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Political notebook: N.D. AG visits meth conference in Canada

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem was invited to Regina, Sask., for a methamphetamine conference Friday with government officials. They knew of his efforts to combat the trade in and addiction to meth in North Dakota. He told them abo...

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem was invited to Regina, Sask., for a methamphetamine conference Friday with government officials.

They knew of his efforts to combat the trade in and addiction to meth in North Dakota. He told them about the 2005 legislation passed to limit sales of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, the new law to randomly test court defendants who are free on bail from methamphetamine-related charges and a pilot treatment program.

Public or private?

Minnesota legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty met in public for the first three days of the current special budget session, but retreated behind closed doors for further negotiations.

Some wondered if the public would know what was happening once talks became private. They need not have worried.


Take Thursday's Democratic-Farmer-Labor budget offer, for instance.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson and House Minority Leader Matt Entenza held a half-hour news conference about their proposal before meeting with the governor and GOP leaders. After the meeting, they talked with reporters for another 10 to 15 minutes.

The two media meetings lasted more than three times the 13 minutes they spent with the Republicans.

Soon after the brief negotiation session, Pawlenty, backed by fellow Republicans, emerged to talk to reporters for more than twice as long as they talked to Johnson and Entenza.

It appears to be taking longer to spin budget talks than to actually talk.

Records sought

The Dakota Resource Council has a filed an open records complaint with the attorney general's office, saying the North Dakota State University Research Foundation should release documents on its contracts with biotech giant Monsanto.

"We believe North Dakotans deserve to know what type of research is being done at their land grant university," said Dean Hulse of Fargo, chairman of the DRC.


The group believes that the foundation's contention it is not a public entity is wrong. DRC said the foundation's governance, finances, communications and research are all linked inseparably to NDSU.

Hulse said the resource council is not interested in prying into proprietary information, but wants to know what commitments the foundation is making to a private business. NDSU was a research partner of Monsanto's with the proposed "Roundup Ready" spring wheat, a project Monsanto has since suspended.

To your health

A new law that received scant notice this year gives Minnesota employers with up to 50 workers health-care flexibility.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses calls it the biggest health care reform since 1992. The law allows small businesses to design health benefit plans to suit their own needs. The state has mandated 62 things businesses must include when they offer health insurance, something small employers call oppressive. The change signed into law this month means businesses don't have to follow all 62 mandates.

The new law could reduce premiums by more than 20 percent, the federation claims.

The percentage of Minnesotans without insurance has risen in recent years, in a large part due to small businesses dropping coverage due to high costs.

Same old, same old


Kelly Schmidt isn't unique, says the North Dakota Capitol's facilities manager.

John Boyle said the $2,000 in materials for cosmetic improvements in the state treasurer's offices after Schmidt took office in January came partly from his agency budget and some from the 2003-05 treasurer's budget.

Ceiling tiles and carpeting were replaced and the office got a fresh paint job for the first time in more than 20 years.

But this is routine, Boyle said. His agency has a longstanding practice of sprucing up Capitol offices when there is a change in occupants - fresh paint, sometimes new carpet. Workers will refinish the wood trim and move in different furniture.

"We didn't do anything special," Boyle said.

Mandate reform

Local governments soon will have a chance to propose reforming state mandates.

Cities, counties, townships and schools have long complained that the state makes too many requirements. The new law encourages local governments to file reports about mandates they think should be changed. Those reports are to be posted on the state auditor's Web site.


"The state often has good reasons for requiring local governments to perform a service, but it doesn't always provide appropriate funding to perform that service," state Auditor Pat Anderson said. "Hopefully, this new mechanism will spark important debates about the appropriateness of some state mandates."

The law is a compromise between those who wanted no restrictions on mandates and people like Rep. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead, a longtime mayor who advocated stronger anti-mandate measures.

Bring back bonds

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is among a bipartisan group of senators who have written to the Treasury secretary asking that the Treasury Department reintroduce 30-year Treasury bonds.

The bonds were discontinued in 2001.

The six senators said the 30-year bond was a valuable instrument for the government and the financial markets. Its reintroduction would help pension funds and other investors with long-term obligations, they aid.

In another effort related to retirement financing, Conrad and Sen. Gordon H. Smith, R-Ore., have announced proposed legislation to boost worker participation in retirement accounts. The plans include automatic enrollment of workers in their employers' 401(k) retirement plans, giving taxpayers the means to electronically divert tax refunds to retirement accounts.

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