WASHINGTON -- Sen. Al Franken on Tuesday fired off another letter to Uber headquarters in San Francisco, asking the ride-sharing company to further clarify its privacy policies.
This is the second time Minnesota's junior senator has pushed the company to be more transparent about how it stores and uses millions of consumers rider information.
Late last year, amid news reports Uber threatened to publicize private data about journalists' writing negative stories about the company, Franken wrote the company a letter asking for clarification about its privacy practices. The company responded, though not to Franken's satisfaction, he said Tuesday.
"I appreciate that Uber responded and has expressed its commitment to improving its data privacy and protection policies and practices," he said, in a statement. "However, while I'm pleased that I received a reply, I was, and still am, concerned about the lack of detail in the response."
Tuesday's letter to the company asked for clarification on how Uber defines "legitimate business purpose" when employees are able to access consumer rider information. He also pressed the company on when, and with whom, it shares customer data.
Uber, which works by consumers sending for drivers via an app on a smart phone, now operates in every major U.S. city and 52 countries worldwide. Last June, its valuation was set at $18 billion. Its smaller competitor Lyft was also pressed by Franken last year to clarify privacy practices. Franken was mostly satisfied with Lyft's response, which arrived earlier this month.
Franken asked Uber to meet a Feb. 11 deadline.
Gov. Mark Dayton is recommending more than $11 million in state dollars go toward reform of the state’s controversial sex offender program.
The recommendation, part of Dayton’s proposed $42 billion budget unveiled Tuesday, includes allocating $7.3 million in the 2016-17 biennium and $3.8 million in 2018-19 biennium to evaluate the treatment progress of the residents of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) and to move 50 of them to less-restrictive settings if they are approved. Nearly 700 residents are held indefinitely at treatment centers in Moose Lake and St. Peter.
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which oversees MSOP, two people have been discharged from the program, one in 2012 and the other in 2014. Both are in supervised community placements. A third was provisionally discharged in 2000, but it was revoked because he did not comply with the program, although he did not reoffend, the department said.
The controversial program has long remained a hot potato for lawmakers and Gov. Dayton, who blame one another for failing to address problems with MSOP, whose policies were described by a federal judge as “draconian” and ordered the Legislature to take action or face court-ordered changes.
A draft opinion from a key state board finds no conflict of interest on the part of Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who recently took a job with a group that lobbies the Legislature.
The draft opinion of the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board can be seen here. (Beginning page 61.)
Republicans had accused Tomassoni of a conflict of interest after taking a job with the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, an Iron Range group that lobbies the Legislature for state funds. Tomassoni has said he won't begin as executive director until after this legislative session, will take a leave-of-absence during future legislative sessions, and will not lobby his colleagues on RAMS issues.
A letter from the board summarizing the opinion reads, in part: "A conflict of interest occurs from a specific decision or action that meets certain criteria. A conflict of interest is not created by a legislator’s employment or occupation. As drafted this opinion is consistent with prior advisory opinions issued to members of the Legislature on this subject."
Republican leaders of the Minnesota Legislature gave a chilly reception to the budget proposal that Gov. Mark Dayton released Tuesday, arguing that it spends too big over the next two years and doesn't go far enough in setting priorities for state government.
"He is spending every penny of this," House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said of the state's current $1 billion budget surplus. "We are also a little disappointed in the lack of returning some of the money back to Minnesotans."
The budget blueprint that Dayton submitted to legislators Tuesday calls for a total of $42 billion in state spending for the two years that start on July 1. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, pointed out that the size of the two-year budget was $34 billion when Dayton took office.
"That is a big increase in spending," Hann said.
By far the largest share of spending boosts in the Dayton proposal would go to schools, both an increase in per-pupil payments to schools, and specific increases in programs that target early learning. Republicans criticized that approach, saying education programs demand "reforms" aimed at increasing student performance.
"It spends more money doing the same things we've done the last 15 to 20 years, and we have not seen any results so far, and somehow we're expected to believe that's going to improve education and make it excellent?" Hann said.
Daudt did say he supported Dayton's proposal to boost spending for early reading programs. But he said he was disappointed Dayton did not propose additional state money for nursing homes, which has been a high priority for the new House Republican majority.
The only major piece of tax relief in Dayton's proposal is a $100 million child care tax credit. Republicans said they were open to that, although Daudt said Dayton's proposed income ceiling of $124,000 might be too high. "I'm not sure that's the kind of folks that need that kind of tax relief," Daudt said.
Republicans were not forthcoming with details of their own budget priorities. Daudt said Republicans would not start assembling budget bills until after the next state economic forecast, in late February. He also said Republicans were not yet ready to say how much under $42 billion the next budget should be.
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