Legislative Notebook: Synthetic Drug Bill Passes Senate

By Danielle Nordine and Don Davis

Consequences for selling synthetic drugs soon could be stronger in Minnesota.

The state Senate unanimously approved a bill Monday that would make the sale of synthetic drugs, compounds meant to mimic the effects of the actual drugs, a felony. It would carry penalties of up to five years in jail.

Giving away such compounds would become a gross misdemeanor under the plan, and possession would remain a misdemeanor.

The bill also would make many more chemicals illegal and make it easier for the state Pharmacy Board to add drugs to the list of illegal substances.

“It would appear that folks out on the street are inventing or reinventing these drugs faster than we can change these laws,” bill author Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said. “It’s sort of a new approach and an effort to stay ahead of folks that are manufacturing these chemicals.”

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said synthetic drugs have been an issue in his area and supported the efforts to crack down even more on the problem.

“We took this issue on last year and made some changes,” Reinert, who helped author the bill, said. “Unfortunately, the changes didn’t go far enough.”

The House approved a similar bill last week.

Financial literacy encouraged

Lawmakers, state leaders, students and military members joined together Monday to encourage Minnesotans to learn more about finances and promote programs that would help them do so.

Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed April Financial Literacy Month and announced outreach efforts planned across the state. Each week of the month, events will focus on financial issues facing different groups, from grade school children to veterans and members of the military to seniors.

Topics will include student loans and financial aid, family budgeting, home ownership finances and avoiding fraud.

“Knowledge is the best defense from fraud and financial abuse,” Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said.

Learning how to make financial decisions and budget is even more important in this time of economic difficulties, he added.

Lawmakers are contributing to the efforts as well, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said. For example, he said a health and human services bill approved by the House last week includes a provision to continue task force work on financial literacy in Minnesota.

“It’s one (issue) that really should be supported bipartisanly,” he said.

White Earth picks bank

The Credit Suisse bank will finance a Twin Cities casino if the White Earth Nation wins legislative and Gov. Mark Dayton’s approval.

“They share our confidence that a metro casino will be a win for Minnesota taxpayers and a win for White Earth Nation,” tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor said in a letter to legislative leaders. “The expertise and financial resources of Credit Suisse also open the door to creative solutions to build the metro casino.”

So far, the White Earth proposal to build a Twin Cities casino has obtained little traction in the Minnesota Legislature.

Vizenor said the state could get up to $1 billion in new revenue in the first five years of casino operation.

Casino construction and related costs would total $700 million.

Others tribes that operate casinos in the Twin Cities area oppose the White Earth plan.

Faster honor guard pay

Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill Monday that would allow veteran service organizations to receive reimbursements for honor guard services at funerals in a timely manner.

The bill was approved unanimously in the House and Senate. It will be in effect for services provided on or after July 1.

Honor guards have reported late state payments. Last year, lawmakers approved more money for the honor guards after reports that state funds ran out, leaving honor guards to work for no expense payments.

Office merging OK’d

Senators voted 36-26 to allow Jackson, Kandiyohi and Dodge counties to merge their county auditor and treasurer offices.

The House also would have to approve the measure and the governor sign it to become law.

Several counties have won legislative approval to make the move in recent years in the name of efficiency.