Good morning, and welcome to the last Thursday of spring. Minnesota will have a temporary governor for a time today in the form of Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan while Gov. Walz undergoes knee surgery. We wish the governor the best as we check the Digest.
1. Tuition is going up. In-state undergraduates at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus will pay another $337 in tuition and fees during the next school year, pushing the price tag to $15,027. University regents on Wednesday approved a budget that includes a 2 percent tuition hike for the 2019-20 academic year. Outgoing university president Eric Kaler had requested a 2.5 percent increase. To make up the difference in the budget, the U will pull $900,000 from its reserve fund and forgo $700,000 in proposed spending. In December, the regents approved a 10 percent increase for new out-of-state students. Currently enrolled students who are not from Minnesota or states with tuition reciprocity agreements will pay an additional 5.5 percent. In a simultaneous meeting Wednesday, the trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system also approved budgets that include 3 percent tuition increases for most students in the next academic year. (MPR News)
2. Nurses, hospitals reach labor deals. In a departure from contentious contract negotiations in the past, the Minnesota Nurses Association has reached tentative contract agreements with five Twin Cities hospital systems, including four more announced Tuesday and Wednesday. In 2016, Allina Health nurses spent 47 days on strike in a failed attempt to keep their union-only health insurance coverage. This year, the process is wrapping up without any strikes. Late Tuesday night, Fairview, Methodist, and HealthEast hospitals agreed to annual wage increases of 3 percent, 3 percent, and 2.25 percent respectively over three years. And at 3 a.m. Wednesday, Allina Health reached the same raise agreement — leaving North Memorial as the last hospital still in negotiations. Nurses at Children’s Minnesota reached a tentative agreement last week. The rank and file vote on that Thursday. (MPR News)
3. Supreme court reverses cyber bullying decision. The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed the cyber bullying conviction of a Scott County high school student, ruling that the state laws under which he was charged are overly broad and impede free speech. Because the court ruled the laws unconstitutional, the court didn’t determine whether the defendant’s “unrelenting torrent of cruel tweets” directed at a classmate was protected speech under the First Amendment. The underpinning of the decision, written by Justice Paul Thissen, is that the state’s laws on mail harassment and stalking by mail are written so broadly that they impinge on free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution. The ruling reversed multiple convictions for the juvenile, identified only as A.J.B. But Thissen’s 41-page ruling states that the mail-harassment law could be narrowly interpreted to allow for prosecution. The high court returned the case to Scott County District Court to determine whether A.J.B. intended to “abuse” M.B., which would be the sole remaining possibility under which he could be convicted. (Star Tribune)
4. Colleagues raise concerns over ouster of human services official. The longtime medical director of Minnesota’s Medicaid program is out at the Department of Human Services, and his colleagues say his departure could impair the state’s opioid response efforts. Dr. Jeff Schiff said he was told earlier this month that the position he held for 13 years had been eliminated. Schiff, described by his colleagues as the brains behind the state Opioid Prescribing Work Group, said the move was sudden and done without clear explanation. “I was told very specifically that this was not a performance issue, that they just wanted to go in a different direction,” Schiff said. The decision to let go of Schiff stunned members of the opioid work group, a panel of experts created in 2015 to address inappropriate prescribing practices among Minnesota’s health care providers. Schiff helped write the legislation that created the body and set the group’s agendas and direction as an ex-officio member.In response to Schiff’s departure, work group members penned an open letter to Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan asking for reconsideration. The 11 voting members of the Opioid Prescribing Work Group expressed their “collective astonishment and dismay” at a decision they believe “undermines the effectiveness of our group and puts patients’ lives at risk.” (Pioneer Press)
5. Baseball minimum wage exemption fails. Nuns are exempt from Minnesota’s minimum wage law. So are priests and monks. But not Saints. At least not the St. Paul Saints, and a failed attempt to exempt the minor league baseball team’s 22 players from the law during this year’s session of the state Legislature has left them in limbo. Minor league baseball players have already been exempted from the federal minimum wage law and St. Paul’s minimum wage ordinance. But an attempt to go three-for-three — winning an exemption from the state — failed this session. A bill to add Saints players to vocations already exempt from the state law — those in religious orders, camp counselors, politicians and some agricultural workers — was moving through the Legislature this year, until it wasn’t. The exemption passed the House Labor Committee with a bipartisan vote but then was not included in that chamber’s omnibus jobs and economic development bill. And while it was in the Senate’s omnibus bill, it did not make it into the final jobs omnibus bill passed during last month’s one-day special session and subsequently signed by Gov. Tim Walz. (MinnPost)