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Lawmakers move to fix police and fire retirement plan

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Officers and firefighters with PTSD will be required to try mental health treatment before they can take disability-related early retirement.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Senate Thursday night passed the duty disability reform bill, in an effort to shore up the statewide retirement plan for police and firefighters.

The fund has been hit hard in the past few years, due to a wave of early retirements from post-traumatic stress. The legislation is an attempt to slow the impact of so many officers and firefighters leaving the field due to mental health injuries incurred on the job.

“The situation now is that the pension fund, PERA Police and Fire, is being depleted,” Sen. Nick Frenz of North Mankato, the lead author of a bill, told KARE.

“With an increase in claims some cities are seeing a bigger hit to their budget, partly because health care costs are going up and partly because the number of people on duty disability is increasing.”

Twelve Republicans joined 28 Democrats in voting for the bill. It already passed the House once, but the House will need to concur with an amendment the Senate added. If that happens, it will go to Gov. Walz’s desk to be signed into law.

Civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s murder sparked a wave of post-traumatic stress claims, first against he Workers Compensation system, and next to the state’s Public Employees Retirement Association Police and Fire retirement plan.

The bill devotes part of the state’s budget surplus to stabilize that system, but also make a key change for those seeking a duty-related mental injury. Officers and firefighters experiencing PTSD will need to seek treatment first. 

They’ll receive 24 months of mental health treatment before they can be placed on duty-related early retirement. They’ll continue in their status as a paid, full-time employee during that treatment period.

“If they’re better after 24 weeks and can return to duty that’s great, if they can find another job with the police or sheriff or firefighters, that’s great,” Sen. Frentz explained.

“What we’re trying to do with the bill first and foremost is to take care of those people that keep us safe, by providing treatment, by protecting the plan status so they can have a fair retirement and we can recruit the next generation of police, fire and paramedics.”

The plan has the support of the statewide police and firefighting groups, because the alternative would be to raise retirement payroll deductions for active duty public safety workers.

Cities and counties also support the bill because of the financial burdens they’ve faced with PTSD-related duty disability claims. Those municipalities are required to pay ongoing health coverage for those public safety employees who go on duty disability.

Jenny Max, the Nisswa City Administrator, told lawmakers earlier in the session that her city will have to raise local property taxes to cover that cost for one officer.

“A longtime officer of the City of Nisswa filed for duty disability benefits and the city was informed those benefits were approved by PERA. The initial financial impact of this one duty disability claim was over $350,000 that would expand over 24 years resulting in an accumulative 14% levy increase.”

In a Pension Commission hearing March 20, PERA director Doug Anderson said current retirees have nothing to worry about, but the system will need to be shored up if the early retirements continue at this pace.

“The amount of disability retirees in recent years has had a really significant impact. Our estimates are that if this doesn’t change it will increase the cost of the plan by $40 million per year.  That’s about 4 percent of payroll,” Anderson told lawmakers.

The bill drew opposition from some quarters because it would change what’s known as the reemployment offset for some retirees. It would lower the amount of benefits some firefighters and police get if they’ve taken new jobs that pay more money than their original public safety jobs did.

“We believe it more fairly requires disability recipients that can work to help support the health of the fund from which they benefit,” Anderson explained.

Officers and firefighters who’ve contributed to the retirement fund for 20 years before their work-related injury would not lose any of their disability checks to these offsets. Those who haven’t found other jobs won’t lose any benefits to offsets.

During that joint hearing, Samantha Steward of the Meuser, Yackley and Rowland law firm warned the changes could be devastating to those currently on duty disability early retirement.

Meuser, Yackley and Rowland specializes in representing law enforcement officers and other first responders seeking to file duty disability complaints. It has represented hundreds of Minneapolis Police Department officers who filed Workers Comp claims and later took early retirement through the PERA Police and Fire Plan.





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Dog attack leaves 7-year-old with visual injuries

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A dog attack has left a 7-year-old girl with scrapes on her legs and back and cuts on her lips.

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. — A 7-year-old who was hurt in a dog attack Tuesday is still processing what happened.

“I was just walking and then it pushed me and started attacking me,” said Yamah Yekeku.

She went to drop off a package at her neighbor’s home. Then the dog ran toward her.

“It’s is third time chasing somebody,” Yekeku said.

Her mother Mary Innis pointed out the scrapes on her legs and back, and the little cuts on her lips.

The dog who attacked her is a part of 13-year-old Yazmina Warsame’s family.

“She was really sweet, she was very playful,” she said.

Warsame said her dog’s name was Diamond, a 1-year-old Pitbull.

“Diamond didn’t mean to hurt nobody, she just wanted to play and they killed her for it,” she said.

Brooklyn Park Police and shot killed the dog because they said it went after another child.

“The animal actually ran into a playground area, a park area in an apartment complex and there were two young children that were in the park. The dog took off after one of the children and was trying to bite that child,” said Brooklyn Park Police Precinct Inspector and Public Information Officer Elliot Faust.

Faust said a cadet lifted the child up to his shoulder to protect him.

“The dog was jumping up actively trying to bite the child and that’s when one of our officers shot him,” Faust said.

He said the 7-year-old was treated for her injuries at the scene. Innis said she took her daughter to the doctor’s office on Wednesday to get a rabies shot as a precaution.

Tuesday’s incident was the second dog attack to happen within Brooklyn Park. A 3-year-old was attacked by two Pitbulls, last Friday. Faust said the child’s injuries were extensive, and he’s still recovering in the hospital. He said that attack was the worst dog attack he has ever seen.

“These are not common, they don’t happen frequently, so it is kind of strange that we’re talking about two in one week,” Faust said.

Faust want community members to be more aware of their surroundings and to understand their dog. He said they’ve had more dangerous dog designations so far this year than all of last year.

“As a dog owner it is your responsibility to take control of the animal,” Faust said. One mistake that happens can have tragic consequences.”

Warsame said her dog was just hyper. Diamond also had long nails, Warsame said they were planning to cut.

She’s heartbroken her dog is gone and doesn’t understand why police had to kill her. She wants people to know her dog wasn’t mean.

“People take advantage of the way a big dog looks, they don’t know her personality, so people might have called her mean and I don’t people to think Diamond is mean, and I feel like it’s important to share. She wasn’t a mean dog, she was never a mean dog,” Warsame said.



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MN church group stranded for days in New Orleans

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The group was originally supposed to be home this past Saturday.

MINNEAPOLIS — A Twin Cities church group is on its way home tonight, after spending the last few days stranded in New Orleans.

“We are really sick of the airport,” Leisha Tays, supervising the trip, said in a FaceTime call from the airport.

That trip, to the Evangelical Lutherans in America Youth Gathering, was supposed to end this past Saturday.

“Every once in awhile, it would just get bumped back farther and farther and farther,” she said.

That group from Our Saviours’ Lutheran Church in East Bethel consists of 14, mostly made up of kids. Tays says it’s been a challenge to figure out their next steps with a group so big.

“It is frustrating, but I also know it’s nothing I can control,” Tays said. “That’s what I keep telling my kids that I’m here with, is that you can only control yourself.”

“Doing our best, what else do you do, right?” she added.

To keep themselves busy, they’ve spent time exploring New Orleans, a vacation that they were initially alright with extending. They quickly realized there were challenges that came with that, including working through Delta’s vouchers, which covered not nearly enough for a group their size.

“We have been given three $12 meal vouchers per person, which doesn’t really cover much,” Tays said. “Especially in four days.”

They made it through thanks to donations from their church members back home, donating to keep the crew fed.

“A lot of details, and everything went great until it didn’t,” Lisa Rykken Kastler, Director of Congregational Ministries for the church, said.

“There wasn’t even an ask, the situation was such that, ok, you’re gonna need money,” Rykken Kastler added.

At the time of this article’s writing, Tays tells KARE11 that they’re finally taxiing, ready to take off and come home – a vacation they can’t wait to end.

“We’re just exhausted, you know?” she said. “There’s the emotional and the physical exhaustion that’s going on, and we’re ready.”



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Met Council asks cities to sign-off on Blue Line Extension plans

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The Met Council is asking several cities to sign off on the preliminary design for the Blue Light Extension.

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. — The communities along the proposed METRO Blue Line Extension are getting a chance to review and discuss the proposed plans with the public. 

The METRO Blue Line Extension is anticipated to be 13.4 miles between Target Field and Brooklyn Park, and would also run through Crystal and Robbinsdale. The Met Council hopes to start service in 2030, and estimate total ridership would be nearly 30,000 daily trips. 

Now, community leaders will be asked to consent to major project elements like where stations are located and where tracks will go. According to the Met Council, many project details haven’t been determined and the plans leave a lot of room for future design choices.

“This process gives people an opportunity to participate in the line through their elected officials,” said Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle in a press release. “This is a big investment that will serve our region for the next 100 years.”

Each of the municipalities will hold a public meeting and then vote before October 10, the Met Council said. 

“No matter how well we design a project, we need each city to let us know how it will fit into their neighborhoods and serve their communities,” said Zelle. “We’ve held weekly meetings for the past four years to ensure our designs are on the mark. But it’s up to each city council to approve preliminary design plans or recommend changes.”

The proposed plans can be viewed by clicking here.



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