Daily Digest: Busy Thursday edition

Good morning, and welcome to Thursday. There’s something to be said for the four-day work week.  Republican House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin said yesterday she will leave the Legislature in July to take a private sector job. Republicans and Democrats begin their state party conventions tomorrow. And Tim Pawlenty says he will name a running mate today.

That’s all before we even get to the Digest:

1. Dayton signs bonding bill. Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday signed a public works package that will spend $1.5 billion on projects from road construction to college campus repairs. The state will borrow $825 million of that total. The package was the single largest agreement between Dayton, a Democrat, and the GOP-controlled Legislature during a tumultuous session that saw Dayton torpedo tax and budget bills that included the main work of the Republican-led Legislature. Dayton removed only one provision from the projects bill using his line-item veto power, $1 million for analyzing Minnesota Pollution Control Agency water regulations, which Dayton called “an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.” Overall, though, the governor, made it clear he was not pleased by the bill he was signing and that Republicans should have agreed to spend more. “I am signing this bill despite my objections because areas throughout Minnesota need the projects and the jobs,” Dayton wrote in his letter to legislative leaders. The legislation, he added, “underfunds critical investments in higher education, state parks and water infrastructure, and assures that those needs will become more urgent and more expensive in the future.” (MPR News)

2.  Wild rice pollution bill vetoed. Dayton vetoed a bill that would have eliminated Minnesota’s sulfate standard aimed at protecting wild rice. The Republican-led Legislature, with help from some DFLers, pushed through legislation that would have provided $500,000 for a work group to explore affordable solutions on how to protect wild rice from mining and wastewater discharge high in sulfate. But Dayton objected to provisions that would have prevented the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency from taking action on the standard. Sulfate harms wild rice when, under certain conditions, it converts into toxic sulfide. Minnesota has had a strict limit on sulfate into waters where wild rice grows, but the longstanding rule has rarely been enforced. While environmental groups and tribes have pushed for enforcement of the rule, mining interests and some municipalities have complained it would be too expensive to meet. Along with the veto, Dayton issued an executive order forming a work group similar to the one set up in the vetoed bill. “It’s an attempt to take what’s a very controversial issue, one with very entangled, legitimate interests … and find a way to work things out,” Dayton said during a news conference, adding that the group’s makeup would be more inclusive of Native American tribes than the one the Legislature proposed. (MPR News)

3. Also gone is a bill to restructure the Met Council.  Dayton also vetoed a Republican-backed plan to change the make-up of the Metropolitan Council. The changes approved by the state House and Senate — both controlled by Republicans — would have replaced Met Council board members, who are currently all appointed by the governor, with officials from around the Twin Cities who already hold elected office. The veto by Dayton, a Democrat, comes as little surprise; he had previously said he opposed the changes. There’s some level of bipartisan agreement that the makeup of the council should change, but there’s disagreement over what changes are best. In announcing his veto, Dayton noted that Ramsey, Hennepin and Washington counties — three of the seven counties represented on the Met Council — officially opposed the proposal. (Pioneer Press)

4. Paulsen faces tough questions from voters. U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen distanced himself from President Donald Trump before a crowd of his constituents Wednesday, using a town hall meeting his critics sought for months to highlight areas where he disagrees with fellow Republicans in Washington. “I have been opposite the president on immigration,” Paulsen said at the morning meeting in Hamel, one of three he held throughout the day around his suburban, western Twin Cities district. It was one of several issues on which he drew distinctions between himself, Trump and Republican congressional leaders. A five-term Republican, Paulsen is running for re-election this year in a tough political environment in a district that Trump lost by more than 9 percentage points. Dean Phillips, a businessman and philanthropist who is the DFL-endorsed candidate, is expected to be Paulsen’s toughest challenger yet. The Third District race is drawing national interest and money, as Republicans try to protect incumbents and Democrats seek a path back to the House majority. (Star Tribune)

5. Swanson sues pharmaceutical company. Minnesota’s attorney general and the state’s Board of Pharmacy sued a pharmaceutical company Wednesday, alleging it illegally marketed a fentanyl painkiller and violated state restrictions on giving doctors gifts. The lawsuit says the painkiller was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug administration to treat pain in cancer patients but that Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics marketed it for other conditions and at higher doses. It’s the state’s first lawsuit targeting a pharmaceutical company related to the manufacture or distribution of opioids. In Minnesota, Insys sold $4.7 million of the painkiller under the brand name Subsys between July 2013 and February 2017. It’s an under-the-tongue spray. It was approved by the FDA for “management of breakthrough pain in cancer patients” who are already tolerant to opioids. But Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said Insys “encouraged physicians to prescribe this highly-potent fentanyl product to patients who didn’t have cancer, even though it was only approved for severe breakthrough pain in cancer patients.” (MPR News)

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