Good morning, and congratulations for making it to Friday. Here’s the Digest.
1. President Trump gives Liberians another year in U.S. Isabella Wreh-Fofana said she screamed and started calling people after hearing the news that President Trump extended a deadline that will let her stay in Minnesota another year. “I’m happy, but there’s still fear, because it’s like every year it’s the same thing,” said Wreh-Fofana, a nursing aid at United Hospital in St. Paul, who came to the United States from Liberia with her young son in 2002. She compared the ongoing concerns about her immigration status to the uncertainty of living in a war zone. She’s especially worried when driving. “When you see a police officer coming you start to panic. It’s emotional stress, and it’s hard. I can’t put words to everything, but it’s very difficult.” Wreh-Fofana and others met with reporters at the State Capitol Thursday afternoon after President Trump announced he would extend the Deferred Enforced Departure program, or DED, for another year. The DED program was set to expire March 31, and many Liberians were facing the threat of deportation. Trump originally announced the end of the program a year ago, with a year to wind the program down. On Thursday he said the wind-down period would last an additional 12 months, in part because the overall situation in West Africa remains concerning and reintegration will be complex. Minnesota has one of the largest Liberian communities in the country. (MPR News)
2. Budget debate begins to take shape at the Capitol. Republicans who run the Minnesota Senate insisted Thursday they’ll produce a lean state budget that gets new money to schools, broadband expansion and mental health programs without raising taxes. Their broad-strokes outline will guide senators as they craft a two-year budget. It’s not yet clear how many new dollars will flow to each classroom or how much less will go to various state agencies that deliver services. Those details will get filled in by committees in coming weeks. The $47.6 billion Senate plan is far smaller than the plans DFL House leaders and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz have proposed. Each of theirs top $49 billion. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said it means tough negotiations are ahead. “It’s never easy. It won’t be easy this time,” Gazelka said. “There’s going to be a lot of stuff that both sides want that in the end is not going to happen. But what will happen is we will pass a balanced budget that Minnesota can be proud of.” Democrats panned the Republican proposal as unrealistic. They said it fails to adequately factor in that programs in place today cost more to provide due to inflation. “This is another example I think, similar to what we’ve seen in recent years, of some accounting gimmicks and some fuzzy math,” said Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury. “It’s not presenting a realistic picture of where we are right now, where our state is going and preparing to provide the services that Minnesotans deserve.” (MPR News)
3. Health care a key sticking point. Senate Republicans and Gov. Tim Walz are digging in to defend their ideas for bringing down the price of health care for Minnesotans. Walz on Thursday brought a group to the Capitol to share their stories about struggling to afford health care or losing their insurance coverage. And he said while other areas of his budget were open to negotiation, he wouldn’t bend on renewing a tax on medical providers that funds health insurance programs for low-income people. “The provider tax is going to stay, those three dozen senators over there know that,” Walz said. “This is so important to Minnesotans, there’s not a senator that’s going to allow this to expire. The catastrophic nature of what it would do to lives and to the budget are well documented.” Senate Republicans, who hold a majority in that chamber, cut the tax from their budget target and said the state can carry on without the provider tax, which they call a sick tax. “We just showed that you don’t have to have the provider tax continue and pass a balanced budget that actually funds priorities for Minnesota,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said. Republicans also said they’re prepared to fight to continue payments to insurance companies, known as reinsurance, aimed at bringing down the cost of premiums for Minnesotans on the individual market. Walz has proposed instead offering 20 percent premium assistance and state-subsidized tax credits to bring down the cost for those on the individual market. (Forum News Service)
4. Senate passes bill to cut off funding for Line 3 appeal. Gov. Tim Walz infuriated many Republicans and some DFLers last month when he decided to continue a legal challenge against a controversial oil pipeline planned in northern Minnesota. Now, supporters of Enbridge’s Line 3 project have loudly underscored their dissatisfaction. The Republican-led state Senate plans to vote Thursday on a bill that aims to block the Walz administration from using taxpayer money to file a lawsuit related to the $2.6 billion pipeline. Senate File 1757, sponsored by Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, would prohibit Minnesota’s Department of Commerce from spending money from its budget to appeal a decision by the Public Utilities Commission to grant the pipeline a Certificate of Need. It passed on a 34-30 vote. While the measure is unlikely to gain traction in the House, which is controlled by a DFL majority, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said the bill’s passage serves as a message to Walz. Sen. Justin Eichorn, a Republican from Grand Rapids, said the measure was a “serious proposal” and not “just a ‘poke the governor in the eye’ proposal.” (MinnPost)
5. Mark Andrew tries to help woman who attacked him. Five years ago, Mark Andrew was attacked at the Mall of America by three young people who tried to steal his iPhone and left him with a concussion, nine stitches to his face and the loss of several teeth. On Thursday morning, Andrew, the former chair of the Hennepin County Board, stood outside the Juvenile Justice Center in Minneapolis, hugged one of the three, Deea Elliott, 22, and offered to help her if she needed work or school references. In a court hearing on Thursday morning, Elliott wept after Andrew urged Hennepin District Judge Juan Hoyos to grant her request to expunge her conviction on one count of first degree aggravated robbery. Elliott, who lives in Minneapolis, told the judge that she was seeking expungement because she was told by job counselors that the criminal record would make it difficult for her to get a job. A prosecuting attorney urged Hoya to oppose the expungement and the judge, after hearing the testimony, said he would review the case and issue a decision. “I never felt anger toward her,” Andrew told the court. “I felt sad for the kids (who attacked him), I know she had a hard life … I feel no purpose is served to make it harder or impossible for her to get a job … I see goodness in her. She is not a bad person. She needs to work. I say to the perpetrator, get your butt in school and don’t quit …” (Star Tribune)