Welcome to Wednesday. And not just any Wednesday — it’s State of the State Wednesday! Tune in for live coverage of Gov. Tim Walz’s speech at 7 p.m. on MPR News stations or at MPRNews.org. And prepare with the top item in today’s Digest.
1. Less policy, more stories. Gov. Tim Walz appears Wednesday evening before a joint session of the Legislature for his first State of the State address, which he said won’t resemble the flagship gubernatorial speeches of the past. For a politician prone to speaking off the cuff, a traditional address built around soaring oratory and wonky details isn’t what he’s going for. “This one is going to be different than what you’ve seen,” said Walz, who prepared by going over the annual remarks of the last eight governors. As of Tuesday, Walz said he had an outline but cautioned he won’t be bound by carefully refined text. He said his roughly half-hour appearance will be about weaving the tales of Minnesotans together. “Some of these will be a little heart wrenching these stories. Some of them will be a little funnier. Hopefully they’ll be inspirational,” Walz said in an interview with MPR News. “But my point to these legislators is ‘Let’s write a story.’ Let’s us write a story that looks different.” (MPR News)
2. Agreement on transportation funding hits a pothole. The partisan divide over transportation funding widened Tuesday at the Minnesota Capitol. First, House Democrats joined Gov. Tim Walz in calling for a 20 cent per gallon gas tax increase. Then Senate Republicans, who strongly oppose the tax increase, held a hearing to blast the Walz plan and rejected it on a party-line vote. House DFL leaders released a transportation budget that they say would make “honest investments” in roads, bridges and transit. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said it’s time to for action to fix the state’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. “Minnesotans expect our transportation system to be safe, modern and efficient. But over the years, underfunding has left roads and bridges in terrible condition and transit is underdeveloped.” The House plan would increase the per-gallon tax by 5 cents a year over four years. Walz would phase in the increase over two years. There would also be future inflationary increases. Senate Republicans firmly oppose the gas tax proposal. They also disagree with the Democrats’ proposed increases in license tab fees and motor vehicle sales taxes. (MPR News)
3. Ex-offenders can now use medical marijuana without jeopardy. Ex-offenders on parole or supervised release in Minnesota can use medical marijuana under a new policy that took effect quietly this week, reflecting a philosophical change by new state leadership following a recent legal challenge. The Minnesota Department of Corrections reversed course on Monday, allowing Minnesotans under supervision to show that they are on the state’s registry of patients approved for medical cannabis use. Previously, Minnesotans on supervised release or parole were forbidden from possessing or using medical marijuana, even if they had a prescription and were on the state’s medical cannabis registry. Violators could be sent back to prison or receive more severe release conditions. State corrections officials say the new policy conforms to a greater acceptance of medical marijuana. (Star Tribune)
4. Former MPCA commissioner goes from regulator to advocate. John Linc Stine’s tenure as commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency ended in January. But after four decades in state government, he’s not giving up on improving water quality in the state’s beloved lakes, rivers and streams. Now, he’s moved to the private sector, leading a nonprofit dedicated to water education and policy. Stine said his new role as executive director of St. Paul-based Freshwater — formerly known as the Freshwater Society — will focus on conserving and preserving the state’s water resources. “I think the most challenging part of being a regulator is that it’s like being a police officer: People want you there, but they don’t want you there in their life,” he said. “The hardest thing about being a regulator is knowing that you’re needed but unwelcome.” (MPR News)
5. North Dakota lawmakers object to Hindu prayer. Some Republican North Dakota House members abstained Tuesday from an opening floor session prayer by a Hindu cleric, marking the second time in recent years some GOP representatives have objected to an invocation from a non-Christian. Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism in Nevada, offered prayer as the guest chaplain in the House, a day after he delivered the invocation in the Senate without incident. Lutheran pastor and freshman Rep. Jeff Hoverson of Minot sat at the back of the chamber to “protest” the prayer. “I don’t want to be compelled to pray to a false god,” Hoverson said. A handful of other lawmakers also stood or sat at the back of the chamber during the prayer, which was the first in the chamber by a Hindu. The lawmakers returned to their seats on the floor when the prayer was over. (Associated Press)