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.

Posts about Minnesota state senators

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

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger 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

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

Posted by: Abby Simons 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.
 

Medical marijuana bill resurfaces in Senate; sponsor expects floor vote

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: April 10, 2014 - 12:17 PM

The proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota has new life in the state Senate, after Gov. Mark Dayton accused lawmakers of avoiding the issue. 

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee reviewed the bill Thursday. The committee did not vote, but its chair said she would take up the proposal again later this month when lawmakers return from a nearly two-week holiday break that starts Friday. 

The bill would give patients with certain medical conditions access to marijuana as treatment. Dayton has expressed reservations about the proposal, citing conflicting views within the medical community as well as opposition by law enforcement groups. Two of Dayton's cabinet officers testified against the proposal at Thursday's Senate hearing: Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. 

But Dayton has also met with patients who use marijuana, and the parents of children with severe epilepsy who want to treat their kids with an oil that contains cannabis extract. He has expressed sympathy, and suggested he might be willing to support state-funded research into the cannabis oil as a possible compromise. Advocates have been reluctant to support research without legalization.

Earlier this week, Dayton chided lawmakers for "hiding behind their desks" on the issue; the bill's Senate sponsor, DFLer Scott Dibble, said that remark motivated him to mount a new push for the bill. 

Both Dibble and the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Carly Melin, said they believe the votes are there in the full House and Senate to pass the bill. The Legislature voted in 2009 to legalize medical marijuana, but then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed it. 

'Steve's Law' granting immunity for 911 callers in overdoses, clears Senate

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: April 8, 2014 - 3:08 PM

The Minnesota Senate unanimously passed a bill that would equip first responders with a crucial antidote to heroin overdoses and also provides immunity for people who call 911, even if they may be users themselves.

The measure, nicknamed “Steve’s Law” authored by Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, passed 65-0 Tuesday afternoon. The law is named for Steve Rummler, who died from a heroin overdose in July 2011 after he became addicted to prescription painkillers. His family began the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, which spearheaded efforts to pass the law. The House version of the bill is expected to be debated before the end of session.

The first prong of the bill allows first responders, police officers and prevention program staffers to carry and administer Narcan, a drug that counteracts the effects of an overdose. Administering the drug at the scene, advocates say, could potentially safe lives.

Eaton’s own daughter, 23-year-old Ariel Eaton-Wilson, died from a heroin overdose in 2007. The man with her that day did not call 911 immediately, instead hiding evidence from police. By the time she was taken to the hospital and given Narcan, it was too late.

“This is to get people like the young man who was with my daughter to call 911 instead of hiding things, and denying to the people around that he knew what was going on.” Eaton told the Senate floor shortly before the vote.  Despite some concerns that immunity could jeopardize some drug investigations, She added that a poll of four surrounding sheriff’s offices revealed that none had made arrests as a direct result of 911 calls from an overdose scene.

Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, said he voted against a similar measure “Because I didn’t want to reward somebody for what they should do anyway.” However, he changed his mind this year because “I want to reward someone for doing right.”

“Steve’s law removes the prosecution for the greater good, members, for life,” Hall said. “I will be supporting this because I think it’s important that we look at the greater good in this situation.”

Senators sign off on changes to legislative office plans

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: April 7, 2014 - 6:13 PM

Senators have approved a $77 million office building across the street from the Capitol that will serve as their primary workspace, endorsing a move by their House colleagues to scale back some amenities while boosting overall space in the complex. 

The Senate Rules Committee signed off on the project Monday. The panel previously backed a version of the same project, but the House Rules Committee approved an altered version last Friday. In addition to ditching plans for a parking ramp, reflecting pool, a workout room and elaborate landscaping, House members also moved to increase the total number of senators' offices from 44 to 67 so that every member of the Senate can be housed there.

Adding office space contributed to the cost of the building, but by dropping the parking ramp lawmakers were able to achieve net savings in the overall cost of the project, which had originally been estimated at $90 million. 

Republican lawmakers have been vociferous critics of the legislative office building, calling it wasteful and unnecessary and vowing to use it against Democrats in the next election. But its backers, led by Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, have called it the most cost-effective option for housing senators during and after a major renovation of the Capitol building. 

Under current renovation plans, senators are likely to be moved out of the Capitol after the 2015 legislative session. Once the building reopens in 2017, a large portion of space now occupied by senators is set to be turned over to the governor's office, the House and the Minnesota Historical Society. 

The Senate Rules Committee approved the retooled office building projects on a party-line vote, with the committee's eight Democrats in favor and five Republicans opposed. Before construction can start, a panel of state officials overseeing the Capitol renovation project must sign off on the plans. A lawsuit challenging the building plans, filed by a former Republican state representative, is currently pending before the state Supreme Court and also threatens to slow down the construction timetable. 

The building site is directly north of the Capitol on the other side of University Avenue. Planners hope to have it ready for senators and their staffs to move in by late 2015. 

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