About Don Davis

Minnesota political reporter since 1998. More than 40 newspapers that serve the state have access to his stories.

Police arrest one after 5 Jamar Clark protesters shot

Police late this morning arrested a 23-year-old man in connection with Monday night shootings at a protest of Jamar Clark’s Nov. 15 fatal shooting at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

Minneapolis police said late this morning that a white man was arrested in Bloomington in connection with injuries of five protesters in the Monday night shootings. They said little else about the case.

In the meantime, Clark’s family says the Monday night shootings mean it is time to end a protest that has gone on since a Minneapolis policeman fatally shot the young black man early Nov. 15.

A statement from Clark’s brother, Eddie Sutton, followed the shooting and injuring of five protesters late Monday.

“We appreciate Black Lives Matter for holding it down and keeping the protests peaceful,” Sutton said in a statement released by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s office following the shootings near the 4th Precinct. “But in light of tonight’s shootings, the family feels out of imminent concern for the safety of the occupiers, we must get the occupation of the 4th Precinct ended and onto the next step.”

Sutton thanked the community for “incredible support” since the 24-year-old died from a single bullet to the head.

Sutton’s plea comes after five people were shot and injured late Monday near where protesters of Clark’s shooting have camped out for more than a week.

Police said injuries of those shot Monday did not appear life threatening.

The search continues for two more shooting suspects, police said.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges released a statement that said she “abhors last night’s attacks.”

“We are sparing no efforts to find the suspects and bring them to justice,” Hodges said.

Protesters at the encampment called the shooters white supremacists.

FBI spokesman Kyle Loven said on Tuesday that the FBI was “aware of last night’s incident and is coordinating with the Minneapolis police to assess the situation and determine whether federal action is appropriate.”

He declined to say whether the FBI was investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime.

Protesters say they asked the men to leave, but the three later came back and fired six shots into the crowd.

“Dozens of officers responded almost immediately, attending to victims and secured the scene,” Minneapolis police reported. “Additional resources were called in and are actively investigating the shootings, interviewing a multitude of witnesses.”

Three of the victims went to North Memorial Medical Center by private vehicle, two were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance.

The incident occurred at 10:45 p.m. Monday.

Twin Cities media reported that Black Lives Matter Minneapolis spokeswoman Niski Noor said the group of white supremacists has been at the protest other nights since the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Clark early on Nov. 15.

A witness said one man wore a mask.

On its Facebook page, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis called the shootings an act of “domestic terrorism.”

“We will not be intimidated,” the page read. “Stand with us tomorrow.”

The organization plans a march at 2 p.m. today beginning at the 4th Precinct.

While Black Lives Matter Minneapolis had hinted that it could end its precinct occupation today, on its Facebook page it put out a call for supplies:

“Family! We need warm food, gloves/hats, chairs, firewood, and snacks!! We are very low on supplies. Please bring down ASAP. We will not be intimidated.”

On Monday, Gov. Mark Dayton said he had watched one of the videos shot at the scene of Clark’s shooting. He said the video, taken from an ambulance camera, was inconclusive and would not prove whether Clark was handcuffed.

Some witnesses of the incident said Clark was cuffed, but police have said he was not. Police say Clark was in the process of getting control of one of an officer’s gun when he was shot once in the head. He died the next day.

Reuters news service contributed to this story.

Political chatter: Minnesota looks to cut drug sentences

State officials are looking into reducing some drug sentences and whether the action could help relieve prison overcrowding.

Drawing from available data, Executive Director Nathaniel Reitz of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission said that “probation may be something that may not harm public safety.”

Hours after Reitz told that to a prison overcrowding task force, his commission started in motion a plan that could allow some drug offenders be on probation instead of in prison and could reduce prison sentences for others.

The number of prisoners held on drug crimes peaked in 2005, dropped through 2008 and is rising again. For years, he said, prison populations have grown much quicker than overall populations.

Reitz said that 2005 was the peak of the methamphetamine boom. Still, he said, 64 percent of prisoners had some meth connection.

The task force is looking into how to deal with a prison system that is nearly 600 inmates overcapacity, and growing rapidly.

Reducing sentences is one potential way to help, but increasing space is another. Some legislators favor leasing a private Appleton prison to provide more space, while the state corrections commissioner is preparing a plan to build more prison space.

Lawmakers are divided over whether prison sentences should be shortened. Some even would increase sentences, including for drug offenders.

The Sentencing Guidelines Commission backed cuts in the amount of time many drug offenders would spend in prison, similar to what other states have done in recent years. The effort to cut or eliminate prison time will go to a public hearing and final commission vote. The Legislature can stop the changes when it meets next year.

Emmer wants war declaration

A freshmen Minnesota congressman wants the United States to declare war on the Islamic state.

“The Islamic State has declared war against America and now we have an obligation to act,” Rep. Tom Emmer said. “The wolf of tyranny is at our doorstep and now is the time to euthanize this evil before it enters America’s home.”

The Minnesota Republican said Congress should take action to give President Barack Obama more power to use the country’s military and diplomatic tools.

“It is time that we speak with one voice and unite as a country against the Islamic State,” Emmer said in the days following the group’s attacks on Paris.

While Congress has authorized the use of military overseas in recent years, this would be the first time a war declaration has been enacted since 1941.

Emmer’s resolution was assigned to a committee, which will debate whether the full House should vote on it.

U of M seeks input

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler has led school officials on a greater Minnesota tour over the last four months, a combination of seeking input and selling the university’s broad impact.

“In meeting with students, legislators, alumni and community leaders, I learned first-hand what the most pressing issues of their communities are,” Kaler said. “Additionally, I heard that the communities of greater Minnesota value the university for a variety of reasons, including our commitment to solving the state’s most critical challenges, from clean water to the educational achievement gap to agricultural challenges; the human capital we supply with more than 300,000 alumni across the state; and for our work in educating and preparing Minnesota’s future leaders.”

In his travels, Kaler talked to more than 30 state legislators, who will consider whether to approve his construction requests next year.

Turkey farmers thankful to be working

"Aaron Rodgers," as Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton named this turkey, is calm as the governor rubs his neck during an annual pre-Thanksgiving event to promote the state turkey industry. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

“Aaron Rodgers,” as Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton named this turkey, is calm as the governor rubs his neck during an annual pre-Thanksgiving event to promote the state turkey industry. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota turkey growers are back in time for Thanksgiving.

Minnesota governors annually recognize the state turkey industry, the country’s largest, this time of year. But this year the light-hearted event turned to serious talk about farmers rebounding from the worst livestock disaster in United States history.

“It has been a challenging year for turkey growers in Minnesota,” Gov. Mark Dayton said. “They are back in force.”

More than 9 million Minnesota chickens and turkeys died due to avian influenza last spring, about 5.5 million of them turkeys. But Steve Olson of the Minnesota Turkey Growers’ Association said most farmers have restocked their flocks and he knows of no one who went out of business because of the flu outbreak.

“They know there are good years and bad years, so they put money away,” Olson said.

But they will need more money than usual in coming years as they increase biosecurity to keep the flu virus away from their birds.

Robert Orsten of Willmar, who keeps 345,000 turkey hens a year for their eggs, said his “small family farm” will need to pay up to $1.8 million by 2016 to improve its biosecurity.

Security changes farmers are making range from installing devices to disinfect everything that enters poultry barns to enclosing areas between barns so birds are not moved from one to another outdoors, where viruses are more likely.

Despite what Orsten and other farmers face financially, he was in a good mood.

“This Thanksgiving, we give special thanks,” he said, rattling off a long list of government and other organizations that helped fight bird flu earlier this year.

Olson said that consumers probably will notice no difference with turkey prices this Thanksgiving.

“There will be plenty of turkey available for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said.

Stores lower turkey prices this time of year, making it a “loss leader” to attract customers to buy other groceries. However, Olson said in response to a reporter question, once the loss leader aspect disappears, turkeys may cost  $1.08 to $1.15 per bird more because, in part, of the new security in the turkey industry.

Minnesota’s 450 turkey growers usually sell 46 million turkeys a year, but the flu dropped that to 40 million this year.

No cases of bird flu have been reported this fall. Experts think the flu is transmitted by migrating ducks and geese, but some say it is more likely to be passed on in the spring than the fall.

Colleen Moriarty of Hunger Solutions Minnesota accepted $12,000 from turkey producers to help families that cannot afford food. She said she was especially thankful for the gift this year since turkey producers have has such a tough year.

Stealing the show during the traditional turkey event was an 18-week-old, 40-pound tom turkey from near Morristown.

Dayton named the turkey Aaron Rodgers after the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback who led his team over the Minnesota Vikings 30-13 less than 24 hours earlier.

Once Orsten put the turkey on a table, Dayton began petting it and it was so calm that it sat right down and placed its head down on the tabletop. At times over the years, some turkeys have escaped or at least flapped so much to startle governors and journalists covering the event.

NAACP, government leaders talk about easing Minneapolis tension

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges talks to reporters Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, after what she called a big-picture meeting about how her city's police deal with minorities. The meeting included local, state and national NAACP officials and Gov. Mark Dayton. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges talks to reporters Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, after what she called a big-picture meeting about how her city’s police deal with minorities. The meeting included local, state and national NAACP officials and Gov. Mark Dayton. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Tension over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man turned to talks about the future Friday, the most peaceful day in North Minneapolis since the early Sunday incident.

Minnesota leaders met with local, state and national NAACP representatives trying to find solutions to six days of conflicts between police and hundreds of protesters.

National NAACP President Cornell William Brooks urged the black community to stand up, but to be peaceful, as Minneapolis police have come under criticism of how they deal with the community.

“We have to vote, turn up the heat and turn up the light,” Brooks said as hundreds held up flaming lighters during a Friday night rally and vigil. “We have to press our case, make our case forcibly but also nonviolently.”

He urged his audience, which turned out in 30-degree weather, to be patient. “We need to be in this fight for the long run.”

The gathering came after protests over 24-year-old Jamar Clark’s death to a single bullet in the head fired by a Minneapolis police officer. Police said that he was interfering with ambulance personnel treating his girlfriend.

The shooting, which sounded much like other American cases of police shooting unarmed black men, set off the siege of a nearby North Minneapolis police precinct station.

Protesters have shut down Interstate 94 and tossed objects at police, and police have moved them away from the front door of the station. Tensions mounted through the week, but Friday night that was much less palpable than other nights.

About 400 attended the rally and vigil, then many walked to the shooting scene.

The big change from previous nights was there was no show of force, from either side, at the barricade separating police and protesters. There was no police presence noticeable outside the precinct building, where the rally was held.

“We must use the power of the vote,” Brooks said in his brief speech. “We must use the power of civil disobedience. We must use the power of non-violence, and we must use the power of love for one another.”

He advised the crowd to be organized and disciplined to “find the justice we seek.”

Brooks followed Minnesota civil rights legend Josie Johnson, who said she is passing the torch to those in the crowd.

She called the shooting “a repeat of history.”

“The way we can avoid this start and stop and start and stop is for us to stay focused,” Johnson said. “Understand this condition is one that has been in existence and has been created since slavery. There is no way for you to just come out once in awhile.”

Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds said that people should not always turn to government for answers. “Sometimes, the answers are with the people: diverse backgrounds, diverse ideas.”

She urged the crowd not to harbor anti-police sentiments, but to oppose police brutality. “We want them to treat us like their own family.”

Before the rally, Gov. Mark Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges met with local, state and national leaders of the NAACP, the country’s best-known civil rights group.

“I asked the president of the national NAACP to give us examples of other states in terms of community policing, in terms of various outreach that could be made,” Dayton said. “I want very much to learn from what other states are doing better than Minnesota, and we’ll engage NAACP leaders and others throughout the state.”

When leaving the meeting, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said the 90 minutes of talks were general and long-term.

“The governor and I expressed that our hands are out and our doors are open to anyone who wants to talk about what is happening now, but also long term to what solutions regarding police-community relationships,” Hodges said.

If Friday was relatively quiet, there still was activity.

Late Friday, police said they found lighter fluid, rags, bottles and other things used to make Molotov cocktails near where protesters have been camping. Two Molotov cocktails were tossed at police earlier in the week, police said.

Police said they arrested two people after the outside walls and windows of the station were vandalized with graffiti: “Jamar Clark,” “No Justice, No Peace” and an obscenity.

Also, a sports utility vehicle driver was arrested after driving into a precinct parking lot gate. There was no indication whether the incident was connected to the precinct occupation.

Three protesters were removed from a Minneapolis City Council meeting after they voiced their disapproval over how city leaders have handled the investigation.

Also Friday, about 30 students joined protesters at the precinct after marching from a nearby middle and high school.

Clark’s brother, 32-year-old Jermaine Robinson, was among a small group of people who congregated at a shrine of balloons and liquor bottles where the shooting took place.

Federal and state investigators are on the Clark case, with state officials saying it could take four months before they wrap it up.

Forum News Service reporter Robb Jeffries, Reuters news service and St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.


Minneapolis shooting reaction: ‘Molotov cocktails,’ police abuse claims

Minneapolis police and protesters stand face to face Thursday in front of the 4thh Precinct. (Forum News Service photo by Robb Jefferies)

Minneapolis police and protesters stand face to face Thursday in front of the 4thh Precinct. (Forum News Service photo by Robb Jefferies)

The Minneapolis police chief says anarchists from outside the community are attacking police, using an early Sunday police shooting of an unarmed black man as an excuse to conduct violence.

Meanwhile, protesters Thursday demanded federal action, accusing police of abuse, and seek a federal investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Police Chief Janeé Harteau told reporters that Molotov cocktails were thrown at officers and several shots were fired east of the 4th Precinct station, center of protests since the early Sunday police shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, who died Monday.

While many in North Minneapolis are not happy with police, Harteau blamed outsiders for the most violent actions.

“We believe we are dealing with anarchists…” Harteau said about Wednesday night-Thursday morning activity. “We believe people from outside our community are coming in to promote violence.”

Harteau said chemical irritants were sprayed at officers, resulting with one needing medical treatment.

While “most people were peaceful,” the chief said “hundreds of rocks,” “dozens of full bricks,” bottles and large chunks of material were thrown at police.

Thousands of dollars’ worth of damage was done to cars and other police property around the 4th Precinct, she added.

While Harteau was blaming anarchists for problems, protest organizers said police were abusing them.

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis alleged several cases of police abuse, including using mace on a young woman and a WCCO-TV reporter, pointing weapons at several “peaceful protesters” including U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s son and making “false claims” that protesters sprayed chemicals irritants at them.

Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds said that the Minneapolis Police Department cannot fix itself.

“We are also asking for the Minneapolis Police Department to be placed under federal receivership…” she said. “What happened to Jamar Clark was just the tip of the iceberg.”

The public backlash continued Thursday night, with hundreds gathering outside the 4th Precinct to decry the city’s handling of Clark’s death.

The promise of a federal investigation was not what Kathy Jones was looking for. As the crowd formed a circle in the middle of Plymouth Avenue, the 51-year resident of North Minneapolis spoke into a bullhorn.

“I don’t need an investigation,” she said. “I don’t need Minneapolis police to tell me what happened. I don’t need the FBI to tell me what happened. I don’t need the BCA to tell me what happened. The community knows what happened.”

Protesters used wooden pallets to shut down Plymouth Avenue in front of the police station and set up fire rings to brace against the wind and temperature dropping near freezing.

The assembly was peaceful, with several taking selfies and posting to various social media sites using the hashtags “#4thPrecinctShutDown,” “#ReleaseTheTapes” and “#Justice4Jamar.”

Police say Clark, 24, interfered with ambulance personnel trying to treat a person in North Minneapolis early Sunday.

A statement from the one officer involved in the shooting, Dustin Schwarze, and police union president Bob Kroll said Clark was not handcuffed, a main point of disagreement with North Minneapolis witnesses.

“When police arrived, Mr. Clark refused to show his hands or otherwise comply with police orders,” the statement said.

During the incident, the statement added, “he chose to engage officers in a life-or-death struggle for an officer’s weapon.”

The statement said Clark “had manual control” of the gun.

Many of the North Minneapolis witnesses say Clark was handcuffed and shot “execution style.”

The Kroll-Schwarze statement said Clark has spent time in prison for aggravated robbery and earlier this year pleaded guilty to terroristic threats.

Clark’s family said he was setting his life straight and had two jobs.

The major tension point is the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s refusal to release of video from several sources of the shooting incident. BCA officials said that release of the video, which does not show the entire Sunday incident, would “taint” future interviews in the case.

NAACP national President Cornell William Brooks was en route to Minneapolis to lead a late-Friday afternoon rally at the 4th Precinct.

“Our goal is to come to a resolution,” NAACP spokeswoman Raquel Coombs said.

Similar situations in which officers killed a young black man, such as in Ferguson, Mo., have resulted in violent and sometimes deadly clashes between police and protesters.

“We don’t want it to get to that,” Coombs said.

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis called for a civil rights investigation into “abuses of peaceful protesters.”

An activist supporting the Black Lives Matter-backed protests tweeted a photo of one of Ellison’s sons with his hands in the air in front of a police line. It was not immediately clear which of Ellison’s sons is pictured.

“My son is PEACEFULLY protesting w/hands up; officer is shouldering gun. Why?” the congressman tweeted.

St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter David Montgomery and Forum News Service reporter Robb Jeffries contributed to this story. Forum News Service and the Pioneer Press are media partners.


Emotions high in Minneapolis

Emotions are overflowing in Minneapolis after police shot an unarmed black man early Sunday.

Take a Thursday tweet by Ashley Fairbanks, one of dozens of protesters living in tents outside the Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct station: “Your first thought when you wake up in the morning should never be ‘I’m glad the police didn’t kill any of my friends last night.'”

The Minneapolis mayor said she understands feelings of many protesters, who want information in the shooting of Jamar Clark.

“I share many of the emotions that people are feeling in Minneapolis…” Betsey Hodges said. “I firmly believe in everyone’s right to protest and understand that people want to have places where they can gather and do that peacefully.”

Fairbanks was one of about a dozen Black Lives Matter Minneapolis members and other protesters who met with Hodges Thursday as tensions continued to run high after Jamar Clark’s death from a single shot from a police officer’s gun.

Senate joins Dayton in backing Range unemployment special session

Minnesota Mark Dayton meets the media Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, to discuss issues ranging from Minneapolis police shooting a black man to whether a special session should be held. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton meets the media Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, to discuss issues ranging from Minneapolis police shooting a black man to whether a special session should be held. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Senate Democrats and the governor want a special legislative session to extend unemployment benefits for nearly 600 people laid off from an Iron Range mine.

The Minnesota House, controlled by Republicans, has been silent on the issue. Dayton asked legislative leaders last week to agree to a special session.

The workers will run out of benefits before the next regular legislation begins on March 8.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, wrote to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday saying that his caucus members support a special session not only to extend benefits but to approve an expanded state identification that soon will be needed to board airliners and get into federal buildings.

Hundreds of workers have been laid off because of mostly temporary shutdowns in northeastern Minnesota’s taconite mines.

Those layoffs continued Tuesday as Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. announced it will close Northshore Mining operations in Silver Bay and Babbitt due to the continuing oversupply of iron ore in the U.S. and global markets.

The move will put most of Northshore’s 540 workers out of a job by Dec. 1 through at least the first quarter of 2016, although no firm date is set for re-opening.

Dayton referred to Tuesday’s news as further evidence of Iron Range financial problems, although the Silver Bay and Babbitt workers likely would not be affected by special session legislation.

Bakk said steelworkers’ jobs are affected by “international trade forces.”

“The economy in northeastern Minnesota would be significantly impacted without action by the Legislature prior to next session,” Bakk wrote in a letter urging Dayton to call a special session.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he is discussing the special session issue with GOP House members before commenting in public.

Bakk suggested that a one-day special session also deal with Real ID, the federal requirement that state-issued identification cards such as driver’s licenses be enhanced with more information. Minnesota had previously outlawed Real ID, but there is a growing support among legislators to change the law.

“Minnesotans are currently restricted from using their driver’s licenses to enter federal facilities and nuclear power plants, and the deadline for air travel requirement is quickly approaching,” Bakk wrote.

Dayton said that while federal officials have indicated Minnesota could wait until the March 8 start of the regular session, he would like it to be included in an unemployment benefits extension session.

The governor promised “to make absolutely sure” that Minnesotans will be able to get an ID card that allows them to fly and get into federal buildings.

Legislators earlier rejected a Dayton request for a special session to deal with the closing of Walleye season on Mille Lacs Lake, which cost area businesses.

Republicans increase demand to pause refugee flow

Republicans from the U.S. House speaker to Upper Midwest state lawmakers want the United States to delay admitting Syrian refugees until the country’s terrorist screening program can be reviewed.

While it is unclear whether more-than-two-dozen governors who want to pause the refugee flow have any power to do so, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is looking at legislation to stop the 10,000 refugees Democratic President Barack Obama wants the country to accept.

In the Upper Midwest, Democratic Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is the only state executive to say he is satisfied that the Obama administration’s plan would separate terrorists from refugees.

On Tuesday, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple joined fellow Republican Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin who already said they oppose accepting refugees now.

Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota said Syrian refugees are unlikely to come there and called refugee resettlement a federal issue.

The concern is that a terrorist can hide among refugees, like is suspected in at least one case in Friday’s Paris attacks.

Dalrymple’s office issued a news release Tuesday saying Dalrymple would send Obama a letter outlining his position.

The North Dakota governor’s letter, like others already headed to the White House, cites testimony by the FBI Director James Comey, who told Congress of inadequacies in the system that would prevent the thorough vetting of the 10,000 refugees the administration has pledged to admit into the U.S.

Dalrymple joined other governors Tuesday on a call with senior administration officials from the White House, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the U.S. Department of State and the National Counterterrorism Center to express his concerns with the administration’s plan to resettle Syrian refugees.

“For generations, our country has welcomed individuals and families seeking safety and asylum within the borders of the United States,” Dalrymple said. “However, I am deeply concerned about the recent terrorist attacks carried out in France and the potential for this situation to arise in the U.S., especially given the testimony by FBI Director James Comey revealing gaps in the refugee screening system.”

Syrians have not been a part of North Dakota’s refugee resettlement program in the past.

On Monday, Branstad told Iowa reporters that governors have no say in the refugee issue, but Tuesday he ordered all state agencies to stop work on Syrian refugee resettlements immediately.

Dayton said Republican governors opposing refugees is “showmanship” by governors “who have no expertise in the area.”

“I want to protect the people of Minnesota every bit that the governors of those states want to protect the people of their state,” Dayton said.

“There are people with children in their arms who are fleeing terrorists…” Dayton said. “They are not a threat to anyone.”

Minnesota officials know of seven Syrian refugees who have moved to the state, although people can move in and out without telling anyone.

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, on Monday asked for confirmation that federal authorities have a workable plan in place to screen terrorists out of refugees. Dayton said he understands that and his aides have contacted the federal government to get that assurance.

In Washington, meanwhile, Republican House leaders are drawing up plans to suspend Obama’s efforts to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country.

Ryan, less than three weeks in office as leader of the House Republicans, said he set up a task force to consider legislation “as quickly as possible” that would pause Obama’s Syrian refugee plan.

“The prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population,” Ryan told reporters on Capitol Hill.

Several Republicans said they wanted a vote as soon as this week on legislation to halt Obama’s plan.

The Senate, where Republicans hold a smaller majority than in the House, would also have to approve any legislation on the refugees before it could take effect. Rhetoric there has been less heated than in the House.

“All of us are God’s children … so I disagree with that assumption that only Christian children should be able to come to the United States,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said.

Reuters news service contributed to this story.


Political chatter: Again, property taxes head up

Minnesota’s Revenue Department tells property owners something they already assumed: Property taxes will rise next year.

The department received data from local governments indicating that overall city taxes will jump 5.2 percent, counties will be up 3.7 percent and townships plan a 2.4 percent increase.

School tax levies next year are expected to be up 7.5 percent, an increase of $186 million. While in other local governments an elected body makes taxing decisions, half of the schools’ increase came from the public approving them.

The figures represent the most that governments may tax property owners, but elected officials may lower taxes after hosting truth in taxation hearings. Also, the figures the state released are just averages, and some jurisdictions may raise taxes more and some may lower taxes.

House Republicans pledged to provide ways for local officials to lower property taxes, prompting Democrats to complain when the Revenue Department released the new numbers.

“Minnesota homeowners, businesses, and farmers received news … that they are facing property tax hikes totaling hundreds of millions of dollars,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said. “Given our state’s strong budget surplus, this is inexcusable.”

However, Republicans say local elected officials make property tax decisions, not state officials.

Railroads fight back

Railroads are fighting back when newspapers print criticisms of their safety records.

They have not been very vocal in recent years as state officials and others criticize their handling of North Dakota crude oil, ethanol and other hazardous materials. That appears to have changed in recent days.

Railroad lobbyist John Apitz wrote a piece alleging that a commentary by key Dayton administration commissioners printed by the Alexandria Echo Press underplayed what railroads are doing to improve safety.

Apitz began: “For Minnesota’s railroads, working to keep our employees and the communities we serve safe is the most important thing we do.”

He pointed out that railroads voluntarily have increased track inspections, improved technology to discover problems early, lowered speeds of trains carrying hazardous materials and increased training for local public safety workers.

Also, he said, Minnesota’s four biggest railroads “will spend $500 million in our state improving infrastructure to safely operate and serve Minnesota’s businesses.”

Amy McBeth of BNSF Railway Co. wrote to the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune. She complained that the newspaper’s editorials and other Minnesotans say railroads are only doing the minimum possible to promote safety.

“Safety is paramount to BNSF,” she said, adding that derailments are down more than 40 percent since 2000.

Franken tries again

U.S. Sen. Al Franken again is trying to get Congress to outlaw smartphone stalking apps.

The Minnesota Democrat so far has not convinced colleagues that the apps that track a smartphone user’s movements should be banned, so he has reintroduced his legislation.

“A majority of Americans have smartphones now,” Franken said. “And disturbingly, a growing number of them have become victims of dangerous cyberstalking. My commonsense bill will help a whole range of people affected by cyberstalking, including survivors of domestic violence and it would finally outlaw unconscionable — but perfectly legal — smartphone apps that allow abusers to secretly track their victims.”

The legislation also would give consumers more control over who has access to location data.

Revenue up again

Minnesota state government revenue in October continued its trend of rising.

Minnesota Management and Budget reports revenue rose 0.2 percent, about $4 million, more than previously expected for the month. Individual income tax, sales tax and other revenues exceeded expectations, although corporate taxes fell $29 million.

MMB announced that it would release a comprehensive budget report on Dec. 3. It gives legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton an early look at how much money they will have available in the next legislative session.

However, since the 2016 legislative session begins late next year, March 8, another revenue report will be released a few days before lawmakers return to St. Paul.

LGA remains priority

From the it’s-no-surprise category: The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities puts Local Government Aid payments at the top of its 2016 legislative priority list.

During the coalition’s annual meeting in Alexandria, its leaders said that with a state surplus of at least $1 billion, it is time for lawmakers to return state payment to cities to levels enjoyed in 2002.

“LGA is absolutely vital to our communities,” said Robert Broeder, Le Sueur mayor and coalition president. “Many cities rely on LGA to help pay for basic services like police and fire protection and street repairs. Without it, we’d be forced to either cut staff and services or drastically raise property taxes.”

Since 2002, the coalition, which represents 85 cities, has either fought attempts to lower LGA payments or fought to restore payments. It usually is atop the group’s legislative priorities.


Environmentalists want anti-PolyMet Minnesotans to stay involved

Paula Maccabee of WaterLegacy  tells reporters Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, a northeastern Minnesota copper-nickel mine environment impact statement does not explain the true impact on the environment. Maccabee stands behind one binder from a 3,500-page envrionmental review released a week ago. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Paula Maccabee of WaterLegacy tells reporters Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, a northeastern Minnesota copper-nickel mine environment impact statement does not explain the true impact on the environment. Maccabee stands behind one binder from a 3,500-page environmental review released a week ago. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis) Environmentalists say the Dayton administration has failed to adequately vet a proposed Iron Range copper-nickel mine and they want thousands of Minnesotans to let state officials know how they feel.

Environmentalists say the Dayton administration has failed to adequately vet a proposed Iron Range copper-nickel mine and they want thousands of Minnesotans to let state officials know how they feel.

Leaders of a variety of environmental groups told reporters Friday that they fear Minnesotans will think the fight against the PolyMet mine is over after release of a “final” environmental impact statement a week earlier. However, the public has until 4:30 p.m. Dec. 14 to make one last attempt to stop the mine, they said.

Copper, nickel and other such metals have not been mined in Minnesota and Steve Morse of Minnesota Environmental Partnership said “this mining is much more risky” than taconite and other mining that has been common for years in the northeastern part of the state.

A preliminary environmental impact statement drew 58,000 comments over three months, and Morse is concerned that in a condensed one-month comment period that it will be hard to get such a response.

Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr has said that comments must be narrowly focused on whether the report did an adequate job examining potential environmental consequence of the proposed mine. When he released the environmental report, he said the conclusion was sound when it concluded that the PolyMet operation “would not cause any significant water quality impacts.”

Gov. Mark Dayton plans to decide himself about whether the mine will be allowed to receive the 23 permits it needs to open. If those permits are approved, environmental groups are expected to take the issue to court, further delaying the PolyMet project beyond the decade it already has been in the works.

PolyMet Vice President Bruce Richardson said the environmental report was comprehensive and included plenty of public review and comment already.

“The final environmental impact statement for the PolyMet project reflects 10 years of intensive independent review and analysis showing that the environment will be protected while delivering hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic benefit to the region over a sustained period of time,” Richardson said.

Landwehr said the 3,500-page review is sound. “Obviously, we would not have put out a document we didn’t think was adequate.”

Paula Maccabee of WaterLegacy disagreed.

She said the regulations call for the review to be done independently, but “it relies on poor quality data and unsubstantiated assumptions provided by PolyMet.”

One problem she pointed out is a tailings (waste) holding area left over from a taconite mine at the proposed copper-nickel mine site. It leaks badly, she said, and would continue to do so with toxic waste from the new mine.

Environmental groups also are concerned that the small PolyMet company never has operated a mine and that the company and state have yet to tell taxpayers how they PolyMet would pay for cleanup needed for at least decades after the mine closes.

Landwehr said state law requires the Department of Natural Resources to update a financial review annually to make sure the mine sets aside enough money to provide for any potential cleanup. Dayton has said the cleanup financial question is one of his concerns and promised to do what he can to make sure taxpayers do not foot a cleanup bill.

To comment on environmental impact statement: Comments will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. Dec. 14. They may be emailed to NorthMetFEIS.dnr@state.mn.us or mailed to Lisa Fay, EIS Project Manager, DNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources, Environmental Review Unit, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 25, St. Paul, MN 55155-4025.

Senate GOP: Heck no, we won’t go

The nearly complete Minnesota Senate Building. shown in this picture taken Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, may not house offices of Republicans next year. They refuse to move from their old offices about a block away. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

The nearly complete Minnesota Senate Building. shown in this picture taken Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, may not house offices of Republicans next year. They refuse to move from their old offices about a block away. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Senate Republicans refuse to move into a nearly complete $90 million building they say is a waste of money.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that his members see no reason a move is needed now. In a year, voters will go to the polls to pick all 67 senators, and there are bound to be changes that would result in more moves before the 2017 legislative session.

The GOP decision did not set well with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook.

“This is exactly the kind of short-term political gamesmanship that Minnesotans have no time for,” Bakk said Thursday.

Bakk said the Republican decision to stay in the State Office Building will cost the taxpayers.

“There are other state entities currently planning to move into the State Office Building space, moving these entities to that space will save thousands of taxpayer dollars,” the majority leader said.

Bakk’s spokeswoman said that a non-partisan legislative department hopes to move into the Senate Republicans’ space from a private building. The department pays $55,614 annual rent.

That was news to Hann “and opposite to what we heard from the Department of Administration,” which manages state buildings.

“As soon as Sen. Bakk lets us know who the new tenant is and when they are moving in, we will move to the new building,” Hann said.

Administration Commissioner Matt Massman released a statement saying there are uses for the space Republicans now use, but he stopped short of saying that anyone has received commitments to move into it.

“There are a variety of alternative uses for the currently occupied space, including providing much needed public space during the 2016 legislative session since available space in the state Capitol will be very limited, temporary press space or moving state functions from leased to owned space, such as the Reviser of Statutes,” Massman said. “We will continue to explore those contingency options as construction concludes on the new Senate office building.”

The commissioner said he learned of the Republican decision to stay put via media reports.

The new building, which includes an underground parking garage, was built to house all 67 senators. The majority party, usually Democrats for the past several decades, has had offices in the Capitol while minority party members were in the State Office Building across the street.

The Capitol is closed for a $307 million renovation, leaving Democratic senators without private offices since early summer. The timing of the new building construction was meant to give them a home for the 10-week 2016 legislative session that begins March 8.

The Senate building is almost complete, while more than a year remains on the Capitol renovation project.

Bakk had wanted some Senate leaders and committee chairman to have offices in both the Capitol and Minnesota Senate Building. He cut back the request when it came under fire, especially by Republicans, but now says that Republicans are resisting the move so they can have two offices.

“The idea of Republican senators wanting two offices is a laughable attempt to deflect criticism away from the Senate DFL’s wasteful expenditure on this building,” Hann said.

The new building is across the street north of the Capitol. The State Office Building is across the street west. While the two buildings are about a block apart, if the 27 GOP senators want to avoid winter weather and use the Capitol-area tunnel system that connects those two buildings and others to the Capitol, it will be a much longer hike.

All House members’ offices are in the State Office Building, as are House committee rooms.

The new building will have the only Senate committee meeting rooms until the Capitol reopens. Even then, most committee rooms will be in the Senate facility.

The largest of the new building’s committee rooms will be used as a Senate chamber next year while the Capitol is mostly closed. The House, however, will spend an estimated $500,000 to reopen its chamber for the 2016 session.

The House chamber will be the only part of the Capitol open next year, and the Capitol will have no running water or restrooms. Galleries used by the public to watch House sessions will be closed.


Farmers can get monarch-saving money

A monarch butterfly lays eggs on a leaf. Monarch populations have been declining for two decades.(Photo by Ellen Starr, Natural Resources Conservation Service biologist)

A monarch butterfly lays eggs on a leaf. Monarch populations have been declining for two decades.(Photo by Ellen Starr, Natural Resources Conservation Service biologist)

Federal authorities are ready to give farmers in Minnesota and nine other states money to help save the iconic monarch butterfly.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it has $4 million for the program next year to help farmers and ranchers make changes on their land to help the butterfly that is declining in numbers.

“These once-common butterflies are growing less familiar, and we know private lands will continue to play a crucial role in aiding the recovery of this species that serves as an indicator of ecosystem health,” said Cathee Pullman, Natural Resources Conservation Service Minnesota state conservationist. “America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are stewards of the land, and this effort helps them make voluntary improvements that benefit working lands and monarchs.”

Landowners in states making up the heart of the monarch migration path — Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin — may get more information on the program from their local USDA service center.

The orange and black butterfly migrates from Mexico to Canada and back each year.

Monarch numbers have declined significantly in the past two decades. The USDA says it is in part because agriculture and urban development have reduced the number of native plants, such as milkweed, on which their caterpillars can feed.

“Because monarch butterflies are always on the move, they need to have the right plants at the right time along their migration route,” the USDA reports. “Caterpillars need to feed on milkweed to complete their life cycle, and adult butterflies need the right nectar producing plants in bloom for needed energy.”

The effort announced Thursday would help landowners plant milkweed and other nectar-rich plants. The plants could be in field borders, in buffers along waterways, around wetlands, in pastures and at other suitable locations.

Another well-known insect issue also would be helped by introducing milkweed and other plants: bee population declines.

Bees and other insects that pollinate plants would benefit from more milkweed, USDA says. Pollinators are vital for crops.

Today’s estimated monarch population is 34 million. The Obama administration has set a goal of increasing monarch populations, which at one time hit a billion, back up to 225 million.


Update from Reuters:

After a staggering decline over the past two decades, the population of the monarch butterfly is expected to recover following coordinated efforts across North American governments, Mexico’s environment minister said on Thursday.

The monarchs, unique among butterflies for the length of their annual migration, are a major tourist draw to the temperate forests of central Mexico where millions hunker down for the winter.

The black-and-orange insects have been damaged by illegal logging and pesticide use that have destroyed the milkweed plants they depend on for food and to lay their eggs.

As a result, monarch populations plunged almost 90 percent to a record low of about 35 million two years ago, compared with a peak of roughly 1 billion in the 1990s.

During the current season, which started earlier this month, authorities expect up to a four-fold increase of the delicate-winged insects in the pine and fir forests of central Mexico, where they arrive after a nearly 2,500-mile journey that stretches as far north as Canada.

“We are calculating that three to four times more butterflies will arrive compared to last year,” said Mexican Environment Secretary Rafael Pacchiano. The butterflies numbered 56.6 million last year.

He attributed the expected increase to a series of measures launched last year by a committee of officials from Mexico, United States and Canada, which include setting aside more habit and better controls on logging and pesticide use.

The group also seeks to restore thousands of hectares of agricultural land in the United States over the coming years to reduce the threat of extinction facing the insect and reach 225 million butterflies coming to Mexico each year.

The butterflies‘ ability to navigate their epic migration remains a mystery. While they are known to orient themselves by the position of the sun or the planet’s magnetic field on cloudy days, it is unclear how new generations find their way to wintering sites they have never seen.

Dayton seeks special session for unemployed miner benefits

Gov. Mark Dayton wants Minnesota lawmakers to meet in a special legislative session to extend unemployment benefits for laid-off miners.

The state projects that 596 miners will run out of regular unemployment payments before the Legislature is slated to return to work on March 8. The Democratic governor said he would like the special session by the end of this year or early in 2016.

Dayton opened his letter to legislative leaders with: “I want to make you aware of the financial crisis confronting Minnesota steelworkers, who are currently laid off in northeastern Minnesota.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, had no immediate reaction. A Bakk spokeswoman said Senate Democrats will meet Monday with a special session to be discussed.

Earlier this year, legislators extended by 13 weeks unemployment benefits for Minnesota’s turkey industry workers in light of bird flu that devastated flocks in many parts of the state. However, Dayton said, “fortunately, very few avian flu workers have needed those special benefits.”

However, many miners are expected to be off work at least six months.

Dayton’s letter said that two weeks ago, 1,413 workers were affected by Iron Range mine layoffs and had applied for unemployment insurance benefits. Most applications were filed from May through August, the governor wrote.

That figure has dropped to about 870 workers who still collect unemployment benefits, and almost 600 of them run out of benefits before the regular legislative session is set to begin.

Another 74 workers laid off from U.S. Steel probably will exhaust their benefits this month, the governor said.

Whenever Dayton has considered calling a special session, which only he can, he has demanded an agreement with legislative leaders about what will be taken up and passed. Once Dayton calls a session, lawmakers can debate and pass whatever they want.

A session like Dayton requests likely would last a day.

The Capitol building is closed for renovation, with only the House chambers to be open during the 2016 session. Senators plan to meet in a committee room in a Senate office building just being completed.

Dayton sent the letter Wednesday, but it was not released to the public. He has been away from his office for days to be with his ailing 97-year-old father, Bruce Dayton.

Minnesota’s taconite mines continue to struggle, with a glut of taconite part of a crushing depression in the U.S. steel and iron ore industries thanks to the influx of cheap, imported steel from places such as China. All of those imports have drastically cut demand for U.S.-made steel and its primary ingredient, taconite iron ore.

Hundreds of workers continue to be affected by shutdowns at several mining operations — U.S. Steel’s Keewatin Taconite, Cliffs Natural Resources’ United Taconite in Forbes, Mesabi Nugget near Aurora and the Mining Resources iron concentrate plant near Chisholm, as well as parts of Grand Rapids-based Magnetation’s operations.

There also were layoffs at U.S. Steel’s Minntac operations in Virginia over the summer, with most employees reportedly called back to work by September.

Forum News Service reporter Andrew Krueger contributed to this story.