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Status Report: Session; Coleman’s in; ‘mega-rains’

Session challenge: Gov. Mark Dayton has challenged legislative leaders to agree on a special session to offset health insurance rate hikes.

The potential session could also provide hundreds of millions of dollars in tax relief and fund $1 billion in public works projects. But after months of negotiations the deal is not quite done.

Dayton sent a letter to top lawmakers Tuesday asking for their approval of those plans in a special session slated for Dec. 20. He gave them until Thursday to either agree on including the tax and bonding bills in the special session, or give up until next year.

At a legislative preview event last week, incoming Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa said he was 80 percent confident that a special session would happen, but indicated that the inclusion of the bonding bill was giving some GOP members “heartburn.”

However, even if the bonding and tax bills are set aside, the governor left the door open to a special session.

“If agreement cannot be reached on the tax and bonding bills by this deadline,” Dayton wrote in his letter, “I propose to call a special session to pass only the premium relief bill, as has been promised by so many to the people of Minnesota.”

A spokeswoman for Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, says lawmakers are still discussing a possible agreement.

Dayton’s plan calls for an insurance premium rebate for health insurance shoppers who don’t qualify for federal assistance because they make too much money, but who still won’t be able to afford insurance on the individual market.

Premiums for those Minnesotans — said to make up about 5 percent of the state’s population­ — are spiking by as much as 67 percent next year.

Coleman’s in: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is running for governor in 2018.

The Democratic mayor made the announcement Tuesday. Coleman had long been considered as a possible gubernatorial candidate, and speculation increased earlier this month when he said he wouldn’t run for a fourth term as mayor.

Coleman joins what’s likely to be a crowded field to replace Gov. Mark Dayton when his second term expires. State Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, has already launched a bid on the Democratic side.

Coleman says he wants to be a “bold leader” and says he is running because he thinks Minnesota residents must work together.

“I believe that no one has to lose so that others can win,” he said in the written statement announcing his candidacy. “I believe Minnesota is the greatest state in the nation. These are my guiding principles.”

As mayor, he helped bring several sports stadiums to St. Paul and shepherded a light-rail transit train connecting the Twin Cities. He briefly considered a gubernatorial run in 2010.

‘Mega-rains’: As global temperatures warm, Minnesota residents need to prepare for increases in catastrophic “mega-rains” and a greater spread of tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease, according to a draft environmental report card for the state.

The report card comes from the Environmental Quality Board, a coordinating body for state government agencies on environmental issues. The board will discuss the draft Dec. 21. The final version will provide a foundation for the Minnesota Environmental Congress in February.

The report card is organized around five key areas: water, land, air, energy and climate. Each section uses three metrics to assess how well Minnesota’s environment is doing in those areas. It rates their current status as green, yellow and red to correspond with good, OK and poor. And it uses up arrows, flat arrows or down arrows to indicate recent trends.

Most metrics scored as yellow. Only one, household energy use, scored green. Four scored red with a downward trend. “Minnesota’s changing climate, our declining pheasant population, our reliance on petroleum, and nitrate in our groundwater are all issues that need urgent attention,” the 31-page draft said.

The report card singled out climate-related issues for the lowest marks, saying Minnesota is warming more quickly than either the U.S. or the global average.

That’s meant more frequent extreme weather events, it said, particularly “mega-rains,” when at least 6 inches of rain affects over 1,000 square miles. Minnesota has experienced seven of them in the past 17 years, compared with four in the previous 27. Minnesota recorded two this year for the first time ever.

“With more warming expected, Minnesota should be prepared for a continued increase in these devastating storms,” the report said. Human health is also affected by warming weather, the report warned.

The board last issued an environmental report card in 2012 ahead of its first environmental congress in 2013. The draft 2017 Minnesota Environment and Energy Report Card can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/2hwjr4C

What’s ahead: Word has it that a special session of the full Legislature could begin at an unspecified time on Tuesday, Dec. 20 — assuming the governor and the four legislative caucus leaders can agree to an agenda. If they do, topics tackled could include health insurance premium relief, revisiting last session’s failed bonding bill and a reconsideration of the vetoed 2016 tax bill. Stay tuned.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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