Hours after authorities announced charges against six men for allegedly attempting to leave the country to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a Minnesota House panel voted to boost state funding tenfold to combat Somali terrorist recruitment in Minnesota.
During a Monday evening House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, proposed a $250,000 increase to the Department of Public Safety as part of the Omnibus Public Safety Policy and Finance bill. The money will be used to combat the recruitment of Minnesotans to join ISIL and al-Shabaab.
“In light of the recent news that six young men were arrested for planning to join ISIS, this investment couldn’t be timelier,” Kahn said in a statement. “This funding will go a long way in bolstering the collaboration between community groups and government agencies in developing strategies to combat terrorism. Under this bill we’ll be able to better understanding the appeal and recruitment tools used to lure young men into terrorism and develop an effective response so more misguided youth aren’t tricked into becoming terrorists.”
The charges are the latest since ISIL and other terrorism groups have made clear their intent to lure young men from Minnesota—home of the largest Somali population in the country—to fight for their cause.
The issue has caught the attention of federal authorities, who have convened grand juries to investigate. While many have disappeared, others have been sentenced to prison for aiding recruitment efforts.
A bipartisan measure to support spinal cord injury research is missing from the House higher education budget, frustrating paralyzed Minnesotans and their allies.
For the fifth year, advocates for Minnesota’s 10,000 citizens with spinal cord injuries (SCI) have proposed some form of the measure. They say this year’s proposed $8 million allocation would be matched by the National Institutes for Health and distributed to Minnesota institutions for research into paralysis and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). While the Senate passed $1 million in grants as part of its higher education budget, SCI research advocates say the measure has failed to gain any traction despite hundreds of hours of lobbying and backing from a number of lawmakers including the bill’s chief authors, Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, and Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake.
Matthew Rodreick, executive director of the Get Up Stand Up 2 Cure Paralysis Foundation, said the grant would capitalize on Minnesota’s legacy as a home for medical innovation. Not only would it improve lives, he said, but it could cut back on the millions in healthcare costs for paralyzed Minnesotans. They’re putting their hopes in epidural stimulation, used in part with a device created by Medtronic that would be implanted in patients. It’s currently undergoing some trials at Mayo Clinic and in Louisville, Ky. If the grants were approved, they say some of Minnesota's SCI patients could have access within a year.
Rodreick, who joined the movement after his son Gabe was paralyzed a teenager, said the larger population often focuses on people with spinal cord injuries as an inspiration for their perseverance and positive attitudes, rather than the potential that research could hold.
“We call that inspiration porn,” Rodreick said. “It dilutes the humanity of this community and doesn’t allow us to tell the story that we come here to tell as citizens of Minnesota.”
Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, called the proposed funding an example of the much larger political battle about the Legislature’s priorities.
“It’s not a pie-in-the-sky thing. It’s something that’s here and now and can help people,” he said. “When you look at a $40-plus billion budget, and the amount that’s being asked for and the amount of good it can do, it becomes a question of what are our priorities,”
Days after they testified before the House Higher Education Committee, more than a half-dozen wheelchairs again filled a hearing room Monday to make their presence known to the House Ways and Means Committee, only for the brief hearing to be adjourned until 7 p.m. As the advocates regrouped, they shared their stories.
Rob Wudlick – Wudlick, a 30-year-old from Excelsior, is in his third year rallying for the state-funded grants. A quadriplegic, Wudlick was injured four years ago while rafting down the Grand Canyon. Life since for the engineer has been difficult, to say the least. It takes about three hours to get ready in the morning, and he’s no longer able to productively work. He lives with his parents in Excelsior.
“I’ve always said I have confidence, instead of hope, that I would get better.” he said. It could mean the ability one day get out of his chair, and regaining independence with restoration of bowel, bladder and sex functions. Spinal stimulators being tested are doing just that, he said.
Jenni Taylor – Taylor, 28, of Minnetonka, was a teenager when a car accident left her paralyzed from the neck down. Despite being dependent on a ventilator, she paints with her mouth, blogs, got her associate’s degree in communications and won Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota in 2011. In 12 years, she’s regained feeling in most of her body, and can move her arms slightly. The thought of research that could one day give her even more independence invigorates her, while frustrating her that it’s out of reach.
“It’s not only for me, but this could help other people in the future,” Taylor said.
Kelsey Peterson – Peterson, the reigning Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota, smiles and says the reasons are far-reaching for supporting research.
“It would just mean getting my body back,” said Peterson, 30, who injured nearly three years ago after she dove from a boat on Lake Superior into shallow water. She’s now quadriplegic, with limited movement in her arms. Research could not only affect SCI and TBI patients, she said, but anyone who loves and cares about them.
“It’s not how anybody wants to live. It sucks, I’m not gonna lie,” she said. “We’re making it work, we’re still living, but it would be life-changing.
Lynne Dorr – Dorr, 47, of Blaine, was an active working mom when a traffic accident with a deer left her quadriplegic.
“It literally takes pretty much everything away,” she said as her shy young daughter perched on her lap. “I’d like some of that back. If I could have my hands, maybe I could make dinner. I could clean my own house, take care of myself and take care of my kids. If I could become more able bodied I think I would like to more active in the physical part of just life.”
There are so many people things non-paralyzed people don’t think about, Dorr said. It’s not just running and being active, but simple activities like sitting on the couch next to her kids instead of in a wheelchair, or the importance of touch in personal relationships. She reached out and stroked her daughter’s arm.
“I do this to her, but I can’t feel her,” she said.
Photo: Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, talks with advocates for spinal cord injury research.
(This post has been updated)
The Minnesota Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to exclude state tax dollars from being spent on a proposed new soccer stadium near downtown Minneapolis.
The widely bipartisan, 61-4 vote in favor of the ban came during debate on a broad budget bill covering state departments and operations. The Senate later approved the full bill, but a companion House bill funding state government does not currently include the soccer stadium provision.
The amendment's effect may be largely symbolic in any case. The private group that's landed a Major League Soccer franchise has not asked for a direct state subsidy, and the Senate amendment does not tie the hands of elected officials in Hennepin County or Minneapolis, who are likely to be involved in funding talks.
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, proposed the ban in the form of amendment clarifying that "no state funds may be appropriated or tax expenditures used to fund the construction of a new major league soccer stadium."
A private ownership group led by Dr. Bill McGuire has landed a Major League Soccer franchise and is eyeing a site near the Minneapolis Farmer's Market for a stadium for the Minnesota United FC. The group met last week with legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton, and indicated they'd be seeking a property tax exemption and a sales tax break on construction materials for the new stadium.
The sales tax exemption would carry a price tag of about $3 million, against a private investment of around $250 million.
Monday's overwhelming Senate vote was yet another sign the group has a tough road ahead in seeking any public support, however small. Dayton, DFL and GOP leaders at the Capitol and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges have all previously voiced opposition to a public component to the plan.
No proposal for public involvement in stadium construction has been introduced in either the Senate or House.
House Republicans unveiled about $2 billion in tax cuts on Monday, a package that GOP leaders said would lower taxes for more than 2 million Minnesotans through a new state personal or dependent exemption.
Tax cuts are a top priority of the new GOP majority in the House, and the personal or dependent exemption is the centerpiece of their tax omnibus bill. It's estimated to cost the state $539 million in lost tax revenue over two years.
"Our priority in this tax relief package is clear: middle-class Minnesota families," said House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers. She said the exemption could save a middle-class family of four $500 over the next two years.
The GOP also proposes elimination of the statewide general property tax, which is paid by corporations and businesses. That would cost the state $453 million in two years of lost revenue. The GOP bill doles out smaller tax cuts in a number of other areas, from a tax credit on student loan payments, to a reduction in the estate tax, to tax incentives for research and development.
The personal or dependent tax exemption would be a one-time benefit, and would expire after two years. The elimination of the business property tax would be permanent.
House DFL leaders criticized the proposal as too focused on tax cuts for business owners. "With a $2 billion surplus and growing economy, we should embrace this chance to create more opportunity for all Minnesotans to get ahead," said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
Gov. Mark Dayton and the Senate DFL majority have proposed far less in tax cuts than the House GOP, although the Republican plan does incorporate some tax cuts requested by Dayton, including tax credits geared toward school expenses.
A detailed overview of the GOP tax bill can be found here.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Saturday addressed Education Minnesota delegates at their annual convention and urged them to call on legislators and tell them to support his $343-million plan to offer universal access preschool for the state's 4-year-olds.
Dayton's speech ended the annual convention, attended by about 600 delegates who gathered to discuss state and federal education issues and vote on changes to the union's constitution, among other union activities.
The second-term governor has pledged to spend much of the state's $1.9 billion projected surplus on education. Dayton said that his signature legislative proposal -- universal access to preschool -- is one that would help close the state's glaring achievement gap.
But with four weeks left until the end of the legislative session, the plan has not gained traction with the Legislature. The GOP-led House and the DFL-led Senate did not include funding for it in the education bills they unveiled last week.
"Now is the time to make the push," Dayton told delegates. "Now is the time, these next four weeks where [the Legislature is] going to decide… and believe me, they need to hear from every one of you and every one of your members, every one of your friends and families, especially legislators in your districts. Hold them to the test."
Education Minnesota, which represents 70,000 educators throughout the state, last week launched a television ad campaign in support of Dayton's education agenda.
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