Minnesota House passes bill to fight opioid epidemic
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota House has voted to hold drug manufacturers responsible for the state’s growing costs for dealing with the opioid crisis.
The bill passed 94-34 Monday night. It would support prevention, education, intervention, treatment and recovery strategies.
The state would pay for them by sharply raising its annual registration fees for pharmaceutical manufacturers and drug wholesalers that sell or distribute opioids in Minnesota. The fees would bring in $20 million a year.
Democratic Rep. Liz Olson of Duluth says the costs to taxpayers have been huge. But Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt says the bill will raise health care costs for all Minnesotans.
An opioid bill is also moving through the Senate and has another hearing Tuesday. The differences between the two versions would be resolved in conference committee.
Minnesota House backs hands-free cellphone rule for driving
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota House has approved a bill that would require motorists to use hands-free devices when talking on the phone. Sponsors say the measure will cut down on the rising level of distracted driving and save lives.
The House passed the bill 106-21 with bipartisan support Monday night. A similar bill is working its way through the Senate with an exemption for GPS navigation systems.
The bill’s chief House sponsor, Rep. Frank Hornstein, says he’s confident the differences will get worked out in conference committee. He notes that Gov. Tim Walz has indicated that will sign the bill.
Assuming the bill becomes law, Minnesota would become of 18 states plus the District of Columbia that require drivers to use hands-free devices while phoning.
CHILD CARE FRAUD-LEAVE
Human Services official on leave after child care report
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The inspector general of the Minnesota Department of Human Services is on leave after a legislative auditor’s report on fraud within the state’s Child Care Assistance Program.
The department Monday said Carolyn Ham is on leave, but the reasons are not public under the Data Practices Act. The department says Ham continues to hold the title of inspector general.
The report last week found a “serious rift” between Ham and the department’s child care fraud investigators.
Ham told Minnesota Public Radio News she is being treated as a scapegoat for problems in the department.
The report by Legislative Auditor James Nobles found fraud is a problem with the program but no proof that money from it found its way to terrorist organizations overseas.
Republican lawmakers have called for Ham’s resignation.
Walz signs bill to expand disaster aid for barn collapses
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has signed a bill expanding a zero-interest disaster loan program to help farmers dealing with buildings damaged by heavy snow.
Walz signed the bill Monday. The measure cleared both the state House and Senate without opposition last week.
Walz says the bill is “critical” for farmers hit by extreme snow and blizzard conditions. The governor has said Minnesota’s economy is under threat from the number of dairy barn collapses this winter.
The bill broadens eligibility for the Disaster Loan Recovery Program run by the state’s Rural Finance Authority. It adds uninsured losses from the weight of snow, sleet or ice to the list of damages covered by the program. It would be retroactive to Jan. 1.
CASTILE SHOOTING-CRISIS KIT
Prosecutor, Philando Castile’s mom develop crisis tool kit
(Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com)
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The mother of Philando Castile and the prosecutor who charged the officer who shot him have teamed up with others to develop a tool kit for law enforcement to use in times of crisis.
Valerie Castile and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi spoke about the tool kit during a recent online video conference with about 70 law enforcement agencies and other groups nationwide.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports the kit gives prosecutors and police ways to assess how prepared they are for police shootings, and see how they can be handled better. Among other things, the kit says a prosecutor should be immediately assigned to a police shooting.
Philando Castile was killed in July 2016 during a traffic stop. Former St. Anthony Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in his death.
BCA: 3 found dead in home in northwestern Minnesota
OGEMA, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the deaths of three people in a home in Becker County.
Law officers were called to the home off Highway 34 in rural Ogema in northwestern Minnesota on Monday.
The bodies will be taken to the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office for formal identification and autopsies.
No one is in custody. Investigators say there’s no indication of a threat to the public.
The BCA says the investigation is in the early stages and more information will be released as the investigation continues.
POLICE REPORTS-RESTRICTED ACCESS
Public access limited for about 275 St. Paul police reports
(Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com)
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Public access to about 275 St. Paul police reports was restricted by the department’s ‘lockdown’ policy from 2011 to 2018, which made the records invisible except to select police leaders and civilian supervisors.
The Star Tribune reports that police say the policy was used at the discretion of commanders and high-ranking officers to protect sensitive cases from prying eyes.
Department spokesman Steve Linders says information from reports can jeopardize investigations.
Most cases have since been removed from the classification after a department review.
Opponents criticize the practice for its lack of oversight.
Governmental transparency advocate Don Gemberling says the policy doesn’t include criteria for what qualifies a case for a lockdown and there’s “no clear lines of accountability.” Gemberling questions how the public should know if the practice is being used appropriately.
Some residents still displaced by flooding
JORDAN, Minn. (AP) — Crews in southern Minnesota are still working with backhoes to break up large ice jams that have forced rivers and streams over their banks.
In Jordan, the level on Sand Creek dropped nearly 3 feet Sunday as workers cleared one blockage, but then another dam formed near a mobile home park where 300 households had evacuated last week. The Star Tribune says about 13 residents remained at a Red Cross shelter Sunday.
An ice jam caused the Cottonwood River in New Ulm to rise about 5 feet by early Sunday. Some state highways remained closed due to high water, while other roads had standing water but remained open to traffic.
Heavy rainfall and snowmelt have led to dangerously high water in creeks and rivers across several Midwestern states , with the Missouri River hitting record-high levels in many areas.
The Associated Press