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Daily Digest: Apology over ‘confusion’ regarding gun rally remarks

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Good morning and welcome to Tuesday. Let's start with a follow-up on the top items in yesterday's Digest.

1. Don't let me be misunderstood. Republican Rep. Cal Bahr said he’s sorry for “confusion” he caused this weekend after he made comments at a rally that the governor and others criticized as inciting violence against gun control advocates. Bahr, a second-term member from East Bethel, told people gathered at the Capitol for a 2nd Amendment rally Saturday that gun owners have “had enough.” “It’s time to start riding herd on the rest of these people that want to take your rights away from you,” Bahr said. “They will not go quietly into the good night. They need to be kicked to the curb and stomped on and run over a few times.” In a statement Monday, which he also read on the House floor, Bahr said his intent was “misunderstood.” “In my statement, the meaning of the word ‘they’ referred to two proposed bills, not people. The intended focus of my remarks was on two proposed bills which are designed to strip away the God-given and Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of self-protection. My statement was not in any way directed towards people. Instead, my comments were focused on the legislation that would restrict the rights of Minnesotans,” he wrote in a statement. (MPR News)

2. A budget focus on disparities. As he presented his budget last week, Gov. Tim Walz made it clear that he believes more needs to be done to help Minnesota's racial minorities and to improve equity. "Whether in Greater Minnesota or in the urban core, communities of color and Native American communities in our state face unacceptable racial disparities," he said. "Our budget takes meaningful action to address these disparities and ensure every Minnesotan has the opportunity to build a better life for their family." Walz is proposing a new Community Solutions Fund that would provide grants to local groups to address children's health care issues. He said the program could respond to specific needs better than a uniform statewide approach. Walz wants to address education disparities through increased school funding and support for community schools, American Indian tribal schools and programs to recruit teachers of color. (MPR News)

3. It doesn't come easy. Taking federal money to protect Minnesota’s election system was expected to be easier than this. Minnesota was one of 21 states that computer hackers tried to infiltrate during the 2016 election. State officials said the hackers were not successful, but more robust protections were needed to deter future attempts. Congress responded by approving $380 million in new grants under the Help America Vote Act to beef up online election security. Minnesota’s share is $6.6 million, but to get that money the state has to commit to spending 5 percent in local funds on security. Complicating matters, Minnesota is one of a few states that needs legislative approval to accept the federal money. “Minnesota is the only state without access to these funds,” Secretary of State Steve Simon recently told the Senate finance committee. “The threat is real. It is accelerated from where it was in 2016.” (Pioneer Press)

4. Down on the farm. Concern over the mounting strain farmers feel due to current economic conditions is coloring much of the discussion about rural focused legislation at the Minnesota Capitol. Members of the House Agriculture and Food Policy and Finance committee have spent much of the session so far focused on bills that would address several issues affecting the financial and mental health of farmers in Greater Minnesota. And during a hearing last week, after Gov. Tim Walz unveiled his $49.5 billion budget, Andrea Vaubel, deputy commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, walked through a series of proposals put forth by the governor to specifically help the state’s farmers. The efforts come as many Minnesota farmers cope with challenges not seen since the 1980s, including years of earning less on their crops and products; the impact of trade disputes and climate change; and questions of whom to hand over farms to when they retire. “It would be nice to see more money,” said Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, chair of the House Ag committee. She added that while Walz’s budget sets the right priorities, it misses a couple of issues legislators will want to address, given the depth of the current ag industry crisis and the importance of the industry in Minnesota. “People need to understand how important ag is to the total economy of the state.” (MinnPost)

5. Deadline for switching Medicare plans nears. Minnesotans who lost their Medicare Cost health plans for 2019 are nearing the end of extra sign-up periods when they can make changes, prompting state officials to encourage final checks among the more than 300,000 people who had to switch coverage. A Star Tribune review of January enrollment data shows that most Minnesotans didn't select a "zero-premium" health plan, which suggests many paid more up front in hopes of minimizing problems with limited access to doctors or less coverage for their prescription drugs. Even so, trouble with physician networks and medication costs are two reasons that more than 1,500 people have contacted the state for help switching Medicare plans, according to the Minnesota Board on Aging. The agency says the tally is about 50 percent higher than last year. (Star Tribune)