WASHINGTON -- Sen. Al Franken was elated Thursday when the Federal Communications Commission approved rules that ensure Internet providers treat all legal content equally.
"Last spring, I could not have predicted that we would be celebrating this victory today," Franken said, on the Senate floor. "The best principles of our democracy have won out. It's clear that the voices of the American people have been heard. I've often called net neutrality the free speech issue of our time."
Franken has long fought in the weeds on net neutrality. At a Judiciary Committee hearing last year on the issue, there was standing room only because so many "free Internet" activists filled the room to hear Franken speak. Franken often talked about Comcast's "100 lobbyists" on Capitol Hill fighting against the issue and challenged fellow Judiciary Committee Republican Sen. Ted Cruz to explain his opposition to net neutrality. Cruz called the issue "the Obamacare for the Internet."
"It was a statement that seemed to demonstrate a basic misunderstanding of what net neutrality is and how the Internet works," Franken said Thursday."Some folks really don't get it."
Franken said thanks to the FCC's ruling -- commissioners split on a party line vote -- he can "stream videos of my amazingly cute grandson just as easily as I can stream a hit TV show."
Two-thirds of Minnesotans would support amending the Minnesota Constitution to protect electronic data from warrantless searches, according to a poll commissioned by advocates for the effort.
The survey of 500 Minnesota voters conducted Feb. 24-25 by Public Policy Polling revealed that 66 percent would support the amendment which would, according to its proposed language would shield “electronic communications and data from unreasonable searches and seizures as they are now likewise secure in their persons, homes, papers and effects.”
Sixteen percent of respondents would oppose such an amendment, while 18 percent were not sure, according to the poll paid for by Liberty Minnesota and the Republican Liberty Caucus.
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, lead sponsor of the amendment and a key privacy advocate in the Legislature, is heading a broad coalition in support of the amendment. said he hopes the results will help the measure gain traction in the Senate, where Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, has been reluctant to give the bill a hearing, saying it's redundant in the wake of court rulings that already protect electronic data. Two House committees have signed off on the amendment, with a few more remaining.
“It’s great news,” Petersen said. “If policymakers didn’t already know, this should send a clear message. Hopefully this can add to the momentum that we have going and continue to convince those people sitting on the fence that their constituents really care and are generally concerned about how the state may have access to their personal information.”
Poll respondents who evenly identified as Democrats, Republicans and Independents, shows widespread support for keeping data private, but respondents were evenly split on whether to rein in government surveillance under certain circumstances. Slightly more democrats supported the amendment than Republicans, while 18-29 year olds showed the broadest support for the amendment with 86 percent support.
Petersen said the questions are straightforward, and do well to reflect the public mood when it comes to privacy.
“We used what I think is relatively objective language,” he said.
See the poll results here:
WASHINGTON -- Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek shared a stage with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson Thursday urging members of Congress to fund the federal agency in the next 30 hours or it will shut down.
A shutdown means forced furloughs for about 20 percent of the DHS personnel staff. Everyone else -- for example TSA and Customs and Border Protection agents at the airport and FEMA workers -- will be forced to work without pay.
Stanek is worried about federal grants.
Minnesota received about $10 million in cash from DHS last year -- fully half of that went to Hennepin County to help with law enforcement. While the money has been allocated, Stanek hasn't received all of it and if DHS shut down, the personnel office workers who cut the checks would not be coming to work.
"This is a critical time with what happened over the past weekend with the propoganda video and working with our diaspora community with countering violent extremism," Stanek said. "There could be a natural manmade disaster in Minnesota, an oil tanker turnover ... It's very important."
Congress is debating now whether to fund DHS "cleanly" -- that is, without Republican-added amendments stripping away money to enforce President Barack Obama's immigration reform orders from last year. Democrats fought back against the amendments, which led to the current standstill.
The Department runs out of money at midnight tomorrow.
(This post has been updated)
The issue that already divided Democrats at Minnesota's Capitol -- Gov. Mark Dayton's pay raises for his cabinet -- split Republicans on Thursday too, with the Senate GOP strongly against the deal struck between Dayton and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt to resolve the dispute.
The Senate narrowly approved the compromise Thursday, in a 35-29 vote that saw the chamber's Republicans in uniform opposition. A few hours later the House approved the bill much more widely, 108-20, with almost no debate.
The bill now heads to Dayton, who said he would sign it.
The lively Senate debate put majority Democrats in the position of defending Dayton and Daudt's deal, which put Dayton's $900,000 in pay raises to 30 state commissioners on hold and restores legislative oversight of future salary hikes, but gives Dayton a one-day window on July 1 to restore the raises.
"We are not stopping these increases. These increases will still go into effect," said Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville. Dayton would not say earlier Thursday whether he intends to restore the raises.
Dayton and Daudt negotiated the deal after Dayton's public falling-out with Senate DFL Leader Tom Bakk over the issue. Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, stressed that point repeatedly as a succession of Republicans bashed the compromise, and suggested it would be a political liability for Democrats in 2016.
Minnesota Action Network, a right-leaning political group founded by former Sen. Norm Coleman, already circulated campaign-style literature targeting DFL Sen. Melisa Franzen of Edina over the pay raise issue. She's a likely target of Republicans hoping to pick up swing district seats in 2016.
But the support from most House Republicans could defang it as a winning political issue for Republicans. "I want to thank Speaker Daudt personally. He has said we're not going to politicize these issues of commissioner pay for the rest of the session," said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
Few DFL senators spoke in favor of the raises, though Cohen called them defensible. "State government has lost significant folks of high competence and high quality," he said.
The pay issue got attached to a stopgap spending bill that includes about $16 million in emergency money for a handful of state agencies and operations.
The Republican-led House on Thursday sent back to committee a bill that would revise teacher seniority rules, requiring that teacher performance be considered during staff reductions.
Minnesota is one of fewer than a dozen states where a teacher’s job security during staff cuts is determined largely by the date he or she was hired. Between 2008 and 2013, nearly 2,200 teachers were laid off under the so-called "last in, first out" provision in state law and in locally-negotiated teaching contracts.
Responding to a fiscal analysis that found that legislation would cost the state $895,000 over the next two years to carry out provisions of the bill, the House voted to re-refer the measure to the House Ways and Means Committee. The fiscal note was published shortly before the House session convened.
The House action follows a recent Star Tribune review of 114 local teaching contracts that found that school districts rarely deviate from the seniority standard in state law even when they can.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, would also make it easier for out-of-state teachers to become licensed in Minnesota. Supporters of this part of the bill say the current process for out-of-state educators is overly complicated and often requires applicants to hire lawyers to secure a state teaching license.
Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union, opposes the bill arguing that seniority-guided layoffs provides a stable framework for administrators and keeps the most experienced teachers in the classroom.
It also argues that the bill "would allow educators from other states to teach in Minnesota without having to meet the same standards as educators trained in Minnesota teacher preparation programs."
This story was updated with the House floor vote to re-refer the bill to the House Ways and Means committee.
Photo: A measure by Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, that would end the so-called "last in, first out" policy that guides teacher layoffs, was referred back to a House committee. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune)