With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, Baird Helgeson, Patricia Lopez, Jim Ragsdale, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Corey Mitchell and Jim Spencer.

In response to DFL complaint, board clears GOP of campaign finance violations

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Minnesota campaigns, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, Political ads, Democrats, Republicans Updated: April 23, 2014 - 6:16 PM

The Minnesota campaign finance board cleared the Minnesota Republican Party and the Senate Republicans' campaign arm of 2012 violations, according to a recently released decision.

The agency found that the Republicans made some mistakes on their year-end reports, filed  which made it harder to track the party's independent spending on senate races but the errors were inadvertent and fixed through corrections made last month.

"There is no basis to believe that the costs related to the independent expenditures were deliberately misreported. Instead, the record before the Board points to an attempt to report all of the associated costs that was foiled in part by an incomplete understanding of how to use the Campaign Finance Reporter software," the board wrote in closing its investigation.

The investigation was prompted by a DFL Party complaint, filed in January, which accused the Republicans of hiding 2012 spending.

In response to the investigation, the Republican Party treasurer Bron Scherer said the way the Republican Party and the Republican Senate committees did their reporting may have "created a potential for confusion" but the spending was not hidden. The board largely agreed.

In response to the decision, Republican Party Chair Keith Downey accused of the DFL of creating "media bluster" with its complaint.

In a statement, he said he hoped the board's conclusion, "will stop Democrats from filing a complaint and convicting us in the press before the Board even conducts its review."

The board this week also cleared the DFL of violations in response to a GOP complaint.

In January, Republican Party accused the DFL of blurring the lines between independent campaign work and House candidates by using photographs that were not publicly available. The board concluded that the DFL did independently obtain the photographs and found the DFL did not violate the rules of independence.

The recent GOP complaint has echoes of a 2012 Republican complaint. That one concluded in December 2013 and resulted in one of the largest campaign finance fines in state history.

Here's the board conclusion on the Republican Party matter:

04_22_2014_RPM by Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

Rep. John Kline urges White House to keep troop levels up in Afghanistan

Posted by: Allison Sherry under Morning Hot Dish newsletter, 2nd District, Minnesota congressional, Republicans Updated: April 23, 2014 - 5:52 PM

WASHINGTON -- Rep. John Kline said Wednesday he will urge the Obama administration not to depress troop levels in Afghanistan below 10,000 so the Afghan security forces have some intelligence and logistical support through the year.

Kline, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, spoke on the heels of a nine-day trip he took to the region with GOP House Speaker John Boehner and several other House Republicans.

He said he was hopeful about the how the April 5 presidential election was handled, which is likely heading to a runoff between two candidates. He said the runoff, which will come after the summer "fighting" season, means the Afghan security forces will be stressed and may need additional help, like equipment support.

"There's a number that's being discussed," Kline said, in an interview from Minnesota. "I'm very sure it's more than 10,000 to be able to do the job that's done ... The day to day fighting will be done by the Afghans, but they need support."

The president has not made a final decision on the size of force in Afghanistan after 2014. The top commander in Afghanistan told a Senate committee in May, the number may be between 8,000 and 12,000. There has been a U.S. presence in the country for 13 years.

Kline said he doesn't like talking about timelines or personnel numbers, but "it's unavoidable."

"I think it's the wrong metric," he said.

Kline and the other members also visited Turkey, Portugal and the United Arab Emirates, where they toured a 4 million square foot Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi.

"It's the top of the line," Kline said. "That's the advantage, I guess, of being an oil rich country with leadership that's forward-thinking."

Congress is amid a two-week Easter/Passover recess and returns to Washington next week.

Supporters of legalizing marijuana rally at State Capitol

Posted by: Patrick Condon under Health care, Minnesota legislature, Democrats Updated: April 23, 2014 - 1:52 PM

Supporters of legalizing medical marijuana in Minnesota have struggled to build political momentum at the Capitol this year, but that isn't stopping advocates of legal recreational use from pushing for more liberal state laws governing the drug. 

Several hundred supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana rallied at the Capitol on Wednesday, chanting "Yes We Cannabis" as they push to add Minnesota to a growing nationwide movement that has recently seen the drug decriminalized in Colorado and Washington state . The rally was organized by the Minnesota chapter of NORML, a nationwide group trying to capitalize on that success around the country. 

"It's a whole untapped industry," said Randy Quast, executive director of Minnesota NORML and a member of the national organization's board. "The thing is, the trade is going on. Marijuana is easy to get and as potent as ever."

Minnesota NORML now has three paid employees, a network of several thousand volunteers, and in recent months opened field offices in Duluth, Rochester, Brainerd, Bemidj, St. Cloud, New Ulm and Morris. Nathan Ness, the director of organizing, said the group raised about $100,000 last year, with a goal of raising more and eventually making contributions in state legislative campaigns to lawmakers who support full-scale legalization. 

It will be an uphill climb. Lawmakers who support medical marijuana are extremely reluctant to back full-scale legalization, fearing it could drag down their own efforts to get access to the drug for adults and children with serious medical conditions. 

"Medicinal use and recreational use are two distinct things," said Rep. Dan Schoen, a Democrat from St. Paul Park and a police officer who co-sponsored the medical marijuana bill. "Medical marijuana detractors are going to be looking at the full legalization folks to do something radical or out of the norm, so they can point at them and say, 'See? That's why we can't do this.'"

Only one state lawmaker, DFL Rep. Rena Moran of St. Paul, spoke at Wednesday's rally. She said she's alarmed by studies showing blacks in Minnesota are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana-related offenses, and intrigued by the tax revenue that legalizing marijuana would reap for the state. 

"We could tax it, we could regulate it, we could have more opportunities to make marijuana safe," Moran said. But even she is not ready to sponsor a bill for full-scale legalization. 

"It's not an easy subject," Moran said. "But I would like us to get to a place where the Legislature could start having the conversation."

Women's Economic Security Act clears Minnesota Senate

Posted by: Abby Simons under Minnesota legislature Updated: April 23, 2014 - 1:38 PM

A wide-ranging measure that promotes equal pay for women and protections for pregnant and nursing women as well as victims of domestic abuse cleared the Minnesota Senate by a wide margin Wednesday.

The Women’s Economic Security Act passed 51-14 after about an hour’s debate. The Act, consisting of nine bills, is geared toward evening the playing field for Minnesota’s women workers at a cost of $2.7 million.

Highlights of the Act, spearheaded by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, include:

  • $1 million in grants awarded to organizations that help women land high-wage nontraditional jobs and to assist female entrepreneurs.
  • Requires businesses with more than 40 employees bidding on high-dollar state contracts to obtain an equal pay certificate of compliance to ensure they’re in compliance with existing laws
  • Bans punishment or retaliation against employees who discuss their how much they make.
  • Requires employers to provide a place other than a bathroom for nursing mothers to pump milk.
  • Extends unpaid maternity leave from six to 12 weeks, extends use of sick leave to caring for grandchildren.
  • Extends unemployment benefits to workers forced to quit their jobs as a result of sexual assault or stalking.

Opponents of the Act criticized the differences between the bills lumped together, while others said the spirit of the bill was fundamentally unfair.
“I will not stand here and vote for a bill that promotes one gender over another,” said Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville.

Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said plenty of women past and present have made it on their own without government assistance.

"What are we telling women? Unless the government steps up you're not smart enough, you’re not tough enough; you’re not capable enough to be successful on your own?"

A House version of the Act passed 106-24. It heads next to conference committee.

Bill requiring warrants for cell tracking devices clears Senate 56-1

Posted by: Abby Simons under Minnesota state senators Updated: April 22, 2014 - 5:50 PM

A measure requiring cops to get a warrant before using devices to track cell phones overwhelmingly passed the Minnesota Senate 56-1 Tuesday.

Sen. Branden Petersen’s bill was authored in response to concern about “cellular exploitation devices” marketed under names like the Kingfish and Stingray, which mimic local phone towers to capture data and location information of cellular phones in a given area. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has one; so does the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.

The original bill by Petersen, R-Andover, required a search warrant to use the devices, and requires that people tracked by the devices be notified afterward by law enforcement. The devices are currently used with authorization by court order, which is less stringent than a search warrant.

However, a floor amendment during modified the bill to require “tracking warrants” rather than search warrants. While both require a statement of probable cause and signoff by a judge, a tracking warrant is less specific in its requirements than a search warrant, and in many cases is exempt from case law pertaining to search warrants. A tracking warrant also allows law enforcement to cross jurisdictions and can be authorized for a longer period of time.

Petersen said the provision was a last-minute compromise with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and is what resulted in the near-unanimous vote. Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, was the lone dissenter.

“In the interest of moving the bill, we ceded that part to law enforcement,” Petersen said, adding that the bill still makes great strides in protecting citizens’ rights.

=“We’re increasing the privacy threshold, increasing the standard and for the first time requiring that every person be notified after 60 days that they have in fact been searched,” Petersen said. “This has a degree of transparency and accountability to it.”

The bill’s House Companion awaits floor debate.
 

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