Ahead of a Wednesday congressional hearing on rail safety, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz will host a roundtable discussion with community leaders and first responders today in Winona.
Walz, a member of the House Transportation Committee, called for the Wednesday hearing on the dangers of hauling crude oil and hazardous materials in response to concerns from residents in La Crescent, a town in his southern Minnesota district with a heavily trafficked freight rail route.
The mayors and fire chiefs from La Crescent and Winona are among those expected to attend today’s meeting.
Representatives from the state Department of Transportation, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Gov. Mark Dayton’s office also plan to attend.
One of the Republicans vying to run against Walz in November criticized the congressman’s approach on the issue.
“Moving oil via pipeline, rather than railcar, is about 70 percent cheaper and far safer. Yet Rep. Walz and his liberal buddies block the safe and efficient transport of U.S. energy and then carp about the danger of moving it by other means,” Jim Hagedorn said.
“Mark my words, their next move will be issuance of even more regulations against the railroad industry.”
A question about the Affordable Care Act led to uncomfortable silence for three Minnesota Democrats -- U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz – during a town hall forum on farm issues this week in Mankato.
“I thought the Affordable Health Care Act was to save $2500 per family. What happened?” a resident asked the trio about President Obama’s pledge that the health care law would save families money.
After an awkward moment where the lawmakers shrugged and looked to each other for a response, Peterson grabbed the microphone.
“I voted ‘no,’ so I’ll let these guys handle that,” he replied, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Klobuchar and Walz acknowledged problems while defending the law, according to a report from KEYC News Channel 12 of Mankato.
“This health care discussion has got to be broader, it’s got to point out where there’s weaknesses and failures, it’s got to make sure that we’re not leaving people behind or distorting the system,” Walz said. “But don’t pretend that there was some type of safe harbor before this where everything was just peachy keen.”
KEYC issued a clarification Friday after Fox News aired a snippet of the video, claiming the lawmakers were laughing at a man’s frustration with the health care law. State and national Republicans also circulated part of the clip.
A statement from KEYC news director Dan Ruiter indicated that it was Peterson's quip, not the question about the health care law, that sparked the uproarious laughter.
“The story accused all three panel members of laughing at someone else's suffering. It also accused all three panel members of ducking the question. Anyone in attendance that day, or watching the story in its entirety that evening, knows that nothing could be further from the truth,” Ruiter wrote.
For Democrats running for Congress in dozens of districts, the Affordable Care Act could be one of the largest obstacles to their re-election bids in November.
Republicans seeking to knock off Peterson and Walz have hammered them on the issue. Peterson voted against the bill in 2010 but has since opposed Republican attempts to dismantle the law.
Democratic U.S. Reps. Rick Nolan and Tim Walz are backing a bill that would ban cell phone calls during flights.
Nolan and Walz were among members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who voted to send the bill to the full House today. It was unclear when it would be considered there.
The House bill would prohibit passengers from making calls while airplanes are in the air, despite a recent ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that such calls would not interfere with telephone systems that are on the ground.
Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, introduced the House bill in December. Democratic U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison signed on as a co-sponsor soon after.
Walz’s staff said he backs Shuster’s “tap, don’t talk” approach: prohibit phone in-flight cell phone calls, but allow passenger to use their mobile devices to surf the Internet, e-mail and text.
Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
The FCC's proposal would allow airlines to decide whether to permit the calls, but the bills in Congress would mandate an industry-wide ban. The bills include exceptions for flight crews and federal air marshals.
Newly available campaign finance reports highlight the fundraising disparity in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race.
According to documents on the Federal Election Commission's website on Monday, Republican candidate Julianne Ortman raised $234,000 so far for her bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Republican candidate Jim Abeler raised $87,000.
Franken has raised more than $12.4 million for his re-election campaign and had nearly $5 million cash on hand. Republican candidate Mike McFadden raised $2.2 million and had $1.7 million left in the bank at the start of the year. Republican candidate Chris Dahlberg raised far less.
Franken, McFadden and Dahlberg released the summary information from their reports by January 31, back when reports were due to be filed federally.
At that time, neither Ortman or Abeler released details of their fundraising reports. Because Senate candidates do not file their reports electronically, it takes a while for them to be uploaded to the FEC website. Ortman said last week that she had "nearly a quarter of a million dollars in 2013."
House candidates file their reports electronically so their fundraising information is available online when the reports are filed.
See all the fundraising information released by Minnesota's federal candidates for office below.
(scroll to see the numbers)
Both chambers of Congress will host hearings this month to probe passenger and freight rail safety in response to a spate of derailments involving tanks cars carrying crude oil.
Members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, called for the hearings to examine the derailments, which rocked communities from New Mexico to New York.
For Klobuchar and Walz, the one that hit closest to home happened in December, when a train carrying crude oil ran off the tracks in Casselton, N.D., sparking a massive explosion that led authorities to evacuate the town.
A Senate subcommittee will meet Thursday to review "recent high-profile rail accidents, positive train control implementation and other key safety challenges," according to a release from Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat.
“The recent derailments in North Dakota and Canada underscore the need to find commonsense ways to strengthen our rail infrastructure and protect communities near rail routes,” said Klobuchar, a member of the committee.
The House Transportation Committee will host a subcommittee hearing Feb. 26.
Walz, a member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, called for a hearing on the potential pitfalls of hauling crude oil and hazardous materials. Concerns from residents in La Crescent, a town in his southern Minnesota district with a highly-trafficked freight rail route, sparked his push.
“We must do everything we can to protect the communities that these hazardous materials are shipped through,” Walz.
Witness lists for the hearings have not yet been released, but federal regulators are expected to attend both.
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