And we think this Target thing is bad. Dave Shaffer of the Strib reports, “The number of oil-drilling rigs in North Dakota has fallen to the lowest level in six years, triggering an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 oil field job losses that could get worse, a top state official said Thursday. … [Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources] forecasts lagging oil output for a few months because the 111 operating drilling rigs — down from 193 rigs a year ago — aren’t enough to sustain production growth. He said the rig count is the lowest since February 2009 and could drop to 100 rigs this year, resulting in more layoffs.”
All-day kindergarten’s been a big hit. Tim Post at MPR says, “In the first year that Minnesota offered free all-day kindergarten statewide, 57,714 students enrolled. Before this year, 54 percent of students had access to all-day kindergarten. In some school districts, parents had to pay as much as $4,000 a year for the option. The enrollment exceeded the state’s estimates by 3,500 students.”
The question of a state amendment to protect data privacy gets another airing in a Strib commentary from local attorney Howard Bass. He says, “Generally, I agree with Sen. Latz that legislating by amendment is a bad idea because legislation that neither establishes a governmental structure nor preserves citizens’ civil liberties does not belong in a constitution. Yet the proposed data privacy amendment is not mere legislation; it belongs in our Constitution because it preserves our civil liberties by preventing the government from accessing electronic communications and data without a search warrant. I completely disagree with Latz that recent court decisions render the data privacy amendment redundant.”
Minnesota’s Democrats aren’t playing nice with President Obama’s Trans-Pacific trade deal. MPR’s Brett Neely writes, “As soon as next month, Congress may vote on whether to grant the Obama Administration the power to negotiate a final deal that Congress would then have to accept or reject. But the biggest obstacle to passing what could be one of the last major bipartisan bills of the Obama era is from the president’s own party, including nearly all of the Minnesota Democrats in Congress. … Critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership contend that the trade deal will mean a race to the bottom in environmental and labor standards with countries such as Vietnam and Brunei that have much weaker regulations than the United States.”
Today in tax surplus warfare: Tim Pugmire at MPR says, “State Rep. Jim Knoblach, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said state spending has grown too much in the past few years and needs to be trimmed back. As an example, he cited the state Medical Assistance program, which pays for health care for people with low incomes. … Senate Democrats have their own ideas for spending surplus money, most related to education. They’re also talking about tax relief. But Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said tax cuts won’t come at the expense of other budget areas.”
Take the spring and maybe the summer off, folks. The AP reports, “The operator of an Iron Range taconite plant in Keewatin announced Thursday it will temporarily halt operations in May to deal with a mismatch in inventory and demand, putting 412 jobs in doubt and fanning calls for regulatory changes at the state Capitol. Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel Corp. attributed its decision to ‘challenging market conditions that reflect the cyclical nature of the industry.’ It’s the latest blow in the area given Minnesota iron ore producer Magnetation’s recent move to idle a plant in Keewatin that employs about 50 people. Keewatin has roughly 1,000 people.”
Yogurt-gate! MPR’s Peter Cox on those dastardly French: “A yogurt price-fixing cartel in France has been brought down because General Mills blew the whistle. French yogurt executives colluded over cigarettes and coffee according to a ruling from France’s competition authority, who fined 11 dairy companies as much as 56 million euros each for price fixing. The investigation found that yogurt executives met at cafes and apartments from 2006 to 2012 setting prices for products that made up more than 90 percent of the French market.” Such a thing could never happen here!
City Pages’ Susan Du looks at Al Franken’s crusade to rein in those absurd fine-print-laden contracts we sign so routinely. “No one but lawyers enjoys suing people. So sitting down and talking through a problem sounds like a noble idea. But if you’ve agreed to arbitration in the contracts you’ve signed for everything from your job to your cell phone, there’s a good chance you signed up to be screwed. These agreements are usually heavily rigged in favor of the company. So if you’ve been defrauded by your credit card company or swindled out of overtime pay, you may have given away any recourse. Instead, your beef goes before private arbitrators who make binding decisions that don’t even have to be based on the law. U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) thinks forced arbitration is an underhanded violation of people’s rights. He plans to introduce a new bill to ban the practice.” I wouldn’t call that one “small ball.”
Speaking of product: From The Daily Beast: “Colorado marijuana sales reached an all-time high in January, bringing with it excise taxes totaling a whopping $2.35 million designated for public schools. Recreational marijuana sales jumped to around $36.4 million, up from $14.69 million a year ago, according to data from the Colorado Department of Revenue. ‘This is really what we expected and hope to see: a shift in the underground market to a regulated market,’ legalization advocate Mason Tvert told The Denver Post. ‘It’s clearly generating significant revenue for the state.’”
This though, not exactly a glut. The Forum News Service tells us, “Aerial spotters saw 131 animals in the three separate herds that roam portions of far northwestern Minnesota and comprise the state’s elk population, according to results of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ annual population survey completed last month. Spotters counted 79 elk in the Caribou-Vita herd, up from 51 animals counted in 2014. This is Minnesota’s largest herd and migrates between northern Kittson County and Manitoba in Canada. The goal for this herd is between 150 to 200 elk on both sides of the border.” Let’s check the papers on those trying to sneak back in.
And let’s not get to crazy about that customer service stuff. In the Strib, Jennifer Bjorhus says, “Consumer advocates are speaking out about an effort by telephone companies to deregulate local phone service in Minnesota, saying it would harm seniors and rural residents that still rely on land lines. Telephone companies such as CenturyLink are behind efforts in the Legislature and the state Public Utilities Commission to lift regulations on phone service, such as quality of service standards that require them to fix most outages within 24 hours, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said.” Just because you pay for it doesn’t mean it has to work.
Rounding up the bad guys? Says Mila Kuompilova of the Strib, “A five-day national push to arrest immigrants with criminal convictions netted 29 people from 11 countries in Minnesota. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency touted its Operation Cross Check, which yielded more than 2,000 arrests nationally between March 1 and 5, as evidence of a sharpened focus on rounding up and deporting convicted criminals and public safety threats.”