Medical marijuana sponsors in the House offered opponents a compromise: no smoking.
Law enforcement negotiators responded: no thank you.
The result is a stalemate that has stalled the bill, says Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, who sponsored the bill that would make Minnesota the 21st state to legalize medical marijuana. She is calling on the governor to break the deadlock.
Over the weekend, Melin said she offered a series of changes to the bill to satisfy the major objections law enforcement groups have had to the legislation. She offered to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis as a pill, liquid or vapor. But anyone caught smoking medical marijuana would face penalties.
Melin's also offered to strip out provisions that would allow patients to grow up to six plants in their own homes, and to narrow the language to allay concerns that people could fudge their way into a marijuana prescription -- changing "severe and debilitating pain" to "intractable pain."
Despite the changes, law enforcement remained strongly opposed to the bill, pending more in-depth research into marijuana's medicinal properties. John Kingrey, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, said he believes Melin and other supporters are sincere in their desire to help sick and dying Minnesotans, but the dangers of drugs may still outweigh the potential benefits.
"We are concerned that medical marijuana will make its way into the hands of Minnesota teens," Kingrey said.
Philosophically, he said, the gulf between the two sides is probably too wide to find a compromise during this year's brief session.
"Given the short session and the technical aspects of the bill, I just don't think there's time" to reach a consensus, he said.
Melin asked the House Government Operations Committee to postpone a scheduled Tuesday morning hearing on the legislation and appealed to the governor to mediate.
In a statement, she said: "Governor Dayton has been consistent that his support of a medical marijuana bill is contingent on support from law enforcement. I have attempted to compromise with law enforcement over the past few months and offered several major concessions, but they have been unwilling to accept a proposal that would allow Minnesota to join 20 other states in permitting patients safe, regulated, and legal access to medical marijuana. I will continue to stand with Minnesotans who support the Compassionate Care Act and remain hopeful we can make progress, but right now we are at a stalemate with law enforcement and I don't see a path forward until the governor changes his position."
The medical marijuana bill cleared the House Health and Human Services Policy committee by a voice vote last week.
A Republican legislative leader who supports same-sex marriage said she will run in a primary after failing to win her party’s endorsement over the weekend.
“This is a democracy and people are able to throw their hat in the ring,” said state Rep. Jenifer Loon, of Eden Prairie. “I don’t see this as a huge issue, honestly.”
Local GOP activist Sheila Kihne emerged to challenge Loon at their local convention, with neither candidate able to get enough votes to win the endorsement.
Kihne said she is weighing a primary run after her strong showing at the convention. Loon was one of four GOP House members who voted to legalize same-sex marriage last year.
“Here locally, it was an issue of trust or integrity,” Kihne said Monday. “We do not feel like we have good leadership.”
Activists who oppose same-sex marriage had worked behind-the-scenes to defeat Loon, a deputy minority leader.
“Life, marriage, and religious freedom are values for which there is no compromise,” said John Helmberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council. “Jenifer Loon tried to compromise these values-hurting the families in her district who trusted her to uphold them. And her constituents have spoken.”
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said he expects Loon will prevail and win a fourth term.
“Jenifer Loon—and I don’t know anybody who would dispute this—is very well-liked by the constituents in her district,” said Daudt, R-Crown. “I’m very confident that she will make it through a primary and easily win a general election again. She does a great job representing her community and I think that support will definitely be there for her.”
Just over 40 percent of voters in Loon’s district supported a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2012, a factor that Loon said she considered when she voted to legalize same-sex marriage last year.
Kihne said she is not a single-issue Republican, and noted that Loon is among several GOP leaders who have faced a challenge from within the party, including Daudt.
“It speaks to the fact that we are looking for more principled leadership and representatives who do what they are say they are going to do,” she said.
Of the four GOP House members who supported same-sex marriage, Loon is not the only one facing challengers.
First-term Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, lost the endorsement at his convention and is considering a primary run.
Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, is not seeking re-election.
Only Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington breezed through his convention without trouble.
Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this story.
With just 140 characters at their disposal on Twitter, Minnesota lawmaker and their staff have found plenty of ways to get in trouble.
On Sunday night, Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo sent out a tweet linking NBA players to street crime. The tweet produced a firestorm of criticism and was called racist nationwide. On Monday morning, Garofalo said he sincerely apologized for the message.
The five-term state lawmaker had bipartisan company in his Twitter turmoil.
Last year, Democratic Rep. Ryan Winkler tweeted of U.S. Supreme Court's voting rights act decision, that the “VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas.” The reference to Clarence Thomas, the only African American member of the Supreme Court, with the racial epithet was shared around the country. Winkler, who had been contemplating a run for Secretary of State at the time, deleted the tweet and said he didn't understand the reference would be offensive.
The year before, then-Republican Senate staffer Bob Koss tangled with then-Republican state Rep. John Kriesel over same-sex marriage, shortly before a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage was on the ballot. Koss lost his Senate job in the wake of the late night tweeting.
In 2011, then-state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, tweeted that Democratic Sen. Barb Goodwin called people with mental illness "idiots and imbeciles" during a Senate floor debate. Goodwin was, in fact, disparaging the historic terms used for people with mental illness. That incident resulted in an ethics complaint. The ethics panel met for five hours and decided the complaint would be dropped if Hoffman apologized, which she did.
And in 2009, as Twitter was dawning as a way for lawmakers to share their thoughts, Democratic Rep. Paul Gardner used the messaging service during a floor session to suggest that Republican Rep. Tom Emmer was nastier to women during debate than he was to men and that Republican Rep. Mark Buesgens had a black eye. Gardner, too, was brought up on ethics charges and issued a public apology.
Minnesota Senate Republicans failed Monday to rush a $500 million tax relief package to a final floor vote.
“Minnesotans are working on their tax returns right now, and they deserve clear a clear answer from the legislature on tax reform," said Senate Minority Leader David, R- Eden Prairie. "The House was able to move quickly on this issue. Senate Republicans think it’s vitally important to citizens of the state that we do the same. There’s no reason to delay.”
DFL Senate leaders said they need time to hold public hearings on a plan the House overwhelmingly approved last week.
“This is a very large proposal,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport. The Senate “does want to have hearings and hear from the public on the components that will go into it.”
Hann said he suspects the Senate DFLers are intentionally holding up the tax proposal to keep it as a possible bargaining chip for other measures, like the proposed $90 million Senate office building and parking ramp.
The building issue must resolved “before we have movement on these other major things,” Hann said.
The Senate taxes committee “isn’t trying to hold anything up,” Sieben said. “They are moving ahead as quickly as possible, keeping in mind that there is a process in the Senate.”
The proposal includes tax breaks for middle-income Minnesotans and would repeal new business sales taxes on warehousing services and telecommunications equipment and repair, changes strongly supported by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
Dayton has asked legislators to pass the tax breaks by Friday, giving revenue department officials’ time to implement the changes before Tax Day.
Some of the changes would be retroactive for the 2013 tax year, like the working family credit, student loan interest deduction and tax breaks for consumers who lost their home to foreclosure.
The Dayton administration is not looking to make the elimination of the so-called marriage penalty retroactive, saying that it would be too cumbersome and expensive to adjust tax returns for 650,000 tax filers at the last minute.
Sieben said that legislators will probably not meet Dayton’s deadline, but the tax relief could get final passage soon after.
State Rep. Pat Garofalo apologized, then apologized some more for a weekend tweet that suggested that NBA teams are crime waves waiting to happen.
"Let's be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/ possible exception of increase in streetcrime," he tweeted Sunday evening.
The 140-character post sparked a swift, harsh national backlash. By morning, the Farmington Republican's tweet was national news, usually accompanied by the prefix "racist" and Garofalo was watching his own name scroll across the ESPN news crawl on the televisions at the gym.
Garofalo issued a written apology Monday morning.
“In the last 24 hours, I’ve had the opportunity to re-learn one of life’s lessons: whenever any of us are offering opinions, it is best to refer to people as individuals as opposed to groups," he said in the statement. "Last night, I publicly commented on the NBA and I sincerely apologize to those who I unfairly categorized."
Later, he faced banks of cameras at the Capitol and apologized again.
"I don't have a racist bone in my body," he said. "I pride myself on the fact that I've tutored [in] inner-city Minneapolis and in addition I've been a strong advocate for the charter schools in our communities. But there's no excuses. I apologize."
The controversy made headlines around the country and Garofalo came in for blistering accusations of racism, insensitivity and factual inaccuracy (crime rates among professional athletes are lower than the population at large.)
Garofalo also noted that his belief that the NBA does not screen its athletes for marijuana use was patently wrong.
"I was under the mistaken impression that the National Basketball Association did not test for marijuana. In fact, that is false," he said. "That is a drug policy violation and something that's clearly stated in their collective bargaining agreement."
Garofalo says he's gotten at least one death threat, but he's also gotten "some very thoughtful emails from some people who talked about what it means for their children, who are sometimes subject to additional scorn because of the color of their skin, that people sometimes stereotype them. That was clearly not my intent."
This isn't the first time a state lawmaker has set off a Twitter firestorm, but Garofalo said he wanted to "promise everybody I'll do my best to not make that mistake again."
"It's not fair to take all NBA players and put them all in one bucket, just like it's not fair to put all elected officials or all managers into one bucket," he said.
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