Daily Digest: Dayton steps on the brake

Good morning and happy Tuesday. Here’s the Digest.

1. Dayton says no tax deal until he gets money for schools. Gov. Mark Dayton issued an ultimatum Monday as the Legislature’s session entered its final week: Without emergency funding for schools he won’t cut a tax deal. Republicans said they wouldn’t meet his demand. The standoff shows how intertwined and how precarious everything is in a year when legislators must do very little despite a desire to head into the campaign season with more achievements to promote. Dayton, who isn’t seeking a new term, said he was willing to walk away if schools don’t get more financial help. “My position is that I will not engage in any negotiations on a tax bill or sign any tax bill until we have an agreement to provide emergency school aid,” Dayton said, stressing that his proposal is needed to stop schools from shedding staff or ditching programs. Republicans argue that schools were rewarded with a sizable budget increase last year and not all districts are struggling. “It’s next to impossible to do the $130 million that the governor is asking for,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. (MPR News)

2. Protest penalty bill headed for Dayton. The Minnesota Senate passed legislation Monday that increases the penalty for protesters who block freeways, airports and public transit from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. The vote was 40-27 with several Democrats joining Republicans. The bill, which previously passed in the House, now goes to Gov. Mark Dayton. The bill is needed to protect protesters and to keep key routes open for emergency vehicles, said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria. “We have to make it clear that this is a serious public safety concern for everyone in our state,” Ingebrigtsen said. The push for stricter penalties began after a series of demonstrations over officer-involved shootings blocked local freeways. Ingebrigtsen and other supporters of the bill insist it would not infringe on free speech. But opponents disagree. Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, argued against the bill, saying there were important reasons that people have taken to the streets and blocked highways. “Because black men have been killed, have been harassed to the point that people couldn’t take it anymore,” Hayden said. “Folks, we weren’t listening to them.” (MPR News)

3.  Bergstrom will run with Johnson. Republican Jeff Johnson on Monday picked Donna Bergstrom, a retired Marine Corps intelligence officer and a guardian ad litem who lives in Duluth, as his running mate in the governor’s race. Bergstrom is a member of the Red Lake Nation; she is also currently getting her teaching license. She has never held elected office before. Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner who is running on a message of changing how state government operates, said he sees that as a plus. He noted she has leadership experience as a commanding officer of a Marine support battalion in Panama. Bergstrom ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for a Minnesota Senate seat in 2016 and a House seat in 2013 in Duluth. “The fact that Donna stepped up in 2016 to run for a Senate seat in the middle of Duluth that has not been won by Republicans for decades says a lot about her guts, and her character, and her resolve. She is soft-spoken, but she’s a Marine,” Johnson said. Bergstrom, 55, said her values as a member of a tribal nation align with the Republican Party’s stances on abortion and gun rights. “We come from a people that have had our language taken from us, our guns taken from us, our land taken from us. So we’re very adamant about supporting our culture and our ways, and that lines up perfectly with the Republican Party,” Bergstrom said. (Star Tribune)

4. Legal gambling may come soon, but not yet. The U.S. Supreme Court Monday struck down a 1992 law that forbade sports wagering in every state but Nevada, clearing the way for legal sports betting to come to Minnesota. “This is like Sunday liquor sales on cocaine,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, drawing a parallel with the long legislative effort to scrap the state’s Sunday liquor sales ban, finally achieved in 2017. “That’s how excited people are going to be.” Garofalo, a Republican from Farmington, had already been working on legislation to legalize sports betting in Minnesota. The high court ruling sets up the prospect of legal sports gambling in states across the country, and a marked change in the sports entertainment experience. But Minnesotans may have to wait: Garofalo said there’s not enough time in Minnesota’s current legislative session — which ends in less than a week — to get a law passed. “I look forward to Minnesota joining other states that will provide a safe, fair and regulated sports gambling experience,” Garofalo said. “It’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to pass legislation in five days, but what we can do is continue the conversation.” Any legislation to allow sports gambling in Minnesota will face tough resistance from a broad coalition of opponents including Christian conservatives, but also liberals concerned about consumers being exploited by gambling companies. (Star Tribune)

5. State officials push back on report that child care subsidy money went to group with terrorist ties. State authorities are investigating fraud at 10 Minnesota day care providers. Chuck Johnson, acting commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said an investigation that began in 2014 led to the closure of 13 child care centers, six felony convictions and $4.6 million in court-ordered restitution. News of the 10 active cases was first reported by Fox 9. The story also raised the possibility that up to $100 million was being funneled overseas to a Somali terror group. Johnson said there wasn’t any evidence presented in the former cases to indicate ties to terrorism. He also said he found the $100 million figure to be not “credible.” That would account for half of the child-care assistance program. “From what we know about the scope of fraud within the program, we’re obviously concerned about it, but it’s not at that level,” said Johnson. Republican politicians jumped on the report, citing it as an example of weak DFL oversight. Gov. Dayton said the report didn’t give fair credit to the state’s response to day care fraud. “We added, with the Legislature’s support, eight positions last year, doubling the number of investigators. They will be able to redouble the efforts being made,” he said. “But it’s not something we’ve been indifferent to or unconcerned about.” (MPR News)

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