1.) The latest controversy over the state health insurance exchange focuses on the curious timing of a vacation taken by MNsure executive director April Todd-Malmlov, according to the Star Tribune. Her two-week trip to Costa Rica, first highlighted by the right-leaning Watchdog.org website, became a topic of conversation during a press conference held yesterday by Gov. Mark Dayton, who had meant to draw reporters’ attention to a new angel loans program the state is running for new businesses. Instead, Dayton was forced to try to explain why Todd-Malmlov took time off in November, despite that agency’s difficulty in preparing for the Jan. 1 launch of insurance programs offered on MNsure website. Dayton guessed that the trip might have been planned many months in advance, and came after more than a year of continuous toil from Todd-Malmov, though he said the choice to leave at that time is “ultimately her responsibility.” That line of thinking was not compelling to House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, who said Todd-Malmlov’s tropical excursion came at the very moment Minnesotans were “unsure they actually have health coverage for their families.”
2.) Secretary of State Mark Ritchie‘s online voter registration system will get an initial court hearing from a Ramsey County Judge today, according to the Associated Press. Ritchie’s controversial program, which has received bipartisan criticism for his enactment without legislative approval, was met with a lawsuit from conservative voting groups and a number of House Republican caucus members. The lawsuit challenges Ritchie’s constitutional authority to create the registration program, and also seeks to strike the thousands of voter registrations which have already occurred through the newly launched website. The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is siding with Ritchie on the latter point, arguing that voters who registered online should not be disqualified even if the system itself is determined to be unconstitutional.
3.) Also due today are the latest recommendations for how local governments should regulate frac sand mining, the Associated Press reports. The state Environmental Quality Board (EQB) will post a draft of recommendations for public viewing today; the draft is that board’s second attempt at crafting local guidelines, after an earlier draft faced criticism from environmentalist advocates. EQB’s standards will be voluntary for cities and counties, which would need to vote the suggested regulations into law. State agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, are currently crafting their own policy on silica sand mining, which would outline when proposed mining projects will need to undergo a more thorough environmental review before work on the new site could begin.