy Randall recommended lawmakers work to remove legal barriers so state agencies can streamline the system and gather important data. “Even quite similar programs have different eligibility and program requirements,” the letter said. “We also found that the lack of important data prevents Minnesota from measuring the statewide effectiveness of most early childhood programs.” (Pioneer Press)
5. State starts over on wild rice rule. State officials say they’ll go back to work on applying the science of sulfate and wild rice to water pollution permits. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has been working for several years on updating the state’s long-standing but rarely enforced sulfate standard for wild rice. Officials came up with a lake-by-lake equation that would determine sulfate limits, which they argued was more precise than the 10 milligrams per liter standard that had been in place since 1978. An administrative law judge rejected that plan earlier this year, and meanwhile state lawmakers could pass a bill that would nullify the old standard. On Thursday, MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said the agency is withdrawing the plan. “Although the science is accurate, when it comes to how best to apply the science and affordably implement the rule, we still have more work to do,” he said. (MPR News)