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, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Jim Spencer and intern Beena Raghavendran.

Law enforcement-backed license plate reader bill narrowly survives

Posted by: Abby Simons under Minnesota legislature Updated: March 2, 2015 - 5:42 PM

A measure that would grant Minnesota law enforcement 90 days to hang on to location data gleaned from automated license plate readers narrowly made it out of a Minnesota Senate committee intact Monday, though it’s likely to face further challenges from privacy advocates in the Legislature.

After an hour-long debate, the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee voted 9-8 against an amendment that would change law the length of time law enforcement could keep “non-hit” data from 90 days to zero.

For the third consecutive session, lawmakers have sparred over whether LPR “hits” on innocent people should be deleted immediately—what privacy advocates want, or kept for 90 days-- what law enforcement  wants.

Revelations about the devices in 2012 raised calls by privacy and civil liberties advocates — as well as ordinary citizens — on how police classify and retain the data.

Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, cast the deciding vote against the zero-retention amendment after a moment’s hesitation. Champion, who last year authored a 90-day retention bill that unanimously passed the Senate last year (a final measure died in conference committee,) said his vote was a difficult one.

I’m conflicted on it,” he said, adding that he’s hoping for a shorter retention period this time around-- one that pleases everyone.

 “I hoped there would be some ability for all of the players to come up with some compromise that works.” he said. “Hopefully they still will do that.”

Sen. Ron Latz, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and chief author of the 90-day retention bill, has long called it a compromise between law enforcement’s capability to fight crime and concerns for ordinary citizens’ privacy. A contingent of uniformed law enforcement officers have maintained a presence at each of the Senate hearings. Latz was resistant to having the bill heard in Monday’s Transportation committee, saying it pertained to data practices and was not in the committee’s jurisdiction. He said he expected a close vote, but didn’t know how it would turn out, and he’s ready for further challenges.

“An amendment is in order any step of the process, so I’ll be prepared for it.” He said.

Ten states currently have enacted laws regulating license plate reader use and data storage, though none, Latz pointed out, have zero retention. Under a zero-retention, he said, potential evidence could be destroyed before police may even know a crime was committed.

“You don’t know on day zero whether the license plate owner is involved in a crime. That data is destroyed immediately,” he said. “Even if you find out the next day that there was a murder and witness comes forward the day after and said ‘I saw a partial plate, it was a white Camry with the license plate letters ABC,’ that data is gone because there was no retention whatsoever.”

Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, proposed the zero-retention amendment, thinking it had a “50-50 shot” of passing. Although it didn’t, he voted to pass the bill out of committee.

“It’s better than nothing,” he said. “But you have to put an amendment out there for what you really want. I’m willing to go with 90 but I’d rather have something else.”

The bill heads next to the Senate Finance Committee. A pair of similar dueling measures in the House still await committee hearings.

Photo: Sen Ron Latz testifies on behalf of his 90-day retention bill for license plate reader data.

Sen. Franken sits out, Sen. Klobuchar sits in on Netanyahu address Tuesday

Posted by: Allison Sherry under Morning Hot Dish newsletter, 1st District, 2nd District, 3rd District, 4th District, 5th District, 6th District, 7th District, 8th District, Minnesota U.S. senators, Democrats, Republicans, President Obama Updated: March 2, 2015 - 3:59 PM

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Al Franken said Monday he will not sit in the chamber during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress Tuesday, while his Democratic colleague Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she will be there.

In an e-mail, Franken said the speech had "unfortunately become a partisan spectacle."

The Israeli prime minister, amid his own re-election campaign,accepted an invitation by GOP House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to address a joint session of the Republican-led Congress. The two Republican leaders did not check with the White House or the State Department -- considered a breach of protocol.

Netanyahu is expected to talk about his opposition to talks the United States is having with Iran about its nuclear program. Obama is not expected to meet with Netanyahu when he is in town.

"I'd be uncomfortable being part of an event that I don't believe should be happening," said Franken. "I'm confident that, once this episode is over, we can reaffirm our strong tradition of bipartisan support for Israel."

Franken joins Democratic Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, who said earlier this month they would boycott the speech.

Republican Reps. Tom Emmer, John Kline and Erik Paulsen said they will be there, as will Democrat Reps. Rick Nolan, Tim Walz and Collin Peterson.

Republican, DFL leaders propose new, legislative budget office

Posted by: Ricardo Lopez under Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, Democrats, Republicans Updated: March 2, 2015 - 3:09 PM

Top leaders in the Minnesota House and Senate have proposed creating a legislative budget office to provide legislators "nonpartisan, accurate, and timely information on the fiscal impact of proposed legislation."

The bills, introduced Monday, come after Republicans late last week questioned a report issued just hours ahead of a floor vote on a GOP-sponsored bill that would revise teacher seniority rules that guide layoffs. 

The report, known as a fiscal note, was prepared by the Department of Education and approved by the Minnesota Management and Budget Office (MMB). 

Under the current structure, fiscal notes are prepared by agencies who would be affected by proposed legislation. It is then approved by MMB. Lawmakers from both parties have in the past questioned analysis, raising questions of partisanship.

The House bill is sponsored by Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers. The Senate companion bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook.

It would require that state departments and agencies, as well as the state Supreme Court, provide information to the proposed Legislative Budget Office.  

Republican consulting firm demands Minn. GOP repay overdue bills

Posted by: Patrick Condon under Minnesota campaigns, Political ads, Republicans Updated: March 2, 2015 - 7:10 PM

(This post has been updated.)

A Republican-allied national political consulting firm is demanding the Minnesota Republican Party pay back more than $200,000 in overdue bills related to last year's election. 

"We did work on behalf of the party," Peter Valcarce, founder and chairman of Salt Lake City-based Arena Communications, wrote in an email to state GOP Chairman Keith Downey. "That work was performed based upon the good faith belief that monies which had been deposited and budgeted for party mail in support of Mike McFadden and Stewart Mills would be promptly paid to us." 

Valcarce, who sent the email last Monday, confirmed its legitimacy in a phone call. Valcarce said Monday that Downey responded by promising to deliver a repayment plan by the end of the day this Monday. 

In an interview, Downey said the state GOP has paid up "about 80 percent of the vendor invoices" related to the 2014 campaign. "We're confident everyone is going to be paid everything they're owed," he said. 

In all, Downey said, the party has covered 90 percent of campaign 2014 costs. Of those vendors waiting to be paid, he said, about 20 percent of the total payment has yet to be made. 

A major focus of Downey's chairmanship of the state party has been to restore financial stability to a party that teetered near bankruptcy in recent years. He is running for a second two-year term as state party chairman at a party gathering on April 11. 

"We're on a sound financial footing," Downey said. 

Valcarce's email to Downey carries an angry tone at times. "Claims that 'financial obligations have been met' and the like speak volumes." He later wrote: "We will continue to explore all options regarding recovering the monies owed to us." 

In the phone interview, Valcarce called the situation unusual. 

"It's the first time I've taken a step like this with a state party in the almost 20 years I've been in business," he said. 

Downey downplayed the significance of the overdue bills, and the harsh tone by fellow Republican political operatives. "Vendor communications are typically in private rather than public," he said. 

Rep. Tom Emmer lashes out at fellow Republicans

Posted by: Allison Sherry under Morning Hot Dish newsletter, 6th District, Republicans, President Obama Updated: March 1, 2015 - 4:00 PM

WASHINGTON -- Mere weeks into his first term as a U.S. congressman, Republican Rep. Tom Emmer is challenging the right flank of his party.

Just after midnight Saturday, Emmer issued a statement calling out Republican House colleagues who don't support fully funding the Department of Homeland Security because of President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration.

Some House Republicans have said they only support funding the Department -- responsible for border and airport security, customs, immigration -- if cash is stripped out to execute Obama's immigration executive orders issued last year. 

Democrats and the White House find this position unacceptable and the issue has sparked a stalemate on Capitol Hill. A few hours before DHS ran out of money Friday at midnight, the Senate approved a seven-day funding bill and the House did the same. This means it will have be resolved, again, by this Friday.

"I am disappointed that many of my colleagues chose to put the security of Americans at stake and waste time playing politics," said Emmer, who replaced Rep. Michele Bachmann in January. "Congress has a solemn responsibility. As a body, we should never hold America's safety hostage simply for political gamesmanship ... With recent terror threats to the Mall of America hitting so close to home and the potential need for natural disaster relief in Minnesota during the winter months, it is imperative we approve the funding the DHS needs."

Emmer said he disagrees with Obama's immigrations actions, but thinks it will be solved in the courts. Two-dozen states, led by Texas, are challenging the constitutionality of the immigration orders.

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