Minnesota home care workers celebrated Tuesday after voting to unionize in what is widely considered the largest election of its kind in state history.
Of 5,872 ballots cast, 60 percent of home care providers voted to organize the Service Employees International Union. Home care providers and their clients erupted in cheers when the results were announced at the AFL-CIO’s labor pavilion Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
“We have been working towards this day for many years, we’ve seen the stories of the low pay, lack of benefits and training and the low pay facing home care workers,” said home care provider Sumer Spika of St. Paul, who helped organize the effort. “We know what this does to Minnesota families and we know that it needs to change.”
Of nearly 27,000 eligible voters, only 21 percent cast ballots. Opponents say the number who did not vote ‘Yes’ is indicative of the number of providers who did not want a union, and vow to continue a legal challenge to the unionization.
“No one is opposing the right of individual homecare providers to freely associate with the union if they so choose, but the issue raised in this legal challenge is whether those individuals who don’t want anything to do with the union can have it imposed on them.” Said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation in the wake of the election results. That’s why the providers’ legal challenge to this forced unionism scheme will go forward.”
Barring the legal challenge, the home care providers’ union will now begin bargaining with the state.
The Minnesota Department of Health, which will administer the state's brand new medical marijuana program, is looking to hire someone who can run it.
The agency posted a job ad at the end of last week for chief administrator of a new division, the Office of Medical Cannabis. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the medical marijuana program into law last week, with an expectation that about 5,000 patients with a range of maladies could have access to compounds of the cannabis plant starting in July 2015.
The words "cannabis" and "marijuana" are interchangeable in reference to the drug, but the plant genus is properly known as cannabis. Many advocates have adopted that word in an attempt to avoid the negative cultural and legal connotations of the word marijuana.
According to the job posting on the state of Minnesota's employment website, the administrator of the Office of Medical Cannabis will be responsible for developing the program's vision and staffing plan, managing its budget, and overseeing the private contractors that will grow and distribute cannabis to patients. Other job duties will include communicating with the governor's office and state lawmakers, law enforcement and the media.
The administrator will report not directly to the commissioner of health, but rather an assistant commissioner for strategic initiatives. Pay for the position will be between $73,811 and $105,862 annually, according to the job ad, and the state is taking applications through June 20.
Experts have described Minnesota's fledgling program as unique compared to 21 other medical marijuana programs around the country. Minnesota will be the only state that will prohibit patients from possessing plants and smoking marijuana. Instead, participants will have access to cannabis compounds in oil or liquid forms, and will consent to have their treatment closely monitored by the Department of Health.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed an agreement Friday that will sharply limit his ability to personally bankroll his re-election campaign.
Dayton agreed not to spend more than $20,000 of his own money in exchange for about $447,000 in public subsidy. The agreement also limits Dayton’s campaign to about $3.6 million.
That's a sharp contrast to 2010, when Dayton poured $3.7 million of his own money into the campaign and narrowly beat GOP rival Tom Emmer.
Now an incumbent with a list of accomplishments, the governor said the agreement will allow him to spend less time raising money and more time traveling the state meeting with Minnesotans.
The agreement has no bearing on what outside groups can spend defending Dayton or attacking his rivals.
Dayton, a department store heir, has already embarked on an active fundraising schedule, taking in more than $1.1 million.
Dayton and his running mate, Tina Smith, came to the Secretary of State’s office Friday to file the paperwork to make their campaign official.
The governor said the theme of his first campaign was to make Minnesota better.
“I think we’ve indisputably made Minnesota a better state,” said Dayton, noting new education investments, a balanced budget and progressive legislation, such as legalization of same-sex marriage. “That’s why I am running, not only to make Minnesota better, but to make it the best.”
Dayton and Smith will travel to Duluth this weekend to accept the DFL’s endorsement for governor and lieutenant governor.
Ample signs are already emerging that Dayton will have a heated and divisive race.
A GOP group that has criticized Dayton and Democrats for months parked a rented truck in front of the Secretary of State’s office displaying a huge banner criticizing the governor for the troubled rollout of MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange.
The group, Minnesota Jobs Coalition, plans to park the truck outside the DFL State Convention in Duluth.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday signed the bill legalizing marijuana treatment of some medical conditions including cancer, other terminal and some chronic diseases, and to help reduce seizures in children with epilepsy.
Dayton's signature officially makes Minnesota the 22nd U.S. state with a medical marijuana program. About 5,000 people are expected to be eligible , with the first legal access to compounds of the cannabis plant expected on July 1, 2015.
"I thank everyone who worked together to craft and pass this legislation. I pray it will bring to the victims of ravaging illnesses the relief they are hoping for," Dayton said in a prepared statement.
The governor signed the bill privately, with no public ceremony as he often does with high-profile legislation. Dayton's insistence that law enforcement groups and some medical organizations sign off on the final proposal angered many of the private citizens who lobbied for the bill. That group included adult patients as well as parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy.
The state Department of Health will manage the medical marijuana program, in which enrollees will consent to have their use and outcomes closely monitored. There are nine qualifying medical conditions, which besides those mentioned above also include HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, Tourette's syndrome, ALS and Crohn's Disease. Patients' medical providers will have to confirm to the state that they are eligible to participate.
Minnesota's program will have a number of unique aspects compared to the other states. It will be the only medical marijuana program in the country that does not allow possession and smoking of actual marijuana plant material. Instead, patients will have access to oils and liquids that contain various plant extracts. Many doctors with experience in medical marijuana call that unusual, given that oil extracts are seen as much more potent that the plant.
Police and prosecutor groups lobbied heavily against allowing plants or smoking in Minnesota's program, and Dayton made it clear for months that he was not willing to support a medical marijuana bill if it was opposed by law enforcement groups.
Private manufacturers will bid with the Department of Health to produce and distribute the oils and liquids. The law authorizes to manufacturing and eight distribution sites around the state.
Most of the Legislature's Democrats and many Republicans approved the program in the closing days of the legislative session.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Kurt Zellers has tapped former Rep. Dean Simpson as his running mate, selecting someone more moderate on issues of the minimum wage and taxation.
“He is what Main Street Minnesota is all about,” said Zellers, a former Minnesota House Speaker who served with Simpson in the Legislature. “We’ve been missing a good salesman and a good cheerleader for Minnesota for the last four years."
Simpson described himself as “a little bit on the moderate side” at a Capitol news conference to introduce the team. A former New York Mills mayor and four-decade grocery store owner, Simpson has voted in favor of tax increases before and said he supports looking at expanding the sales tax to include more items.
He also said he has no interest in repealing the minimum wage increase DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Democratic legislators passed earlier this year.
Simpson said his grocery store employees make more than the minimum wage and that once the new $9.50 hourly wage is fully implemented, he will probably give workers raises to make sure they are comfortably above it.
“I am certainly not going to try to do anything to repeal it, that’s for sure,” Simpson said.
Simpson’s position puts him at odds with the candidate at the top of the ticket.
After Democrats announced the deal to raise the base wage, Zellers pledged to work to rescind the wage increase if elected governor.
Zellers expressed skepticism about tax breaks that Dayton and legislative leaders agreed to as part of the successful bid to lure the Super Bowl to Minnesota in 2018.
Zellers was a prominent opponent of the state-backed portion of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, but Simpson supported a measure to aid the new Twins stadium.
Of the tax incentives for the Super Bowl, “I always thing that is tenuous at best,” Zellers said. “You introduce a few guys from Florida to ice fishing, that’s a great day.”
If elected, Zellers would likely need to become a crucial leader in the effort to make sure the event is a success.
The candidate declined to say whether he'd support state involvement, but added: “I am going to be the best cheerleader and the best salesman for Minnesota as I can be."
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