Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Walz calls legislators back for special session; lawmakers expected to take up economic aid package

Plus; federal jury finds Illinois man guilty of firebombing of Bloomington mosque; racist religious group allowed to use former church in west central Minnesota as gathering place; St. Paul Saints officially become Twins’ AAA affiliate; and more.

Gov. Tim Walz
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Gov. Tim Walz
For the Forum News Service, Sarah Mearhoff writes: “Minnesota state legislators will be back in St. Paul on Monday for the seventh special legislative session of the year as Gov. Tim Walz plans to renew his peacetime emergency powers once again. … Rulemaking around distribution and prioritization of vaccines will be among legislators’ tasks when they convene next week. They are also expected to consider a potential aid package to Minnesota small businesses and families as the economy continues to reel due to restrictions aimed to curb the deadly virus’ spread — if the divided Legislature can agree on a deal.”

Says Matt Sepic for MPR, “A federal jury in St. Paul found Michael Hari of Clarence, Ill., guilty of all five counts, including hate crime and explosive charges in the 2017 firebombing of the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn. … In addition to the guilty charges in St. Paul, a second federal indictment from a grand jury in Urbana, Ill., charges Hari with crimes related to an alleged campaign of militia violence. Among other things, authorities say he tried to bomb a women’s clinic, blew up train tracks to extort a railroad and tried to frame his neighbor Jon O’Neill amid an ongoing feud by planting bomb materials in O’Neill’s backyard shed and emailing a phony tip to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.”

Frederick Melo writes in the Pioneer Press: By a vote of 5-2, the St. Paul City Council approved one of the most austere city budgets in recent memory on Wednesday, capping a year upended by the coronavirus pandemic and widespread stay-at-home orders. … The tax levy — the sum total of all property taxes collected by the city — will stay flat in 2021 at $165 million, a zero percent tax increase not seen since 2014. General fund spending will decline by more than $8 million.”

At MPR, Mark Zdechlik writes, “Minnesota’s penalty for refusing to wear a face covering, when required, is a $100 fine. Businesses face much steeper penalties for skirting COVID-19 safety measures. There have been a few high-profile interventions; the shutdown of a rodeo in northern Minnesota in September and, more recently, the court-ordered shutdown of a fitness center outside of Rochester that defied the latest executive order to close. Two months ago, MPR News requested detailed information from the Minnesota departments of Health, Public Safety, and Labor and Industry about noncompliance complaints and actions taken. There has, so far, been no response.”

Article continues after advertisement

KSTP-TV’s Eric Rasmussen reports: “Plans to use pandemic relief funding to build what leaders call a ‘modest’ clubhouse on Forest Lake’s city-owned golf course have become the target of criticism and outrage among residents and local business owners. Mayor Mara Bain defended the decision to use 10% of the $1.5 million the city received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to replace the small pro shop at Castlewood Golf Course because it would help with ‘social distancing.’”

Also for MPR, Kirsti Marohn reports, “Officials in the tiny Swift County town of Murdock voted 3 to 1 Wednesday to allow a controversial religious group that worships ancient Norse gods to use a former church as a regional gathering place. The Asatru Folk Assembly — or AFA — bought an abandoned Lutheran church in the Swift County town about 110 miles northwest of Minneapolis, hoping to use it as its third ‘hof,’ or gathering place, in the United States. But some local residents have opposed the move due to the AFA’s pro-white beliefs. … City attorney Don Wilcox told council members that the question before them was a zoning matter. He said the city can impose conditions on things like parking or traffic or noise but because AFA is a religious organization, their speech is protected, as long as it doesn’t cause violence.”

Says Phil Miller for the Star Tribune, “The Twins and St. Paul Saints, nominally competitors since the Saints were reborn in 1993, announced a new 10-year agreement to join forces Wednesday, with the Saints leaving independent baseball in order to become the Twins’ Class AAA affiliate. ‘While [it’s] monumental for the Twins’ player development system,’ Twins President Dave St. Peter said in a video news conference with Saints’ owners and executives, ‘it’s absolutely historic for Minnesota baseball fans.’ That’s because no other major league team has ever kept its best prospects closer than the 10.7 miles between Target Field and CHS Field, giving Twins fans a chance to watch future stars hone their skills, and Saints fans a chance to watch their favorites graduate to the majors.”

For The Washington Post Annie Gowen writes, “In a state where the Republican governor, Kristi L. Noem, has defied calls for a statewide mask mandate even as cases hit record levels, many in this rural community an hour west of Sioux Falls ignored the virus for months, not bothering with masks or social distancing. Restaurants were packed. Big weddings and funerals went on as planned. Then people started dying. The wife of the former bank president. A state legislator. The guy whose family has owned the bike shop since 1959. Then [Buck] Timmins, a mild-spoken 72-year-old who had worked with hundreds of local kids during six decades as a Little League and high school coach and referee. His death shook Mitchell just as its leaders were contemplating something previously denounced and dismissed: a requirement that its staunchly conservative residents wear masks.”

For the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Patrick Marley says, “The chairman of the [Wisconsin] Assembly’s elections committee says he is unsure who won Wisconsin’s presidential election and might support having the GOP-controlled Legislature try to flip Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes from Joe Biden to Donald Trump. Republican Rep. Ron Tusler of Harrison, the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, also said he would not vote early in person in the spring election, as he did in November, because he no longer believes the procedure is being conducted legally by officials around the state.”

Article continues after advertisement