Minnesota Gov, Lawmakers Meet Amid Government Shutdown

The shutdown of Minnesota's state government is affecting cities, towns and businesses across the Midwestern state -- and social workers are pleading for their agencies to be exempt.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders plan to meet again Wednesday to try to settle the dispute over taxes and spending that led to the shutdown. They reported no progress after talking for an hour Tuesday, their first meeting since the government closed Friday.

The shutdown resulted from a budget impasse over how to erase a $5 billion deficit. Dayton wants to raise income taxes on the state's wealthiest residents to provide more money for social services and public education. Republican lawmakers oppose any tax increases.

Meanwhile, organizations and residents who depend on state funds have been pleading their cases to former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, who has the power to recommend that certain programs essential to life, health and public safety continue during the shutdown.

She heard pleas Tuesday from a wide array of interests, from law enforcement and advocates for sexual assault victims and the homeless to child care workers and hospital officials.

Local police departments aren't funded by the state, but new hires can't join forces until they get a license from the Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training -- which was closed by the shutdown.

Hutchinson Police Chief Daniel Hatten, backed by the League of Minnesota Cities, asked Blatz to reinstate funding for the board.

A similar bureaucratic hang-up has afflicted The Emily Program, a private St. Paul-based treatment program for people with serious eating disorders. The agency planned to open a second in-patient facility this month, but a July 18 inspection by the Department of Human Services' licensing division was called off because that office, too, is closed.

"Without that last step in the licensing process, the program will be unable to open," said Jillian Lampert, director of licensing for The Emily Program.

Blatz repeatedly reminded those before her that she has limited power.

"It's not a comment on the value of your services. It goes to the limits of the court's power," she said, trying to downplay the expectations of the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center, a treatment and counseling center that holds state contracts to provide social services.

Ben Peltier, legal counsel for the Minnesota Hospital Association, said hiring at its 45 member hospitals has halted because state background checks required by law aren't available. Large hospitals could probably shuffle existing staff for a few weeks, but some 65 smaller hospitals that typically treat 25 or fewer patients could end up short-staffed, Peltier said.

Blatz plans more hearings Thursday.

Dayton's legal team has asked Blatz to expand the list of critical services and recommend that funding be continued for special education, mental health and chemical dependency programs, child care assistance and other services to the vulnerable.