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Capitol Chatter: Feds support anti-synthetic drug legislation

ST. PAUL -- The federal Justice Department agrees with Sen. Amy Klobuchar that Congress should ban synthetic drugs that pose threats to Americans.

The department has announced it backs three bills by the Minnesota Democrat to ban 2C-E, bath salts and synthetic marijuana.

Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, has held hearings on the issue in Washington and Minnesota after several communities reported problems with the drugs. The first American death attributed to 2C-E, also known as europa, came in a Twin Cities' suburb when 10 others were hospitalized after a party where the drug was used.

"Synthetic drugs are taking lives and tearing apart families in Minnesota and across the country, but right now many of these dangerous substances can still be purchased legally," Klobuchar said. "We must take swift action to give prosecutors and law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on synthetic drugs and keep our communities safe. ..."

Synthetic drugs have been sold in shops from Moorhead to Duluth, often marketed as incense with warnings "not for human consumption."

The drug 2C-E produces LSD-like highs.

Last month, Klobuchar brought U.S. Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske to Minnesota to meet with law enforcement leaders.

Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger said after meeting with Kerlikowske that even a new state law to ban synthetic drugs has not stopped sales. Since the new law began, the chief said, undercover agents bought the now-illegal drugs from two shops.

After the Minnesota meeting, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration banned three chemicals commonly found in products marketed as bath salts, but used by people to get high.

Bad Vikings timing

A New York Times story may best explain the Minnesota Vikings' woes in seeking a new stadium: "The country's most popular sport is colliding with the country's emergent political philosophy -- smaller government and lower taxes."

Reporter Ken Belson examined problems ranging from this summer's Minnesota government shutdown to opposition from St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman over a proposed sales tax increase that he claims would hurt business in his town.

Even the national spectacle of the Metrodome's roof collapsing has not helped the Vikings' cause.

Many National Football League franchises have received government help to build stadiums in recent years, But, Belson writes, "the Vikings' pitch stands apart from other NFL stadium deals because it is running headlong into a vastly different economic and political landscape. In a state whose financial hardships were so severe that the Legislature shut down state services for several weeks over the summer, a franchise in the $9 billion NFL is asking the public to pay about 60 percent of the cost of a $1.1 billion stadium. ..."

Belson points out that other professional teams have left for greener stadiums, and Los Angeles is hunting for a football team now, dangling a new stadium as bait.

Flooded roads?

It is tough to predict conditions in 50 years, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation says one factor it must consider in the next half century is a changing climate.

MnDOT predicts more flooding, especially flash floods, will affect transportation.

Weather experts predict climate changes mean there will be more thunderstorms, MnDOT says. "This could lead to regular incidence of simultaneous drought and flood conditions. This is an issue that affects infrastructure design and runoff management strategies."

Check those lists

Candidates sent thank-you notes, mostly via email, in recent days to supporters who donated to them, but campaigns have not always mastered the art.

Tarryl Clark's congressional campaign, for example, sent a "personalized" thank you the Duluth News Tribune and other media, which did not donate a penny to her effort.

"Dear Duluth Paper," the News Tribune note said, "thank you for all of your help making sure we surpassed our goal last week."

Wanted man runs

Jack Shepard is running for office again, despite still being wanted on an arson charge and continuing to live in Italy.

This time, the dentist is challenging U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the Democratic-Farmer-Laborite primary next year.

A Shepard news release indicates he "is running to eliminate Sen. Klobuchar because he is unhappy and very disappointed about many of Sen. Klobuchar votes in the Senate." Those votes include those to keep troops in Iraq, reducing American liberties and failing to clean up the air.

Shepard has run for several other Minnesota offices from his Italian home, never making much headway.

Shutdown case goes on

Minnesota's government shutdown ended July 20, but a court case about it continues, for now at least.

A group of state legislators seeking court clarification has told the Minnesota Supreme Court that the issue should be resolved in case the situation comes up again.

The case revolves around whether the courts have the right to order spending to continue without a legislative appropriation.

The courts did order much state spending to go on during the shutdown, for what were called urgent needs, despite a constitutional provision that requires the Legislature to appropriate money before it is spent. The shutdown came because the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton did not agree on a budget, so the state essentially ran out of money.

The high court is deciding whether the case is moot because the shutdown ended.

Better news, but...

Minnesota's budget picture has brightened a bit, but a legislative committee still gave the Dayton administration approval to borrow money if needed.

Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget told the Legislative Advisory Commission that he does not expect the state to need to borrow money, but financial experts see enough risk that having borrowing authority could save the state some problems. The commission unanimously gave him approval to borrow, but made it clear that was not to be done unless needed.

The state has arranged with U.S. Bank to borrow up to $600 million if needed.

On the down side, State Economist Tom Stinson said that it appears economic growth will be slower than expected and there is a chance of another recession.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.