Cities can adopt wage, sick time rules

Paid sick-leave policies in Minneapolis and St. Paul can move forward as part of a last-minute budget agreement at the State Capitol.

Republican legislators gave up on a monthslong push to block cities from adopting their own workplace standards, which many business owners had strongly opposed.

The move is a big win for the labor groups and advocates that have been pushing hard for local governments to cement sick-leave policies and approve minimum wages higher than state and federal levels.

Under the agreement, Republicans who control the Legislature will send the proposal to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton as a separate stand-alone measure, which he has pledged to veto. Republicans had previously tucked it into a larger budget package, which forced Dayton to either agree to the change or take down the entire measure.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said in a statement that Dayton’s plan to veto the measure “sends a strong message that Minnesotans will not allow a few at the Capitol to usurp the will of individual communities.”

Minneapolis and St. Paul are the only cities that have passed sick-leave ordinances. The Minneapolis City Council is also preparing to increase the minimum wage citywide.

“I’m very grateful for the governor’s vocal support of local control and decisionmaking,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said.

Emma Nelson

Stadium oversight proposal fails

Oversight of luxury suite use by public officials at U.S. Bank Stadium won’t change despite early resolve by legislators to tighten controls over the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA).

“It’s the status quo,” said a frustrated House State Government Finance Chairwoman Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, who led the push for change in the House.

Dayton’s spokesman, Matt Swenson, said the administration supports changes and “did everything it could” to pass a bill.

Both chambers had passed measures and recently a joint legislative conference committee approved a compromise version. Legislators had talked about selling one of the luxury suites back to the Vikings, changing the composition of the MSFA and limiting the salaries of the chair and executive director.

But the stadium’s financial and operating infrastructure is complex and the 2012 legislation that approved construction included an agreement negotiated by the Vikings and the state. Selling the suites back to the Vikings wouldn’t have been straightforward and could have caused problems with the building’s bonds.

Anderson pledged to continue discussions in the coming months.

In February, legislative auditor James Nobles released an audit after the Star Tribune reported that then-MSFA Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen, Executive Director Ted Mondale and commissioners had used two state-owned luxury suites to entertain friends and family for Vikings games and concerts. He said the two had used public office for personal gain in violation of a core ethical tenet. Kelm-Helgen and Mondale resigned. The MSFA has changed its suite policy to bar friends and family.

Interim MSFA Chairwoman Kathleen Blatz said that even without legislative approval, the board can set a strict code of conduct on its own.

Rochelle Olson

Changes to solitary confinement nixed

Legislators failed to come to agreement on an overhaul of solitary confinement in Minnesota prisons, eliciting criticisms from mental health groups and the bill’s sponsor, who say more safeguards are key to keeping the state accountable for its treatment of vulnerable inmates.

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, who sponsored the measure, blamed Gov. Mark Dayton and the Department of Corrections for the collapse of a last-ditch deal.

“At the end of the day, it wasn’t the highest priority to the Dayton administration and the Department of Corrections,” Zerwas said.

Zerwas’ original proposal would have limited the length of solitary confinement usage, banned the practice for mentally ill inmates and no longer allowed the state to release people from prison directly from solitary. It also mandated that prison officials report annual data to lawmakers on who is going to segregation and for how long.

Sue Abderholden, executive director of Minnesota’s National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter, said she was disappointed.

“This was not an unreasonable bill by any stretch of the imagination,” she said.

Andy Mannix