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OPINION EXCHANGE | Minnesota has a growing trash problem

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OPINION EXCHANGE  |  Minnesota has a growing trash problem


Opinion editor’s note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.

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Across Minnesota, we are inundated with packaging, from our doorsteps to store shelves. Packaging waste and printed paper now account for 40% of our waste stream. In the Twin Cities metro area alone, the amount of waste generated is projected to grow by 19% over the next two decades. The burden of managing this ever-growing deluge of packaging waste currently falls on local governments and taxpayers.

Our system is overwhelmed, underperforming, outdated and unjust. Minnesota deserves better, and our solution is HF 3577/SF 3561, the packaging waste and cost reduction act. This is a producer-funded system to reduce packaging and single-use plastic, make recycling easier and lower taxpayer costs for managing waste.

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This bill isn’t a “nice to do.” It’s a must-do, and the time to act is now. Minnesota is at an inflection point: We have a strong foundation of recycling, yet a 2024 national report found that more than 65% of our cardboard, paper, bottles, cans and other recyclables still end up in Minnesota landfills and incinerators, or as plastic pollution in our environment. This lost waste forces counties to expand landfills across the state. In the metro area, landfills were recently permitted to expand to take in another 5.6 million tons of waste over the next 10 years, with nearly 4 million tons going to two sites in Burnsville and Inver Grove Heights.

We are facing mounting calls to act on this ever-growing trash problem: the inevitable closure of the Hennepin County Energy Recovery Center (HERC), pressures to expand landfills by an unceasing waste stream, a retrenchment of curbside recycling programs in cities like Virginia and Hibbing, and the countless risks that landfills present to our communities, including groundwater contamination and dangers like last year’s landfill fire in Rice County. All these factors threaten Minnesota’s historic leadership in dealing with solid waste, while also clarifying the need for bold action to address our trash problem.

Our bill will improve Minnesota’s recycling by building upon the existing system and combining it with new funding from producers of packaging and paper. This program would use sliding scale fees based on the sustainability of packaging to incentivize producers to reduce their packaging waste and ensure they are not using hard-to-recycle materials that burden our system. The program will protect and leverage public and private investments already made in Minnesota.

This is an environmental and economic solution. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates that Minnesotans throw away over $140 million in recyclable materials every year that could instead be used in local manufacturing to create new products. In fact, many of the major waste and recycling haulers serving Minnesota are already talking about the business opportunities presented by similar programs in Canada.

Opponents of this bill argue that it will increase consumer prices, but data from Canada and Europe proves this wrong. The impact of producer fees for packaging on consumer prices is minimal or nonexistent because packaging fees are only one minor factor affecting the market price of packaged goods. Further, Minnesotans already pay the price of expanding landfills, plastic pollution, increased asthma from incineration and more. This bill shifts those costs and requires producers to invest in solutions, rather than just continuing to pass these harms along.

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We’ve worked for months with stakeholders across the solid waste community to build the right solution for Minnesota. While some manufacturers oppose any change, they have failed to propose solutions that move us forward. The fact is that an unwillingness to change is a vote for more landfills, more incineration, more plastic pollution, and more costs upon counties and taxpayers.

This bill is about far more than just waste. It’s part of our commitment to climate, to environmental justice, to reducing plastic pollution and to creating a cleaner, circular economy. We are responding to our residents, counties and environment. This is a well-developed, commonsense, comprehensive solution supported by a coalition of local governments, nonprofits, business groups, recyclers and residents. We need to move forward now so Minnesota can increase recycling, reduce plastic waste, mitigate climate pollution and create green jobs while saving money for households and local governments.

Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota House. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, is assistant majority leader in the Minnesota Senate.



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Minnesota

“One pill can kill”: Minnesota authorities stress dangers of fentanyl as overdoses rise

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“One pill can kill”: Minnesota authorities stress dangers of fentanyl as overdoses rise


MINNEAPOLIS — One pill can kill — that was the message federal and state partners stressed as illicit fentanyl continues to circulate.

The DEA took about 2.5 million lethal doses of fentanyl off Minnesota streets last year alone. Despite that eye-popping number, it’s not enough.

Fentanyl is a dangerous synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and responsible for ripping families apart, including Michelle Loberg’s.

 WCCO investigates the fentanyl crisis in Minnesota

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Oct. 12, 2020, will always be a dark day for Loberg.

“I just really wanted to say goodnight and tell him I was proud of him,” Loberg said.

Instead, she walked in on her 20-year-old son Nicholas unconscious and suffering from fentanyl poisoning after purchasing what he believed was heroin.

That day she lost a piece of her, but she’s turning her pain into purpose and fighting to save lives.

In 2022, nearly all of the 922 synthetic opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl, according to the state health department. 

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That’s why federal and state partners are working overtime to keep pills off the streets.

The United States Attorney’s Office along with the Drug Enforcement Administration hosted a community conversation focused on fentanyl awareness and prevention Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s not getting better,” said United States Attorney General Andrew Luger. “It’s getting worse, pills are cheaper, market is being flooded we need to both as much enforcement we can decrease demand.”

And with those cheap counterfeit pills, people may not know what they’re buying is cut with fentanyl.

Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Rafael Mattei says seven out of ten pills seized and had two milligrams of fentanyl, which can be lethal.

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 More Minnesotans, including children, succumbing to fentanyl-related deaths

Mattei believes enforcement combined with education can help bring this crisis under control.

“We are not going to be able to out-arrest ourselves out of this, we need the public, partners and teachers,” Mattei said.

Educating on the dangers of just one pill, as law enforcement partners continue investigating and prosecuting.

Getting help for an addiction is available for free 24/7. Call 800-662-HELP to get access to the resources needed.

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Virginia Tech quarterback transfer commits to Minnesota

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Virginia Tech quarterback transfer commits to Minnesota


Minnesota remains red hot in the transfer portal with two new additions to the football team on Tuesday. First, former four-star recruit Tyler Williams, who entered the portal after his redshirt freshman season at Georgia, committed to the Gophers. Then, later Tuesday night, Virginia Tech transfer quarterback Dylan Wittke committed to Minnesota.

Wittke appears poised to compete with true freshman Drake Lindsey for the backup quarterback job, with Max Brosmer, the FCS passing leader who transferred from New Hamphshire, projected to be Minnesota’s starting quarterback in 2024.

Like Williams, Wittke is a redshirt freshman so he has four years of eligibility remaining.

He was a three-star recruit coming out of Buford, GA., in high school and he held offers from the likes of Memphis and Colorado before settling on Virginia Tech. As a prep standout he went 50-4 as a starting quarterback and led his high school to three state championships.

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Minnesota lawmakers return from break to uncertainty after DFL lawmaker’s arrest

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Minnesota lawmakers return from break to uncertainty after DFL lawmaker’s arrest


Serious criminal charges against a DFL state lawmaker after her arrest this week have put the power dynamic and prospects in question for the last four weeks of the legislative session.

Sen. Nicole Mitchell was arrested early Monday for allegedly breaking into the Detroit Lakes home of her stepmother. Police at the scene said the Woodbury legislator told them she wanted to retrieve her late father’s ashes, photos, a flannel shirt and other items of sentimental value from the home but her stepmother wouldn’t speak with her, according to a criminal complaint.

Following the release of the complaint, Senate leaders split over the path forward and whether Mitchell, the 34th Senate DFL vote in a one-seat majority, should keep her seat.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy called for due process for Mitchell while calling the allegations “upsetting.” Meanwhile, GOP Minority Leader Mark Johnson said she should resign immediately.

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Other lawmakers, particularly DFLers, could be put on record soon over Mitchell and her ability to participate in the session’s finale.

Mitchell’s vote is, on paper, the deciding factor in what makes it through the DFL-led Capitol and what doesn’t when matters break along party lines.

With a potential 33-33 tie in the chamber — and no tiebreaker from any other official as is the case with the vice president in the U.S. Senate — DFL priorities like gun restrictions, an equal rights amendment with protections for abortion and gender care and several budget revisions could stall.

As lawmakers return from their Passover break on Wednesday, here’s a recap of what is known and what might develop.

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What happened?

In a criminal complaint released Tuesday, authorities allege that Mitchell engaged in first-degree burglary. According to the complaint, Mitchell entered her stepmother’s house in Detroit Lakes early on Monday morning through a window. She wore all black and carried a flashlight covered in a sock.

She is alleged to have entered the basement where she was looking for items of her deceased father’s — including his ashes. When her stepmother heard noise in the basement, she called the police.

Detroit Lakes police officers arrested Mitchell at the scene and she told them she wanted to grab the items because her stepmother wasn’t talking to her anymore. 

Democratic State Sen. Nicole Mitchell, right, of Woodbury, speaks with Sen. Robert D. Farnsworth, a Republican from Hibbing, on the floor of the Minnesota Senate on April 2.

Steve Karnowski | AP

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A Becker County District Court judge granted Mitchell’s release from jail on Tuesday with conditions that she abide by conditions including having no contact with the victim, and not leaving the state without written court approval. The judge also said a restraining order was issued Tuesday. Bail without conditions was set at $40,000.

Upon her release, Mitchell posted on Facebook that a “private matter” became very public and it didn’t play out in the fashion alleged. Mitchell wrote that her stepmother was dealing with memory problems and paranoia. She said she drove there to “check on that family member.”

“I entered a home I have come and gone from countless times in the past 20 years, where my son even once had his own room,” Mitchell said. “Unfortunately, I startled this close relative, exacerbating paranoia and I was accused of stealing, which I absolutely deny.”

No one was home at the house when an MPR News reporter stopped in earlier Tuesday.

What does this mean for Senate operations?

It’s not entirely clear. 

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Lawmakers had been on Passover break. So when the gavel strikes at noon on Wednesday, the political ramifications could become apparent.

The Minnesota Senate retained a COVID-19 rule that allows for remote voting, which has been used by senators dealing with family or health situations. It has never been tested around a criminal proceeding and could lead to clashes if Mitchell tries to steer clear of the Capitol while still acting on bills.

Murphy issued a statement following the hearing that said these actions were “out of character” for Mitchell. She said that while Mitchell would have decisions to make, she should get due process.

“The allegations against Senator Mitchell are upsetting, for me and for anyone who has gotten to know and work with her,” Murphy said in a news release. “We believe in due process, and Senator Mitchell has the right to a full defense of her case in court. In the coming days and weeks, Senator Mitchell must also have serious and difficult conversations with her colleagues, constituents and family.”

People stand behind a podium to speak.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson speak with press following the budget forecast on Feb. 29.

Clay Masters | MPR News

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Johnson said the charges were disturbing and suggest that Mitchell’s decision to break into the home was premeditated. He called on Mitchell to resign immediately.

“I understand the difficult situation her family is facing, however the actions taken by Sen. Mitchell are disturbing. The complaint released by the Becker County Attorney lays out the case of a person who took extensive preparation to burglarize a family member’s home,” Johnson said. “This behavior is unbecoming of a member of the Legislature and she needs to resign from the Senate immediately.”

The Minnesota Republican Party and other conservative groups have also called on Mitchell to resign her seat.

What do Senate rules say?

Senate rules state that members must “adhere to the highest level of ethical conduct as embodied in the Minnesota Constitution, state law and Senate rules.”

The rules also set up a process to call for a subcommittee on ethical conduct to launch an investigation and provide an advisory opinion about what consequences should be. That would take some time. But it could result in a call for Mitchell to be stripped of committee assignments or tougher penalties.

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The rules also say that an ethics probe can be deferred if criminal proceedings are still ongoing, which is the case here. Mitchell’s next court hearing isn’t until June 10 — three weeks after the deadline for adjournment.

Ethics actions typically take weeks or months so a swift resolution would be unusual. Expulsion would take a two-thirds vote, which would be unlikely. It’s so rare that some of the last guidance around it comes from 1986.

What hangs in the balance?

A number of policy and finance bills could get detoured, and particularly anything with a more partisan slant.

A set of gun restrictions could be off the table this year if Mitchell is barred from voting or resigns. Gun owners groups have been urging her resignation following the arrest.

Efforts that would require insurance plans to cover the cost of abortion or gender affirming care could also face a tougher path forward, as could an effort to put an equal rights constitutional amendment before voters in a future election.

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Several budget bills would likely have to be ditched or dramatically reshaped. Republicans would have far greater leverage to negotiate deals. Or DFL leaders could significantly curtail the agenda as they wind up the session early. Adjournment date is May 20.

It’s not just the Senate either. House members have begun to weigh in. Veteran Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said on the social media site “X” that this changes the endgame equation for his party.

“We can have an orderly end of session,” he wrote on Tuesday. “This requires the final month of session be limited to items w/ bipartisan support. That way we don’t drag Sen. Mitchell back into the public eye. Instead we let her focus on her health and family.”

What else is still on the table?

The Legislature returns from its last recess with a pile of touch up spending bills and a public construction project yet to finish.

Lawmakers cleared their final committee deadline to move bills with a spending component through committee last week. That means that the last four weeks of session will center on workshopping budget priorities that can clear both chambers and moving them off the House and Senate floors.

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Even before the Mitchell trouble, some big DFL priorities were at risk of getting pushed off board as lawmakers aim to keep the state afloat financially. While the state has a $3.7 billion projected budget surplus for the budget that ends in 2025, a potential deficit lies on the horizon.

Technically, lawmakers don’t have to do anything this year. They passed a two-year budget last year that will run through next summer so they won’t risk a budget shutdown by running out the clock without adopting more proposals. 

A woman bangs a gavel

Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman strikes her gavel during the opening of the new legislative session at the State Capitol on Feb. 12.

Ben Hovland | MPR News

After funneling budget bills through committees over the last several months, lawmakers will now get a last chance to tweak them before they get final seals of approval from the Senate Finance Committee or House Ways and Means Committee and come to a floor vote.

Republicans have said they hope that DFL leaders would put up more funding to aid emergency medical services. GOP lawmakers argue the $16 million budget target that DFL leaders put forward wouldn’t resolve issues that rural providers face.

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The issue could become central to a deal around a capital investment bill in the final weeks of the legislative session. Republicans have unique leverage in the negotiations since their votes are needed to pass a bill and let the state take on debt to fund the projects.

MPR News Moorhead correspondent Dan Gunderson contributed to this report from Detroit Lakes.



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