Bird flu likely to be around for years

The federal government has spent up to $30 million battling a new strain of flu that resulted in more than 1.6 million Minnesota turkey deaths and experts warn that the issue could go on up to five more years.

“This is something we may have to live with for a number of years,” Dr. John Clifford of the U.S. Department of Agriculture told a Minnesota House agriculture committee Thursday.

Most cases were reported March 5 to April 3, Dr. Carol Cardona of the University of Minnesota said, and as temperatures rise cases may slow down. However, she added, it is likely that the region will experience outbreaks each spring and fall for three to five years unless something is found to slow its spread.

Scientists say they think migrating ducks and geese bring the virus to Minnesota.

“It will reoccur, very, very likely in the fall,” Clifford said, because that is when the wild birds head back south.

Cardona showed legislators a photograph with one turkey left standing in a barn, the rest apparently dead.

“This is horrific,” she said.

Clifford, the USDA chief veterinarian, said his department has about 60 staff members in Minnesota fighting avian influenza. “We will continue this effort as long as it takes.”

Fifty full-time state employees are working on the issue, along with 15 temporary and 18 contract workers.

Warmer weather across Minnesota may be helping slow the outbreak.

“I am hopeful that the sunshine that we see today is leading to the end of this wave,” Cardona said.

Rep. Jennifer Schultz, D-Duluth, wondered what can be done to prevent bird flu from spreading.

“We are looking at a situation that has changed overnight,” Cardona said, indicating there is no firm answer. “We no longer are living in the same world as we were.”

That said, she added that procedures need to be continually improved to keep the virus out of turkey barns.

Northfield-area turkey producer John Zimmerman said that already is happening.

“Before, we would wash our boots,” Zimmerman said about when workers went from barn to barn. “Now we have separate boots.”

He said visitors are not allowed in barns.

Executive Director Steve Olson of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association said the procedures are working because there is no evidence virus is spreading from one barn to another or one farm to another.

The virus, probably coming from waterfowl flying through the area, can be attached to dust or other particles blowing in the wind.

While the issue is serious, Olson also tried to put it in perspective. Twenty-six of 2,500 flocks in the state have been infected. The infected flocks are in 14 counties, the state Board of Animal Health reported Thursday.

Minnesota is the country’s largest turkey producer, with 46 million birds a year.

Some countries and states have banned Minnesota turkeys although federal and state officials say there is no evidence that the bird flu has been transmitted to humans.

In a conference call with reporters, Clifford said the USDA is working with countries to try to reopen turkey sales. Mexico, China, South Korea and South Africa ban all American poultry and some other countries ban only Minnesota birds

“We are hopeful we can get things reopened in regards to Mexico,” Clifford said about a major American poultry buyer.

Experts say there is nothing to fear about Minnesota turkeys.

Any bird with the virus “will never, ever enter the food chain,” state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said.

The federal government has spent $15 million to compensate Minnesota turkey producers for birds they had to euthanize. Insurance is not available for turkey deaths.

Clifford said that up to $15 million more has been spent on other needs, and the federal government is considering whether more is needed in Minnesota.

The state House Thursday evening unanimously approved a measure to pay the Agriculture Department $514,000 and the Board of Animal Health $379,000 for state expenses.

More state money is likely to be needed and legislative leaders are considering it. A House committee already has approved a $1.2 million appropriation.

“We want to get it right,” Chairman Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, of the House Agriculture Finance Committee said.

Legislators ready to up bird flu funding

Hamilton

Hamilton

Minnesota legislators are reacting to avian flu by providing money for state agencies to attack the spreading outbreak.

The Minnesota House agriculture finance committee Tuesday night voted to add nearly $1.8 million to the fight and its chairman said more is on the way.

Chairman Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said no one knows how much money is needed, adding that House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin understand the importance of providing funds to combat the disease that has resulted in about 1.5 million turkey deaths in the state in the past month and a half.

Legislators have until May 18 to pass a budget for the next two years, but if avian influenza costs after that Gov. Mark Dayton could call them back into special session.

Santo Cruz of the state Agriculture Department said employees of his department are being sent into the field to work on the situation quickly.

“We don’t have our green (accountant) visors on, we are just out there responding,” he said.

The House committee approved $550,000 to fund overtime and other unexpected costs through the end of the state’s fiscal year on June 30, with another $1.2 million for the next two-year budget that could be used to combat animal or plant diseases.

The Agriculture Department has hired more than 20 temporary workers for immediate needs, he added. “It is a cash flow problem; we don’t have the cash on hand to fund them.”

The department, Board of Animal Health and Health Department are working with federal authorities on the outbreak.

Tuesday night’s meeting came hours after officials announced that 22 flocks have been wiped out by the flu and euthanasia, and the impact probably will continue to spread.

“I just got some sad news from my district,” Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said about the first flock in his district being hit by the flu.

“It is sad to see someone’s business go down,” Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, said. “Very frustrating.”

Minnesota produces about 46 million turkeys a year, more than any other state.

Committee members from both parties supported adding funds, but many Democrats were unhappy that the money generally came from the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute, which helps provide better ways to market farm products.

“That is not the road we like to be down that is a very fundamentally sound, innovative, program,” Rep. Jeanne Poppe, D-Austin, said.

Hamilton that it was important to at least include some money in the agriculture finance bill so it can be discussed as the House, Senate and Dayton enter final budget negotiations.

“This is a work in progress,” Hamilton said. “I can’t stress that enough.”

Poppe explained how farmers see the flu issue: “It is like a tornado that is coming and it is constantly coming, and they never know if they are going to get hit.”

Bonding: Dayton for big spending as GOP backs little, if any

Dayton, Frans and bonding map

Dayton, Frans and bonding map

Hallock city officials in northwestern Minnesota want the state to borrow $255,000 to help replace a fire station, $360,000 to replace a swimming pool and $400,000 for sewage system improvements.

In southeast Minnesota’s Red Wing area, requests for state money include $14.8 million for a railroad overpass, $4.5 million for a downtown “renaissance,” $16 million for port improvements, $550,000 for Minnesota State Southeast Technical College repairs and $935,000 for the Minnesota correctional facility in Red Wing.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday said he wants the state to fund those and nearly 180 more projects across the state by selling $842 million in bonds. Republicans and the Senate leader were not on board, but even GOP legislators who have talked against a 2015 bonding bill did not completely rule one out.

Dayton said that his proposal would help Minnesota’s economy by allowing the state to “do what every smart business does, to lay the foundation for a better a better future.”

The Democratic governor said that now is when the state should sell bonds to finance projects with low interest rates. “What better time do we have to make these investments?”

Even Dayton admitted that it is a stretch to think legislators will grant his wish, given Republican reluctance to borrow the money. However, in the hours after Dayton announced his bonding proposal, Republicans gave bonding supporters some hope.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Republicans have no plans to pass a bonding bill this year but didn’t shut the door entirely.

“We are open to listening if the governor thinks some of these projects are timely,” Daudt said. “But we certainly are not planning for one right now.”

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said that he would consider a bonding bill, even if many Republicans want nothing. “I have been here nine years and I have never seen zero yet. This is pretty normal.”

The senator added: “Give it a little time to digest and see what happens.”

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that he fears if a big bonding bill like Dayton wants passes this year, the governor will push another big one next year (Dayton said that if his passes this year, he may propose a $200 million to $250 million one next year).

“I don’t know that we are going to see anything, but if there is (it must be) very, very modest,” Hann said.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he has instructed bonding Chairman LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, to draw up a basic bonding bill that includes statewide needs such as college repairs, but not local projects such as Hallock and Red Wing officials hope to see.

“That is not the real work of this session,” Bakk said about a major bonding bill. “The budget is our priority for this session.”

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said he was happy to see Dayton included $48 million to complete southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark water system. He said that Lewis and Clark should be in a bonding bill unless lawmakers and Dayton opt to pay cash for it.

Lewis and Clark is the largest single project Dayton put in his plan. The proposal also includes $65 million to build four railroad overpasses or underpasses in Willmar, Prairie Island Indian Community, Moorhead and Coon Rapids, places where trains transporting crude oil travel.

Dayton’s office said that $360 million of the projects would be in greater Minnesota, $321 million in the Twin Cities and $161 million for statewide programs. A quarter of the money would go to education facilities.

Dayton said that his office received $1.9 billion in project requests and many items that he included in his plan could use more money. “We could spend $800 million on rail safety,” Dayton said.

“This bonding bill addresses high-priority needs,” Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and budget said.

Dayton said that projects like the Hallock pool and the southwest water system are important: “It makes a lot of difference to the people.”

St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Doug Belden contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

 

Farmers look to Legislature for expansion paths

Eken

Eken

Minnesota farmers want state leaders to help them expand to new markets.

They are ready to enter a new era of producing crops that can be made into products ranging from rope to ink, but rural legislators say some laws must change first.

House and Senate committees Wednesday approved measures written to help those advances. One would allow industrial hemp research, while the other would provide incentives to produce advanced biofuels that could be used for more products than the current ethanol.

The biofuel bill could have the most immediate impact since the federal government still restricts growing hemp.

“This bill takes advantage of Minnesota’s abundant forest and agriculture feedstocks,” Sen. Tom Saxhaug, D-Grand Rapids, said about his plan to provide subsidies to makers of advanced biofuels used for fuel, heat and chemicals.

“The worldwide advanced biofuels market will be over $185 billion by 2021, and we want to be leaders right here in Minnesota,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said.

Hamilton, who sponsors the House version of the Saxhaug bill, said increased production of biofuels and renewable chemicals would lessen the existing use of fossil fuels and be an economic boon to the state.

To receive the state grants, at least 80 percent of raw materials would have to come from Minnesota, or in cases of plants near the state’s borders, they would need to come from within 100 miles.

Brigid Tuck of the University of Minnesota Extension Service predicted that $837 million of economic activity would occur in the state if the bill passes. She said it would create more than 3,000 jobs.

Seven advanced biofuel facilities are under construction, she said.

Ethanol usually is made from corn and biodiesel from soybeans. Advanced biofuels could be made from many other inputs, including sugar beets, wood waste, crop wastes and alfalfa.

John Warren of GreenBiologics, which operates CentralMNRenewables in Little Falls, said his plant is converting from traditional ethanol to produce n-butanol and acetone instead. The new products, which need little new equipment to make, will include paint, ink, adhesives, cleaners, heating fuels, food ingredients and lubricants, he said.

“It can take some time to grow those markets and there can be some growing pains,” Warren said, which the proposed state grants can help.

The way the Saxhaug and Hamilton bills are written, Warren said, the state would not pay money to build advanced biofuel plants, just pay once they are producing goods.

“There is going to be a lot of money coming into the state before the state has to pay any money out,” Warren said.

State payments would be made for 10 years. If the concept advances, the amount available for grants will be part of a budget bill later this year.

Environmentalists complain that using biofuel inputs such as corn would lead to more soil erosion.

Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership told senators that they should encourage growing crops like alfalfa, which are not plowed under annually, to provide cover that would hold down erosion.

Lawmakers also advanced a bill that would allow industrial hemp research in Minnesota.

“It would be a very limited basis,” Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said.

A new federal farm law allows such limited hemp growing, but still outlaws using it as a crop.

In committees, Eken and Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, passed around products made from hemp, which is legal to grow in Canada.

Eken said their bill “positions us well” if growing hemp as a farm crop is legalized. Once farmers begin growing it as a crop, he said, manufacturing facilities would be built nearby.

Hemp is used in food, ropes, cement, clothing, soap, paper and other products.

Thom Petersen of Minnesota Farmers Union said there is a “tremendous interest in hemp” among the state’s farmers. Its growing season is similar to corn, but needs little fertilizer and insecticide.

The biofuel and hemp bills have numerous committee stops before reaching votes by the full House and Senate.

Jonathan Mohr of the nonpartisan House Session Daily contributed to this story.

Greater Minnesota officials seek apartment-building aid

Greater Minnesota leaders say that apartment houses may be the answer to their housing shortages.

The Greater Minnesota Partnership and Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities propose a state program to give grants and tax credits to companies willing to erect apartment buildings in cities without enough housing for jobs already available.

“There is not the ability of the private sector to respond,” Rick Goodemann of Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership said. “It’s a complicated problem.”

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, chief author of a bill designed to help fix that problem, said that greater Minnesota’s economy cannot grow unless there is more housing for workers.

“We should have done this a long time ago,” he said.

The problem is that businesses from AGCO farm equipment maker in southern Minnesota to Digi-Key in the northwest have jobs open, but struggle filling them. Even if they can find workers, there often are no homes available nearby.

It is a different problem than a shortage of homes for low-income Minnesotans, said Dan Dorman of the Greater Minnesota Partnership and a former state lawmaker. The apartments need to be for workers in decent-paying jobs, he said, which is what many manufacturers and others have available.

After the financial crisis hit in 2008, Goodemann recently told a House committee, state policy shifted to preventing foreclosures and homelessness, and preserving the state’s aging stock of existing affordable housing. That came with less emphasis on building new housing, leading to what he termed “a broken market.”

“It’s a real challenge,” City Administrator Larry Kruse of Thief River Falls said.

The city’s multifamily housing stock is old and new construction is expensive to build. The city does not want a lack of housing to limit job growth, Kruse said.

In Kruse’s community, Digi-Key employs 3,200 people and would like to hire 250 more but has expanded operations in Fargo, N.D., instead of Thief River Falls.

In many border areas, such as near Hamilton’s southwestern Minnesota district, workers are imported from nearby states. “We want them here,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton’s bill and one by Sen. Dan Sparks, D-Austin, in the Senate would:

— Provide a tax credit for all or much of the apartment construction cost for small investors.

— Allow a 30 percent tax credit for larger investors.

— Give grants for building greater Minnesota apartments, as long as the developer provides as much money as the grant.

The rural groups want $100 million in the next two-year state budget, $60 million to cover the tax credits and $40 million for grants.

The program would be limited to communities with little available rental housing and open jobs.

Nearly 2,000 apartments could be built in two years, said Chris Henjum of the partnership.

The bill requires that apartments be built where roads, water, sewer and other infrastructure already exist.

Hamilton said he thinks people would move into the new apartments, but soon would buy houses. That would leave apartments available to new employees, he added.

Backers of the Hamilton bill said that once some apartments are built, private investors will build more.

“It’s just a start,” Tim Flaherty of the cities’ coalition said of the apartment bill.

Moody’s, a company that analyzes the state’s economic health, said in a report that “Minneapolis is positioned to thrive. The rest of the state, meanwhile, has struggled with unsteadiness in manufacturing and agriculture.”

Chris Steller of the nonpartisan Minnesota House publication Session Daily contributed to this story.

Some Republicans question Tomassoni’s new job

By John Myers

Some Republicans in the Minnesota Senate said Monday they may pursue ethics charges against state Sen. Dave Tomassoni if he keeps a new appointment as head of an Iron Range lobbying group in addition to his Senate job.

Senate Republicans said they may file an ethics complaint against Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, if he keeps both his position as state senator and as head of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools.

“It should go without saying that a sitting Minnesota Senator cannot take a job as a lobbyist and expect to keep his seat in the Senate,’’ Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said in a statement. “If this was a trial balloon, Sen. Tomassoni needs to call it back.”

Tomassoni last week was named as the new RAMS executive director. The group was formed in the 1970s mostly to look after the interests of Iron Range local governments — school boards, city councils and townships — at the state Capitol.

Tomassoni defended the RAMS position, saying it’s no different than other lawmakers holding jobs outside the Legislature. He said his salary for the RAMS job would be $45,000 and that the group’s board will hire a second person to conduct lobbying.

That’s a change from past practice, where the RAMS director did both administrative and lobbying duties.

“My job (with RAMS) is going to be administrative, not lobbying … I’m not going to be a lobbyist,’’ Tomassoni said. “It’s no different than having teachers on the education committee or a lawyer chairing the judiciary committee or a farmer chairing the agriculture committee.”

Tomassoni has said he will take a leave from the RAMS job during legislative sessions, much the way the many teachers in the Legislature take leave from their school jobs.

Not all Republicans at the Capitol were critical, however. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, and Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, issued a statement Monday defending Tomassoni.

“Serving in the legislature is a part-time job. Legislators have the right to hold employment outside the legislature that does not involve lobbying and is not a conflict of interest,’’ the statement noted. “In all our interactions with Senator Tomassoni, he has upheld the highest standards of ethics and integrity. We disagree with those who have been critical of the Senator’s new employment.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, also defended his fellow Ranger, saying Tomassoni has correctly hired an attorney to ask the state Campaign Finance Board to determine if any conflict exists.

“The Campaign Finance Board is the institution intended to resolve and advise on potential conflicts of interest concerning public officials. When they return their advisory opinion Sen. Tomassoni will have clear direction,’’ Bakk said in a statement.

Tomassoni, 62, first was elected to the Minnesota House in 1992 and served four terms. In 2000 he was elected to the state Senate, where he has served since. He is chairman of the Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Budget Division of the Senate Finance Committee.

First legislative day combines ceremony with policy

Opening day

Pomp and policy mixed Tuesday as Minnesota legislators returned to work in their 2015 session.

Winifred Swedzinski, 6, was in the House chamber for the pomp as her father, Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, was sworn in for his third term. She and her three sisters quietly played around their father’s desk during the noon hour session.

Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore, brought guests for the ceremony, but he also was thinking about taxes.

“We were told two years ago (when Democrats controlled the Legislature and governor’s office) that property taxes would be fixed once and for all,” he said, adding that has not happened and improving the tax climate is top on his priority list.

First-time lawmakers like Dave Baker, R-Willmar, were glad Tuesday finally arrived.

Baker said his time since the November election has been full of meetings about a variety of issues due to come up during the legislative session tha tthe state Constitution says must be done by May 18.

“I didn’t realize all the moving parts there are here,” Baker said.

Most eyes Tuesday were on Kurt Daudt, a representative with four years in the House who became its speaker, a position often said to be the second most powerful political job in state government.

Daudt, R-Crown, said his inexperience may be a plus because he does not bring all the political baggage long-time lawmakers carry. He is the youngest speaker since the 1930s and one of the least experienced.

The soon-to-be-speaker sat at a back-row desk while colleagues lauded him before the House voted on speaker.

“He sounds like a good guy,” Daudt joked during one of the speeches nominating him.

Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said Daudt can help all of Minnesota grow: farms, urban areas, mines, suburbs. And, Kresha added, Daudt can conduct the House’s business with decorum.

Democrats put up outgoing speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis to continue in that role, but Daudt won 72-62, a strict party-line vote.

Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, nominated Thissen, saying he has “a very strong record of leading this body.”

In a brief speech after taking the speaker’s oath, Daudt said that growing up on a family farm taught him to study problems before coming up with solutions. “We have an opportunity to do that now.”

He said that he rules nothing out as the legislative session begins.

“We should all expect and embrace new ideas,” Daudt said.

After the House session, Daudt said that House Republicans on Thursday will roll out bills dealing with jobs and the economy, nursing homes, an education achievement gap suffered by minorities and poor Minnesotans, transportation and reforming the MNsure state health sales system.

“I hope we can have great debates and decide on something together.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said Democratic senators on Thursday will introduce a package of six bills reflecting their priorities for the session.

He declined to disclose what’s in the bills, but he said, “I think they’re priorities that most Minnesotans will agree with.” They’ll include some new ideas,

Some parts of rural Minnesota have not benefited from the recovering national economy, he said, “So I think there is going to be some additional emphasis” on providing economic aid to those areas.

Bakk said he will seek quick action on a disaster relief package for parts of the state damaged by severe flooding last summer.

The state used up its $3 million disaster-aid account last month, and Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would ask lawmakers to promptly pass an emergency bill. Administration officials estimated at least $8.7 million is needed to cover a gap between the cost of recovery and the disaster aid already supplied by the state and federal governments.

Bakk also said “there’s interest” in taking quick action on a bill to make Minnesota tax law conform with new tax breaks in the federal tax code. If the state law isn’t updated by Jan. 20, many Minnesota taxpayers will face higher federal income tax bills and have to file more complicated tax returns.

Bakk and Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that they would like to consider not meeting next year, largely because the Capitol building will be mostly closed due to a $270 million renovation. The plan has been for the House to meet in its chamber, which would be the only part of the Capitol still open, and the Senate meet in a large committee room in a new office building now being constructed.

Daudt and Thissen said they would consider the Senate leaders’ idea, but that would mean that a public works funding bill would need to pass this year. Such bonding bills usually are debated in even-numbered years.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, wasted little time going after Democrats on opening day.

“Over the last two years we saw the harm caused by Gov. Dayton and DFL majorities,” Ingebrigtsen said. “This year we now have a Republican majority in the Minnesota House. This will undoubtedly give a stronger voice to Greater Minnesota. With this new Republican majority we now we have an opportunity to reform our tax laws to provide some relief to hardworking taxpayers.”

For House Democrats, after two years in the majority things are different.

“I am eager to learn how to best serve my district while serving in the minority,” Rep. Jason Metsa, D-Virginia, said. “There are issues big and small facing our district and Minnesota. From ensuring a resolution to the relocation of Highway 53 to helping homeowners better address septic systems — these issues may not be glamorous, but they need to get done and they need bipartisan support to do it.”

For Willmar’s Baker, jobs and the economy are keys.

“The new Republican majority is ready to get to work helping to grow jobs, improve Minnesota’s economy, and tackling the challenges facing Minnesota families,” Baker said.

Like other Republicans, Kresha said that he looks forward to his party being in control.

“It is nice to take some of the things I hear from home and put them into bills,” he said.

Jobs and child protection legislation are among those he is emphasizing. He said child protection action has bipartisan support after a northwestern Minnesota abuse case.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said he is optimistic about being able to work with the Democratic governor in his House Agriculture Finance Committee.

Dayton representatives, including Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, already have talked to him about the budget.

Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, said that with GOP House control, state government will be balanced again.

The farmer said rural lawmakers, whose November election wins gave Republicans the majority, need to show how important agriculture is to urban Minnesota.

Bill Salisbury of the St. Paul Pioneer Press contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press and Forum News Service are media partners.

Daudt in charge

Rep. Dean Urdahl takes oath

Rep. Paul Marquart’s first speech of year

Winifred Swedzinski and dad

 

Elderly, disabled care top priorities

Schomacker

This is one of a series of stories previewing the 2015 Minnesota Legislature. It concentrates on Republicans’ policy initiatives as they will retake control of the House. The Senate and governor’s office remain in Democratic control.

The top priority for many rural Minnesota legislators is to improve state funding sent to elderly and disabled care programs.

House speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, puts that in his top three priorities — along with transportation and education — and most rural members agree.

Not only are such programs good for the people they serve, but lawmakers say nursing homes and other care programs are among the biggest businesses in many rural communities.

Rural nursing homes, which are closing in increasing numbers, often serve as training locations for nurses, Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, said. Once trained, nurses leave for bigger cities and more money.

Schomacker, who will head the House Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee, said a priority should be changing that trend.

“We are greatly underfunding these programs,” Schomacker said of nursing homes and other programs for the disabled and elderly.

Rural programs are especially hurting, many legislators said, because they receive far less money than those in the Twin Cities.

“A senior is a senior in Minnesota,” Schomacker said.

Finding money for the elderly and disabled could be difficult.

“It’s a priority for everybody until it is time to write the check,” Schomacker said.

While legislative leaders of both parties and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton agree no general tax increase will be needed next year, there is talk, even from some generally anti-tax Republicans, that higher taxes could be needed to help nursing homes.

Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, proposes several initiatives to improve funding by increases in taxes.

For elderly and disabled care provided in the home, he suggests a Minnesota tax that would kick in above the level of federal Social Security tax. This year, that would be above $117,000.

Although he said that he does not expect that idea to pass as he proposes it, he wants it to begin a conversation about funding the programs. “It is a good starting point for starting discussions.”

Nursing homes did not want to be included in the bill for home-bound care and plan to offer their own plan to boost state funding.

The Long Term Care Imperative is looking to reform funding next session for nursing homes, assisted living communities and home-and-community-based services that serve the elderly.

A spokeswoman said the group is in the final stages of preparing its plan, which not only would boost funding but improve quality of care.

Rural legislators have varying stories about nursing homes in their areas, from districts that have experienced homes closing to those where nursing home administrators report they are in financial trouble and barely able to stay open. The problem is much less in the Twin Cities.

“If legislators would take the time and visit with the individuals (residents) from the nursing homes … they would understand they have been underserved,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said.

Republicans prepare new rural agenda

Daudt, Peppin

This is one of a series of stories previewing the 2015 Minnesota Legislature. It concentrates on Republicans’ policy initiatives as they retake control of the House. The Senate and governor’s office remain in Democratic control.

Republicans who will control the Minnesota House the next two years make it abundantly clear they will focus on rural Minnesota when the legislative session starts Jan. 6.

Or, as they prefer to say, GOP members will drop what they call a Minneapolis-St. Paul focus they claim has been the norm under Democratic control.

“House Republicans understand all of Minnesota matters — not just one part of the state or another — and we are proud to bring those priorities forward over the next two years,” majority leader-elect Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said.

“I think they are going to get a fair deal this time,” Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, said about rural Minnesotans.

Several new House committees are aimed at greater Minnesota issues, such as two dealing with agriculture and the newly minted Greater Minnesota Economic and Workforce Development Policy Committee.

Republicans say it is time for rural constituents to catch up with their urban cousins after two years in which Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office. But the House will not be able to “catch up” by itself, since Democrats retain control of the Senate and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton was re-elected in November.

“We are just kind of bringing the state government back into balance,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said.

Minnesotans can expect to see an emphasis on issues of particular interest to greater Minnesota residents, such as increasing aid for nursing homes and other elderly and disabled care programs, farm issues and road construction.

House speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has had little time to craft policy priorities as he reorganized the House, but when he has time for broad stroke comments, he emphasizes the need to look at rural issues.

While Dayton will present his budget proposal first, by Jan. 27, it technically is Daudt’s chamber that must first pass a two-year budget expected to top $40 billion. When that comes in March or April, Minnesotans will have an idea about what helping out greater Minnesota really means to GOP leaders.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said there are general agreements among Dayton, House leaders and Senate leaders. For instance, rural manufacturers and other businesses are having trouble finding qualified workers and then getting housing for them, something all sides say must be addressed.

“There is a critical problem,” Bakk said of rural housing.

“It costs about the same to build a housing unit, no matter where you build in the state,” the former carpenter said, but it is much easier to afford in the Twin Cities thanks to higher wages. “It seems like some kind of state bridge to make those projects work is going to be required.”

It is not just the House Republican majority that wants to help greater Minnesota, he said.

“I’m a rural guy,” Bakk said. “I understand the challenges that exist in rural Minnesota. I think my colleagues in the Twin Cities want a strong rural Minnesota, too, but they don’t understand the extent of the problem.”

In the House, a rural lawmaker who will be one of three assistant minority leaders said that he and his fellow Democrats have done well for rural Minnesotans in the past two years, but he appeared happy that the new GOP leadership is talking about doing more.

“I think there is a somewhat disconnect between the urban and the rural, probably in both parties,” Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth said. “Making sure the positive momentum we saw in greater Minnesota continues is my No. 1 goal.”

But Marquart worries that the House could pass bills that would cut state payments to local governments, thus forcing up property taxes.

Marquart said he hopes Republicans agree with three of his rural priorities: improving early-childhood education, funding more school construction and lowering farm property taxes.

For Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, the coming session looks like it could be much better than the last two years, when agriculture funding was decided in a committee with an environmentalist as chairwoman.

“I am absolutely thrilled,” Hamilton said of his chairmanship of the Agriculture Finance Committee. “I am ready to go to work.”

Hamilton said one of his top priorities is finding workers to fill thousands of vacant agriculture-related jobs. “There is a huge shortage of agriculture professionals.”

Part of the solution, he said, is to encourage the state’s universities and colleges to train more high school ag teachers. The state also could support a variety of organizations that promote farming to young people, he added.

Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said that he fears many young people do not realize how technically advanced agriculture is today.

“Agriculture is really changing, becoming really advanced,” said Anderson, who will lead the Agriculture Policy Committee. “We need more training and that is where it all starts.”

Also, Hamilton said, the University of Minnesota needs to increase spending on crop and livestock disease research. “It is an absolute must that we invest in more research at the University of Minnesota.”

Hamilton said money to support more ag spending could come from rethinking budget priorities, and freeing some money now going to other programs.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said that another way to help Minnesota is to encourage people to leave the Twin Cities for rural areas. The state can help convince them “there is a way to earn a living in greater Minnesota,” Nornes added.

Many Minnesotans do not realize jobs are available in rural areas, he said.

Anderson said he expects rural bills to be bipartisan. “I think there is a realization that agriculture is important to the state economically.”

He said that he expects the issue of labeling products as being genetically modified will come up. He suggests turning it around and labeling food that has not been genetically modified.

“I am kind of interested in hearing the arguments,” Anderson said of the controversial topic. “I don’t have anything to hide.”

Bakk said that rural lawmakers are the best to balance spending statewide.

“We understand the entire state better,” Bakk said. “We live in St. Paul almost six months of the year. … I think I have a pretty good sense of what is going on around the Twin Cities. Because I live in rural Minnesota, I also understand what is going on out there. So I think we bring a more global view of the state.”

Rural votes decide House control

New House GOP majority

By Charley Shaw and Don Davis

Rod Hamilton summarized the Republican takeover of the Minnesota House: “This election should be a wakeup call to all state leaders! Do not turn your back on greater Minnesota!!”

Indeed, the Mountain Lake Republican legislator’s tweet pointed out, 10 of 11 House seats Republicans picked up from Democrats came from outside of the Twin Cities.

The GOP rural performance gave the party a say in state policy after Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office the past two years. Voters Tuesday retained Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, while the Democrat-controlled Senate was not up for election.

With the Tuesday election, it appears Republicans will control the House by a 72-62 tally after Democrats held a 73-61 edge for two years. However, one race is headed toward a mandatory recount.

Republicans and Dayton agreed on Wednesday that they did not want gridlock like occurred when Republicans controlled the Legislature and a newly elected Dayton was in the governor’s office in 2011. That was when state government shut down for three weeks as the two sides could not agree on a budget. Dayton and House Republicans said Wednesday they would give no promise that will not happen again next year.

If Republicans do not want to compromise, Dayton said, “it’s a prescription to gridlock unless we rise above it.”

House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt of Crown, one of at least two people running for speaker on Friday, said that cooperation “is up to the Democrats.”

There was plenty of talk about hope among those headed to the Capitol when the new Legislature convenes Jan. 6.

“I’m excited about working with a good two-party system,” Rep.-Elect Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said as Republicans celebrated their House majority.

He learned that he beat Democratic Rep. Mary Sawatzky just before 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, who said that in her first term “we made great strides across the board in carrying for people.”

In a story heard often, the race between Baker and Sawatzky had been the target of a massive advertising blitz by the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as by outside political action groups that had filled voters’ mailboxes with fliers during the campaign season.

Like many Republicans who won Tuesday, Baker said he ran for office because he believed that in the past two years the state produced a “bad tax policy” that was harming private sector job growth and there were “too many unfunded mandates in public schools.”

Daudt said Republicans won in greater Minnesota because Democrats ignored the area outside of the Twin Cities.

“We are not going to forget about any part of the state, especially rural Minnesota,” said Daudt, who lives on a farm north of the Twin Cities.

But House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis said that his party has taken care of rural Minnesota.

“If you look at the objective facts, I think we did quite well for greater Minnesota,” Thissen said, citing additional funding for nursing home, education and broadband.

The biggest factor in losing the House majority, the speaker said, was low turnout. Just half of Minnesota’s voters cast ballots Tuesday, with the average in recent non-presidential years about 60 percent. When turnout is low, it generally is because Democrats stay home.

“We need to really think from our party perspective about what we missed in some of those races this year,” Thissen said.

Twenty-six new members (or those returning after an absence) will be sworn in on when the 2015 session convenes; all but five are Republican.

Most of the 11 Democratic incumbents who lost Tuesday were first-termers, but veterans ousted included greater Minnesota Democratic veteran Reps. John Ward of Baxter, Andrew Falk of Murdock and Patti Fritz of Faribault.

DFLers held onto all but one of several competitive seats in the Twin Cities suburbs that they had picked up in 2012. The exception was House District 56B where Rep. Will Morgan, D-Burnsville, lost to Republican businesswoman Roz Peterson of Lakeville.

Like in rural Minnesota, parts of the Twin Cities likely will continue to be a battleground as many contests were decided by slim margins, notably House District 48A where Rep. Yvonne Selcer, D-Minnetonka, awaits an automatic recount in the race that shows she beat former GOP Rep. Kirk Stensrud by 36 votes.

Among crucial House races:

2A: Republican Dave Hancock of Bemidji was first elected to the House in 2010 and served one term before he was defeated in 2012 by Rep. Roger Erickson, D-Baudette. Hancock, who co-owned a tire and automotive business for many years, won his seat back on Tuesday in a rematch by 4.87 percentage points. The district was predictably difficult for DFLers, having been won in 2012 by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and on Tuesday by GOP 8th Congressional District candidate Stewart Mills.

10A: Four-term DFL House member John Ward of Baxter, who had managed to win decisive re-elections in previous years despite the Republican tilt to his district, met his match against Republican Josh Heintzeman of Nisswa. Ward won in 2010 by 15 points despite that year’s GOP wave that sent many DFLers in greater Minnesota packing. Heintzeman runs a log construction business.

10B: The victor of one of the DFL’s biggest upsets in 2012, Rep. Joe Radinovich, D-Crosby, knew he had a big target on his back in his rematch with Republican farmer from Aitkin, Dale Lueck. Radinovich won the first contest by a mere 1.47 points in a district that favored GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney by 9 points, but succumbed to Lueck on Tuesday by 3.86 points.

11B: Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, has had one of the most volatile electoral rides of any lawmaker in recent memory. Faust met his second re-election defeat on Tuesday in his east-central Minnesota district that also includes Mora and Pine City. Faust was first elected in 2006 on his second try to unseat former GOP Rep. Judy Soderstrom. He lost his seat in the subsequent 2010 election only for voters to send him back to St. Paul in 2012. After one term back in the House, Faust, a Lutheran minister, lost the swing district to Republican Jason Rarick, an electrical contractor from Pine City.

12A: Jeff Backer, a businessman and former mayor of Browns Valley, successfully won the seat from first-term Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake. McNamar had beaten his Republican opponent in 2012 points with an Independence Party candidate getting 6.14 percent of the vote.

14B: Jim Knoblach, who previously served six terms in the House and is a former Ways and Means Committee chairman, will return to the House. Knoblach, who retired from the House in 2006 to run unsuccessfully for Congress, won back his House seat against first-term DFL incumbent Zach Dorholt by 0.61 point, barely exceeding the threshold required to avoid an automatic recount.

17A: Rep. Andrew Falk, D-Murdock, saw his bid for a fourth term representing western Minnesota counties of Swift, Chippewa and Renville Counties upended by Tim Miller. The race was a rematch from 2012 when Falk beat Miller by a 7.9-point margin. Miller, a consultant from Prinsburg, eased past Falk on Tuesday by 10.9 points. Falk, a farmer, had worked extensively on agriculture and renewable issues in the House.

17B: Throughout Tuesday night, the race between Rep. Mary Sawatzky, D-Willmar, and her Republican challenger Dave Baker was agonizingly close. At times the secretary of state’s website showed a difference of less than a quarter of 1 percent. In the end, Baker, a hospitality business owner from Willmar, unseated the first-termer Sawatzky in a district that has swung back-and-forth since veteran DFLer Al Juhnke was upset in 2010.

24B: Rep. Patti Fritz, D-Faribault, lost her bid for a sixth term. Fritz, a nurse and leading advocate for anti-abortion issues that split the House DFL caucus, had won close elections before. This was another close contest. But Fritz was on the losing side of a race decided by 1.87 percentage points in favor of first-time candidate Brian Daniels. Daniels is a businessman and brother of Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, who ran unopposed this year.

27A: Republican challenger Peggy Bennett won big on Tuesday. The Albert Lea elementary school teacher beat first-term Democratic incumbent Shannon Savick of Wells by 13 points, with the wild-card factor that Independence Party candidate Thomas Keith Price of Alden garnered 6.9 percent of the vote. Democrats lost the House seat despite winning 27A in the governor’s, Congressional and U.S. Senate races. The southern Minnesota district has flipped between Republicans and Democrats in the last three House elections.

48A: Before Democrats’ hopes of holding onto control of the state House were dashed in greater Minnesota, victories in competitive districts in the Twin Cities suburbs provided them with early optimism on Tuesday night. Things have preliminarily gone the DFL’s way in 48A where Rep. Yvonne Selcer, D-Minnetonka, won by 36 votes, an outcome so slim that state law requires an automatic recount. Assuming the recount doesn’t change things, Selcer, a former Hopkins school board chairwoman, will have won a second term by defeating the seat’s former GOP incumbent Kirk Stensrud, whom she beat in 2012 by 202 votes, or 0.82 percentage point.

56B: Although the Twin Cities suburbs are loaded with swing districts, this Burnsville/Lakeville district was the only GOP pickup on Tuesday. Commercial realtor and Lakeville school board chairwoman Roz Peterson won a rematch with Rep. Will Morgan, D-Burnsville, from the race she lost two years ago by 0.8 percentage point. The race was one of that year’s marquee DFL pickups in the Twin Cities area, and Peterson began campaigning for a rematch shortly afterwards. On Tuesday she unseated Morgan, a Burnsville High School physics teacher, by 8.16 points. Morgan had served two terms in the House from 2007 to 2011, before himself being defeated and then regaining his seat in 2012.

Political Chatter: Campaigns deliver urgent messages

By Don Davis

It is breathless time for political campaigns.

In what reminds one of an old-time messenger trying to catch his breath when delivering urgent news, the campaigns fit in as much drama as possible during this time of a campaign. The term “breaking” is used in many an email subject line, followed by a comment in all capital letters that seems to indicate the sky is falling.

Take, for instance, an email from Gov. Mark Dayton’s campaign seeking money from supporters.

With bright yellow highlighting in the background, the solicitation begins, and the last sentence underlined and in blue type: “BREAKING FINANCE UPDATE: Tea Party opponent Jeff Johnson is outraising Governor Mark Dayton! Four years of progress is at risk: Give now to save our progress with Mark Dayton!”

In the exact same format, Executive Director Corey Day of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party declares: “ACTION NEEDED: MPR reports the Minnesota Business Partnership – which includes CEOs from the state’s biggest corporations – is laser-focused on helping Republicans take control of the Minnesota House. Give right now to defend our DFL majorities, and your gift will be MATCHED dollar-for-dollar!”

Carl Kuhl of Republican Mike McFadden’s U.S. Senate campaign was a bit less dramatic: “Senator Al Franken is getting a lot of help from Washington D.C. friends like Senator Harry Reid and Senator Elizabeth Warren. In fact, it was just announced Elizabeth Warren’s Super PAC is raising money and creating a ‘firewall’ to protect her friend Al Franken. Because of this D.C. money help, Senator Franken is beating us in fundraising, but we’re closing the gap and need your help to finish this month strong.”

Like so many of the donation-seeking emails, Kuhl begs supporters to “act before it is too late.”

A closer look at Dayton’s situation leaves the Democratic governor  looking in better shape than his campaign’s email may indicate.

While Dayton emphasized that Johnson outraised Dayton in the last campaign finance reporting period, the incumbent governor still has more money than the Republican. And while a recent poll gave Dayton a 12-point lead, the fundraising letter emphasized the 20 percent of voters who apparently have not decided between Johnson and Dayton.

“With so much at stake – 162,000 new jobs, a higher minimum wage and affordable college tuition – we CANNOT fall behind now,” the Dayton email breathlessly declared. “We have to fight back.”

‘Keep off trigger’

The Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee says it wants to keep Minnesotans safe by paying for gun training classes for U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

A picture of the Democrat who serves northeast and east-central Minnesota attracted lots of social media attention because he had a finger on the trigger of a gun.

“The basic rules of firearms safety, taught to students as young as 12 in … hunter safety classes, state clearly that one’s finger should be kept off the trigger until ready to shoot,” committee Executive Director Bryan Strawser said. “Mr. Nolan’s actions are unsafe and dangerous.”

Strawser’s committee offered to pay for firearms training for Nolan at Mills Fleet Farm indoor shooting range in Baxter. Of course, Nolan’s Republican opponent in his re-election campaign is Fleet Farm official Stewart Mills.

Who gets the credit?

It is election season and every politician’s comment is closely scrutinized.

A case in point is something re-election candidate Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, said about the Lewis and Clark project that is to bring southwestern Minnesota water.

“The area’s Republican legislators gave it lip service,” Dayton said. “We gave it $72 million.”

Dayton should not be surprised the “the area’s Republican legislators” did not take kindly to the comment.

“Gov. Mark Dayton’s comments today on the Lewis and Clark project don’t hold water,” Sen. Bill Weber of Luverne and Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake said in a joint statement. “It’s outrageous he is taking credit for this project when the opposite is true.

“Everyone agreed the Lewis and Clark water project was worthy of funding, but Gov. Dayton and the Democrats repeatedly used the project as leverage to get Republicans to agree to more borrowing for wasteful projects.”

Weber and Hamilton accuse Dayton of playing “political games with basic human needs like having sufficient potable water in our communities.”

GOP lawmakers were working on their colleagues at the end of the spring’s legislative session as Lewis and Clark became the major hang-up to adjourning for the year. At one point, a weary but happy Hamilton sat at his back-row House seat, relieved that House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, had just agreed to a solution those in the southwest could live with.

Tuition freeze promoted

Minnesota House Democrats have traveled the state in recent days promoting their plan to freeze college tuition until 2017.

President Eric Kaler of the University of Minnesota praised the effort, a rare comment by someone in his position about a political initiative.

“We’re pleased that leaders and members of the Minnesota House DFL support that goal and vision and we look forward to working with all members, the Senate and the governor to achieve that goal,” Kaler said.

But Kaler’s comment came with a warning: “If we do not get sufficient funding to support this freeze, the Board of Regents is prepared to raise tuition, as needed, to fill the gap.”

Looking heavenward

Well-known national political pundit Stuart Rothenberg wrote in Politico that U.S. Sen. Al Franken has a pretty good chance to be re-elected in Minnesota.

Republican challenger Mike McFadden probably needs “divine intervention to have any chance of winning,” Rothenberg wrote.

Dayton seeks rail data

Gov. Mark Dayton has asked about 300 communities near railroads that carry oil trains to tell him how increased train traffic and oil going through their towns affect budgets and quality of life.

At five meetings about railroad oil safety, with a sixth planned for Duluth, local leaders have told Dayton stories of long trains being parked in their communities for hours and that their public safety workers are not prepared if there is an oil train derailment.

“In my meetings with local leaders across the state this summer, it became clear that increased traffic on our railways is having real and costly impacts on Minnesota communities,” Dayton said. “This survey will help identify those challenges, and provide a roadmap for the state to address these problems in the 2015 legislative session.”

Broadband grants ready

Minnesota officials are accepting applications for grants to expand high-speed Internet in areas that lack speed.

The service, also known as broadband, is especially lacking in rural Minnesota, where officials say it puts them at a disadvantage to those in cities.

The Legislature and governor approved spending $20 million on broadband grants earlier this year, with up to $5 per grant.

Medical marijuana compromise brings tears of happiness

Weaver, Dibble

By Don Davis

Angie Weaver shed tears, again.

“This means the world to our family,” the Hibbing mother said between tears of joy Thursday, hoping her daughter will be able to use marijuana extracts to ease up to 50 seizures she has a day. “This is going to help thousands of Minnesotans. … My daughter is going to be able to stay in Minnesota and grow up with her cousins.”

Amelia Weaver, 8, sat next to her mother, who has showed tears several times in the past weeks, Thursday as legislators and other medical marijuana supporters announced they have reached a compromise to allow marijuana extracts to be used to treat several medical conditions.

The Weavers and Katelyn Pauling’s family of Montevideo have become regulars in the Minnesota Capitol this year supporting medical marijuana. They have faced continual ups and downs.

“It’s been like the wildest roller coaster I’ve been on…” Katelyn’s father, Jeremy, said. “It’s taking every part of me not to cry now.”

State House and Senate votes are planned today as time runs out on the 2014 legislative session. The bill is expected to pass.

“We have all heard from people who live in our districts, people who would benefit from this legislation,” House bill author Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, said.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said he started out opposing medical marijuana, even though it could help his multiple sclerosis symptoms. However, after talking to Weaver and others his mind changed.

“Meeting the individuals we’re helping, that’s what it’s all about.” Hamilton said.

About 5,000 Minnesotans a month could benefit from marijuana, state officials say.

The compromise calls for two manufacturing operations with eight distributions points around the state. The bill would not allow smoking marijuana or use of the plant, although it would allow whole-plant extracts that could make users high.

Law enforcement groups are expected to remain neutral on the issue and Gov. Mark Dayton announced his support after saying for weeks that he cannot back a medical marijuana bill that lacks law enforcement and medical organizations’ support.

“I look forward to signing this bill into law,” Dayton said, pledging that his administration “will do everything possible to implement it as swiftly and successfully as is possible.”

Rep. Dan Schoen, D-St. Paul Park, said many police officers have supported medical marijuana all along.

The Cottage Grove police officer said that the bill “is the strictest and most regulated in the country.” Twenty-one states allow medical marijuana use.

If the Minnesota bill becomes law, marijuana pills and liquids will be available to patients in mid-2015. Their health care providers, mostly doctors, would have to recommend that they be added to a registry.

Medical marijuana could be used to treat some cancer that is accompanied by severe pain, nausea or severe vomiting; glaucoma; HIV-AIDS; Tourette’s syndrome; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); severe and persistent muscle spasms such as those in multiple sclerosis patients; some forms of seizures; Crohn’s disease; and terminal illnesses accompanied by some specific complications.

A major difference between bills passed by the House and Senate was that the House only allowed three places for people to buy marijuana pills and liquids in the state, while 55 were approved in the Senate measure.

One of the prime backers of medical marijuana had a mixed reaction.

“This is a big step forward for Minnesota, but it will leave a lot of Minnesotans behind,” Heather Azzi of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care said. “Some aspects of the law raise serious concerns about the extent to which many seriously ill people will be able to access medical marijuana. We hope legislators will be ready to address them next session.”