5 things to know today: Voting rights, Flu cases, Distance learning, Facing scrutiny, Cities event
A select rundown of stories found on InForum.
1. North Dakota's congressional delegation opposes Democratic voting rights package
North Dakota's all-Republican congressional delegation has rejected Democrat-backed voting rights legislation that aims to standardize the nation's election laws and expand voting access.
The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed the "Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act" on Thursday, Jan. 13, along party lines. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., and Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., voted against the bill, which is expected to face a much tougher test in the gridlocked Senate.
The 735-page bill contains a number of sweeping changes, including:
- Requiring states to allow 15 days of early voting.
- Obligating states that require voter identification to accept a broad range of IDs.
- Restoring voting rights to ex-felons.
- Making Election Day a federal holiday.
- Reintroducing requirements for states with histories of voter discrimination to seek federal approval before altering voting rules.
- Barring partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts.
- Allowing House candidates to draw on federal money for campaigns.
2. North Dakota flu cases soar to over 25 times the number reported a year ago
The prevalence of influenza in North Dakota is spiking, and the number of people who tested positive last week has increased by more than three-fold in comparison to last month, according to the state health department.
Although each flu season is unpredictable, the substantial number of people testing positive for the flu is high for this time of year compared to a normal flu season.
A typical flu season runs from October through May, and last season was unusually mild largely due to COVID-19 mitigation strategies, such as social distancing and mask-wearing, which also curbed the spread of flu.
Last flu season, North Dakota had a total of only 245 flu cases, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. Although the end of this flu season is still months away, the state has already seen 6,638 cases — more than 25 times the number North Dakota reported a year ago.
3. Greater Minnesota schools hold out on distance learning amid surge
As a surge of COVID-19 infections strains school staffing and sends students home sick, Minnesota school districts returning to distance learning appear to be among the minority for now.
Rochester, Minneapolis and several Twin Cities-area school districts on Wednesday, Jan. 12, announced plans to return to online learning. Minneapolis school officials said the district was “significantly” short on staff and will remain in distance learning from Friday, Jan. 14, to Jan 31.
Meanwhile, a surge of cases in Rochester schools pushed district leaders to take classes online until the end of the month as well. During the week of Jan. 3-9, the district of about 18,000 students reported 564 new COVID-19 cases. The most the district had reported during any week before this school year was 163, the Rochester Post Bulletin Reported.
“We did everything we could to avoid taking this step, but staff shortages make it impossible to operate schools amidst the surge in this variant,” Rochester Public Schools Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel said in a tweet announcing the move.
4. 4th Cass County social services leader under investigation for workplace issues
A fourth social services leader for Cass County is under investigation for work-related issues.
Economic Assistance Manager Sidney Schock was placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday, Jan. 11, after the complaint was filed, a letter informing Schock of the investigation said. Staff who work for the Cass County Human Services Zone also have been informed that Schock will be out of the office until further notice.
The letter to Schock, obtained through an open records request made by The Forum, did not give specifics of the complaint other than to say it regarded bullying, harassment, discrimination and intimidation.
Schock declined to comment for this story.
Schock is the fourth Human Services Zone administrator to face scrutiny for conduct at work. Family Services Division Manager Linda Dorff, as well as social worker supervisors Rick VanCamp and Tamara Anderson, were placed on administrative leave last month pending an investigation into “workplace concerns present in the child protective services unit.”
5. 5 area mayors focus on workforce needs, growth challenges at 'State of the Cities' event
The ongoing challenges of the Fargo-Moorhead area's workforce shortage and dealing with the impacts of growth dominated the discussion Thursday, Jan. 13, when the mayors of Dilworth, Moorhead, Fargo, Horace and West Fargo gathered for a "State of the Cities" event in Fargo.
The annual get-together hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce drew more than 600 people and provided the mayors a chance to talk about the good things happening in their cities, as well as some of the difficulties area residents face.
Chad Olson, the mayor of Dilworth, spoke about the city's housing market growth as well as the need the community has to replace its aging fire station.