With the legislature once again adjourning its special session without passing a bonding bill, local officials say they’re frustrated and concerned about the fate of important local projects.
After an agreement was struck between the Republican controlled Senate and DFL leadership on a $1.35 billion bonding bill, legislators seemed closer than ever to passing what is traditionally its marquee legislation in even-numbered years. However, a bonding bill is more difficult for legislators to pass compared to other legislation because under Minnesota’s Constitution, at least three-fifths of both houses of the legislature must vote in favor of it.
In the House, that meant at least six Republicans would need to join with the DFL majority to pass any bill. Yet even though their Senate colleagues backed the bill, the House Republican caucus led by Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, sunk it with united opposition.
Legislators are expected to be called back into session again next month by Gov. Tim Walz, who is legally required to do so if he seeks to extend emergency powers first authorized in March and renewed each month since.
It’s likely to be more challenging to pass a bonding bill in August. In addition to being closer to November’s elections, an August bill would come as the state is selling bonds from previous authorizations, and Walz said he fears such a bill could spook investors.
Local projects in jeopardy
Medford Mayor Lois Nelson expressed disappointment with the bonding bill’s failure. While Medford hasn’t yet asked for bonding bill dollars to connect to Faribault for wastewater treatment, the city is laying the groundwork to do that.
Last November, the Capital Investment Committee heard a presentation from Nelson and City Administrator Andy Welti on the plan. But with the legislature failing to pass a bonding bill in two consecutive years, Medford’s proposed project would have plenty of competition.
“I am truly disappointed in our legislature,” Nelson said. “I feel that they are, quite frankly, playing political games.”
Faribault City Administrator Tim Murray said that two city projects stand to be affected if legislators can’t pass a bonding bill. The first is a proposed berm outside the wastewater treatment plant, that would protect the plant from the adjacent Straight River.
In recent years, the city has seen several floods that have imperiled the plant as well as general erosion of the river bank. With the high volume of wastewater produced by Faribault’s industrial factories, the wastewater treatment plant is a crucial if not particularly glamorous city asset.
The other project that could be affected is the Second Avenue bridge replacement project. The current bridge, which crosses Division Street, is structurally deficient. Without funding from state bridge bonds, Murray said the city would need to look elsewhere for funding to compensate. Another project the city has long wished to see is the Northern Links trail, which would connect the city’s trail system with the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail and Mankato. That project wasn’t included in the final bonding bill, even though senators heard about it on their tour.
In addition to those projects the city was directly involved with, Faribault Republicans Sen. John Jasinski and Rep. Brian Daniels pushed hard to provide increased funding for Faribault’s Academies for the Blind and Deaf.
While both campuses are full of historic buildings, many are in need of replacement. Even though they are designed to serve disabled students, many of those buildings fall woefully short of Americans with Disabilities Act standards as well as modern building codes.
Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said that the academies have been a feature stop on almost every bonding tour. Senjem said that while the committee always tries to include a few projects, they often struggle to compete for funding.
In Northfield, the major project backed by Lippert and Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, was funding for a proposed regional transit hub. Located next to the city’s historic 1888 Depot, the hub would be centrally located, within biking and walking distance for many residents.
Previously, the hub failed to receive a requested $2.5 million in state bonding funds, but it was included in this year’s bill. Key legislators said they were highly impressed that the state’s investment would be coupled with other sizable public and private investments.
The project also garnered support because increasing transportation options is crucial as the state tries to address its workforce shortage. Lippert said that he was highly disappointed that despite momentum and broad support, the project would not be able to move forward this year.
“It’s been a priority of business leaders, the city and the (St. Olaf and Carleton) colleges,” he said. “It’s important for students, for households who need extra transportation, and for employers who want employees to have more options to get to work.”
Rep. John Petersburg, R-Waseca, initially expressed support for a bonding bill but ended up voting against the final version. Petersburg expressed frustration that House Republicans were left out of final negotiations, and key projects they had backed were not included.
“The bonding bill needs to be a joint effort and negotiated with all parties voting for it,” he said. “We had a negotiated bonding bill prior to the start of the special session and then it was changed, with House Republicans left out.”
In addition, Daudt has maintained since May that his caucus would not support a bill so long as the governor’s emergency powers are in effect. Petersburg agreed, saying it’s time for the legislature to get significantly more information and input on the crisis.
“The information he is getting and using should be available to legislators,” he said. “I think our constituents want us to have power and input as well.”
With Republicans (including the four-member New House Republican Caucus) holding just 59 of 134 seats in the State House, Petersburg said that negotiations around the bonding bill provide the only real leverage House Republicans have.
Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, sharply criticized Republicans for blocking the bill. While not as large as the bonding bill initially proposed by Walz, Lippert said the compromise effort would have provided crucial investment at a time when the state faces major economic challenges.
“It’s the biggest economic stimulus tool we have as a state,” Lippert said. “It would have created construction jobs throughout the state.”
Unlike his Republican colleagues, Lippert also voted to uphold the governor’s emergency powers. Lippert said that as the pandemic continues to spread across the state, with hundreds of new cases per day, Minnesota needs to be able to approach the issue quickly and nimbly. Lippert said he is disappointed that the governor’s emergency authority has become a partisan football. He said that nationally, 49 out of 50 state governors have emergency powers in place, including all 26 Republican governors.
Senate Republicans have joined their House colleagues in opposition to the governor’s emergency powers, with Chaska Sen. Scott Jensen describing them as “dictatorial.”
However, even Senate Republicans strongly opposed to the governor’s powers moved to distance themselves from their House colleagues’ approach. That includes Sen. Jasinski who has repeatedly voted to end the emergency powers.
“I’m not a fan of using those tactics,” he said. “Although I don’t agree with the governor’s emergency powers, I don’t think you should hold (the bonding bill) hostage.”
As the only local senator with a seat on the Capital Investment Committee, Jasinski traveled across the state to see many of the projects included in the bill. He said that while he wasn’t enthusiastic about some of the projects in the bill, it was a compromise he could live with.
Jasinski was also an enthusiastic supporter of legislation to bring Minnesota into full compliance with Section 179 of the federal tax code. That measure, which enjoys bipartisan support, would allow small businesses and farmers to deduct the cost of certain equipment from their taxes.
That and other tax measures with bipartisan support were ultimately combined with the bonding bill in the House, raising concerns that the legislation could be a violation of the Minnesota Constitution’s “single subject” rule. Those concerns ultimately turned out to be moot, with Republican opposition to the bonding bill sinking the entire package. And without approval from the House, the Senate couldn’t even consider the measure.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed Thursday that there have been positive COVID-19 cases among the inmates and staff at its Waseca prison.
According to department’s office of public affairs, the first positive COVID-19 test was received at Federal Correctional Institution-Waseca on Tuesday. Since then, the bureau has updated its website to show that the prison has one inmate and one staff member currently testing positive for COVID-19 and one additional inmate who has recovered from the virus.
The prison in Waseca is an all-female, low-security facility with a current population of 603 inmates.
“As testing resources have become more available, we are testing our inmate population more broadly, which is helping us to quickly identify and isolate positive cases to rapidly flatten the curve when outbreaks occur,” said Emery Nelson with the bureau’s Policy and Public Affairs Division. Nelson said that the testing for all federal prisons is done through commercial labs and that deployment of additional resources is based on facility need to contain widespread transmission and the need for early, aggressive interventions.
“While a prison setting is unique when addressing a pandemic, the care and treatment of an identified positive COVID-19 case is not,” Nelson said, adding that inmates with a positive COVID-19 test are isolated and provided medical care in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. “Symptomatic inmates whose condition rises to the level of acute medical care will be transferred to a hospital setting; either at a local hospital or at an institution’s hospital care unit, if they have one.”
Nelson said that since June 19, all inmates entering or departing a federal prison facility are required to participate in a test in/out enhanced screening and quarantine/isolation process, with all inmates who enter an institution being tested for COVID-19 when they arrive. If an inmate is in isolation on their release date, the institution will notify the local health authorities in the location where the inmate is releasing to to coordinate and minimize exposure to the public.
Other procedures that the Waseca prison has adapted in accordance to CDC guidelines includes disinfecting all areas where inmates live and staff work, making individual bars of soap available throughout the prison and in cells, and conducting door-to-door wellness checks, according to Nelson.
“If an inmate reports feeling ill, she is immediately screened by health services personnel,” Nelson said.
Another precautionary measure during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce the risk of exposure in federal prisons has been limiting in-person visitations. As of now, in-person visitation is not permitted at the Waseca facility.
“We realize that suspending social visiting has an impact on inmates and their loves ones, but our primary purpose in doing so is to help keep them and the community safe,” Nelson said. “In order to compensate for the absence of in-person visits, we increased monthly telephone minutes for all inmates from 300 to 500 minutes in recognition of how important it is for families to stay in touch during this time. Telephone calls are free to inmates for the duration of this emergency.”
Nelson said that video sessions are currently all free of charge to the inmates at the Waseca prison — as well as at 15 other facilities with a female population that offers the video service. He said that the system requires sessions be scheduled four days in advance.
The first positive case of COVID-19 at the Waseca prison comes nearly two months after the first confirmed case at Minnesota Correction Facility-Faribault. Since then, the state prison has had 205 confirmed COVID-19 cases in inmates, with two inmate deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Last week, a jail staffer at the Steele County Detention Center received a positive COVID-19 test result, initiating facility-wide testing. Last week, Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn said that there had been no confirmed COVID-19 cases in inmates or staff at the Rice County Jail.
As of Friday, there have been 4,251 federal inmates and 400 BOP staff who have confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 nationwide. Currently, 5,891 inmates and 676 staff have recovered and there have been 99 federal inmate deaths and 1 BOP staff member death attributed to COVID-19.
One person died Thursday and another was injured in a head-on crash 6 miles southwest of Owatonna.
The names of the victims have not yet been released.
A press release states the Steele County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota State Patrol, Mayo ambulance, Mayo Air Ambulance and Owatonna Fire Department were dispatched to the two-vehicle crash at 2:55 p.m. on the 3600 block of Lemond Road in Steele County.
Responding units reportedly found the two vehicles had “extensive damage.” Both had only one passenger.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, the driver of one vehicle was extracted from the vehicle.
“Extensive life-saving measures were performed by medical personnel on scene; however, the party was pronounced dead as a result of injuries from the crash,” the release states. “The other driver was transported to the hospital by ambulance.”
According to the Sheriff’s Office, a preliminary investigation suggests one of the vehicles was traveling north while the other was heading south.
The case remains under investigation by the Minnesota State Patrol, Steele County Sheriff’s Office and Steele County Coroner’s Office.Look to the People’s Press for more information as it becomes available.
A Level Three sex offender has relocated to Owatonna following his release from prison Wednesday, according to information distributed by the Owatonna Police Department.
Richard Dean Paquin II, 39, has moved into the vicinity of 23rd Street Northeast in Owatonna.
Paquin, who is originally from Owatonna, was convicted of engaging in sexual contact with a child he knew. The contact included sexual touching and penetration.
Paquin was originally sentenced in Steele County District Court in April 2009 to 173 months — slightly more than 14 years — in prison and a $1,000 fine for first-degree criminal sexual conduct and 60 months — or five years — in prison for a third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge.
According to court documents, Paquin was charged after the victim and the victim’s mother contacted the Owatonna Police Department in May 2007.
According to the criminal complaint, incidents began when the juvenile victim was about 10 years-old. The complaint shows that Paquin would contact the victim through online social media platforms and that Paquin would give the victim marijuana.
Under Minnesota law, the Owatonna Police Department can notify residents of an offender’s release from prison if it believes releasing the information will enhance public safety. The notification is not intended to increase fear. Paquin will be monitored by law enforcement.
Paquin is described as a white man, 5-foot-6-inches in height, weighing 136 pounds with blond or strawberry blond hair, blue eyes, a fair complexion and medium build.
Paquin has served his court-mandated sentence and is not currently wanted by law enforcement. The notification can’t be used to threaten, harass or intimidate Paquin. Those found doing so could be subject to criminal charges.
“Abuse of this information to threaten, harass or intimidate a registered person and such acts could be charged as a crime,” the department’s notification says. “Such abuses could potentially end the ability of law enforcement to provide these notifications.”
Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Owatonna Police Department is unable to hold a community meeting regarding Paquin’s release and relocation. Additional questions regarding Paquin’s release and concerns about public safety can be directed to Det. Christian Berg at the Owatonna Police Department at 507-774-7220.