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Mark Ritchie critics sue over voter eligibility

ALSO: Teacher layoffs bill in conference; snowstorm fickleness; cracks found on a third cable support on Sabo Bridge; and more.

Voter ID by another name … . Tim Pugmire, at MPR writes, “Longtime critics of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and his oversight of state election law have filed a federal lawsuit aimed at tightening the enforcement of voter-eligibility requirements. Members of the Minnesota Voters Alliance contend that election officials have not been following the eligibility criteria detailed in the state constitution. They claim there are still unanswered questions about tens of thousands of people whose votes were counted in 2008 and 2010, when statewide recounts were needed to decide key races. During a news conference Tuesday to announce the lawsuit, the group’s attorney, Erick Kaardal, said ballots cast by ineligible voters are ‘poisoning the pool.’ ‘The Emmer recount contest was flawed,’ he said of the 2010 governor’s race that DFLer Mark Dayton won, arguing that there was no process after the ballots were counted for separating ‘these ineligible voters in the election contest’ from those that were eligible.” Does Minnesota have “loser pays” statutes for cases like this?

That teachers seniority bill has been diverted from Gov. Dayton’s desk to a conference committee. The Strib’s Lori Sturdevant writes, “The bill altering the “last hired, first fired” rule governing teacher layoffs might have been on its way to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk today, after approval by the GOP-controlled Senate on a largely party-line vote Monday. Instead, it’s going to conference committee.  For Minnesotans hoping that schools will also be able to consider teacher effectiveness when layoffs are required, that move is a good sign. It gives Dayton and Republicans an opportunity to bend the bill in a way that wins his signature and allows it to become law this year.

Had the bill that left the Senate floor gone directly to Dayton, chances were good that he would veto it. He said in his Feb. 15 State of the State address that he wants education initiatives to be developed ‘in cooperation with teachers, rather than in conflict with them.’ To date, this bill has not met that test. But the fact that 40 percent of the state’s school districts have already bargained with their teachers for exceptions to seniority in times of layoff — and that an Education Minnesota release highlighted that fact — suggests that there might be a way to crack the union’s opposition to the bill. The key may be in allowing more flexibilty for local unions and school boards to arrive at their own terms.”

As I struggle against blizzard-like conditions that have left a quarter inch of slush on my sidewalk, I can only say, “Lord, if you spare us I’ll never doubt a meterologist again!’ Over at Paul Douglas’ site, he’s now saying, “I can’t remember a winter storm this fickle since in the last 3 years. Then again, we’ve had precious few ‘storms’ this winter to talk about; a little over 4″ back in early December, that’s pretty much it. And this ‘storm’ sums up our sorry winter for snow-lovers. La Nina, La Schmeena! Temperatures since December 1: almost 8 degrees warmer than average, and this mild bias is nudging storms farther north than usual for late February. The maps look more like late March, and the next system coming in today and Wednesday looks like an early spring storm, with a mix of snow, sleet (ice pellets) and rain. We went 4 days/row with nearly every computer run insisting precipitation would be mostly-snow. And then yesterday, like flicking on a light switch, models pushed the heaviest bands of snow into central and northern Minnesota, a surge of drier (warmer) air – the dreaded ‘dry tongue’ sweeping across the southern third of Minnesota into the Twin Cities. I suspect mostly rain and sleet from late afternoon through much of tonight .. .” And who have you got in the Michigan primary tonight, Paul?

I have to think lawyers will soon be circling the Martin Sabo bridge. Says Mayo Rao at the Strib, “Inspectors have discovered cracks on a third cable support known as a diaphragm plate on the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge, where one set of cables broke loose on Feb. 19 and shut down light-rail and auto traffic underneath the bridge for a week. A second pair of cables has since been removed because of problems with the plates, a public works official said. … the city and its consultant are still trying to determine what caused the problems. Answers are not expected for another four to eight weeks, Hamilton told officials.”

The latest in the Dinkytown hit-and-run case: The Strib’s Abby Simons reports, “Jaw clenched and knuckles white, Tim Bakdash was angry as he pulled out of a Dinkytown parking lot at 2 a.m. last April. When he spotted the men who had picked a fight with him only moments before, he didn’t say anything, a passenger in his car testified Monday. Instead, ‘He looked at the guys and he hit the gas,’ Matthew Damman said. Damman, who came forward six months after the crash, took the stand as the prosecution’s star witness in Bakdash’s trial for first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder … .”

As if the Catholic church didn’t have enough problems … . The AP is reporting, “The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay is apologizing to a seventh-grader who was punished after using her native Menominee language in the classroom. Miranda Washinawatok, a student at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Shawano, said a teacher reprimanded her for exchanging phrases used by the Menominee Tribe of Indians with two other girls. She was later suspended from playing in a basketball game.” Jesus doesn’t speak Menominee, I guess.

The investigation into Medicaid rate-setting appears to be mushrooming out from Minnesota. Christopher Snowbeck of the PiPress writes, “Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has issued a letter to Medicaid officials in all 50 states seeking more information about how they oversee the rate-setting process for health plans that manage care for Medicaid beneficiaries. The inquiry dovetails with questions being raised in Minnesota, where state officials earlier this month acknowledged a federal investigation into whether Minnesota has manipulated the Medicaid rate certification process to unjustly obtain federal funds.”

Sometimes you wonder why they bother … . Doug Belden at the PiPress reports that, “Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, introduced a ‘racino’ bill Monday that would spend some of the estimated $132 million in annual revenue on a stadium in Arden Hills, eliminating the need for a local contribution. The Arden Hills project would cost about $1.1 billion, including about $425 million from the team. It would also contribute to a St. Paul Saints baseball stadium proposed for Lowertown, provide tax relief for charitable gambling organizations and accelerate the payback of state aid to schools. Racino — which would allow slot machines at horse-racing tracks — has been floated at the Capitol for years but has been blocked by tribal casino interests and anti-gambling groups.” Isn’t Rep. Hackbarth working on a “Castle Doctrine” meets Planned Parenthood bill?

Call it “Little Mekong.” The AP says, “East Asian businesses along University Avenue in St. Paul have dubbed their district Little Mekong, hoping to create an identity that makes them a destination neighborhood for visitors. They hope to counter disruptions to business caused by construction of the Central Corridor light-rail line, and use the new line to lure visitors to the eastern end of University Avenue once the trains start running in 2014. Businesses along the strip will get new facades that reflect East Asian themes. East Asian public art will complete the transformation.”