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State launches fraud investigation into child care subsidy program

Plus: Minnesota’s ageist judicial retirement rule; why Lake Calhoun should be named Mde Maka Ska; loons look to get a piece of the Gulf oil spill settlement cash; and more.

Chris Serres of the Strib reports, “The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has gained sweeping new powers to investigate and prosecute child care fraud, following the discovery that some providers are exploiting poor parents and their children to obtain cash assistance from the state. State investigators say they have uncovered an elaborate pattern of fraud involving the unauthorized billing of Minnesota’s $226 million, state-funded child care subsidy program for poor families. In many cases, child care providers actively recruit low-income parents as employees on the condition that they enroll their children using public subsidies. The schemes, which reach into the millions of dollars, capitalize on poor children and divert taxpayer money away from the intended families, state officials say.” What next? The Subway guy caught with kiddie porn?

I’m told 70 is the new 60. In the PiPress, Rachel Stassen-Berger says, “In Minnesota, judges and justices are required to retire the same month as their 70th birthday. Former Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson was booted off the bench a few years ago because of his age. Justice Alan Page will soon depart for the same reason, and Justice Christopher Dietzen will be forced to step down in 2017. In a state in which about 10 percent of the population works past age 70, losing that experience and wisdom might seem a waste. It takes a while for the men and women in black to get the hang of the job, say those who have had it. And others responsible for big decisions, including governors and lawmakers, are not required to leave their posts because they have a few gray hairs. More than a dozen current state lawmakers have seen their 70th birthdays come and go, and Gov. Mark Dayton will turn 70 before he leaves office. And if the voters decide that a judge is unfit, he or she can be passed over.”

Ok. Yesterday wasn’t so bad. But that smoke will probably be back. For MPR Jared Hemming explains, “[Minnesota Allergy and Asthma Clinic allergist and immunologist Dr. James Lakin] says pollution levels in the upper 100s like Minnesota’s on Monday affect everyone. ‘The problem with the type of pollution we’re having coming down from Saskatchewan and other areas of Canada and Alaska with wildfires is that these are very fine particles of combustion,’ Lakin said. ‘They can penetrate deep down into the airways of anyone. That’s why people who are otherwise healthy that are exposed to large amounts of these irritating particles begin to develop signs of irritation and inflammation.’”

Another one. The Forum News Service says, “A child is critically ill after developing a rare and severe brain infection while swimming in a central Minnesota lake, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. The child, who the Health Department did not identify, was swimming at Lake Minnewaska in Pope County, about 20 miles south of Alexandria. The suspected infection, primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, is commonly found in freshwater and soil and can, in rare cases, infect people by entering the body through the nose.”

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The Glean

Only after something blows up. Not before. Also for the Forum folks, Don Davis reports, “Many Minnesota emergency managers say railroads that haul crude oil should communicate with them better. ‘Planning done in a silo is not effective,’ Director Judson Freed of Ramsey County Emergency Management and Homeland Security said Tuesday as rail safety advocates called for more cooperation. ‘We need to know what their experts are saying.’ Some of that information is becoming available after five railroads filed state-required emergency response plans with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last week. However, the emergency managers say that is not enough.”

Naming names. Again from Forum, Tom Olsen says, “A Catholic missionary order on Tuesday released the names of seven former Minnesota priests who have been accused of child sexual abuse — a list that includes five clergymen who worked within the Diocese of Duluth. The list, made public through a settlement agreement between the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and an abuse victim, includes previously unreported priests who worked at parishes throughout the country, including in Duluth, Superior, Wis., International Falls and Northome.”

The original names are fine, but the likelihood of chronic misspelling is pretty high. In a Strib commentary, a trio of writers say, “Recent events, namely the South Carolina Confederate flag issue, have initiated a debate concerning the namesake for Minneapolis’ beloved Lake Calhoun. We would like to offer a line of reasoning that argues for a return to the original Dakota name: Mde Maka Ska. Our vantage point is informed by our work in history, biology and limnogeology. … Opposition to the proposed name change has been focused on creating smoke screens, claiming that no one will be able to pronounce or recall the original Dakota name, and that local businesses and locations will still bear the ‘Calhoun’ moniker. To the first point we simply say: ‘Wanamingo, Kiester, Embarrass, Zerkel and Clontarf.’ To the second point, we note that names change all the time: There have been more than 30 name changes to nations of the world since 1970.” Clontarf. Been there.

Due caution, it would seem. At MPR Mukhtar Ibrahim says, “A proposed release plan for three Minnesota terror suspects risks public safety and does nothing to guarantee they won’t flee to Syria to join ISIS, prosecutors said Tuesday. In its response to the defendants’ motion for release, the government said it is not satisfied with the ‘unique and untested’ pretrial release plans. … Mohamud Noor, director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota and one of the community members advocating for the release plans, said there was not any previous plan to prevent the defendants from joining extremist groups.” I mean, they could walk out the door and join the Tea Party, right?

Yeah, baby! Some BP blow-out jing for our loons. Says Josephine Marcotty in the Strib, “Minnesota’s beloved loons may get a piece of the $18.7 billion Gulf oil spill settlement announced last week — perhaps as much as $39 million over the next 15 years. Minnesota and Wisconsin would be the only states outside the Gulf Coast region to share in the payout, largely because scientists here have proved that the birds migrate every year to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and that, since the disastrous spill in 2010, many have returned contaminated with carcinogens and other toxins that they pass onto their eggs.”

Walker Watch. Fans of the Governor may already be aware of the “grab bag of pet projects” he slid under the door just before the July 4th weekend. Most attention went to his plan to dispense with a fat chunk of Wisconsin’s open records law (including of course who gives money to who). But as the lowly-paid snarks at are reminding their readers … “Wait! There’s more!” Says Madeleine Davies, “While Walker and the Wisconsin republicans have backed off the one provision, other laws have, thus far, been overlooked. These items have been detailed by, but here are a few that stand out as the most damaging:

Officer-involved deaths: Requires independent investigators of officer-involved deaths to delete information from reports released to the public that they believe should not be disclosed because the harm outweighs the public’s right to know.

Seven-day workweek: Allows employees to specify in writing that they choose to work seven days in a row without a day of rest. Currently, factory or mercantile employees must be granted 24 hours of rest in every seven consecutive days of work.

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Living wage: Replaces all references in state law to a ‘living wage’ — defined as the level of pay needed to provide ‘minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being’ — with ‘minimum wage.’ Repeals provisions in state law allowing the state Department of Workforce Development to investigate complaints that an employee is not being paid a living wage.”

Better yet, the Governor’s people are insisting he knew nothing about any of this.