Daily Digest: Another hands-free bill passes, Omar vulnerability, House budget

Good morning, welcome to Tuesday. Here’s your Digest to get your day started.

1. Senate passes its hands-free cellphone bill. The Minnesota Senate Monday passed its version of a hands-free requirement for drivers looking to make a call. The vote sends the bill into final negotiations with the House, which approved a different version last week. There is still a big hurdle ahead for the cellphone bill as House and Senate supporters meet to work through differences. But the momentum is clear after years of dashed hopes, and Gov. Tim Walz has said he looks forward to signing a hands-free bill in the weeks ahead. Relatives of people killed in distracted-driving crashes applauded when the 56-10 Senate vote was announced. (MPR News)

2.  Do Omar’s controversial comments raise prospect of DFL challenge? Rep. Ilhan Omar’s rocky start in Congress has Minnesota Democrats whispering about her political future even as the high-profile freshman works to refocus on her job and downplay fallout from her controversial comments on Israel. But so far, no challengers have emerged publicly. Omar’s first two months in Washington culminated with the House passage of a wide-ranging condemnation of bigotry, a reaction to remarks she made that were widely criticized as anti-Semitic. In a flash, the Minneapolis congresswoman found herself under attack from President Donald Trump, congressional Republicans and even some House Democrats. Even if no clear opponent to Omar stepped up, the sense, even among many of Omar’s allies and supporters, is that continued missteps would make a challenge by a fellow Democrat much more likely. (Star Tribune)

3. House DFLers outline their budget plans. Democrats in the Minnesota House are proposing to spend $47.8 billion over the next two years, a $417 million increase over the current budget. House DFL leaders announced a set of budget targets Monday that will guide the debate in the remaining weeks of the 2019 legislative session. Lawmakers have a projected $1.05 budget surplus to work with. They must complete their work on a new two-year budget by their May 20 adjournment. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the budget will make honest investments to strengthen communities throughout the state. “This budget will improve education opportunities, support our families and increase economic prosperity no matter where you live or what you look like,” Hortman said. The proposed spending increases include $900 million for E-12 education, $305 million for higher education and $121 million for public safety. Some of the specific elements include a tuition freeze, health insurance discounts, gun safety measures and paid family leave. There is $635 million left unspent. (MPR News)

4. Senate responds to #MeToo with harassment policy changes. A Minnesota Senate committee unanimously approved a revamp of its internal sexual harassment policy on Monday in response to the #MeToo movement and after allegations of harassment prompted one senator to resign. The new policy, the first update in decades, explicitly lays out where an employee can turn if they feel they’ve been harassed or discriminated against, and it creates new options for investigating a report. Each report of harassment involving a staffer will either be investigated internally by the Senate, or the staffer has the option to seek a hearing with a retired judge. The changes also apply to people at the Capitol who are not elected officials or staffers. That includes vendors, lobbyists, constituents or other individuals who routinely work inside the building. Previously, the Senate’s policy addressed only direct staff and lawmakers. (MPR News)

5. Congressional delegation split on next steps with Mueller report. Democrats in Minnesota’s congressional delegation say the Justice Department must release special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, while Republicans argue it’s time to move on after the report found no evidence of collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. (Star Tribune)

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