ST. PAUL – Peggy Flanagan joins a rare segment of the Minnesota Legislature: an American Indian legislator.
The 35-year-old Democrat is a White Earth Nation member who lives St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb. After a special election Tuesday, in which she had no opposition, Flanagan joins Rep. Susan Allen, D-Minneapolis, as the only two Native Americans in the Legislature.
Six American Indians served in the Legislature in the 1800s, five in territorial days. Three served in the 1900s.
Flanagan said her mother moved to St. Louis Park when the representative-to-be was a baby because she thought it would provide more opportunities. She has been a political organizer since her days at the University of Minnesota and is the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota executive director.
With her White Earth background, Flanagan has close ties to northern Minnesota. Ironically, the representative she is replacing, Ryan Winkler, had northern ties, too, since he came from Bemidji. Winkler resigned to move to Belgium, where he wife took a job.
The last northern Minnesota Native American to serve in the Legislature was Harold "Skip" Finn, who served in the 1900s.
Allen has a South Dakota background, with her father from the Pine Ridge Reservation and her mother from the nearby Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
MNsure pushes shopping
The state's MNsure health insurance sales program says that what its officials have said for weeks now has a study to back them up.
Interim CEO Allison O'Toole and others have heavily promoted shopping around the MNsure website to find the best insurance deals.
Wakely Consulting Group now has released a study showing that 85 percent of this year's MNsure enrollees who do not receive government subsidies will deal with a 389 percent premium increase if they just let their current plan renew. However, Wakely says, those increases would drop to 20 percent if they pick a lower-cost plan.
However, lower-cost plans also can provide fewer benefits and could have higher payments for deductibles, co-pays and the like.
Government subsidies, provided via tax credits, are only available to MNsure enrollees, not for those who buy insurance from private sellers.
With the just-opened enrollment period for 2016 insurance, MNsure is providing an online tool for customers to compare plans to find what best fits their needs.
State officials earlier announced that insurance premiums would increase up to 49 percent.
The number of Minnesota businesses that offer apprenticeship programs has risen 25 percent in the past four years, the state Department of Labor and Industry reports.
That has allowed the number of people serving as apprentices to jump 59 percent to more than 11,000. Three-fourths are in the construction trades.
The economic recovery, demographic trends and an increased need for skilled labor are driving more businesses to establish apprenticeship programs, the department said.
"Apprenticeship is a great model employers can use to develop a highly trained, skilled and motivated workforce," department Commissioner Ken Peterson said. "Apprenticeship not only helps businesses be successful, it also offers employees an opportunity to develop their skills and climb into the middle class."
Not Obama fans
A majority of Minnesotans do not approve of how President Barack Obama is doing his job.
A SurveyUSA poll conducted for KSTP-TV shows 56 percent do not like Obama's job performance, while 37 percent approve. Just 7 percent are not sure.
Minnesota Democrats fare better. Gov. Mark Dayton received a 52 percent rating, U.S. Sen. Al Franken 55 percent and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar 60 percent. Klobuchar long has been the state's most popular politician.
Transportation gap grows
Minnesota is falling further behind in transportation funding, the Minnesota Department of Transportation says.
With funding as it is in today's law, the state would be $16.3 billion short in the next 20 years, MnDOT reports, $3.8 billion more than predicted last year.
The report comes as legislators and the Dayton administration prepare for the 2016 legislative session to begin next March, with debate about transportation funding near the top of the agenda.
"Our planning process is thorough and objective," MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle said. "It is clearly indicating that the growth in revenue will not meet what we need to spend to provide a competitive system by 2037."
Zelle said legislative transportation funding inaction is part of the reason the shortfall is expanding. He also blamed the aging transportation system, quickening deterioration, inflation and new requirements that require more money to meet.
When debating the issue earlier this year, Republicans and Democrats agreed that highways need more money. However, Democrats wanted to raise taxes and Republicans wanted to take money from other state programs.