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Capitol Chatter: MNsure supporters see improvement

Don Davis

Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — MNsure rolled out commercials with real people talking about how the state-run health insurance marketplace helped them.

And a key MNsure supporter promoted a study showing that Minnesota policies are less expensive than in other states.

It is a campaign to draw attention to successes and away from months of bad news, news such as computer problems, impossibly long waits for help and a system that never told some people if their attempts to get coverage succeeded.

State Rep. Tom Huntley, D-Duluth, issued a news release promoting a Kaiser Health News Service report that indicated five of the 10 least expensive health insurance markets in America are in Minnesota.

The cheapest mid-range plan cost about $259 a month in many regional insurance markets, Huntley said, but those in the Twin Cities market could buy plans at $159. Similar plans in the St. Cloud area go for $166, in northwestern Minnesota for $171 and west-central and north-central counties for $180.

Minnesotans have until March 31 to sign up during open enrollment. For the rest of the year, people may sign up if they have a qualifying event such as losing a job. Otherwise, open enrollment will return in the fall.

Of the 100,000, two-thirds are in government-subsidized programs, with MNsure their only option to get coverage. Just 31,000 Minnesotans have signed up for private plans.

There will be howling

Wolf Day at the Minnesota Capitol is sure to attract attention.

Rallies in the Capitol rotunda generally are about money issues, but the Howling for Wolves organization is sponsoring the Thursday event in a large part to ask the state to curtail wolf hunting.

“The wolf hunt is an elective and recreational activity, and not intended to control the wolf population,” said Maureen Hackett, founder of the organization. “By failing to establish how many wolves die of all causes, including not performing a baseline wolf survey before the hunt, the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has chosen to ignore sound scientific methods.”

Fighting invasive

Debate over taxes, the minimum wage and other such topics will dominate the Minnesota legislative session that begins Tuesday, but there are some that say turning back invasive fish and other species needs to be a prime concern.

Rep. John Persell, D-Bemidji, said that much of his area’s economy depends on fishing and invasive species such as Asian carp can be a huge economic issue.

“Last session, we made new investments in research in an effort to try and learn more about how to prevent these AIS (aquatic invasive species) from moving through our waterways,” he said. “This session, we need to do more to increase enforcement across the entire state. Many times AIS spread because of carelessness on the part of those going from one lake to another.”

House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, recently said that fighting invasive species is a priority.

Bullying bill draws rally

The organization that won last year’s gay marriage debate is turning its attention to efforts to curb school bullying.

Outfront Minnesota, the state’s major pro-gay organization, plans to fight those who do not support the anti-bullying measure. The group is collecting signatures on a petition and will be part of a “safe schools rally” in the Capitol on March 3.

“Because of your support and involvement, we won marriage equality here in Minnesota last year,” Outfront wrote to supporters in an email. “Now, we need you to show up again at the Capitol to get the bill passed now.”

State Sen. Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, said she recently attended a gathering to discuss the issue and was happy to see middle school and high school students there.

“A 10th grader bravely stood before the audience and told her story of having been bullied,” Kent said. “Her dad spoke after her, and every parent in the room hurt with him as he described the pain and frustration of watching his child struggle.”

But Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said school districts do not like the proposal. He said he visited nine districts in his area and officials said they already have anti-bullying policies.

“It will do nothing but to pass on costs,” Gazelka said was the message school officials gave him.

A tough video decision

Plenty of videos are available to watch online.

But Minnesotans have an especially tough decision between two: a YouTube video at with legislative leaders answering reporters’ questions for 90 minutes or a live video at of an eagle’s next, providing the potential of seeing cute baby eagles at some point.

Well, maybe it is not such a tough decision, but there is plenty of time before baby eagles emerge to watch legislative leaders. The Forum News Service-sponsored forum, minus Gov. Mark Dayton after his surgery, hits on many topics that will arise during the legislative session that begins Tuesday and must end no later than May 19. Senate Media Services produced the video.

The eagle cam, meanwhile, just went live at a nest from an undisclosed Twin Cities location.

Department of Natural Resources biologists say they think it is the same pair of birds that used the nest last year, when their eggs did not hatch. The eggs probably froze last year, and the two eggs that had been laid at last report face bitterly cold weather in the next few days.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.