Daily Digest: With Omar in mind House condemns bigotry

Good morning, and welcome to Friday. Here’s your pre-weekend Digest.

1. U.S. House passes resolution after Omar’s remarks. The House approved a resolution Thursday to condemn “anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry” in a move that Democrats hope will quell the latest uproar over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s criticism of Israel. The vote on the measure was 407-23. The 23 opposed were all Republican lawmakers. For the second time in as many months, the freshman Minnesota Democrat has provoked contentious debate on Capitol Hill over rhetoric that many lawmakers — including senior Democrats — view as anti-Semitic.  Party leaders initially decided to punt on the resolution vote in order to address concerns across the caucus about the text of the resolution. Democrats reversed course early Thursday and announced the House would vote on it hours before the resolution was even released. Democrats feared that House Republicans would be able to force a vote on the floor if the party did not take control of the matter. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,  said she did not believe Omar harbored anti-Semitic views. “I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude, but that she didn’t have a full appreciation of how they landed on other people where these words have a history and a cultural impact that might have been unknown to her.” House GOP leaders are calling for her removal from the Foreign Affairs panel, but Democrats have not gone there. The panel’s chairman, Eliot Engel, has been a leading critic of Omar’s rhetoric, but he has not called for her ousting from the committee. (NPR)

2. Bill lets schools write off this year’s snow days. Minnesota school districts are halfway to winning flexibility from the Legislature to write off the winter’s snow days. The Senate voted 61-2 Thursday for a bill that would let district leaders shorten the academic year rather than schedule makeup days. Amid a brutal winter, many districts have called off a week or more of classes. The legislation recognizes the unusual weather hardships for schools this year, said state Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester. Without it, some districts “may be put in a precarious position of weighing the safety of students and staff with the threat of not meeting their school calendar as designed by law.” The bill makes clear that probationary teachers and other school staff won’t be punished for the reduced calendar. A companion House bill has yet to reach a floor vote. The current House version offers more limited relief by only excusing days canceled during a severe cold snap in late January. (MPR News)

3. House votes to put ERA on the ballot. After decades of advocacy, a bill that would cement gender equity in state law was passed on the House floor Thursday.  The Equal Rights Amendment would put a measure on the 2020 ballot letting Minnesota voters decide whether to alter the state’s Constitution to say people have equal rights regardless of gender. “We want to take this question of the Equal Rights Amendment to the people of Minnesota and decide if they want equality, by law, unabridged, according to gender,” said Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, D-New Brighton. Members of the Democratic-dominated House, many wearing green “ERA YES” pins, passed the bill after passionate debate. But supporters of the change acknowledged that a much larger hurdle remains in the Republican-controlled Senate. Republican legislators said the bill could have unintended consequences. House Republicans raised concerns with the ERA being tied to abortion rights and questioned the use of the term “gender.” “It’s a victory to pass something in one body, even if you can’t pass it in the other body,” Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said. “It can take a few years to do these things. I’ve tried to, without dampening enthusiasm, be realistic.” If the ERA doesn’t pass this year, it will be an election issue in 2020, she said. (Star Tribune)

4. Sports betting bill clears a committee. The Senate taxes committee voted 5-2 Thursday to send a bill that legalizes sports betting to the state government committee, but the bill still faces long odds to becoming law. It would allow sports betting at Minnesota tribal casinos and at the state’s two horse racing tracks. It would also allow betting through mobile devices, which would be linked to accounts with the authorized sites. Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, the tax committee chair and the bill’s chief sponsor, said he views sports betting as a business and entertainment. “We’re just trying to create a legal structure around that to legalize it, regulate it, make it safe and accessible to people, so they can invest in their opinions and have some fun.” There are no official estimates on the amount of potential sports gambling activity that would occur under the proposal, but Chamberlain speculated that wagering could top $2 billion a year. His bill would set a 6.75 percent tax on net revenue from sports wagering. A U.S. Supreme Court decision last year ended a prohibition on sports betting and opened the door for states to craft their own regulations. The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association opposes the measure. The group’s executive director, John McCarthy, told lawmakers that sports betting would threaten the casino revenue needed to fund key services. “These revenues enable tribal governments to meet their responsibility to their people,” he said. (MPR News)

5.  Job growth slows. Minnesota added 3,800 jobs during January and saw its unemployment rate creep to 3 percent as sidelined job seekers became more upbeat about their chances and revived stalled job hunts, state officials said Thursday. “Minnesota has started the year on a positive note with 3,800 new jobs. However, with revisions [from December] we continue to see job growth slowing across the state as our labor force continues to tighten,” said Steve Grove, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development. December job gains were revised downward. Instead of gaining 500 jobs, the state actually lost 800 workers, according to the report. From January 2018 to January 2019, the state gained 7,802 jobs. That proved the lowest job gain year over year since the state economy started growing again after the recession, DEED officials said. The slowdown in employment growth comes at the same time financial analysts are nodding to lackluster GDP growth, the high U.S. dollar and concerns about a trade deficit that continues to soar. Some are predicting that U.S. economic conditions could slow during the second half of the year. Even so, Minnesota’s unemployment rate is now 3 percent, which is better than the national rate of 4 percent unemployment. (Star Tribune)

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