Daily Digest: Eight seats and holding

Good morning, and welcome to the Thursday before Christmas. Here’s the Digest.

1. Minnesota’s population grows but jury still out on congressional seats. Minnesota’s population grew last year and now tops 5.6 million people, according to new U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The figures show a growth of 43,000 people between 2017 and 2018, or about 0.8 percent. Some of that stems from migration of people from other states, some from people coming here from abroad and some from having more births than deaths. The estimates give Minnesota some sense of where it stands a little more than year out from the 2020 Census. That hard count will determine whether Minnesota keeps eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. It also figures into allocations of federal funding. It’s a second year of gains from domestic migration after five years of net population loss before that. Overall, though, the state’s population growth may not be strong enough to keep Minnesota from losing one of its eight House seats. (MPR News)

2. DHS changes policy on mentally ill criminal defendants. The Department of Human Services is ending a program designed to restore criminal defendants with mental illness to competency to stand trial. DHS says people in the program are taking up much-needed spots in state facilities and that it is not the state’s responsibility to get people ready to go to trial. The law says that to be put on trial, a person needs to be sane enough to understand the charges against him or her, to understand the consequences of those charges and to be able to provide meaningful help to his or her defense lawyer. Since 2006, the DHS has offered the Competency Restoration Program, a special service for defendants who were committed to state hospitals. The program made sure the person received mental health care and was also being prepared to go to trial. But now, with a deep shortage of hospital bed space, the state says it needs to stop providing those services to free up beds. It is possible for a person to be too sick to stand trial, but well enough to be discharged from inpatient care. (MPR News)

3. St. Paul moves to change public artwork. The St. Paul City Council voted Wednesday to assemble a task force, hand in hand with Ramsey County, to help select new art to cover the four large murals that loom over the council’s chambers in the City Hall-Courthouse. The murals depict white men — an explorer, riverboat captain, railroad surveyor and laborer — standing over smaller images that include black dock workers, black railroad porters and Native Americans assisting white men or in the process of being converted to Christianity. The county, which co-owns the property, will work with the Ramsey County Historical Society to commission four new pieces that will be rotated in front of the existing murals two at a time without altering the existing artwork. The new art will reflect similar themes of labor and industry, and a “diverse and representative public art task force” will advise the city and county on selecting artists. (Pioneer Press)

4. Federal prison changes coming as reform push continues in state. A bipartisan bill in Washington aimed at reducing prison populations appears likely to become law and could affect some of the roughly 2,400 federal inmates housed in Minnesota. But a larger number of prisoners go through state courts and are housed in state facilities. State data from the last fiscal year show an adult prison population of 9,849 plus, as of August of 2018, an average daily population in county jails of 7,295. “Most of the reform that’s going to make changes here and have an impact will be at the state levels,” said DFLer Ron Latz, of St. Louis Park, the ranking minority member of the Minnesota Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy. Latz said the 2016 Drug Sentencing Reform Act, a Minnesota law passed with bipartisan support, had “the goal of reducing the number of nonviolent and lower level drug cases that end up in prison.” (MPR News)

5. Leech Lake Band may get land back. The federal government would return 11,760 acres of land to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe as part of a measure moving through Congress. The measure undoes a land seizure by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) that began in the late 1940s, when the agency authorized the sale of tribal land allotments to the U.S. Forest Service without the owners’ consent. Sen. Tina Smith, a sponsor, has said that the bill would restore land “that was wrongfully taken from” the Ojibwe. “A robust land base is the foundation of tribal sovereignty and self-determination,” Leech Lake chairman Faron Jackson Sr. told a panel of lawmakers over the summer. The measure passed the U.S. Senate, but awaits action in the U.S. House, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan has led the effort. The lower chamber has until the end of the year to act. (Star Tribune)

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