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‘Downtown East’ project clears another City Council hurdle

Minnesota leads nation on Obamacare; woman’s death blamed on tree decay; former Racing Commission chairman leaving; push against synthetic drugs; “Philosophy Camp” under way; and more.

Two steps down, a couple more to go. Janet Moore of the Strib reports: “The $400 million development slated for an eastern stretch of downtown Minneapolis near the new Vikings stadium was approved, at least in concept, by the City Council’s Community Development Committee Tuesday afternoon. … The CPED committee voted 4-1, in favor of authorizing city staff to begin negotiating necessary agreements with Ryan and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the body that is overseeing construction of the $975 million Vikings stadium. The lone naysayer on the vote was council member Cam Gordon. While supporting the concept of the development, Gordon objected to a provision in the deal that would permit Ryan to buy up to a third of a block set aside for park for $2.5 million.”

For MPR, Brandt Williams writes: “The full city council will vote on the measure next week.  But city officials say the council will have to approve other parts of the funding plan in the coming months. … The public park, called The Yard, will be covered in part with the $65 million.  City officials say the park will require an additional $10-$15 million in capital expenditures, which they may be able to raise through philanthropic organizations. The Yard, as it is currently designed, would close off two main thoroughfares, Park and Portland Avenues.  Both fall under the authority of Hennepin County.  According to a city report, ‘based on conversations with the County, there is little interest at this time in permanent closure.’ However the report suggests the streets can be closed temporarily during Vikings games and other special events to provide ‘continuity to the Yard.’ ” I’d trade those two downtown streets for Nicollet and Lake.

Minnesota is all-in for Obamacare. At MPR, Catharine Richert writes: “No state is set to embrace the Affordable Care Act as thoroughly as Minnesota, the only one that will implement the ‘big three’ components of health insurance expansion. That means Minnesota will expand the Medicaid program, develop an online insurance marketplace and offer a basic health program. It’s the third component that really sets the state apart. Only Minnesota has committed to offering a basic health program, a safety net for people who have too much income to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance. By enacting that third element of the act, Minnesota will take implementation of the federal health care overhaul further than any other state.”

Unseen decay is the explanation for the tree that fell and killed an Eden Prairie woman last week. KARE-TV reports: “The Eden Prairie Parks and Recreation Department, working with the Eden Prairie Police Department and the League of Minnesota Cities, investigated the incident. Their findings show that the 90-year-old tree, which was about 30 inches in diameter, showed no signs of disease from the outside. But further investigation showed significant decay on the inside of the tree at its base. At the time, there were wind gusts up to 23 miles per hour, but officials did not indicate how much or if the wind was a factor.”

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Turnover at the Racing Commission. The AP says: “The former chairman of the Minnesota Racing Commission stepped down entirely from the agency Tuesday, less than a week after being cleared of allegations he discriminated against and harassed a female employee because of her gender. Jesse Overton confirmed that he submitted a letter of resignation Tuesday to Gov. Mark Dayton’s office. Dayton had reappointed Overton to the commission last week, but replaced him as chairman. … Overton said he was upset that an investigative report clearing him of harassment and discrimination charges appeared to have been finished several months ago but not publicly released until last week. The report, which was dated March 1, found that Overton may have had a ‘personality conflict’ with the woman leveling charges against him but said he did not single her out or interfere with her job.”

The push back against synthetic drugs continues … At the PiPress, Sarah Horner writes: “Chaired by Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, the five-member committee will study the scope of the problem statewide and research solutions to be compiled in a report that will be submitted to the Legislature when it reconvenes in January. The report will include recommendations for legislative changes that will combat the sale of the substances as well as ideas about how the state can play a role in educating the public about their risks, Simonson said. A head shop in Duluth, called Last Place On Earth, has developed an infamous reputation for stocking the substances, which have reportedly led to a spike in drug overdoses in Duluth-area hospitals.”

I can think of a few adults who could use a month of “Philosophy Camp.” Jenna Ross of the Strib says: “For one month each summer, students, instructors and a few curious folks turn a farm and retreat center in southwest Minnesota into a philosophy classroom. Or a “community on the prairie,” as the syllabus puts it. Together, they discuss life. What is a good life? How might a person create such a life? Philosophy professors ask such questions in lecture halls. But there’s something special about discussing Plato on the prairie. Cooking Sunday dinner from scratch with classmates. Meditating beneath the stars. The course’s title — ‘Lives Worth Living: Questions of Self, Vocation and Community’ — refers to Plato’s notion that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’ ” It sure beats “Getting Mine, at Your Expense.”

Stribber Corey Mitchell on the student-loan … gridlocked mess. “The U.S. Senate will vote Wednesday on a Democratic plan to scale back federally subsidized student loan rates, but a divided Congress is no closer to compromise on the issue that affects roughly 200,000 Minnesota college students. The Democratic proposal would extend for another year the previous 3.4 percent rate, which doubled to 6.8 percent last week. Supporters, including U.S. Sen. Al Franken, say the short-term solution will provide Congress ample time to reform the student loan system. Plans to rescind the increase may come up short though: a similar push last month by Senate Democrats to extend the lower rate for two years failed when Republicans enforced the 60-vote threshold required for a vote. … ‘I find it incredibly frustrating that we’re having a fight in Washington about an issue that just shouldn’t be partisan.’ Franken said.” So, kind of like climate change and 40 other issues?

Three hundred people donated $220,000 to Tom Emmer’s congressional campaign. Olivia LaVecchia of City Pages reports: “The former gubernatorial candidate and radio talk show host announced his candidacy on June 5, and in three weeks, managed to raise more than $220,000, according to a statement from his campaign this morning, in advance of Monday’s campaign finance filing deadline. The campaign reports that the support came from over 300 individual donors.” Only 16 months to go …