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Illustration showing "No mask, no service" on it with a drawing of a generic person wearing a mask
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Bar Buzz: No mask, no service; fraud crackdown; and more

The Lead

Dining out in the Twin Cities may not require a reservation, but it does require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.

This policy went into effect on Wednesday, Jan. 19 (but went into effect for ticketed events on January 26). It applies to restaurants, bars, coffee shops, movie theaters, and other places where food or drink is served indoors. It does exclude churches and soup kitchens. Introduction of the policy follows reinstatement of the public mask mandate.

While children under 5 are not required to show proof, others are required to show an official vaccine card or a photo of it. Otherwise, an individual is required to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken in the past 72 hours and performed by a medical professional. They cannot provide proof through rapid at-home tests.

Although the mandate is being imposed by the respective mayors, actual day-to-day enforcement falls on the business owners. Those not following protocols will face investigation and potentially punishment. Only some St. Paul restaurants—those that sell alcohol—will be required to enforce the mandate. All restaurants in Minneapolis are subject to the mandate.

The policy has led to a new lawsuit, filed by an assortment of restaurant and bar owners on Jan. 20, including owners of Sneaky Pete’s, Wild Greg’s Saloon, Urban Forage, Jimmy John’s, Bunkers Music Bar & Grill, Smack Shack, and The Gay 90s.

In the complaint, the owners argued both that the policy places an undue burden on businesses and that it relies on contradictory science. Businesses are ultimately responsible for enforcement at a time when they are battling massive supply chain issues and staff shortages. They argue that they will be forced to hire additional staff for the purpose of checking customers’  vaccination status. Additionally, businesses point to the 72-hour requirement as an absurdly limited time window. Since most tests will not yield results for 24-48 hours, given testing times and backlogs, a prospective patron may have only one day to use the test results to dine out. Owners predict that patrons will simply travel to establishments in cities without the mandates.

The policy is in response to the omicron variant, which studies have shown to be much more transmissible than other variants. Plaintiffs argue in the complaint that there was no “actual emergency” because COVID-19 rates were dramatically falling when the policy was announced. While the Mayo Clinic has predicted a peak of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota as of Jan. 29, it reiterated that this meant that Minnesotans had only weathered half of the surge, meaning that illnesses and hospitalizations in the second half would continue to wreak havoc on hospitals struggling to keep up.

The bars and restaurants have asked the court to declare that the rule — Emergency Resolution 2022-5 — is deemed invalid, as well as issue a permanent injunction from requiring enforcement of the mandate.

Business owners allege in the complaint that they’re being used as “pawns” to further a political agenda to get the public vaccinated. “Whether the end being sought is noble, the scheme is forcing restaurants and bars to lose additional patrons and business that have already been reduced over the past two years and incurred new costs and burdens.”

On Jan. 26, the business owners and City Attorney’s Office faced off in court. A decision is forthcoming.

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Attorney General Keith Ellison

Announcing Medicaid fraud charges, Attorney General Keith Ellison said: “Minnesotans trying to afford their lives have a right to expect that every one of their tax dollars will be put to use properly. People who commit Medicaid fraud violate both of those rights.” (AP file photo: Pioneer Press)

Fraud

On Jan. 26, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that eight people have been accused of a state Medicaid fraud scheme spanning nearly a decade and costing Minnesota Medicaid’s program more than $860,000. Collectively, they have been charged with 46 counts of felony theft. At the center of the case, Trenea Deshawn Davis, of Brooklyn Center, is facing 11 of the felony theft charges. Davis worked as a personal care assistant from 2014 to 2018. She then became a patient, alleging that she needed 12 hours of care a day. The charges include receiving hours of care services that were unnecessary, as well as knowingly signing fraudulent timesheets for providing that care.

Announcing the charges, Ellison said: “Minnesotans who receive Medical Assistance have a right to expect that they’ll receive all the care, dignity, and respect they’re entitled to. Minnesotans trying to afford their lives have a right to expect that every one of their tax dollars will be put to use properly. People who commit Medicaid fraud violate both of those rights.”

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A border marker between the United States and Canada is shown just outside of Emerson, Manitoba

A border marker between the United States and Canada is shown just outside of Emerson, Manitoba, on Jan. 20. A Florida man has been charged with human smuggling after the bodies of four people were found near Emerson. (Canadian Press via AP)

Human Smuggling

A Florida man has been charged by acting Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats with human smuggling. Homeland Security Investigation agents responded to request for assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol. Border Patrol had stopped a white, 15-passenger van in a rural area between Lancaster, Minnesota, and Pembina, North Dakota. Two passengers in the van were identified as undocumented Indian nationals. Law enforcement subsequently encountered five other Indian nationals walking and waiting to be picked up. They explained that they had been separated from a family of another four Indian nationals. The bodies of the four people were later found frozen just inside the Canadian side of the border. Steve Shand has been charged with knowing or in reckless disregard of fact that an alien had come into, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of law. After a detention hearing on Jan. 24 in front of Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer in Minnesota District Court, Shand was released without bond. Shand has been restricted to traveling to Florida or Minnesota, where further court proceedings will take place.

Imminent Eviction Crisis

Many Minnesotans are struggling to keep current with rent payments. A new surge of applications for rental assistance has been fueled by a surge in COVID. But housing officials announced that Jan. 28 would be the last day to complete an application for the RentHelpMN program. RentHelpMN has helped close to 50,000 households in Minnesota, paying out close to $350 million. Applications needed to be submitted by 9 p.m. Jan. 28.

Mike Lindell

MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell, speaks to reporters June 24 outside federal court in Washington. (AP file photo)

Defamation Lawsuit

The voting company Smartmatic has filed a defamation lawsuit against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. On January 18, 2022, Smartmatic filed a lawsuit of over 100 pages in Minnesota District Court, asserting that Lindell has spread false conspiracy theories about election fraud that involves the company’s machines. The Company asserts that Lindell knowingly spread lies about Smartmatic “because he wants to be seen as a champion of a deceptive message that still sells.” It also claimed that Lindell “intentionally stoked the fires of xenophobia and party-divide for the noble purpose of selling his pillows.” The company has alleged that, as a result of Lindell’s claims, its valuation has gone from over $3 billion before the election to less than $1 billion. Smartmatic has filed lawsuits against Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News Network.

a prospecting drill rig bores into the bedrock near Ely, Minnesota

In this 2011 photo, a prospecting drill rig bores into the bedrock near Ely, Minnesota, in search of copper, nickel and precious metals that Twin Metals Minnesota LLC hoped to mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota. (AP file photo)

Mineral Leases Canceled

A Boundary Waters legal saga may be coming to an end. On Jan. 26, the Biden administration canceled two federal mineral leases held by Twin Mentals Minnesota. Twin Metals has attempt to build an underground mine for nickel, copper, and other metals. The Department of the Interior intervened after it determined that the Trump administration had improperly renewed the leases back in 2019. The Obama administration had declined to review the two leases in 2016. The issue has fiercely divided the public, with staunch supporters of the popular wilderness area engaging in action to protect it, but others arguing that newer mining methods would not be devastating for the environment.

Attorney Licensing Task Force Denied

In a Jan. 21 order, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea denied the petition of the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) to appoint a task force to study attorney licensing or appoint additional members to the Board of Law Examiners. On Oct. 6, 2021, the MSBA filed a petition asking the court to appoint a task force to study attorney licensing methods, changes to the bar examination, and the efficacy and fairness of the written examination. The court declined to appoint a separate task force, citing the fact that the Board had already conducted studies and engaged a variety of stakeholders, thus also finding it unnecessary to expand the size of the board. The end of the decision, however, reiterated that denial of the task force did not discredit the purpose behind seeking it. “But to be clear: Nothing we had said here, nor our decision to deny the petition of the MSBA, should discourage the MSBA or other interested bar associations and legal practice organizations from separately evaluating Minnesota’s methods

 

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About Laura Brown

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