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Capitol Chatter: High school student fights sex trafficking

With school officials and state legislators watching, high school junior Jessica Melnik talks about efforts to prevent girls from being used in sex trafficking. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Don Davis of Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL — A high school junior leads an effort to prevent sex trafficking around Minnesota.

Jessica Melnik of Hopkins High School founded Girls United Minnesota after she and friends saw one of their classmates being trafficked. Now, she is pushing state legislation to modify current sexual abuse prevention law to include sexual exploitation prevention education in schools.

"This is a small, but we think common sense step," state Sen. Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth, said of the bill he will offer.

Melnik started the work before high school. "In eighth grade, we thought there was a broader community we could reach."

Each year since then, Girls United expanded its outreach, she said. "We want this legacy to continue past our graduation."

Melnik said the girls have learned that "Minnesota definitely is a place where sex trafficking is pervasive."

The Girls United bill was discussed during Super Bowl week in the Twin Cities, an event during which sex trafficking increases because there are so many visitors, many of whom have plenty of money.

Lawmaker at White House

Top Trump administration officials' comments on rural America set well with Minnesota state Rep. Dan Fabian, who recently attended the White House Conference on Rural Prosperity.

Fabian, a Republican, said in a telephone interview after returning home to Roseau that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue assured him that agriculture trade will not be harmed as the administration negotiates international trade deals. "I got a very positive response from him."

The secretary's comments came in response to a Fabian question about one of his biggest concerns, low commodity prices. Some existing trade agreements are "free but not fair," Perdue said, and administration officials are in the process of renegotiating the deals.

Fabian, who was asked to attend the conference by Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt, also was relieved to hear that the administration remains committed to reducing regulations, which the president mentioned in his State of the Union speech the night of the rural conference.

Fabian, on his second trip to Washington, found time to meet with three Minnesota congressman during his short visit.

Pawlenty thinks governor

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty is rethinking being politically retired.

Minnesota Public Radio reports that the Republican plans to meet with political insiders Feb. 12 to decide if he wants to return to the governor' office.

Earlier Pawlenty, who was governor 2003 to 2011, ruled out a run for the U.S. Senate, saying he was "politically retired." But he never ruled out coming out of retirement to run for governor.

Democrats would have some issues to use against Pawlenty, including the fact that he has made millions in recent years as a financial industry lobbyist. They also undoubtedly would talk about his second term as governor, when many observers said he appeared to be more interested in running for president than running Minnesota's government.

Newly released financial figures show Democratic governor candidates brought in almost $3 billion in the latest reporting period compared to $600,000 by Republican hopefuls. One theory about the GOP's lower total is many contributors were waiting to see if Pawlenty or other big-name Republican entered the race.

McCollum: Impeach Trump

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum has joined a few other Democratic U.S. representatives in seeking impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

The St. Paul congresswoman sent a letter saying: "For my constituents and for history, I want to be on the record supporting an open, transparent process of congressional investigations, subpoenas and impeachment proceedings to hold President Trump accountable for actions that are corrupting the presidency and damaging our nation."

She bases her complaint on what she says is "the mounting evidence that President Trump has repeatedly obstructed the criminal investigation into Russia's state-sponsored effort to influence the 2016 presidential election."

McCollum also says Trump personally profits from outside business interests as president. "The scope and scale of President Trump's family business dealings and foreign entanglements is unknown, demanding a thorough examination."

Stras wins in Senate

David Stras is moving from the Minnesota Supreme Court to the federal 8th District Court of Appeals.

After the U.S. Senate approved him 56-42, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton gets a chance to pick his fifth justice on the seven-person high court.

Stras, on Trump's shortlist for the U.S.Supreme Court, was forced to wait months as then-Sen. Al Franken withheld support for him. In the Tuesday, Jan. 30 vote, Minnesota senators split their votes; Amy Klobuchar supported Stras while Tina Smith voted against the 43-year-old justice.

Stras has been on the state high court since 2010.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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