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Dayton wants special session to help miners

Plus: VA official in St. Paul got bonus while under investigation; state Senate GOPers won’t move into new building; more than 3,000 rape kits in Minnesota went untested; and more. 

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach

Another day, another special session. The Pioneer Press’ Rachel E. Stassen-Berger reports: “Gov. Mark Dayton wants Minnesota lawmakers to return to work to help out-of-work miners. ‘I urge you to agree to our calling a special session of the Minnesota Legislature before the end of this year or early next year, before nearly 600 Minnesotans will have exhausted their unemployment benefits,’ Dayton said Wednesday in a letter obtained by the Pioneer Press. Minnesota has frequently extended unemployment benefits for workers in economic catastrophe. In his letter to Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Dayton noted that the 2015 Legislature extended certain benefits to steelworkers idled by international trade forces and to workers laid off because of this year’s Avian Flu outbreak on poultry farms.”

We’re thinking she might need those movers again. In the Star Tribune, Allison Sherry writes: “Kimberly Graves, the top St. Paul Department of Veterans Affairs official who recently refused to answer questions in front of a congressional panel, received an $8,697 bonus in 2014 — the same year she was under federal investigation for allegedly abusing her authority for personal gain. Graves’ bonus came after she received almost $130,000 in moving expenses to relocate from the East Coast to St. Paul last year — a move she orchestrated, according to a VA inspector general’s report. The report found that Graves also retained her $173,949 annual salary even though her job responsibilities were significantly diminished in the move to Minnesota.”

Also at the Legislature, the AP’s Brian Bakst gets the story on Senate Republicans decision not to move into their new building. “Minnesota’s Senate Republicans have decided against moving into a new office building for at least another year, their leader said Thursday. Senate Minority Leader David Hann told The Associated Press that his members concluded the relocation isn’t worth the hassle. The decision to spurn the three-story, $90 million Senate building also tracks with the GOP’s strong opposition to constructing it in the first place. ‘The consensus is right now people don’t see the reason to move,” Hann said. ‘There’s no need for the space we’re in. It is a disruption to move. There is a cost to the public to move. It is a very short session and we’ll have to move again after the next election.’ Hann said the caucus discussed the issue during a wider-ranging meeting last week. They didn’t take any votes but Hann said the message was clear.”

So why isn’t a hate crime a felony? MPR’s Mukhtar Ibrahim explains: “Anoka County will not use a hate crime law to prosecute a restaurant patron who allegedly assaulted a woman for speaking Swahili because it might lead to a conviction on a lesser charge. ‘We know that this was a crime that appears to be based on hatred and bias. We are considering that and we’ll keep analyzing what role that plays in sentencing,’ said Paul Young, criminal division chief of the Anoka County Attorney’s Office. ‘Unfortunately,’ he added, ‘based on our laws, if we charge the crime that has that title (hate) in it, we run the risk of a conviction of a lower level offense and we don’t want to do that.’ Prosecutors have already charged Jodie Burchard-Risch, 43, with felony third-degree assault in the attack two weeks ago against Asma Jama at an Applebee’s restaurant in Coon Rapids. As a hate crime, it would be considered a gross misdemeanor in Minnesota, Young said.”

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Might seem alarming? For the PiPress, Elizabeth Mohr, writes: “The numbers might seem alarming: more than 3,000 rape kits sitting on shelves, untested, at law enforcement agencies across the state. And for more than 9 percent of those cases, the reason for not testing is ‘unknown.’ But police are quick to explain that a reasonable explanation often exists for not testing evidence collected after a sex assault is reported: Sometimes victims do not want to move forward with a case. Sometimes the suspect’s identity is not in question. Sometimes prosecutors decline to file charges. But on the off chance that untested kits should have been tested, legislation this spring required agencies to tally their numbers and review each case. The data, collected by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state law enforcement agency that runs the state’s largest crime lab, were released Thursday.”

Ugh, protecting wolves— that’s so 1970s.  As the AP reports: “Two U.S. senators announced a renewed push Thursday to strip federal protection from gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region and Wyoming — and to prohibit courts from intervening in those states on the embattled predator’s behalf. Legislation introduced this week would order the Department of the Interior to reissue orders from 2011 and 2012 that dropped wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Wyoming from the endangered species list. ‘After over 30 years of needed protection and professional pack population management, the wolf has made its comeback,’ said Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who sponsored the measure with fellow Republican John Barrasso of Wyoming. Similar legislation was introduced earlier this year in the House.”

An all-too familiar story. At KARE-11, Steve Eckert and A.J. Lagoe have a piece on local race organizer Team Ortho. “A Minnesota-based non-profit organization that claims it is “Helping Research One Race at a Time” actually donates only about a penny-and-a-half for every dollar it raises for medical research, according to financial records obtained by KARE 11 News. So, how much race money is going to research? To find out, KARE 11 checked the IRS forms all non-profit organizations have to file. The most recent report shows that in 2013 Team Ortho brought in $4,362,877. Of that, what went to charities like Shriners Hospital was just $72,700. A year earlier, it was a similar story. Of $3,599,851 raised, just $36,550 trickled down to charity. Do the math. The average amount going to charity is just a penny and a half out of every dollar raised.”