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.
- Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, has been re-elected to her seat 20 times now, but at least one Republican is undeterred by the partisan spread in that district. Ben Schwanke, who previously ran a GOP Senate campaign in the special election won by now-Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, has switched targets and registered to run against the veteran House member next year.
- The Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) elected its officers for the coming year earlier this week. Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter was elected president of the organization, and will replace Joe Vene of Beltrami County in that post. Freeborn County Commissioner Christopher Shoff and Roseau County Commissioner Jack Swanson were picked to serve as vice presidents.
- Scott Beauchamp, a former campaign worker for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, has joined the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce as a public affairs manager. With Beauchamp’s registration, that organization now has four registered lobbyists registered with the state.
- The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is hiring for a public policy assistant job, and will take applications for the position through the end of this year. The business-minded political group is looking for someone who can serve a number of administrative functions, including connecting its member organizations to the government affairs team that represents its interests at the Capitol. Resume and cover letters can be sent to Mary Bethke at [email protected]
- Shaunna Johnson, a city administrator for Waite Park, has registered to lobby on behalf of the League of Minnesota Cities. She becomes the municipal group’s 11th lobbyist currently on record with the state.