Local/state briefs

Register now for art study opportunity for youth grants webinar

Southwest Minnesota Arts Council announces a grant workshop webinar from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, to learn about the guidelines, requirements, and application process for Art Study Opportunity for Youth grants.

Art Study Opportunity for Youth Grants provide up to $500 to allow young artists entering grades 5-12 to attend an enrichment camp or specialty study. Standard weekly lessons (such as piano or voice lessons) are allowed only for those students who qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program. No match requirements. Next application deadline: April 1.

While this grant workshop webinar is free, participants must register to be able to join the meeting.

Argument on Minneapolis-area light rail train turns deadly

BLOOMINGTON (AP) — A man riding on a light rail train in a Minneapolis suburb fatally stabbed a fellow passenger early Thursday following an argument, transit officials said.

The argument between two men turned into a physical fight after the northbound Blue Line train left the Mall of America station in Bloomington about 1 a.m., a Metro Transit official said.

One of the men pulled out a knife and stabbed the other, according to Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla. Police arrested the assailant without incident when the train stopped at another station, he said.

The victim, who has not been identified, was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, where he died.

Security cameras and witnesses on the train were helping investigators piece together what happened, Padilla said.

“They feel that sooner, rather than later, they’ll pull together a case for the Hennepin County attorney,” he said.

Democrats sue to overturn Minnesota ban on voter assistance

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two national Democratic groups are suing to overturn Minnesota’s limits on assisting voters.

Minnesota law prevents an individual from helping more than three registered voters fill out a ballot or submit an absentee ballot. The groups challenging the law argue those limits are unconstitutional and especially discriminate against older voters, non-English speakers and people with disabilities, the Star Tribune reported Thursday.

The lawsuit was filed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the political arms, respectively, of U.S. House and Senate Democrats.

The groups contend that Minnesota’s law contradicts federal law requiring that “any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter’s choice.”

The groups also note that Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon has urged the Legislature to repeal the limits.

Last year, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Samantha Vang, a St. Paul Democrat, to lift the ban on voter assistance cleared the Minnesota House but stalled in the state Senate.

National Democratic groups have been challenging state laws around the country that put limits on voting.

Minnesota Democratic chairman endorses tighter voter privacy

ST. PAUL (AP) — The leader of the Democratic Party in Minnesota on Thursday endorsed an effort to protect the privacy of voters who are required to declare a party preference to participate in the state’s March 3 Super Tuesday presidential primary.

State Chairman Ken Martin said at a news conference that he backs a proposal by Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon and a bipartisan group of lawmakers to tighten control over what the parties can do with that participation data. The National Democratic and Republican parties require state parties to collect that data. But current Minnesota law places few restrictions on how the state parties can use it.

Under the Democratic proposal, only the national parties would get the data and they could use it only to guarantee the validity of the primaries. Otherwise, the data would be kept private, and voters could opt out of having that data collected when they vote in the presidential primary.

Early voting began Friday. Martin urged lawmakers to pass the changes quickly during the upcoming session, which opens Feb. 11, to keep the data private before the secretary of state must turn it over to the state’s four major party chairs. Two pro-marijuana parties have major party status in the state.

Minnesota GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan called the Democrats’ concerns “baseless” and said in a statement that they’re more concerned about the pro-marijuana parties using the data to siphon off Democratic votes.

Republican state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a former secretary of state who’s influential on election issues within the Senate Republican majority, noted that the 2016 bill that established the primary was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. Given that voting has already begun, legislators should see how it works in 2020 and make changes before the 2024 election if needed, she said.

Minnesota reports 1st child death of flu season

ST. PAUL (AP) — Minnesota health officials on Thursday reported the first child death of the flu season.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health’s weekly influenza and respiratory illness report, a total of 31 people in the state have died of the flu so far this season. A total of 95 people including one child died of the flu in Minnesota last season.

The number of people hospitalized due to the flu has topped 1,200 this season, with 187 hospitalizations reported last week.

With schools back in session after the holiday break, flu outbreaks in Minnesota schools continue to pick up, with 113 new school outbreaks reported last week compared with 32 new school outbreaks the previous week.

Confirmed outbreaks of flu in Minnesota long-term care facilities continue to be low this season, with four new outbreaks recorded last week for a total of 25 outbreaks so far this season.

The Health Department says influenza continues to be widespread across Minnesota.