Daily Digest: Fraud, guns and sexual assault

Good morning, and happy Thursday. I hope the week is going well so far. Here’s the Digest.

1. Audit finds fraud in child care assistance program.  Minnesota’s legislative auditor says there is fraud in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), but it is unclear how much. The results of an investigation released Wednesday also found no evidence of an alleged link to terrorism. The Office of the Legislative Auditor began its investigation of the CCAP program after a Fox 9 story last year claimed fraud topped $100 million annually. Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles told a panel of lawmakers that fraud in the program administered by the Department of Human Services is a known problem. But he could not validate the specific claim. “We couldn’t find evidence to substantiate that there is $100 million in fraud in CCAP every year. In fact, we couldn’t really find a reasonable estimate of fraud. We don’t have one, the department doesn’t have one.” Nobles said the fraud likely exceeds the $5 million to $6 million that prosecutors have been able to prove. He explained that a department investigator came up with the $100 million figure by lumping all of the money received by suspect providers as fraud. (MPR News)

2. Sexual assault victim shares story in hopes of changing law. Hannah Traaseth told a hushed room of Minnesota lawmakers about the worst night of her life, when she was 13 and two men brought her to a Maplewood home, where they and took turns sexually assaulting her over several hours. When she summoned the courage to come forward, police investigated and forwarded the case to the Ramsey County attorney. “[Police] said there would probably be a trial. I was scared, but I was ready to go,” Traaseth, now 17, testified before the House’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee on Wednesday. “Then when they told me it wasn’t going to get prosecuted, I was just confused.” Amid tears, Traaseth shared her experience in support of “Hannah’s Law,” a measure that would see sweeping changes to Minnesota’s sexual assault laws, from wiping out statutes of limitations to making it easier to bring charges when an assault victim was intoxicated. It’s among several bills seeking to improve how rape cases are handled in the state, and it would also have an impact in cases like Hannah’s. Ramsey County prosecutors declined to charge her case, citing a provision of the law that says if the two 21-year-old suspects could prove they believed she was 16, they would be acquitted. Hannah’s Law would erase that provision. (Star Tribune)

3. First lady speaks at gun control rally. A Minnesota gun control group is ramping up pressure on the state Senate to vote on two firearms measures at the Capitol. A State Capitol rally Wednesday took an unexpected turn with a fiery political speech from Minnesota first lady Gwen Walz. The group called Moms Demand Action is pushing lawmakers to pass two gun control bills as time is running short at the Capitol — and Walz stepped into a role we haven’t seen before. The raucous rally demanded a Senate vote on universal background checks and extreme protection orders taking guns from people who may be mentally ill and dangerous. Walz led the crowd in a chant, “Bring it up for a vote!” And challenged Republican leaders to act.  “Do you mean to tell me the Senate is going to stand in the way of democracy?” Walz asked. The Republican-controlled Senate won’t take a vote on the gun measures, despite widespread public support. The first lady warned seven specific senators in swing districts that their elections could be in jeopardy. “There are seven senators sitting in seats where Tim Walz won, and they are Republican. And we are coming!” (WCCO-TV)

4. Lawmakers again debate pre-emption, but it’s unlikely to move this year. A Senate committee this week approved a bill that would block local governments from adopting their own minimum wages and other worker benefits. Business groups have endorsed what’s called the pre-emption bill, saying that letting cities adopt their own regulations makes it difficult for businesses that do work in multiple jurisdictions. Others are in favor because they believe the market should determine wages. But labor and community organizers who oppose the measure say the cities stepped in when the state and federal governments failed to set minimum wages that provided low-income workers with adequate livings and say lawmakers should respect local decision making. With a divided Minnesota Legislature, a pre-emption bill will not pass the DFL-controlled House (there isn’t even a House companion to the Senate bill) and will therefore not even be sent to Gov. Tim Walz and will not be part of end-of-session negotiations. (MinnPost)

5. Trump sees advantage in debate over anti-Semitism. President Trump can’t get enough of Rep. Ilhan Omar. As Democrats try to turn the page after the freshman lawmaker’s remarks, criticized by some as anti-Semitic, ignited an embarrassing intra-party fight, the Republican president is trying to prolong and weaponize the issue for his 2020 campaign, asserting during a private weekend fundraiser that Democrats “hate” Jews. While Trump publicly muses about winning over Jewish voters for his re-election, his motivations are more complicated and expansive. The Republican president’s rhetorical escalation also is designed to unsettle the Democratic primary debate, exploit an issue that can energize his supporters and move past his own history of toying in anti-Semitic motifs. (AP)

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