Top legislative leaders from both parties were pessimistic Friday about chances that medical marijuana would be legalized this year, even after Gov. Mark Dayton put new weight behind finding a compromise on the controversial bill.
A day earlier, Dayton abruptly shifted on the issue after a two hour meeting with medical marijuana advocates. After downplaying the proposal’s chances Thursday morning, Dayton instructed his chief of staff and health commissioner to find a compromise on Thursday afternoon.
But at a Friday news briefing, House Majority Leader Erin Murphy declared it “probably not possible to get this conversation done yet this session.” House Speaker Paul Thissen and Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, both DFLers from Minneapolis, echoed her pessimism.
“There may be a more fruitful discussion that happens after this session into next year, that will yield a better outcome on this issue for Minnesotans,” said Murphy, DFL-St. Paul.
While law enforcement objections to the proposal have been widely aired, Murphy said she wanted to see more input from the medical community.
Police and sheriffs have long argued that legalizing marijuana for patients who get a doctor’s prescription would make illegal uses of the drug harder to control, and open the door to full-scale legalization.
The issue has scrambled partisan lines at the Capitol, with both Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the debate.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said Friday he thinks marijuana could be beneficial for some patients; but said the lack of consensus in the medical community “could put pharmacists and medical professionals in tough positions.”
Dayton instructed a handful of top staffers and Health commissioner to meet with advocates and other concerned groups to see if there’s still room for compromise.
Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson said Friday that the governor’s chief of staff, Jamie Tincher, is working on setting up those meetings.
Photo: Medical marijuana advocates demonstrate outside Gov. Mark Dayton's residence in St. Paul. Souce: Star Tribune.
Minnesota school kids deserve a hot lunch at school, the Minnesota House decided unanimously on Thursday.
The House approved spending $3.5 million in state funds to make sure that low-income school kids get the lunch they need.
"Together in a bipartisan fashion we can say that no child in the great state of Minnesota is going to go hungry because of an inability to pay," said Rep. Yvonne Selcer, a Minnetonka DFLer who sponsored the school lunch measure.
Last month, lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton were outraged to learn that some school districts swap students hot lunches for cold lunch and others deny students lunch if they are without funds to pay for hot lunches.
The measure that passed Thursday would have the state underwrite the cost of hot lunch for students who are eligible for reduced priced lunch. A similar measure is also awaiting action in the Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton set aside money to pay for the lunches in his budget proposal last week.
Dayton said he was shocked by reports that some school districts deny hot lunches to students on reduced-priced meal programs.
“It is so unMinnesotan,” he said on Thursday. “Let’s extend the Minnesota hand of compassion,”
Students in families that earn less than $25,000 a year are eligible for free lunches at schools. Students whose families earn more than $36,131 a year must pay for lunch. But the students whose families earn between $25,000 and $36,131 pay a reduced fee. It is those 62,000 students whose- lunch cost the state will now subsidize.
During floor debate, House members added a provision to forbid schools from stigmatizing or demeaning students who lacked the funds to pay for hot lunches.
According to a report from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, some schools hand-stamped students who lacked funds with the words "lunch" or money" to remind the students to ask their parents to refresh their lunch funds.
"The unfortunate part of that is essentially you are punishing the child and there have been cases where then child has been bullied by other children," Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth. "We don't want to see them be punished for something that the adults are responsible for."
Gov. Mark Dayton said he was confident that the DFL-controlled Legislature would pass a minimum wage hike this year but it may take a while.
"Minimum wage is likely going to be one of those issues, the resolution of which is going to be held off until the last minute of the session," Dayton said on Thursday. "We’ll get a minimum wage increase."
For two weeks, the House and Senate have been stymied over how to raise the wage floor, which at $6.15 an hour is one of the lowest in the nation.
The House, Senate and Dayton all support raising the wage to $9.50 an hour over time. But the House and Dayton both want future increases to automatically rise with the cost of inflation but Senate leaders say an automatic index lacks the DFL votes to pass in the Senate.
"We will have to wait and see how it plays out over time," Dayton said on a conference call with reporters. The DFL governor had hip surgery last month and has been convalescing away from the Capitol since then.
Dayton said he expects a minimum wage bill to pass but it may have to wait until the final days of session.
"We'll come back to that one. We'll get a minimum wage increase...we will have to work out the detail at the right time," Dayton said.
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.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s new $1.2 billion supplemental budget calls for tax benefits that could be a big help for charities.
Lost in the much larger tax proposal is small change that would reduce sales taxes that non-profit groups pay to host fundraisers.
“This sales tax exemption is critically important for booster clubs that support our schools, helping raise funds for student enrichment activities like sports teams, chess clubs, and other school groups,” Dayton said.
The state has not adjusted that sales tax exemption for nearly 30 years.
Dayton’s tax plan would also allow people over 70 1/2 to transfer up to $100,000 from their individual retirement accounts to charities and exclude that amount from their income.
The proposal would also make it easier for individuals and businesses to donate food, land and money to charitable causes.
The House and Senate are now considering Dayton's budget plan, with Senate hearings set for next week.
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