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Torey Van Oot

Politics and Government | Reporter
Phone: 612-673-7299
Location: St. Paul

Torey Van Oot reports on Minnesota politics and government for the Star Tribune.

Van Oot covered state and national politics for more than a decade, contributing to outlets ranging from The Sacramento Bee to InStyle to The Washington Post. When she's not writing and tweeting about politics, Van Oot enjoys running, getting outdoors and checking out Minnesota's many craft breweries. She's told she has terrible taste in TV. Van Oot, who grew up in Vermont, lives in Minneapolis with her husband and a sweet but poorly behaved golden retriever.
Recent content from Torey Van Oot
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, right, spoke in the Senate Chamber on the first day of the legislative session in 2019.

Lopsided grants on Iron Range spark questions of favoritism

The program intended to foster economic growth on the Iron Range has given more money per capita in the past five years for projects in influential state Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk's district than any other — by about one-third, according to a review of public records.
A month after taking early retirement, IRRRB veteran Brian Hiti was back on the payroll as a part-time contractor making $41 an hour.

IRRRB veteran back on payroll after taking buyout

A veteran staffer was paid $166K to retire before being hired back a month later.
Andrew Zimmern has been paid more than $57,000 to promote Minnesota as a tourism destination in the past year, according to a review of state records.

State has paid Zimmern $57,000 to promote Minnesota as a destination

Zimmern's contract, which ends this month, required two posts per month to reach his more than 1 million Twitter and other social media followers.
Molten cheese oozes from a Jucy Lucy at Matt's Bar. (This does not constitute an endorsement.)

Matt's vs. 5-8? Klobuchar won't take sides in burger debate

As a three-term senator and presidential candidate, Amy Klobuchar is accustomed to fielding questions on some of the more divisive topics driving national politics. But…
Minnesota State Capitol. With just days before the end of session, lawmakers were locked in budget negotiations and unable to move ahead with major le

Why is the Minnesota Legislature's session so short?

The perennial end-of-session scramble raised a question for one reader: "They never get anything done, so why not extend it out and give them more time to get it done?"

Local governments spent $8.7 million to influence Minnesota Legislature

Hennepin County, other metro entities topped list.
Protesters rallied at the Minnesota State Capitol on May 21 to call for a stop to the abortion restrictions being instituted in some states. On Wednes

Lawsuit seeks to overturn Minnesota abortion restrictions

The lawsuit targets more than a dozen existing statutes, including a 24-hour waiting period and a provision mandating that fetal remains are buried or cremated.
Lawmakers returned to the State Capitol on Friday for a special session.

Minnesota lawmakers approve $48B budget in special session

After an all-night special session, both houses of the Legislature adjourned just before 7 a.m. after a series of votes on the next two years of state spending. But there was no deal on a public works borrowing bill, which will wait until next year.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman at a Sunday news conference announcing the budget agree

Walz calls special session for today to finalize state budget deal

The move caps a week of closed-door talks between the governor and House and Senate leaders scrambling to fill in details of state government budget bills.
A sign for Bde Maka Ska near the south shore of the south Minneapolis lake.

DFL lawmakers yield on Bde Maka Ska, leave name to courts

Lawmakers continue hash out budget bills' details ahead of special session.
OxyContin 80 mg pills in an August 2013 file image.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signs opioid crisis response bill

Increased fees for drugmakers will raise $20 million a year for addiction prevention and treatment.
A special session still looms at the Capitol to finish much of the work that was not completed before the session came to a close at midnight on Monda

Session's ending leaves many unhappy with closed process

On the day after, left-out legislators, interest groups and the public say lack of transparency in late-session deals must end.
Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt came onto the House floor Monday to talk with other Republican legislators and House Speaker Melissa Hortm

Legislature adjourns, but plans to come back Thursday

With time running out, legislative leaders tentatively planned a special session Thursday to hammer out final budget agreements through a series of conference committees or "working groups."
Sen. Julie Rosen, left, was the chief author of the Senate version of the opioid bill. Above, she left a negotiating session on May 15 with Senate Maj

'This is going to save lives': Deal reached on opioid bill

The agreement could make Minnesota the first state in the nation to establish a separate state fund dedicated to opioid addiction prevention and treatment.
Governor Tim Walz met privately Monday with journalists to make his case for the budget deal, hammered out over the last week and announced Sunday nig

State budget deal: No gas tax hike; health care tax continues

The deal denies Gov. Tim Walz much of the new revenue he wanted for road improvements, but leaves mostly intact a health care tax that Republicans sought to end. There's also a small middle-class income tax cut.
The budget talks continued behind closed doors at the governor’s office at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Friday.

At Minn. Capitol, pressure builds on budget talks as clock ticks

With every passing hour, lawmakers are more likely to need Gov. Tim Walz to call a special session of the Legislature once they adjourn at midnight Monday, as required.
Minnesota state Sen. Chris Eaton, left, and Chazz Smith, right, a cousin of the late rock star Prince, attend a rally at the Minnesota state Capitol i

New Minnesota opioid initiative stuck in legislative gridlock

Activists fear they are running out of time.
Members of OutFront Minnesota and conversion therapy survivors told their stories at a rally outside Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka’s office on

Backers of gay conversion therapy ban rally ahead of deadline

Advocates say compromise language offered by Republicans doesn't go far enough.
Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan returned to their offices after responding to the GOP budget offer Monday.

GOP, Dems sharply divided on taxes, stalling budget talks again

Monday's breakdown came after hours of incremental progress as formal negotiations resumed in earnest for the first time in nearly a week.
Gov. Tim Walz

Walz and legislators fail to make deal Sunday, remain $2B apart

While both sides say the talks have been collegial and productive, significant fiscal and ideological rifts remain between DFL leaders controlling the state House and governor's office and the Republican-led state Senate.
Genna Gazelka believes the conversion therapy they received as a teen has had a lasting and negative impact on their life.

Legislators get emotional in debate over gay conversion ban

Minnesota Senate GOP leader Paul Gazelka, father of child with a dual gender identity, seeks to heal political and personal wounds. "I cry over this issue," he said, choking up during an interview
Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker spoke with DFL legislators Rep. Rep. Jim Davnie and Rep. Cheryl Youakim before she laid out a case for Gov.

Divided state Legislature faces $700M spending gap on schools

Two wildly divergent education spending proposals emerged from the DFL-led House and the Republican-controlled Senate — with scarcely two weeks left in the legislative session.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka listened as Sen Carla Nelson, R-Rochester and Chair of the E-12 Finance and Policy Committee, talked about her edu

State Senate Republicans counter House DFL plan on school spending

Democrats, school leaders say the proposed funding level will lead to cuts.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka was gently nudged out of the news conference room after the conversation turned from upcoming Senate bills to what

Minnesota House moves to restore lake's legal name to Bde Maka Ska

Senate leader doesn't want it as a budget vote, while DFL Gov. Tim Walz calls move premature.
Protect Minnesota and Moms Demand Action for gun sense in America held a rally in the Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda on Monday.

Minn. House Democrats pass gun measures in public safety budget

But Senate leader says his chamber won't address them: 'The bills are dead.'
A sign for Bde Maka Ska near the south shore of the lake.

Bde Maka Ska is Lake Calhoun again, Court of Appeals rules

The state Court of Appeals ruled Monday that the former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr lacked authority to change the name of a lake that had existed for more than 40 years.
Sen. Tina Smith toured the Richfield Planned Parenthood clinic Friday, hugging CEO Sarah Stoez. Minnesota is challenging the new rules.

Clinics fight Trump plan to deny funding for abortion referrals

Proposal would affect 31 offices across Minnesota that provide referrals for abortions.
Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley listened as the House slogged through over a hundred amandments to the omnibus education bill on the Hou

Ritual of long hours, political divisions, take their toll at State Capitol

It's a marathon to get bills off the floors — and into talks.
Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

Minnesota House DFLers approve sweeping health care budget

Major rift expected with Republicans, Democrats far apart as May 1 deadline approaches.
Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley listened as the House slogged through more than 100 amendments to the omnibus education bill on the Hous

Minnesota House passes education budget increase, setting up clash with Senate

It passed a budget measure that looks little like the Senate proposal.
Republicans are taking aim at the Green New Deal, and Democratic activists are fighting for legislation to tackle climate change.

Environment becomes key voter concern in Minn., across U.S.

Perennial campaign issues like the economy, health care and immigration have long driven voters to the polls. But, in the face of growing international concern about the planet's future, climate change and the environment are emerging as key concerns.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

Omar shows strong fundraising; raises $830K for re-election campaign

The freshman Democrat's first-quarter fundraising outpaced many fellow members of Minnesota's congressional delegation.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., sits with fellow Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee during a bill markup, on Capitol Hill in Washington, W

Omar reports increased death threats following Trump tweet

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar has seen a spike in death threats since a tweet by President Donald Trump suggesting that she minimized the significance…
Sasha Yunginger, a teacher, says her student loan burden weighs heavily on her future.

Minn. lawmakers push tougher regulations for student loan companies

While the industry opposes state regulations, supporters argue that failing to act will have long-term consequences for the state's economy and workforce.
Dancer Nicholas Westlake

New Minnesota law closes prosecution loophole in LRT crashes

Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill Friday to close a hole in state law that local prosecutors say prevented them from charging a light-rail train…
House Representative Raymond Dehn gave a thumbs-up as hundreds of Minnesotans from the Freedom to Drive coalition filled the Capitol Rotunda as the Mi

Minnesota House passes bill to allow driver's licenses for all

The Minnesota House passed a measure Friday 74-52 that would give all immigrants the ability to get driver's licenses, even if they are in the country illegally.
Christine Giroux exits the voting booth at Transit Town Hall, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

Minnesota saw big boost in young voter turnout in 2018

Participation among voters 29 and younger rose across the country.
A crowd of about 100 gathered outside the Minneapolis Urban League to counter criticism of Rep. Ilhan Omar on Wednesday.

Rep. Omar backers rally in Minneapolis

Omar was not at the gathering outside the Urban League office, and a spokesman said her office was not affiliated with the event.
A photo from the scene following the fatal light rail crash that killed Nicolas Westlake in July 2017.

Light rail drivers could face reckless driving charges under Minnesota bill

The change was sparked by a 2017 crash in St. Paul that killed a 29-year-old man.
OxyContin pills.

State Senate OKs new fees on drug firms to fight opioid crisis

The bipartisan 59-6 vote came two weeks after the state House passed a similar measure, setting up negotiations to work out differences in the two bills before sending a final compromise to Gov. Tim Walz, who has said he will sign the final proposal into law.
Gov. Tim Walz looked to Department of Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey during a news conference and health care roundtable earlier in March.

Health care battle looms large at Minnesota Capitol

Dueling proposals vie to reshape the market in the state, especially with the rising cost of prescription drugs.

Minnesota legislators getting $1,500 raise

An independent commission voted Friday to increase the annual salary for Minnesota legislators to $46,500, giving lawmakers their second raise in as many years. The…
A 3 percent pay increase for Minnesota legislators is expected to be finalized during a Friday meeting of the Legislative Salary Council, an independe

Minnesota legislators will be getting a $1,500 pay raise

The independent panel that oversees legislator pay also urged lawmakers to reassess their per diem policy and switch to a plan that reimburses only for actual out-of-pocket expenses.
Gov. Tim Walz hopes to make Minnesota one of a handful of states with paid family leave.

Paid family leave in Minnesota is a coming flashpoint at Capitol

State Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, the GOP majority leader, called the cost projection "a real problem." He does not plan to hold hearings or a floor vote on the proposal this session.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., was among lawmakers who lost jobs in relation to sexual harassment allegations, a slew of which prompted policy changes in t

Minnesota Senate adopts new sexual harassment policy

It outlines guidelines for investigating complaints.
Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, called the parental visitation legislation one of her top priorities.

Shared parenting fight returns to Minn. Capitol

Lawmakers look at making baseline 50-50 for visitation.
Rep. Dean Phillips, shown in January during his swearing-in on the U.S. House floor in Washington.

Hot-button issues, local concerns dominate Rep. Dean Phillips' town hall

The new congressman met with about 100 constituents in Maple Grove.

Republican wins east-central Minnesota House district seat

The special election was triggered by former Rep. Jason Rarick's election to the state Senate.
Deaths by suicide and related to alcohol and opioid abuse are continuing to rise in Minnesota.

Minnesota suicides and other 'preventable deaths' reach record levels

Continual uptick is a "worrisome long-term trend," health officials say.
Minnesota students left school and went to the Capitol in St. Paul to be part of an international climate change protest, joining hundreds of thousand

'We need to cause an uproar': Minn. students 'strike' in climate fight

Friday's rally in St. Paul was part of a wave of student demonstrations worldwide.
State Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake

Debate over abortion, birth control heats up at Minnesota Capitol

Dueling proposals to limit abortion, expand birth control could become fodder for 2020 campaigns.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa), center and flanked by fellow Republicans after a legislative meeting in February.

Minn. Senate vote sets up clash over lowering health care costs

Gov. Tim Walz questions whether insurers have done enough to contain costs themselves and cautioned against giving the health plans a blank check.
Flood damage seen on a family farm in Madelia last year.

Minn. officials warn state to prepare for 'flood season'

The National Weather Service is predicting an increased risk of floods due to heavy snowfall.
Rep. Ilhan Omar represents the Fifth District.

Omar's actions fuel fresh doubts, divisions in her district

Disappointment, support follow remarks on Israel.
A patient received a prescription from his doctor as he combats chronic pain.

Chronic pain patients worry about bearing costs of opioid bills

Patients who rely on prescription opioids to manage chronic pain are raising fresh concerns about a proposal aimed at tackling the overdose epidemic.
Motor vehicle supervisor Tereza Bazac helps a customer at the Roseville License Center.

Minnesota legislators approve $13 million for MNLARS fix

The plan authorizes $13 million in state funds for technology improvements, maintenance and customer service support.

Mandatory sex-ed? Minn. lawmakers consider adding requirement

All Minnesota students would learn about pregnancy prevention, gender identity and the need for consent ahead of intimacy under a sex-ed requirement proposed by Democratic…
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Friday, “I know I can push people too hard.”

Klobuchar says she'll 'do better' in treatment of staffers

The Minnesota senator and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate responds to reports that she is hard on employees.
Republican state Sen. Carla Nelson, of Rochester

'Snow Day Relief Act' would let Minn. schools count snow days as instruction days

Extreme weather led to high number of closures.
A northwestern Minnesota chapter of the state Republican Party drew criticism Tuesday for a Facebook post comparing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders to Adolf

Minnesota GOP group condemned for Facebook post comparing Bernie Sanders to Hitler

Now-deleted Facebook post was condemned as "absurd" and anti-Semitic.
Under the proposal, Minnesota students would need to earn credit for a government and citizenship class in their junior or senior year in order to gra

Minnesota lawmakers want all high schools to offer civics for juniors, seniors

Supporters say Americans' gap in knowledge is putting democracy at risk.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz proposed his state budget Tuesday.

Walz wants $700,000 for new staff to handle Minnesotans' questions and concerns

House Republicans blasted the proposal to create a new outreach office as "surreal."

Field set in special election for open House seat in east-central Minnesota

The general election will be held on March 19.
Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said the move will help “families reach faster diagnoses, advance groundbreaking research and ultimately find cures fo

Minnesota lawmaker proposes Rare Disease Advisory Council

Research effort could be named after Chloe Barnes, Hopkins toddler who died.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke to the overflow crowd at a campaign event at a mall Saturday in Mason City, Iowa.

First Klobuchar campaign trip underscores Iowa's importance

Gatherings like Sunday's will be the focus of Klobuchar's presidential campaign until Iowa picks its presidential nominee Feb. 3. For Klobuchar, who lacks the national name identification and fundraising prowess of some of her competitors for the Democratic nod, a strong showing in the state is crucial.
Joined by her daughter Abigail and husband John, Sen. Amy Klobuchar made her first campaign appearance as a presidential candidate Saturday in Eau Cla

Klobuchar points to importance of Midwest in Wis., Iowa campaign stops

The Minnesota Democrat pledged to work across the aisle and make rural issues a priority as she made the first stops of her 2020 presidential campaign.
Jason Rarick, above at a bingo fundraiser in Sturgeon Lake, cemented a 35-32 edge for Republicans in the state Senate.

With the Senate at full capacity, another special election is triggered

The contest for Jason Rarick's now-vacant former House seat will be held on March 19, with a primary set for March 5.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar waved to supporters on Feb. 10 along with her husband John Bessler and daughter Abigail Klobuchar Bessler after announcing she is r

Klobuchar's presidential bid faces fundraising challenge

Small-dollar donors could be crucial in a crowded 2020 presidential field.
GOP Sen. Julie Rosen, shown in 2013.

Minn. lawmakers seek more notice of prescription drug price hikes

Companies would have to pre-disclose the increases, under a new proposal.
Rep. Ilhan Omar's tweet that said "It's all about the Benjamins" is drawing widespread criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Rep. Omar apologizes for tweet on Israel viewed as anti-Semitic

The freshman representative's statement came shortly after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders called for an apology, saying she used "anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations" about Israel's supporters.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar wipes snow from her hair after announcing she is running for president of the United States, at Boom Island Park, Sunday, Feb.

Sen. Klobuchar joins 2020 fray: 'I'm running for every American'

Sen. Amy Klobuchar will test her hometown brand on the national stage as she throws her hat into the ring for the 2020 race to be the President of the United States.
Jason Rarick, Republican candidate for State Senate in the SD11 special election, spoke with Lori Cervenka and her daughters Hannah and Casey, at a bi

GOP's Jason Rarick wins Minnesota Senate seat vacated by Democrat

The win expanded the GOP's narrow majority in the chamber and ended more than two decades of representation in the district by Democrats and members of the Lourey family.
Chris, who declined to give his last name because he was concerned "people might think I'm crazy," gave a thumbs up while jogging around Lake Harriet

New Minnesota tourism slogan encourages visitors to 'Find Your True North'

Gov. Tim Walz said the marketing campaign was especially fitting on the heels of a frigid week in Minnesota: "It's all about attitude."
Stu Lourey, DFL candidate, left, and Jason Rarick, the Republican candidate for State Senate in the SD11 special election.

High stakes define special Minn. Senate election Tuesday

The four-week sprint to fill the open seat, triggered by the appointment of the current senator to human services commissioner, has sent a tsunami of campaign cash and volunteers into the district.
Minnesota state Sen. Chris Eaton, left, and Chazz Smith, right, a cousin of the late rock star Prince, attend a rally at the Minnesota state Capitol i

'We're losing legends': Prince's cousin joins push for Minnesota opioid plan

Legislation would raise $20 million through increased fees on drug companies.
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