Daily Digest: Thursday roundup

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

1. Pawlenty says it’s ‘still to be determined’ whether he attends Trump’s Duluth rally. Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was asked Wednesday by MPR News whether he expects President Trump to criticize him for not supporting his 2016 campaign. After Trump’s Access Hollywood remarks, Pawlenty called him ‘uninformed,’ ‘unfit’ and ‘unhinged.’ The former governor responded, “Well, that’s always a possibility. I hope and don’t believe he’ll do that. I think he will stay out of this until after the primary, but you never know.” Pawlenty says since he made those comments in the closing days of the 2016 campaign, he has come to admire and respect what Trump as done as president.  “Like a lot of Republicans, and I think many other Minnesotans, I’m concerned sometimes about his behavior and his language. But in terms of his policy priorities and areas of focus, I agree with many of them, most of them.” (MPR News)

2. More allegations of day care fraud. Parents dropping off their kids at the Baraka Child Care Center in Minneapolis Wednesday were greeted by some unfamiliar faces: fraud investigators from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Secret Service also took part in this raid. Armed with a search warrant, they confiscated cell phones, computers, and documents, as part of what’s being called an ongoing investigation of child care funding fraud. “It’s just widespread and it’s national,” said Steve Hanson, a Special Agent from the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Health and Human Services. “It’s multi state.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is also cracking down on the problem. It reports that nationally, in 2015, more than $300 million in improper payments went to daycare providers. Typically, the way this scam works is the fraudsters overbill the government by inflating attendance records. (Fox 9)

3. Smith takes heat from both sides for land exchange amendment. Last week DFL Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar introduced an amendment to the annual federal defense spending bill to expedite an exchange of Minnesota land between the federal government and the mining company PolyMet. The land exchange is a prerequisite for the company to build a copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes. Smith and other supporters of the land swap say that it is not an explicit endorsement of any mine, nor does it hinder any existing review process. Beyond that, they say the swap has benefits to the region regardless of mining. Environmentalists and other critics, however, have argued the amendment would remove an obstacle to the operation of a mine they believe will have disastrous effects on the environment in the name of temporary and limited economic gain. Richard W. Painter, the one-time ethics lawyer for George W. Bush who is now challenging Smith for the DFL nomination, has relentlessly hammered Smith over mining issues, and is accusing her of advancing corporate interests at the expense of Minnesota. Meanwhile, Smith’s would-be general election opponent, GOP state Sen. Karin Housley, says Smith is pandering, and doesn’t truly have miners’ interests at heart. (MinnPost)

4. Freeman and Hasse battle for county attorney job. For the first time in 12 years, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman faces a challenger, and the countywide race is drawing out-of-state attention. Freeman failed to win the DFL endorsement at the party county convention last month. Instead, it went to a political newcomer, an activist lawyer named Mark Haase, who touts his progressive credentials. The two men are the only candidates for the post in this technically nonpartisan election. Freeman also calls himself a progressive, but he’s taken increasing heat from other progressives for decisions about prosecutions involving police officers and black criminal suspects. That tension flared again last week with the revelation that Freeman had been charging dozens of black men caught in a sting by Minneapolis police for selling small amounts of marijuana. Haase blasted Freeman over the issue in a news release. Freeman said in his own statement that while his office knew about the problem, he did not, and he said he acted swiftly to address it when he was told. (Star Tribune)

5.  PUC staff recommends approval of pipeline replacement. Minnesota Public Utilities Commission staff say Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 3 oil pipeline replacement should get the state’s approval, and that the company’s new route would have the least impact on the environment. The PUC report, released last week, muddies the years long regulatory process for Enbridge’s controversial pipeline plan. It also differs from the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s opinion that Line 3 is unnecessary for the state. Minnesota’s five public utilities commissioners will have the final say on whether to grant Enbridge approval to replace its aging Line 3 pipeline with a new one along a different route. The PUC has scheduled four days of hearings starting Monday to decide if a Line 3 replacement is necessary. A decision is expected at the end of June. (MPR News)

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