Daily Digest: Gun bills fail on tie votes

Good morning, and happy Wednesday. Here’s the Digest.

1. Gun measures fail in conference committee on tie votes. Two proposals to toughen Minnesota gun laws fell to party-line votes Tuesday in a House-Senate conference committee, a step supporters said still could be revisited but that opponents contend is the final word for the year. The votes — five Democrats were in favor and five Republicans opposed — followed hours of discussion by the panel working on public safety and judiciary budget plans. For the provisions to get into the final bill, three members of each chamber’s negotiating contingent would have to back them, a tall order given the makeup of the panel. The votes were on proposals to expand circumstances that require gun background checks and to permit revocation of guns from people deemed an imminent threat. Both are part of a public safety budget bill passed by the House. Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, pressed to expand background checks to cover private gun transfers as a backstop against ineligible people obtaining firearms through channels with looser regulations. “This is something that responsible gun owners in many cases already do. They would not give their guns to somebody else without knowing the person receiving it is eligible to receive it,” Pinto said. “It is time, members, to require that all firearm owners live up to that same standard.” Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said the step is too intrusive and treats everyone with suspicion. Johnson used his own household as an example, saying his neighbor has loaned the senator’s wife a gun for peace of mind while he’s out of town during the legislative session. “It’s not always somebody behind the 7-11 that’s transferring a gun. It’s neighbors, it’s friends. It’s those people that are hunting together. It’s hunting parties,” Johnson said. “It’s not always the same.” It remains unlikely that the gun proposals will overcome stiff Senate Republican resistance this year. (MPR News)

2. Does a marathon negotiating session mean progress? State lawmakers had their first marathon budget negotiating session of the year Tuesday as they work to compromise on a spending plan for the next two years. A day after they were at loggerheads over new and expiring taxes, Democratic and Republican leaders worked into the night at the Capitol trying to find agreement on a budget that is expected to top $47.5 billion. It was easily their longest time negotiating this legislative session. Gov. Tim Walz began the morning in an optimistic mood, comparing the process to his experience as a high school coach building a winning football team. “We are going to build a budget that invests in education, health care, community prosperity,” Walz said. “We are going to do it in the best of our ability, to get done on time and do it in a way that Minnesotans expect.” Legislative leaders, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, had little else to say publicly Tuesday, a dramatic change from the day before when they offered regular updates. “We are working through the budget, and the fact that we were there that long should say something,” Gazelka said when leaders emerged for a dinner break. (Pioneer Press)

3. Are Legacy funds being used to cover everyday expenses? Minnesota voters have twice amended the state constitution to provide dedicated money for clean water, the outdoors, parks and trails, and arts and cultural projects. Over the decades, there’s been plenty of debate over how the money in those dedicated funds should be spent. That conversation has heated up again this legislative session, raising questions about whether the funds are being used to benefit the state’s environment in the way voters intended. Some environmental groups say lawmakers are turning with greater frequency to the dedicated Legacy and lottery funds to cover expenses that had, in earlier years, been paid for through more traditional means. “It is more dramatic, and at a different level, I think, than what we’ve seen before,” said Steve Morse, executive director of the nonprofit Minnesota Environmental Partnership. Before now, he said, legislators sometimes shifted dedicated funds to different priorities or from metro projects to outstate Minnesota. (MPR News)

4. Walz looking to make another deal to sell his house. A Mankato house occupied for two decades by Minnesota’s governor is on the market as first-term DFLer Tim Walz and family make full-time use of the historic St. Paul brick mansion only a couple of miles from the state Capitol. Walz is asking $315,000 for the house in Mankato, an 87-mile commute from his new workplace. The home is the only one that Walz, a Nebraska native, has owned in the state. He and wife, Gwen, bought it in 1997 for $145,000, according to property records. Both held down teaching jobs prior to his career in politics, which includes a dozen years as a congressman from southern Minnesota. The 93-year-old Cape Cod style home has four bedrooms, hardwood floors, a stone fireplace, white-trimmed kitchen and an indoor porch with views of the wooded ravine behind the property. A listing advertises an “attached rental apartment” with two additional bedrooms and a separate entrance. Pictures associated with the listing show it is mostly emptied out. After his inauguration in January, Walz and his family moved into the official Summit Avenue residence in St. Paul, although his daughter is still working toward graduation in Mankato. (MPR News)

5. How Democrats who beat Republicans last year plan to keep their seats in Congress. “I try to spend as much time in this district as I can listening to constituents,” said Representative Angie Craig, Democrat of Minnesota, who also beat a Republican last year, and whose district voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. She largely stays out of the controversies that have unfolded among other freshmen over potential primaries for the insufficiently liberal and positions on Israel. The majority of her staff is in Minnesota, rather than Washington, and her media strategy hinges almost exclusively on the tiny newspapers in the district’s suburban and rural areas. “You won’t find me with one of the most active Twitter accounts,” she said over coffee in Eagan, Minn., 15 miles yet a world away from the district of Representative Ilhan Omar, her Minneapolis neighbor, whose national profile exceeds Ms. Craig’s about in the manner of a pumpkin to a blueberry. Ms. Craig concentrates on health care — she is a former executive from the industry — and local issues. She has sponsored the State Health Care Premium Reduction Act, to address soaring costs, and the Local Water Protection Act, which would give every county in her district grants to protect its water. Republicans, on offense, are nonetheless seizing on some of the more liberal ideas of House Democrats, like “Medicare for all” and the Green New Deal, an expansive climate change proposal promoted by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Theirs is a fairly un-nuanced approach they hope will work in most districts: Call all Democrats socialists, and hope the moniker sticks. (New York Times)

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