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Daily Glean: Why does the state GOP hate booster seats?

By David BrauerThursday, May 8, 2008 In Thursday’s local news roundup: state Republicans put their feet down: no booster seat requirement in Minnesota’s transportation bill. Also, the Strib belatedly adds some context to Al Franken’s tax woes.

Kiddie danger: it’s about freedom. The Strib says legislators stripped a booster-seat requirement for kids under 8 from a transportation bill. That’s to please Republicans, but doesn’t detail their beef. Personal freedom? These are little kids who must sit higher to avoid needless injuries even if belted in. A House leader who yesterday predicted bill passage sounds touch-and-go today. A key, controversial provision lets police ticket unbelted drivers even if there’s no other violation.

I don’t usually pump the home team, but MinnPost’s Eric Black recently tweaked the media for overhyping Minnesota’s teen driving fatality rankings, and now the PiPress’s Mary Jo Webster confirms it. The state’s teen death rate ranks 38th in the nation, and the crash rate is 39th. As Black noted, older drivers’ relative safety means Minnesota teens comprise a higher percentage of fatal crashes and deaths — third and sixth in the nation, respectively.

More teen driving:
Still, in Minnesota, one in five fatal accidents involves a teen driver, the PiPress says. That’s an unambiguous rationale for teen driving restrictions that remain in the transportation bill.

Two weeks after reveling in Al Franken’s tax troubles — and 10 days after Minnesota Monitor dinged state GOP party’s hypocrisy on the issue — the Strib reminds readers of Minnesota Republicans’ own “bookkeeping woes.” The Federal Elections Commission issued 28 violation letters in the past 17 months, and GOP leaders have “repeatedly missed deadlines.” One U prof blamed complex campaign-finance laws; isn’t that like the complex tax system? The state DFL party has been questioned 19 times, but has addressed all but one issue.

More tax troubles: It’s true Franken deserves a fisking; he’s running for a high office. And the GOP misdeeds have been previously covered. But there was a seven-day period when the Strib “flooded the zone” on Al’s errors, including a Day Two story before the GOP’s charges were even confirmed. While detailed stories like today’s can take time to nail down, the paper missed the chance to give readers the best context at the controversy’s peak.

Pretty neat: An Eden Prairie company has spent four-plus years recovering the data from the doomed space shuttle Columbia’s hard drive, according to ComputerWorld via MnSpeak. Columbia burned up on re-entry in 2003, but Eden Prairie’s Kroll Ontrack Inc. has plucked 99 percent of the information off the charred 400 mb drive. It contains results of the astronaut’s experiments.

The Strib’s Steve Brandt reports that Minneapolis is not among the top five Hennepin County cities for foreclosure rates. The biggest losers? Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park and three smaller towns: Greenfield, Rockford and Hanover. Greenfield and BP are tops at 2.3 percent of households foreclosed in 2007. The Minneapolis figure is 1.8 percent. A few foreclosures loom big in little cities; Brooklyn Park’s building boom was particularly ill-timed.

Apartments are getting harder to find, notes Finance & Commerce. The vacancy rate has dropped under 4 percent for the first time in at least a year, while average rents are up 3.7 percent from first quarter 2007. Renter demand has offset the surging supply of leased condos, says a local research firm. Counter-intuitively, job growth also tightened vacancies.

In St. Paul, “the condo of today is becoming the office of tomorrow,” according to a comprehensive development rundown by the PiPress’s Alex Friedrich. Hospital construction is booming — $370 million worth — and housing-only projects have evaporated. I had a hard time finding the project-by-project capsules online, but they’re worth checking out in the print edition.

Ford is set to issue a request for developer proposals for its St. Paul assembly site, the PiPress’s Jason Hoppin reports. The deal would “likely be structured as a purchase option,” because environmental cleanup extent remains unknown — as does the plant’s closing date. Ranger truck sales have ticked up, and the story notes the facility will remain open until “at least” fall 2009.

Nice report by the Minnesota Daily’s Ahnalese Rushmann on the U’s new $292 million biomedical research park. Everyone’s hip to the U’s football stadium, but the so-called East Gateway District will likely have much more impact on the state’s economic health.

Remember those guys accused of trying to parachute off a Northeast Minneapolis condo building a week or so ago? Charges dismissed, reports the Strib. Lack of evidence.

Gov. Pawlenty plans to veto a legislative minimum-wage bill because it doesn’t create a “tip credit” for waiters earning above the minimum wage, AP’s Brian Bakst reports. DFLers had stripped out an automatic inflation adjustment. The large-company minimum wage is now $6.35 and would go up to $6.75 in July and $7.75 the following year. The guv also objected to a higher teenage “training wage,” from $4.90 to $5.75 a little over a year from now.

Yesterday, KSTP reported on how cold winter and late spring reduced bait supplies; today, MPR and the Strib say songbirds suffered. Both orgs talk to DNR specialist Carrol Henderson, who terms a bird die-off “dramatic.” Blame an insect shortage and late-April snow, affecting purple martins, swallows, bluebirds, kinglets, sparrows, robins and warblers. “Humans can’t really help,” the Strib piece notes; MPR says there’s no long-term survival threat.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin will chair the new seven-county transportation board that will spend $1 billion in sales tax money over the next decade, MPR’s Tom Weber reports. He’s a longtime LRT backer. The five counties levying the quarter-cent sales in July gave non-voting seats to Scott and Carver counties, which opted out.

Medtronic is pulling some devices coated with the controversial blood thinner heparin, AP reports. No reports of sickness, but heparin has been linked to 81 deaths. Devices include blood oxygenators and tubing packs.

Oy. Minneapolis Council Member Paul Ostrow has a “voluntary” plan to regulate GOP convention demonstrations that protestors and fellow council members hate, the Strib’s Randy Furst reports. Critics say the plan would actually mandate approval for pedestrian-blocking sidewalk protests that aren’t now regulated. The law seems weird: the city could deny the permit, but there’s no penalty for failing to register. What’s the point?

F&C also reports that Hennepin County is spending $150,000 to study possible “demolition and/or development” around the Twins stadium transit hub. The county did a study two years ago that didn’t account for the ballpark and new lines — and thus people — coming in. Washington County is ponying up $300K because it’s pushing its own commuter line to downtown Minneapolis.

Nort spews: A night after the hated White Sox nearly no-hit the Twins, Carlos Gomez hits for the cycle and the Twins batter Chicago 13-1. Losing ChiSox pitcher Mark Bueherle whacked the heck out of a dugout heater, making for a great Sore Loser here and here.