Daily Digest: Post-storm update

Good morning. Glad you survived the second April snowstorm in as many years. Here’s your Friday Digest.

1. ‘Hands-free’ soon to be the law. A bill that bans Minnesota drivers from holding cell phones is headed to Gov. Tim Walz for his signature this morning. The Senate voted 48-12 Thursday to pass the bill, which the House passed earlier in the week by a vote of 107-19. The measure would make holding a cell phone while driving illegal in all but rare instances. The ban would take effect in August. Getting caught with a phone could come with a $50 fine, but the penalty would top $200 for repeat offenses. State public safety officials say one in five crashes in the state over the last five years was due at least in part to distracted driving, some of that as drivers attend to their smart phones. Authorities believe distracted driving now kills more than 50 people a year on Minnesota roads. Federal officials say the toll nationally was over 3,000 in 2017 alone. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, told his colleagues his bill doesn’t ban the use of electronics behind the wheel, but there will be very tight restrictions. “Operators will be able to use either GPS or audio, but you best have your podcasts and your GPS loaded up and ready to go, because you cannot keyboard and you cannot scroll.” (MPR News)

2. Omar takes more heat. Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, fresh from defending her outspoken approach as a new member of Congress on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” came under fresh assault Thursday on the cover of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, which featured the Twin Towers burning in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Some Omar allies immediately accused the newspaper of “inciting more fear and hatred” — a day after Omar took to Twitter to voice concerns about her personal safety after an earlier attack on Fox News. The new controversy follows a speech Omar delivered on March 23 at a banquet for the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The first Somali-American member of Congress, Omar was discussing how Muslims are often unfairly implicated in the actions of terrorists. “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties,” Omar said (CAIR was actually founded in 1994, though it did increase its civil rights work after the 2001 attacks). It was Omar’s phrasing about 9/11 — “that some people did something” — that prompted a fierce blowback from critics. (Star Tribune)

3. How far apart are they at the Capitol? They don’t even use the same terminology, though the words they do use say a lot about how far apart they are. The revenue bill proposed by DFLers in the Legislature would provide $1.2 billion, money that constitutes necessary resources to make needed investments, Democrats say. But for the Republicans in the Minnesota House and Senate, the funds aren’t resources — they’re taxes. And the money isn’t an investment — it’s just more government spending. There are many issues at play in the 2019 session of the Minnesota Legislature that expose the expanse of philosophical space between the DFL and the GOP. But there’s perhaps no bigger divide than that over taxes —  differences that have only gotten larger as the DFL moves leftward on the issue while the GOP moves further to the right. Both sides argue that their positions on taxes speak to populist movements among voters, stances that will be rewarded at the 2020 election. And Republicans’ response to the DFL plan seemed to be offering a test of 2020 campaign messages. (MinnPost)

4. Fellow officer to Noor at shooting scene: ‘Keep your mouth shut.’ Prosecutors in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor are expected to continue questioning a police officer who went to the scene after Noor fatally shot 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk in July 2017. Officer Jesse Lopez was tasked with escorting Noor’s partner Matthew Harrity after the shooting. He testified that he told Harrity not to use a city-provided cellphone to call his wife, and lent him his own personal phone to use. He later was told to bring Harrity to City Hall in downtown Minneapolis and then to Stillwater, where Harrity’s wife picked him up. Lopez’s body camera footage played in court Thursday showed him talking to Noor right before Lopez turned his body camera off. “You all right, kiddo?” Lopez asked Noor. “Just keep to yourself, keep your mouth shut until you have to say anything to anybody.” He told prosecutor Amy Sweasy under questioning that he told Noor not to talk in order to protect his labor rights. Noor has declined to be interviewed by investigators, and it’s not yet clear whether he’ll choose to testify in his trial. He has the right not to testify. (MPR News)

5. Organizer seeks state money to attract events. More than a week before the Final Four kicked off in Minneapolis, the CEO and president of the event’s local organizing committee was asking the state for up to $2 million to morph that committee into a permanent event-marketing operation. And Kate Mortenson has been stepping up that pitch on behalf of Minnesota Sports Corp., the nonprofit she incorporated, ever since the NCAA men’s basketball extravaganza wrapped up Monday. “I personally don’t feel like we have to rely on the whims of bid cycles. We can make our own success,” she said. Mortenson led the campaign in 2014 to win the Final Four tournament for Minneapolis under Minnesota Sports Corp., doing business now as the local organizing committee. For the new group, she hopes to maintain a handful of core staff members whose expertise stems from their work on the Final Four. The group would complement the work of more than a dozen regional convention bureaus, including the largest, Meet Minneapolis, she said. It has hired a lobbyist, Amy Koch, former Republican state Senate majority leader, to pursue state funding. A bill is being drafted but hasn’t yet been introduced. The concept, however, already has encountered formidable opposition. (Star Tribune)

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