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Bill to cut light-rail funding moves through House

by Maddy Hughes
A bill proposed by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville to cut funds for the rail project moved up in the Minnesota House Monday night.

The bill would cut $69 million from a transit fund to light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit, and would instead use the money to make up for a potential $51 million cut in general transit funds.

The cut would lead to an increase in bus fare. On Monday it passed through the Transportation Policy and Finance Committee and still waits to pass the Ways and Means Committee.

Proponents of the bill were mostly GOP legislators, reflecting a history of division on the topic of transit funding between them and DFLers, who are known to generally support public transit.

The GOP argument for the bill says that it would amount to an overall increase in funding for transit operations, however the opponents say that their estimate of car sales tax revenue is too high.

The bill includes a plan to first pay off debt for projects like the Central Corridor light rail. To fill in the gap needed to pay for the light rail project, the Met would have to borrow money. The transferred money comes from a quarter-cent sales tax on five counties for rail and bus rapid transit.

Triangle Shirtwaist fire inspires Mn educational series

by Maddy Hughes
In light of the national focus on laborers' rights, a series of events called "Then and Now: Immigrants, Workers, and the Search for Justice" has been scheduled in St. Paul to educate and call attention to the history of workers' unions.

This year is the centennial anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, an event that represents the mistreatment of public workers. Twin Cities Daily Planet and MinnPost explain that the incident was unfair to workers because factory managers had locked the doors that workers tried to escape through.

The workers, most of which were Jewish and Italian immigrant women, had gathered two years before the fire in a strike to preserve union rights and lost, being forced to keep their jobs in the dangerous Triangle factory.

The first event of the series, which has brought together over 30 organizations to participate, was a film screening about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire at Macalester College on March 6, followed by a panel discussion.

The series includes documentary film screenings, photo exhibits, and more education sessions going all the way through late May. The list and details of events is right here.

Macalester history professor Dr. Peter Rachleff is one of the event's coordinators working with Jewish Community Action, a group that is sponsoring the series.

MnSCU asks Legislature for a limit on tuition

by Maddy Hughes
Students of The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) have petitioned the Legislature to put a cap on tuition increases, The Star Tribune and MPR News reported.

On Feb. 16, the group of students was at the Capitol chanting about their want for a price limit at their two- and four-year colleges. This agenda is new for the group, who in the past has lobbied only for greater educational funding.

They still want that funding, but are asking for a tuition cap-- not a freeze, which is what Republican state senators have proposed. The students say a freeze could diminish education, but they still cheered when Republican Sen. John Carlson announced that the Legislature would pressure the MnSCU for a tuition freeze.

MnSCU is not going to give in right away, as the 15-member Board of Trustees sets the tuition with the quality of education as a top priority.

Andrew Spaeth, the state chair of the Minnesota State University Student Association, spoke for the group when he said that they didn't want any cuts for state funding, because they could lead to higher tuition, which takes the blow to make up for the money lost in funding.

When considering the bill to freeze tuition, legislators weighed the options of MnSCU cutting spending and the state raising its funding in order to cut back tuition.

Governer plans to cut funding for higher education

by Maddy Hughes
Governor Mark Dayton released a budget plan Tuesday that would decrease higher education funding in the 2012-2013 school year by six percent, both Minnesota Public Radio and The Minnesota Daily have reported.

While The Minnesota Daily says that Dayton wants to cut $171 million in funding, and MPR says that he only wants to cut $153 million, both say that the cut would represent a six percent decrease in expected funding for next year.

This cut would be seen in public colleges, including the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

University officials are okay with this proposal: University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said that the cut was "welcome news," and University President Bob Bruininks said in a press release that tuition increases would be modest due to the amount of funding.

The cut may mean a decrease in offered services at the university, according to Pfutzenreuter and Bruininks; however, director of the state's Office of Higher Education Sheila Wright says that there will be no cuts in the Minnesota State Grant Program.

This draft of the budget has been criticized by Republicans partly because of the tax increase it would place on the wealthy, but also because in order to reduce the state deficit, they think the higher ed cuts need to go deeper.

But Dayton and Republicans both recognize that they have to come to an agreement before May 23 in order to steer clear of a government shutdown.

$200 million to go to light rail project

by Maddy Hughes
President Obama proposed a budget that would give the Central Corridor light-rail project $200 million Monday.

This bill's approval would make for a four-fold increase from the $45 million that Obama proposed in his last budget plan, which Congress has not yet approved.

According to The Star Tribune and The Minnesota Daily, this development represents an important change in the federal government's consideration of the project.

However, Republicans in Congress have said that they want to get rid of the program that funds such transit projects, including the Central Corridor light-rail project.

The light-rail is intended to bring together, and provide easy transition between, St. Paul and Minneapolis. The project will cost $957 million, and is expected to be finished by 2014.

Proponents of the project cite the federal government's help as a vital part of its completion.

Minnesota Legislature considers Sunday liquor bill

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by Maddy Hughes
A bipartisan group in the state senate is reviewing proposed legislation that liquor stores in Minnesota be permitted to stay open for business on Sundays. However, some business owners are concerned it would complicate matters for them. The Minnesota Daily and The Star Tribune have equally thorough articles about concerns surrounding the chance of the bill's passing.

Minnesota is unique in its regulations on liquor businesses; all bordering states keeping business open every day of the week. Minnesotans have to make the 40-minute drive to Hudson, Wis. to get their alcohol on Sundays, and proponents of the bill say that this is a remnant of the days when drinking was a social taboo circa the 1890s.

Lawmakers say that this law is outdated, and that there is no reason to keep a law that creates a hassle for customers and takes business away from store owners. The sponsor for the bill, Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said, "All our neighbors allow it. Why not us?"

But the opposition to the bill comes from Minnesota's liquor lobby itself. They say that the extra day of business will not bring in enough revenue to justify the stores' remaining open. Some business owners just want to keep their only day off a reality.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who pushed similar legislation in 2009, said that she will introduce a similar bill in the House of Representatives.

Bill proposal for English as official language of Minnesota

by Maddy Hughes
The state senate is considering a bill proposed last week that would make English the official language of the state, The Minnesota Daily and The Minnesota Independent have reported.

Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature support the bill. However, there is significant opposition from many, including members of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Steve Drazkowski, who is responsible for introducing the bill, has proposed similar laws since 2008. If the bill passed, it would be among more than 20 other U.S. states who have similar legislation.

The bill would make it illegal to conduct government business using any language besides English. It would pose challenges to foreigners who don't yet speak English when trying to obtain a driver's license, when placed in an education system where they can't speak the mandated language, and not to mention in the voting process where instructions would no longer include translations.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said that his impression is that the bill is designed to make certain people feel unwelcome in Minnesota. Speaking to The Minnesota Independent, Allison Lebow, spokesperson for the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network, said that it would deny specific groups of people the opportunity to integrate into their community.

The argument for the bill's approval says that it would cut back on wasted expenses to service for illegal immigrants or people who don't learn to speak English.

The counterpoint is that these people would still be required to pay taxes for services that they would not then receive.

The Minnesota business community has not yet made a response about the bill's possibility.

Minneapolis woman tries to mail puppy

by Maddy Hughes
A Minneapolis woman tried to send her puppy in an air-sealed box to be sent to Georgia Feb. 28, City Pages and The Star Tribune reported.
Now she wants the puppy back in her possession.

When postal employees realized it was her puppy being sent in the mail, they impounded the puppy known as "Guess" and alerted authorities who charged the woman, Stacy Champion, with animal cruelty.

People hearing of the story all over the U.S. called in to city officials asking to adopt the puppy, but Champion objected saying that she wanted the puppy in her possession.

This case will be managed Monday at an administrative hearing in which Champion will plead for the return of her dog, although she must resolve her criminal case of animal cruelty, and still may not be successful in obtaining her pet once again.

GLBT conference in Minneapolis expects success

by Maddy Hughes
The largest gathering of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender activists in the U.S. will take place in Minneapolis Wednesday for an annual conference addressing their mission for the coming year. This event is called "Creating Change," created by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and will be held at the Hilton Hotel.

This gathering will be the largest yet in the 23-year history of the task force. The estimated crowd is somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 people.

The group has a few accomplishments to celebrate, along with plenty of issues to discuss. For one, since their last convention held in Minneapolis in 1990, Minnesota has passed the human rights bill, as reported by MinnPost. But there is potential for a bill to be passed in Minnesota that would ban same-sex marriage. In addition to this local concern, activists plan to focus on equal treatment of GLBT church members across the country, and general problems of discrimination everywhere.

The Star Tribune in its article about the event emphasizes the part that faith plays in the ambition of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Religious leaders will attend the event, and 25 people are registered for a conference advocating a welcoming setting for the GLBT members across all religious communities.

Another important element is the inclusion of transgender people, with the release of a study on discrimination specific to this group planned for the conference. Barbara Satin, a former local public relations executive, attested to the emergence of this group on the activism scene, saying that in the past their community was "pretty hidden."

The Task Force is holding the conference in the wake of the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy, making for an optimistic atmosphere.

Student found dead in boxcar by TCF Bank Stadium

by Maddy Hughes
University of Minnesota student Keaton Murphy was found dead in a boxcar by the TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday, many news sources have reported.
Keaton Murphy was arrested for suspicion of having distributed child pornography.
According to his mother, Rochelle Murphy, her son had told her that he was innocent.
After he was released from jail on Jan. 20, Murphy went missing for a week.
Rochelle Murphy and her husband called the University police last Saturday to inform them of their worry that he was depressed and suicidal.
On the same day, she told The Minnesota Daily that she and her husband were "worried sick."
An article in New York Daily News included information about a facebook profile under Murphy's name, which made him out to be a regular 20-year-old male. This article also posted different dates for both Murphy's arrest and the discovery of his body.
The Star Tribune coverage focused on Murphy's arrest in relation to his death, noting that a woman from his hometown said the death would not have happened if newspapers had not quoted the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's file about his arrest.
That article, in addition to the one by The Minnesota Daily, quoted the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, James A. Parente, in an outreach to those close to Murphy: "Our heartfelt condolences go out to his parents, family, and friends."

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