Daily Digest: School safety issue hits home

Good morning, and welcome to another Monday. A big March snowstorm is on the way and schools are already closing. It's almost like winter is just toying with us now. Here's the Digest.

1. Overreaction or threat? Former and current sheriffs disagree.  The actions of the Ramsey County sheriff’s department regarding an alleged school shooting threat have come under fire by the mayor of Vadnais Heights and the family involved. “From 4:36 p.m. until 10 p.m., the Vadnais Heights City Council thought we had a terrorist cell in our city based on the hype created by the sheriff’s department,” said Mayor Bob Fletcher. Fletcher said he believes the department overreacted to a comment made by an autistic 13-year-old boy Wednesday at the Academy for Science and Agriculture’s Maplewood campus. Responding to the call of a concerned parent, the department obtained a warrant to search the boy’s Vadnais Heights home Friday, where officers seized guns and ammunition and arrested the boy and his parents. The parents were taken into custody on suspicion of negligent storage of a firearm, a gross misdemeanor that means a loaded firearm was stored in a location where the owner knows a child under the age of 18 can access it. The boy was held for allegedly making terroristic threats. (Pioneer Press)

2. Gun bills are unlikely to come up at the Capitol again this week, but other big issues will. A pair of big problems again take center stage in the coming week at the Minnesota Capitol. Lawmakers say they’ll likely to do something to address complications with the state’s vehicle licensing system. And they’ll get an audit of the Health Department office that has had trouble keeping up with elder abuse complaints. (MPR News)

3. Too much salt on the roads and sidewalks? It might be a tough sell with all the slushy snow set to fall, but a bipartisan bill at the Minnesota Capitol aims to address salt pollution in water by limiting liability for crews who get trained in "smart salting," or using only the recommended amount necessary to melt ice. Lawmakers plan to introduce the bill in the House and the Senate this week. Environmental and industry groups are backing the measure, too. If Minnesota passes the smart-salting liability measure, it wouldn't be the first state to enact this type of legislation. New Hampshire has had a similar law on the books for a few years. It hasn't really been tested in a court of law. (MPR News)

4. Some Minnesotans are worried about election hacking in November. In January, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon awarded $7 million to counties and cities for the purchase of new voting equipment. He has asked the Legislature for $87,000 in 2019 to upgrade cybersecurity with new hardware, software and staff. He also wants $294,000 to begin modernizing the voter registration system, which has been in use since 2004. Simon has not detected new Russian prying, and he called the fundamentals of Minnesota’s safeguards sound. But he said it would be “irresponsible for me or for anyone to say that we can absolutely guarantee the absence of any mischief.” Minnesota has 4,106 precincts. Some use only mail-in ballots; 3,510 of them use voting equipment, and much of it is outdated: 2,525 precincts had tabulators that were a decade old in 2016, and 3,151 had voting devices for people with disabilities of the same vintage. (Star Tribune)

5. Fewer students are willing to call themselves Republicans at some colleges. Sharaka Berry considers himself pretty “far left” on most political issues. But as a student at Carleton College, he was taken aback when he heard what happened to the campus Republican club last fall. It simply disbanded. While Democrats, radicals, leftists and libertarians were signing up new recruits at orientation, the Republicans were a no-show. And no one has volunteered to run the group since, school officials say. For years, conservatives have been a distinct minority on campuses like Carleton, a prestigious liberal arts school in Northfield. But now, some on both sides of the aisle are worrying openly that many campuses have become so politically lopsided that there’s little room for dissent or debate. “I know students who have conservative views on abortion and gun control, but they would never say it publicly here,” said Berry, a 21-year-old senior from Chicago. (Star Tribune)

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