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."
A Minnesota attorney has filed a class-action lawsuit demanding that 36 law enforcement agencies refund the proceeds garnered from offering safe driving classes in lieu of traffic tickets.
Attorney Erick Kaardal on Thursday announced the lawsuit filed in southeast Minnesota’s Third Judicial District on behalf of nine plaintiffs who seek to have money paid the program returned to them and other Minnesotans who have taken similar classes. The 90-page complaint that alleges law enforcement agencies participated in “false representation” by claiming the classes were legal when they weren’t.
The classes are the subject of at least three bills currently circulating in the Minnesota Legislature. Two bills seek to pull the classes into conformity with state law, while a third looks to deem them illegal.
District Judge James Fabian ordered the Wabasha County sheriff’s safe driving class to a halt after two county commissioners sued, alleging that law enforcement for years flouted a state law that prohibits such classes. Fabian called the program “a continued and repeated trespass on the laws of the state of Minnesota.”
The programs allow drivers to keep tickets off their records in exchange for paying to take a class ranging in price from $75-125. From 2010 to 2012, such classes raised about $1.6 million, according to a report by State Auditor Rebecca Otto. While about a third of the proceeds from most traffic tickets go to the state, most jurisdictions kept all of the fees generated from their classes. Otto repeatedly warned that such “off the books” alternatives were illegal. In the two months since Fabian’s ruling, most of the remaining cities and counties closed similar safe driving classes. However, nine remain in operation.
Kaardal demands more than $1 million on behalf of his clients and is seeking more to join the class.
“All the County Sheriffs and Police Chiefs had to do was have lawful programs if they really wanted to benefit the public and help alleged offenders.” Kaardal said.
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.
For more than a week, Democrats in the Minnesota Legislature have been at a stalemate over how to raise the state’s minimum wage.
“It would be a dirty shame if we left the session without it,” House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said Wednesday.
Both the House and Senate this year are backing a hike to $9.50 by 2016 but they are stymied on whether future increases should automatically rise with inflation.
The House, so far, has insisted that the new law should include some kind of automatic bump; the Senate has said such a measure would not pass the Senate.
“We are more than 10 votes short and I don’t see any circumstances under which the Senate could pass indexing,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.
But, he said, he is not one of the votes against indexing.
Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said the Senate this week counted votes again on the issue. And again there were between 10 and 11 DFL members who would not vote a minimum wage hike with an automatic inflator.
He is not among them.
"I still support $9.50 and indexing," said Hayden. He said he has heard from his constituents, who include many activists and minimum wage workers, repeatedly over the issue.
"I've got really passionate advocates," he said. "They really want this."
But his desire, and theirs, has not yet been enough to move the Senate position. Last year, the Senate only backed a modest increase. Hayden said he thought when they found enough votes to approve a $9.50 increase, "we'd be at a bill signing ceremony by now."
"We were a little shocked that the House wasn't willing to meet us half way," Hayden said. "I still think that there's time."
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