Daily Digest: Debates continue after session ends

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

1. Groundwater protection rule could be delayed. The GOP-controlled Legislature sent Gov. Mark Dayton an agriculture policy bill just as the Legislative session was ending. The House and Senate agriculture committees followed up with some additional pressure: If the governor didn't sign the bill, the committees said, they might invoke an obscure 2001 law that allows the Legislature to halt executive-branch rulemaking. Dayton vetoed the ag policy bill on Monday. And now, lawmakers are moving toward delaying his agriculture department's groundwater protection rule, which establishes voluntary and mandatory farming practices in areas of the state where nitrate contamination is a problem. The whole thing is leaving those who've been pushing for tougher water quality regulations feeling disgusted. "The pettiness is just too much to take anymore," said Tim Figge, who lives in Hastings, Minn., and had to install a reverse-osmosis water treatment system at his home after high levels of nitrates crept into underground aquifers. "It's something that should be talked about from strictly a public health point of view."

2. Backers of fee on drug companies urge Dayton to veto budget bill. Supporters of legislation that would have charged pharmaceutical companies a fee to address opioid abuse condemned Tuesday what they described as a backroom lobbying campaign to kill the legislation. "In the end, Big Pharma, their army of lobbyists, and the chamber and Medical Alley won," said state Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center. "The victims, their families, the people currently addicted and the Minnesota taxpayers lost — and I'm angry and sad." The bill that included the fee passed the state Senate 60-6, and would have raised $20 million in licensing fees from pharmaceutical companies every year. But that fee failed to make it into the final budget bill, replaced by $16 million from the state general fund. State House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said said the final version of the budget bill included "funds for St. Gabriel's for opioid addiction prevention, enhancements to the Prescription Monitoring Program to prevent doctor shopping and over-prescribing, [a] prescribing limit to reduce the number of pills on the street, and resources for first-responders dealing with overdoses." Eaton, whose daughter Ariel died of an overdose in 2007, said she's urged the governor to veto the budget bill. She said "taxpayers have paid enough" of the costs associated with the opioid epidemic. (MPR News)

3. Deputy registrars are hurting. When Minnesota's new vehicle licensing and registration system, MNLARS, was first rolled out last summer, Donny Vosen had a pretty good business going. Vosen is a deputy registrar, and runs a licensing office in Brainerd. He had a staff of 15 and a healthy profit margin. Now, less than a year later, one-third of his staff has quit, and another third had to seek medical attention for stress-related illnesses. "This is an epic disaster for the state of Minnesota to have done this," said Vosen, who said he's lost nearly $100,000 since the faulty rollout of MNLARS. "Untested, unpiloted. And we kept telling them, this isn't working, this isn't working, this isn't working. They did not listen." Gov. Dayton vetoed a bill that would have spent $9 million to reimburse deputy registrars for some of those losses, saying in his veto letter that he fully supports reimbursing deputy registrars for the losses they've incurred, but he won't sign a bill that doesn't also pay for fixing the MNLARS system. There are several million dollars in a sweeping budget bill before the governor, but he's also threatened to veto that. (MPR News)

4. After veto, protest blocks LRT. Eighteen people were arrested at an immigration protest that shut down the Blue Line light-rail line Tuesday morning, forcing passengers to be shuttled on buses between 46th Street and Terminal 2 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. A dozen people demanding an end to deportations sat on the tracks, blocking the train, near the Whipple Federal Building at Fort Snelling until they were arrested. Afterward six more sat down, and were likewise arrested. All of them were charged with two misdemeanor counts of interference with transit and trespassing. About 130 people in all were involved in the protest, organized by the Poor People's Campaign and Minnesota Immigrations Rights Action Committee. Four of the arrested were ministers, three of them from Unitarian congregations.  The demonstration was denounced Tuesday by Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, who authored legislation that would result in more serious charges for the blocking of thoroughfares. The latest effort was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton, who called the legislation's wording too vague. "Today's protest is the latest example of why we need increased penalties for those who choose to put the public at risk by blocking highways, the airport, or access to transit," Zerwas said in a statement. (Star Tribune)

5. How's the business climate? A week after one of Minnesota’s Fortune 500 companies announced it was moving out of state, the business magazine released its annual ranking and showed two of the state’s firms rising onto the list. The additions of St. Paul-based Securian Financial and Plymouth-based Polaris Industries bring the total number of Minnesota-based firms in the Fortune 500 to 19. Those 19 include Mosaic Co., which announced last week it will move its headquarters from Plymouth to Tampa, Fla., though it did not specify timing. But they don’t include some giant Minnesota firms. Fortune ranks companies by revenue, chiefly focused on publicly traded firms while also counting cooperatives and some privately held companies that disclose their financial performance to the Securities and Exchange Commission. For instance, the magazine doesn’t include Cargill Inc., the Wayzata-based agricultural trader and processor that has about $120 billion in annual revenue, but it does include agricultural co-ops CHS and Land O’Lakes, both based in the Twin Cities. And Securian, while not publicly traded, files performance documents with the SEC. (Star Tribune)


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