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70% of state residents able to access high-speed Internet

Dinkytown demolitions questioned; health exchange developments; Independence Party backs legalizing marijuana; Minnesota Zoo improvements on hold; “zipper merge” touted; and more.

We’re still not quite as well wired as the South Koreans … But Dave Peters of MPR reports: “Nearly 70 percent of Minnesota households now have available the kind of  high-speed Internet access that the state says they should. The latest semi-annual report from Connect Minnesota today said that 69.2 percent of households have access to download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second and upload speeds of six megabits per second. That’s up from 61.6 percent a half year ago and represents a faster rise in those numbers than the state has experienced in recent measurements. Minnesota  lawmakers several years ago approved a goal to make these speeds available to all Minnesotans by 2015. … A number of projects around the state, including some federally financed stimulus projects, have gradually been expanding the area served by high-speed fiber.”

The peril to Dinkytown … as Matt Hawbaker of Save Dinkytown says in Strib a commentary is as follows: “The Opus Development Company, part of the Rauenhorst Trusts, wants to tear down The Podium, The Book House, House of Hanson and other small businesses in order to build a six-story upscale ‘dormitory-style’ complex affordable to well-off university students. To do so, the developer needs Minneapolis City Council members to approve an arguably illegal ‘spot zoning’ change from ‘C1’ (small-scale neighborhood commercial uses) to ‘C3A’ (higher-density, mixed-use commercial and housing) for a roughly half-block area of Dinkytown.”

At the PiPress, Christopher Snowbeck follows the latest of who’s in and who’s not re: the state’s insurance exchange: “Three health insurance companies say they have decided not to compete in portions of the new Minnesota marketplace, at least for policies that cover 2014. But Minneapolis-based UCare met a late-May deadline to seek approval for exchange products, thereby providing a likely boost in competition for individuals who buy their own health insurance policies. Government officials predict that consumers will benefit from significant competition on the exchange — which in Minnesota will go by the name MNsure — even if a few carriers are opting out. … there are also reputation reasons that health insurers might opt out,[Stephen] Parente [a health policy expert at the University of Minnesota] said. ‘Why be the first one moving on this, given what the risk profiles might be’? he said. ‘Plus, if you’re guessing wrong or you look different, you’re going to be very publicly in the press with very different rates’.” Dang that open-competition thing …

Well, it may drive a few people to the polls … if they don’t forget it’s Election Day. Tom Scheck of MPR writes: “Delegates attending the Independence Party of Minnesota’s state convention in St. Cloud [Saturday] adopted a party platform that calls for the legalization, taxation and regulation of marijuana. … The plan would put the Independence Party on the forefront of a growing national movement calling for the legalization of marijuana. Voters in Colorado and Washington passed ballot measures in November that allowed for the recreational use of marijuana. No one in the Minnesota Legislature proposed a bill this year that would have legalized marijuana but there is likely to be a push next year to allow it for medicinal purposes.”

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The GleanHope you didn’t promise to show the kids the Hawaiian monk seals … Christopher Magan of the PiPress reports: “Lawmakers’ unwillingness this session to pass a $800 million bonding bill for public works projects across the state put on hold plans to complete renovations to the million-gallon tank that would house the seals in Discovery Bay. The zoo needs another $1 million to finish renovations of the tank before the endangered seals that officials hope to acquire can move in. Yet another $2 million is needed for other updates to Discovery Bay. The $15 million that zoo leaders requested from lawmakers in state bonding dollars was left out of the smaller $156 million measure that won approval in the final hours of the 2013 session. Plans to remodel the zoo’s snow monkey exhibit also are on hold.”

An AP story by Steve Peoples looks at the consequences of the Catholic Church’s robust activism against gay rights: “As American attitudes rapidly shifted in favor of legalized same-sex marriage in recent months, the archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, likened same-sex marriage to male breastfeeding and denounced Rhode Island’s vote as violating ‘the very design of nature.’ In Minnesota, Catholic leaders spent nearly $1 million last year to support a ballot measure banning same-sex marriage. The year before, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis produced and distributed 400,000 copies of a DVD in which Archbishop John C. Nienstedt called same-sex marriage, at best, ‘an untested social experiment.’  Thousands of Minnesota Catholics returned the DVDs in protest. Last month, the state Legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage, making Minnesota the 12th state to do so.”

Do anything that helps them figure it out … Tim Harlow of the Strib says: “My April column on the state’s campaign to get drivers to use the zipper merge technique at road construction sites generated quite a bit of buzz. … Spokesman Ken Johnson said MnDOT is looking at ways to modify its supply of signs to better instruct drivers when they should use the zipper merge. One idea is adding the word ‘ahead’ to signs announcing that the right or left lane is closed so drivers know they don’t have to merge immediately. ‘Zipper merge is a term we want to throw in there somewhere,’ he said. ‘We are talking with our districts to make sure we are uniform statewide’.” I suppose a line that read, “Hey, Doofus …,” wouldn’t get past the sign committee.

The park around the Vikings’ billion-dollar football palace might actually be a nice amenity … Richard Meryhew of the Strib writes: “A schematic design submitted to the city of Minneapolis late last week by stadium architects calls for developing nearly 8 acres of park space immediately around the building that features grass, trees and wide walkways that will make it easy for walkers, runners and bikers to navigate around more than 1.6 million square feet of glass, metal and steel. The intention, designers say, is to soften the impact of a massive building — nearly twice the size of the Metrodome — on the downtown skyline and make the area surrounding it more inviting to fans, neighbors and visitors, not only on game days but throughout the year. … Nearly 300 trees — likely a mix of elms, maples, lindens and other varieties native to Minnesota — will frame the plaza and building facade. Two walkways or paths — an outside loop near bordering streets and an inside loop that wraps tightly around the stadium — will circle the site, along with shard-like-shaped sections of park distinguished by a mix of perennials and native, ornamental and turf grasses.”

At Mediaite, Evan McMurry covers reflections on Our Favorite Congresswoman by Karl Rove and Obama campaign guru David Plouffe: “On This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Karl Rove greeted Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann’s retirement as an opportunity to fill both her congressional seat and her committee presence with a more effective Republican. ‘It will be an opening for the Tea Party,’ Rove said. ‘Michele Bachmann was the chairman of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus, and in that positon did nothing. Now the position is open, someone next year will accept the chairmanship of it, and they may do something with it.’ … Stephanopoulos asked former Obama advisor David Plouffe if Democrats would miss Bachmann. ‘Terribly,’ Plouffe said. ‘It’s fun having her and the Sarah Palins of the world on the scene, because they sort of define this modern Republican party. Now you’ve got others to replace her. Now you’ve got Ted Cruz and others to fill the bill.’ ” That Cruz guy is money in the bank for Democrats.