Counties happy to give up housing state prisoners
ST. PAUL -- Local Minnesota governments may not be happy with the way things are going this year at the Capitol -- with big state aid cuts coming -- but counties are thrilled with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal to remove one burden from them.
In the revised budget plan the governor released Tuesday, he proposed that the state take back responsibility for housing short-term offenders. For years, the state has forced counties to hold prisoners serving less than a half year, but did not pay counties the full cost of keeping those inmates.
Not all counties have enough cells to accommodate the extra load. St. Louis County's jail, for instance, is full and all of the state's short-term offenders had to be sent elsewhere at county expense. Chisago County also has had to export prisoners to such varied areas as Polk County, Wis., and central Minnesota's Meeker County.
County leaders are encouraging lawmakers to pass that part of Pawlenty's budget plan now, so that it does not get mired in end-of-session negotiations.
Jim McDonough, Association of Minnesota Counties president and Ramsey County Commissioner, welcomed Pawlenty's plan because "a significant burden would be lifted from Minnesota counties -- especially those counties in rural Minnesota that do not have county jails and are currently forced to pay neighboring counties or other states to house" the prisoners.
Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto is one of about 100 women honored this month for their environmental work.
Otto will be honored along with women such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, biologist Jane Goodall, Lynne Cheney and astronaut Sally Ride, each receiving a National Women's History Project honor as a "woman taking the lead to save our planet."
Otto is a former state legislator who is serving her first term as auditor.
The auditor's Washington County home is heated by passive solar energy and powered by wind. As a state lawmaker, she worked on environment-related legislation.
Lawmaker: Combine agencies
A Bemidji senator proposes combining the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency and a variety of other conservation- and environmental-related departments.
"Many Minnesotans are frustrated with the level of overlap and redundancy they see in the state's natural resources' departments," said DFL Sen. Mary Olson. "I've heard from several people who've had to get multiple permits from multiple agencies with overlapping jurisdictions. Not only is this aggravating to consumers, it leaves a bad taste in citizens' mouths, especially when they hear about the difficult budget deficit our state faces. Minnesotans want to know that their government is spending their tax dollars as judiciously as possible."
While Olson's bill does not go into detail about how the new agency would look, it does list some requirements, such as reducing administration personnel and improving public accountability.
VA to pay
U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., applauded President Barack Obama's decision to not force private insurance companies to pay for disabled veterans' health-care costs.
Kline said he was happy that the Veterans Administration dumped a proposal to require private insurance companies to reimburse the federal government for some care given disabled veterans.
"I am relieved to learn President Obama has reversed course on this misguided proposal that would permit the Department of Veterans Affairs to ignore its core responsibility of providing health care services to our men and women who have a service-related disability," Kline said. "Turning your back on veterans is wrong. ..."
Food bank help
A bill to help Minnesota's food banks is making its way through the Minnesota Legislature.
Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, wants to establish the Feeding Minnesota Task Force to bring together leader from the agriculture community to find ways to best help food banks around Minnesota.
"Our food shelves are having a difficult time keeping up with demand, and I think the agriculture community can help," Vickerman said. "There is harvested food that is not sold and goes to waste. We need to find a way to get that food to the people that need it the most."