- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015
House passes deal stalling agency leader salary hikes

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota lawmakers on Thursday found a way out of a state agency salary fight that had them tied in knots, reaching a deal that suspends commissioner raises but still gives Gov. Mark Dayton a one-day window to hike pay this summer.

The agreement approved 106-21 in the House heads next to the Senate, which won’t act until next week. The bill returns pay for state agency heads to last year’s levels and keeps it there until June 30, temporarily wiping out big increases Dayton granted last month.

Dayton could enact new raises on July 1. If he waits until July 2, those raises would be subject to legislative signoff.

“All eyes will be on the governor on July 1st,” said Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa. “Is he going to be with us or is he going to be exercising the same type of crony behavior he did last time?”

Democrats said Republicans were talking tough about cutting pay while still giving Dayton room to pay his commissioners more. But they also were glad to dispense with an issue that had consumed the Capitol and caused friction within the upper ranks of their party.


Racial discipline gap in Minnesota schools widens

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) - Fewer students are being pulled from Minnesota classrooms for disciplinary reasons, but the gap between white and minority students is growing.

Students were suspended, expelled or otherwise removed from class about 50,000 times in the 2013-2014 school year, according to new data from the Minnesota Department of Education. That’s down about 5 percent from the year before.

But nonwhite students made up about 61 percent of those disciplinary actions last year, an increase of about 1 percentage point from the prior school year.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius told reporters Thursday that the overall decrease is encouraging but there’s more work to be done to eliminate racial gaps.

The data come as officials and advocates have increased their focus on Minnesota’s gap in achievement between white students and students of color, which some say is among the worst in the nation. Cutting down on suspensions and expulsions for minority students would help solve that problem because it would give them more classroom time, said Marika Pfefferkorn, program director for the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership.


Minnesota man accused of conspiracy to support Islamic State

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A Minneapolis man who was stopped at a New York City airport in November as he and three others were allegedly attempting to travel to Syria was indicted Thursday on charges associated with supporting the Islamic State group.

Hamza Ahmed, 19, was arrested earlier this month and charged with lying to the FBI during a terrorism investigation. Thursday’s indictment includes that charge, and also charges Ahmed with one count of conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State group and one count of attempting to provide material support.

Ahmed remains in custody after a magistrate judge said last week that he had posted threatening comments on Twitter, including comments about becoming a martyr.

Ahmed’s attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the new charges.

“Since 2007, dozens of people from the Twin Cities have traveled or attempted to travel overseas in support of terror,” U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said in a statement. “While my office will continue to prosecute those who attempt to provide material support to ISIL or any other terrorist organization, we remain committed to working with dedicated community members to bring this cycle to an end.”


Lawmakers discuss body camera privacy versus transparency

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - As more Minnesota police departments use body cameras, lawmakers are focusing on whether the footage should be kept private or the public should be able to watch the videos to ensure officers are doing their jobs properly.

A Senate panel weighed in on the debate Thursday, discussing a law enforcement-backed bill that leans more toward privacy and would generally allow only police and the citizens who appear in the footage to access the videos.

Nationally there’s been a push in the wake of the unrest over a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, to equip officers with body cameras. Officers can wear the small devices on their vests or eyeglasses.

Law enforcement agencies in some communities in Minnesota, including Burnsville and Duluth, already are using the cameras. Police in Minneapolis have rolled out a pilot project that could expand, and St. Paul officers have a test run in the works.

And although lawmakers have several issues to wade through to pass a law, including how long the footage should be kept and how much it costs cities to store it, setting ground rules for who can access recordings is the main sticking point pitting open government advocates against police officers.

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