Daily Digest: Tension rises at Capitol

Good morning and welcome to the first full day of spring. As the days grow warmer I keep trying to forget about the blizzard last year in April. Oh well, here’s the Digest.

1. Some GOP lawmakers take issue with Walz’s tactics. His first session agenda hanging in the balance, Gov. Tim Walz is on a get-out-of-the-Capitol offensive in legislative districts where swaying Republican lawmakers is the goal. But so far the trips haven’t paid off with those legislators, who will determine whether critical initiatives rise or fall. It was evident as Walz hit Anoka this week, surrounded by a room full of local leaders, first responders and other onlookers. The event was used to stress the need for a new highway overpass at a railroad crossing outside the building that often snarls traffic and that has taken lives. The overpass could cost as much as $45 million. But Walz cautioned the project will remain on a wish list unless the Legislature comes through with a considerably higher gas tax, which majority Senate Republicans oppose. That includes Sen. Jim Abeler who happens to represent Anoka. “No coincidence,” Walz said. “I’ll be at other places, too. The fact of the matter is we’re going to go to places where people have these projects. They need to be done. And ask them what their plan is.” Abeler wasn’t there. He groused about getting a late invitation and essentially being ambushed. “Sometimes things come off as stunts and that’s not productive, and this seemed like one of those,” Abeler said later. (MPR News)

2. Debate gets heated over reinsurance. A bitter, partisan debate erupted on the Minnesota House floor Wednesday when Republicans tried to bring up a health care reinsurance bill that House Democrats oppose as a giveaway to the insurance industry. Back in 2017, when Republicans controlled both chambers of the Legislature, they passed a $549 million reinsurance plan designed to hold down soaring premiums in the individual marketplace. A bill approved by the GOP-controlled Senate last week would re-extend the program three more years.  Rep. Greg Davids tried a procedural maneuver Wednesday to pull the Senate bill out of a House committee so that it could get a floor vote. His motion failed 45-79 along party lines, but only after nearly two hours of contentious debate that stood in contrast with the bipartisan tone that legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz sounded at the beginning of the session. The debate turned personal at times. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt asked some freshman female legislators directly whether reducing health care costs was important to their constituents. The Republican from Crown said the governor’s plan would result in higher premiums compared with reinsurance, and would benefit only consumers who buy their insurance through MNsure, a program he called a failure. “If that’s your plan, God help you and God help your constituents, because that’s not what they sent you here to do, and all the promises you made on the campaign trail will be broken,” Daudt said. Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, whose committee defeated a GOP amendment to graft the Senate bill onto another bill Tuesday night, faulted Republicans for trying to bypass the committee process with such a confrontational approach. “You can be really loud and get really angry and still not know what you’re talking about,” the Rochester Republican Democrat said. “Just because you repeat it over and over does not mean you understand what’s going on.” (AP)

3. Walz denounces President Trump’s criticism of John McCain.  As President Donald Trump again dissed the late Sen. John McCain on Wednesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz was delivering a speech to hundreds of veterans gathered in the state Capitol Rotunda. Walz never mentioned Trump in his speech Wednesday, but afterward, he was asked about the president’s remarks. “I do not understand that,” Walz said of the president’s repeated criticism of McCain, a Republican from Arizona. ” And on this one I have to be a little careful because it’s personal. Senator McCain’s family was gracious enough (that) they invited me to that service. He and I worked together on a lot of issues. There were few senators who, when I would walk down the hall, knew me by name and came to see me on these veterans issues. This one is not about a senator, it’s not about politics. That is our brother in arms who all of us really looked up to.” Walz, who generally has tried to avoid partisan back-and-forths with Trump, said Trump has broken a solemn that veterans who serve elected office follow. “Our politics as veterans are not by any means homogenous, but the one thing that always bound us on this was that dignity about not attacking another veteran. I’m deeply hurt by it. It’s deeply unfair. … Sen. McCain was a good, honorable man when I knew him, and he was a hero long before I met him.” (Pioneer Press)

4. Survey: homelessness rises despite strong job market. After a decline earlier in the decade, homelessness in Minnesota has jumped by 10 percent since 2015, according to a new study by the St. Paul-based Wilder Foundation. Wilder Research counted 10,233 people, on a single day — Oct. 25 — who were in emergency shelters, domestic violence shelters, and transitional housing programs, as well as people camped outside or who sought services at hot-meal programs and other drop-in sites. That’s a jump of nearly 1,000 people since the last study in 2015, and marks the highest count since the study began in 1991.  Even so, the study’s authors say the count underestimates the number of people in Minnesota who are homeless. The tally misses many homeless people who are not staying in a shelter the day of the study, especially young people and people living in rural areas. The results stand in stark contrast to the labor market. Total employment grew during the same time period, with unemployment at a historically low rate of 4 percent or less for most of that time. The jobless rate was a mere 2.8 percent the month of the survey. (MPR News)

5.  Omar pushes for immigration changes. U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and immigration advocates on Wednesday called for the passage of a measure that would offer legal protections to millions of longtime immigrants who currently lack a pathway to citizenship. The legislation, called the Dream and Promise Act, would allow immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children to apply for permanent legal status, along with immigrants from Central America and the Caribbean who reside here under Temporary Protected Status as well as Liberians in the Deferred Enforced Departure program. House Democrats introduced the bill this month as President Donald Trump’s efforts to end those protections have prompted court challenges. Minnesota’s sizable Liberian population is anxiously awaiting a reprieve after Trump decided last year that those in the deferred departure program had until March 31, 2019, to return to their West African nation, noting that conditions had improved following the civil war. Many have lived and worked in the Twin Cities legally for decades as administrations of both parties extended temporary protections. (Star Tribune)

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