Daily Digest: Marijuana legislation in no hurry

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

1. Future of marijuana legislation is hazy. The push to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota got off to a rocky start Wednesday at the state Capitol. Opponents and supporters of the potential legislation held competing news conferences and one of them ended in a shouting match. While Gov. Tim Walz campaigned on legalizing and decriminalizing marijuana, legislative leaders from both parties have said they will not rush to pass legislation this year. Health professionals and law enforcement officials involved in a group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana-Minnesota highlighted their concerns with legalization.  Sandy Melville, whose son was killed in 2010 by an impaired driver, warned of an increased public safety risk. “Legalizing recreational marijuana is not only a huge step in the wrong direction, this legislation refutes any concern our lawmakers say they have for the safety and health of Minnesota citizens.” Supporters of legalization were also in the room and repeatedly heckled Melville and other speakers. The news conference became increasingly confrontational.  A group on the other side of the issue, theMinnesota Campaign for Full Legalization, held its own news conference. Executive director Marcus Harcus said marijuana prohibition has not prevented its use. “We have to live in fear of being criminalized and potentially losing everything over a healing plant that has never killed a human being in the thousands of years of known human use.” (MPR News)

2. Phillips among lawmakers who met with Trump on shutdown. Rep. Dean Phillips joined a bipartisan group of House members that met Wednesday with President Donald Trump at the White House to talk about the federal government shutdown. The Minnesota Democrat attended the morning meeting in the White House Situation Room. The White House invited members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers that Phillips joined upon taking office earlier in January. “Congress has offered meaningful solutions and it’s time for the President to end this shutdown so that we can get to the work of securing our borders and ports and passing comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform,” Phillips said in a statement. “That is the message I will carry to The White House today.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted about 30 minutes after the meeting’s start time that it had wrapped up. “The President and his team had a constructive meeting with bipartisan members of the problem solvers caucus,” Huckabee Sanders tweeted. “They listened to one another and now both have a good understanding of what the other wants. We look forward to more conversations like this.” (Star Tribune)

3. Senate Republicans say they can make health care cheaper. Minnesota Senate Republicans unveiled a number of proposals on Wednesday that they say will eliminate some middlemen in the health care system and give Minnesotans cheaper options for care. The bills include a tweak in state law that would allow patients to go directly to a primary care physician without an insurance company involved. Republicans also want to change law to allow patients the “right to shop” for a doctor, clinic — even individual procedures — whether or not they fall within their insurance network. “We’re not going to nibble at the edges. We want to do something substantial on health care,” Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, said. Jensen, a doctor who runs his own practice, said direct primary care would make it simpler for people to establish a relationship with their doctor and take care of small problems without involving an insurance company. Patients would pay a flat fee to their doctor instead. (MPR News)

4. Hands-free doesn’t necessarily mean safer. Minnesota legislators will make another push to require those who want to talk on the phone while driving to use hands-free devices. Similar bills have fallen short in the recent past. But even those who once opposed such measures now say they think horrific crashes caused by distracted drivers have become too prevalent to vote no again. Gov. Tim Walz says he will sign a bill if he reaches his desk. But to get to passage, supporters of the legislation have to either ignore or rationalize the research behind distracted driving. Research done by psychologists and others shows that calls made with hands-free systems are not, in fact, significantly safer than calls made while holding a cellphone. “It is as distracting to have a hands-free conversation as to have a hand-held conversation,” said Ira Hyman, Jr., a professor of psychology at Western Washington University. “It’s really not about what your hands are doing. It’s about where you head is, where your mind is. When it is occupied trying to hold a conversation, you can fail to see things that pass directly in front of you.” (MinnPost)

5. Walz names lawyer to help pick judges. A former federal prosecutor who handles litigation and investigations at Medtronic will lead the judicial selection process under Gov. Tim Walz. Walz named Lola Velazquez-Aguili chairwoman of the Commission on Judicial Selection. That’s the volunteer panel that searches for, screens and narrows the list of potential trial court judges. The DFL governor has yet to choose his other appointments to the commission; the Supreme Court also chooses some members. Walz called his pick “a self-driven and dedicated public servant and accomplished attorney.” Velazquez-Aguili has been on the commission since 2016. She’s a past clerk for state Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and federal judge Ann Montgomery, and is active in the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association. “There is a deep pool of potential applicants from all backgrounds, all walks of life, all sectors of the profession and all corners of this great state who are today ready to become judges,” she said. “But they may not know it yet. So it is incumbent upon all of us to tell them.” (MPR News)

The Digest is taking a break Friday. See you next week. 

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