Daily Digest: Let’s make a deal

Good morning and welcome to the last day of the legislative session. Or as we think of it here at Digest HQ, a few days before the start of the special session.

1. Deal done, but deadline missed. The Minnesota Legislature won’t finish work on the state’s new two-year budget by Monday’s midnight deadline to end the  regular session. That means overtime for lawmakers. But Sunday night, first-term Democratic Gov. Tim Walz stood with the top Senate Republican and House DFLer to announce agreement on a budget plan. After more than a week of negotiating in secret, Walz,  Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman emerged with a four-page framework initialed by all three. “We’re here to announce an agreement has been reached on a two-year budget for Minnesota,” Walz said. “I’m going to clap. I’m going to clap.” Walz was in a celebratory mood, and like the others, was quick to compliment his fellow negotiators. “Instead of dysfunction and shutdowns and yelling, we have compromise agreements and as we said coming out, we’re still friends.” The sides all seized on their own areas of victory. (MPR News)

2. St. Paul schools miss construction estimates by millions. An ambitious and costly effort to rehabilitate aging buildings throughout the St. Paul school district has been plagued by staggeringly inaccurate cost estimates, employee turnover and a lack of oversight. Eighteen high-priority projects alone will cost around $471 million, according to recent estimates — $179 million more than expected two years earlier. “Every contractor wants to come work for St. Paul Public Schools because it’s frickin’ open checkbook,” said Nan Martin, a former administrative services manager within the facilities department handling the projects. (Pioneer Press)

3. Where tariffs might hit Minnesotans. Michael Minsberg is looking at his business prospects as the Trump administration ups the ante in the trade war with China, and it doesn’t look pretty. “We got hammered in round one, and we’re about to get hammered again,” said Minsberg, president of Creative Lighting in St. Paul. Minsberg has spent the past year working with vendors and some of his biggest customers to share the cost of what he calls round one of tariffs on Chinese imports. This time, with the tariff rising from 10% to 25%, customers will feel it. “We’re going to have to pass everything on because the numbers are so shockingly big,” said Minsberg, whose grandparents started the company 93 years ago. “We can’t absorb it. Nobody can.” Minnesotans face price hikes across a wide spectrum of typical purchases, such as clothing, furniture, electronics and medical devices, within a month or two without a truce in President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. State business leaders and economists warn that risks to consumers’ pocketbooks are higher than they have been since the president placed his first protective tariffs on imported steel and aluminum in March 2018. (Star Tribune)

4. Freeman to seek alcohol treatment. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman on Friday acknowledged a problem with alcohol and said he would be entering a treatment program Monday. In an afternoon statement, the prosecutor said he’d been “evaluated for alcohol issues by a licensed assessor and we agree that I need treatment … I am determined to reclaim my health and, barring any unforeseen issues, my goal is to return to work by no later than mid-June.” Last week, Freeman, 71, announced plans for a leave of absence to deal with what he described as the stress-related problems of his job. The day before, Freeman had been attending a crime prevention meeting in Minneapolis where he acted erratically, according to reporting from the Star Tribune. The paper cited sources who said Freeman told the audience he wasn’t afraid to charge anyone, including cops. The newspaper reported there was apparently a moment where Freeman slapped a police squad car and said something along the lines of, “Thanks for not shooting me.” (MPR News)

5. Probation system under strain. Rick Defiel idles his car under a streetlight, typing on his laptop as a police scanner crackles in the background. A strange noise makes him jerk his head upward, away from the glare of his computer screen and into the darkness. He’s alone, protected only by a bullet-resistant vest and pepper spray. “This is your agent. Are you home?” he asks a former prisoner over the phone. The reception isn’t always welcoming. “You never know what you’re going to find,” Defiel said. “It would be nice to have an extra pair of eyes.” Most people convicted of felony offenses in Minnesota are sentenced to probation rather than prison, and there are 5,000 more felons under supervision today than in 2014. But the number of specialized officers who check in on the state’s highest-risk offenders has remained stagnant. Those specialized agents like Defiel work without backup, often at night. They’re tasked with making sure ex-cons are observing curfew, passing regular drug and alcohol tests and meeting other terms of their release. But their larger goal is to provide outreach that will reduce recidivism among violent offenders and sexual predators. (Star Tribune)


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