Daily Digest: Balancing life and legislating

Happy Tuesday. Hope you’re staying warm. Cozy up to today’s Digest.

1. The challenge of balancing life and legislating . In a basement hearing room near the Minnesota Capitol, lawmakers were discussing securing state election systems when an unfamiliar sound arose from behind the committee table. Weeks-old Clara let out a soft whimper as she woke up from a nap, the only indication that she’d been swaddled and sleeping in her mother’s arms during the hearing. Her mom, Rep. Erin Koegel, DFL-Spring Lake Park, quickly hopped out of her chair and took baby Clara outside the room as the hearing continued. Koegel is happy to have Clara with her in St. Paul, but the situation is in part born of necessity. State legislators are technically part-timers, so they don’t get any time off, including maternity or parental leave. But balancing work and family life is challenging in the halls of the Capitol, a workplace that’s historically been unfriendly to families. (MPR News)

2. The nation’s only lab for testing bipartisanshipRepublicans continue to hold majorities in most of the nation’s state capitals, as they have in recent years, but Democrats now control six new legislative chambers, including the Minnesota House of Representatives. Along the way, though, Minnesota — where Republicans hold a narrow majority in the Senate — became the only remaining state in the nation where control of a legislature is divided. Even in an era of single-party dominance in state legislatures, it is a stunning notion: It is the first time in more than a century that only one state has split control of its legislative chambers, and is one more indication of the depth of the nation’s bifurcated political sensibilities. The state has become the lone state laboratory for testing whether bipartisanship — which has failed spectacularly on the federal level — can work in this moment. (New York Times)

3. Former lawmaker Duane Benson dies. Benson, the executive director of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation who counted legislator, cattle rancher and professional football player among his many roles, died this weekend after a five-year battle with cancer. Benson, 73, died Saturday at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester of a cancer that began in his tonsils and spread to his spine and prostate, his daughter said Monday. Through nearly four decades in public life, Benson was universally respected as smart, savvy and measured, with a mischievous sense of humor. A longtime resident of Lanesboro in southeastern Minnesota, he played to perfection the role of the sly, country bumpkin. Benson once said that while he wasn’t the smartest guy, “I’m really good at trying. I’m not afraid to try,” according to his daughter, Brooke Worden of St. Paul. (Star Tribune)

4.  Recreational marijuana faces hazy prospects at Capitol. Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota began taking shape Monday with legislation introduced in both the House and Senate. Under the bill, individuals age 21 or older would be allowed to cultivate, consume and possess cannabis. The product would be regulated for commercial sale, and eligible individuals could have past marijuana convictions expunged. “Rarely as a state legislature do you have the ability to have a win-win scenario: to tax a product that consumers agree should be taxed and regulated,” said Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, the chief sponsor of the Senate bill.. “By doing so we are making it safer by removing the need for the black market to exist, while eliminating the harm that it has done to society.” (MPR News)

5. Push is on for more affordable housing. At Sven Clogs in Chisago City, the shoe sprayer lives in Osceola, Wis. The shop manager drives from White Bear Lake. Two quality-control staffers live closer to work but said they search every day for more affordable places. “I swear, I’m just going to put up an apartment building and call it Sven’s apartment building,” said owner Marie Rivers, who called the lack of affordable housing in the community a “nightmare” for her staff. Employers like Sven have joined the push for more housing, along with cities, counties and chambers of commerce. Teachers whose students suffer without stable homes are talking about it. Health care professionals recognize the physical and mental toll of homelessness. Housing advocates aim to harness the energy and encourage a new set of state leaders to spur construction and preserve affordable properties. In the first big housing proposal of this legislative session, a coalition of more than 200 nonprofits, cities and other organizations recommended the state devote $430 million to housing over the next two years. (Star Tribune)

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