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Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe to halt walleye netting in 2016

Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe tribal leaders on Friday announced that they would temporarily halt the netting of walleye on Lake Mille Lacs next year.

A spokesman for Melanie Benjamin, the Mille Lacs Band's chief executive, said the decision -- heralded as a "tremendous sacrifice" --  came after consultation with the tribe's drum keepers, or religious elders. 

In a letter to the Mille Lacs Band, Benjamin wrote that the drum keepers said the tribe "must sacrifice for the sake of the walleye, and give them time to recover."

Netting of walleye will be through the end of the 2016 season and "until the health of the walleye can be evaluated."

The letter said that "ceremonial netting" will still be conducted in consultation with the tribe's drum keepers.

The announcement came just before Gov. Mark Dayton participated in a town hall meeting in Isle near Lake Mille Lacs. 

In a separate statement on Dayton's visit, Benjamin said the tribe is working with the state's Department of Natural Resources, which co-manages the lake's fishing. 

"There are no quick solutions to fixing Mille Lacs Lake, but the Mille Lacs Band is committed to restoring the lake," Benjamin said. 

Dayton and legislative leaders are weighing an economic aid package to resorts and other tourism businesses near Lake Mille Lacs. The year's quota for walleye fishing is just days away from being reached, prematurely ending the fishing season on the lake. Dayton says the state should step in to assist resorts and other business who depend on the tourism that walleye fishing brings to the region. While the specifics of an aid package are still being determined, options include no-interest loans and tax exemptions.

While state scientists say that the netting of walleye by eight Indian bands cannot be blamed for the decline in the walleye population, others nonetheless have pointed to the practice as the culprit. 

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appoints health care task force

Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday appointed his former state budget commisisoner, an Olmsted County commissoner and former state senator, a handful of doctors and others to a new state task force on the future of public health care in Minnesota. 

Dayton proposed the task force earlier this year in response to concerns about MNsure, the state's health insurance exchange under Obamacare; and MinnesotaCare, which provides state subsidies to low-income patients. 

MNsure has consistently struggled to deliver health insurance coverage efficiently and effectively. MinnesotaCare has serious funding questions in its future, with the planned 2019 elimination of a state tax on medical providers that's been a major source of funding for the program. The programs are deeply connected as MinnesotaCare recipients choose coverage through MNsure. 

Earlier this year, House Republicans voted to eliminate MinnesotaCare. Dayton and Senate DFLers united against the plan. Republicans have also been highly critical of MNsure. In the end, Republicans signed on to Dayton's task force proposal, which includes both gubernatorial and legislative appointees. 

Dayton appointed 11 members. They include Jim Schowalter, who led the state Management and Budget office under Dayton and now leads the Minnesota Council of Health Plans. Olmsted County Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden, a former state senator, also got an appointment. 

Three doctors are among Dayton's appointees, as well as several healthcare executives, a labor official and several community activists. House Speaker Kurt Daudt appointed two state legislators, an insurance agency president and a business consultant. 

The group starts meeting in August and must present a set of recommendations to Dayton and legislators by January 15, 2016. 

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