Daily Digest: ‘Hands-free’ bill gains momentum

Good morning, and congratulations for making it to Friday. All eyes are on northwestern Wisconsin today where Jayme Closs was found yesterday afternoon. Authorities are expected to release more information today. In the meantime, here's the Digest.

1. Minnesota lawmakers are making another push to ban people from holding cell phones while they drive. What's known as "hands-free" legislation was introduced Thursday in the Senate and a House version is expected next week. Families of people who were killed by distracted drivers pushed for a hands- free requirement last year, but the bill stalled out and lawmakers never took a final vote. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said some issues move slowly in the Legislature as lawmakers mull them over. Newman said he is seeing increasing support for the proposal, and he is upbeat about its chances this session. “When I talk to my constituents about it even the, we’ll call them for lack of a better term the libertarians, even they are recognizing that this is a public safety issue, and it’s not a personal liberty issue. So, even the most far-right folks are telling me, ‘you know Newman, I think this is a good idea. I think we should move forward with it.’” The chair of the House transportation committee, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, is also sponsoring the bill. Distracted driving is an epidemic and momentum for the proposal has grown as lawmakers hear more stories about tragic accidents, Hornstein said. “The purpose of doing a bill like this is to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, that we have taken every step possible as a state to prevent to death and injury on our roadways due to distracted driving.” (MPR News)

2. Line 3 backers push Walz for a decision. Just a few days into his administration, Gov. Tim Walz is already being challenged to take a stand on a divisive oil pipeline project in northern Minnesota. Local officials and other backers of Enbridge Energy's Line 3 pipeline replacement project delivered a letter Thursday signed by 2,500 people and organizations. The letter asks that Walz rescind a Department of Commerce legal appeal the previous administration filed in December that has the potential to stall the project. The group also asked Walz to expedite the remaining permits Enbridge needs before the company can begin construction this year. In asking for the governor's support of the project, the group said it would replace aging infrastructure and protect the state's natural resources while providing well-paying jobs. Pennington County Commissioner Neil Peterson said he drove 300 miles to deliver the letter to the governor. "I don't have a good feel for what's going on," he said of the new administration. "It's new. He's only been in office two days. That's why we'd like to have a word with him. Our local people are really in support of this." (MPR News)

3. Federal workers want shutdown to end. Friday is the first payday without a paycheck for thousands of Minnesotans who work for the federal government. Transportation Security Administration agent Scott Shane is still reporting to work at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He was among two dozen people who attended an afternoon rally on Thursday in Minneapolis, demanding an immediate end to the partial federal government shutdown. "I honestly love the people I work for. I love what I do and I love the mission," Shane said. "But we need our paychecks. People need to make their livings, they need to pay their mortgage and car payments and food for their families." Shane, who commutes 54 miles each way from Monticello, Minn., said he's keeping a close eye on the family budget. But he's hopeful that he'll get back pay once Congress and the president agree on an appropriations bill. (MPR News)

4. Lawmaker wants to ban gay conversion therapy. A new Minnesota legislator is renewing a push to ban gay conversion therapy, a controversial practice aimed at trying to change the sexual orientation of patients. Leading health organizations, including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, say there is no scientific evidence to back conversion therapy and that it can actually have adverse effects on a patient’s mental and physical health, particularly in cases that involve adolescents. Rep. Hunter Cantrell, DFL-Savage, is reviving the proposed ban in the state House this year. His legislation goes beyond bills in some other states, which focused on conversion therapy targeting minors or offered by licensed professionals, by targeting anyone offering the services. The freshman legislator said his goal is to protect “children and vulnerable adults who are put into a difficult situation if they are pressured by their families to go through this incredibly harmful, medically negligent pseudotherapy.” (Star Tribune)

5. Another item from Wisconsin. A coalition of liberal-leaning groups filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to void laws passed by Wisconsin Republicans that reduced the powers of the newly elected Democratic governor and attorney general. Republicans derided the lawsuit as a frivolous attempt by bitter Democrats to score political points. The legal challenge is the first seeking to undo all of the measures approved during last month's lame-duck legislative session. The lawsuit argues the session was unconstitutional because it amounted to an illegal gathering of lawmakers. Then-Gov. Scott Walker, who was defeated by Democrat Tony Evers in November, quickly signed the legislation before leaving office. (AP)

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