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Minnesota State Fair reestablishing own police department a year after disbanding one



Minnesota State Fair reestablishing own police department a year after disbanding one

The Minnesota State Fair is reestablishing its own police department, a year after disbanding one and then turning to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement at the Fairgrounds.

Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer in a Monday statement announced the Fair’s decision, which follows seven months of the sheriff’s office providing security at the Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights and also leading a multi-agency effort during the Fair. The State Fair’s agreement with the sheriff’s office ends Dec. 31.

According to the statement, the Fair’s police department will continue its partnerships with the sheriff’s office and Minnesota State Patrol, along with officers from other law enforcement agencies and medical services providers, plus additional security contractors. Ramsey County sheriff Cmdr. Ron Knafla will serve as the Fair’s police chief.

The statement did not address why the Fair is going back to its own police force, nor did it give additional details such as when that process will begin and its projected size. Hammer was unavailable Monday for further comment, according to the statement.

Security at the Fairgrounds became an issue when the Fair this past spring decided to disband its decades-long police department and instead turn to an outside agency to provide security. In January, the Fair chose not to rehire the department’s roughly 35 officers who were working on annual contracts either full- or part-time.

The decision not to renew the contracts was made because “we were reorganizing and adding more training, which was stopped because of the pandemic,” Hammer said in June.

In May the Fair’s Chief of Police Paul Paulos announced his retirement, which was effective May 31, and the Fair officially dissolved the police department.

But that meant Fair officials had to scramble to find security at the Fairgrounds before, during and after the 12-day event.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety recommended that the sheriff’s office take the lead role during the Fair, prompting Sheriff Bob Fletcher and Fair officials to work on a plan. The sheriff’s office on June 1 began providing one deputy at the Fairgrounds for pre-Fair security.

But the Ramsey County Board had reservations with the sheriff’s office taking the lead during the Fair, with liability being chief among them. In late July, the county board signed off two contracts, one that covered the event and another for non-Fair dates through 2021. The board’s decision came after reassurances from Fair officials that it had intended to purchase $10 million in police professional liability insurance and that the policy would include the county.

The county board had planned a Nov. 2 workshop on the Fair, including financials and steps beyond this year, but it was canceled after Fletcher told Board Chair Toni Carter that he would not be attending, according to a county spokesperson. That prompted Carter to send a Nov. 4 letter to Gov. Tim Walz informing him of “the unwillingness of Sheriff Fletcher to personally engage with the County Board” and suggesting that the Minnesota Agricultural Society Board, which governs the Fair and maintains the state-owned, 322-acre Fairgrounds, “will need to pursue alternative security arrangements for 2022.”

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Taxpayers face overloaded IRS as filing season opens Monday



Taxpayers face overloaded IRS as filing season opens Monday

WASHINGTON — Count 30-year-old Ethan Miller among that subset of Americans who are actually eager to file their taxes once income tax filing season opens on Monday.

The financial planner who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, is looking forward to claiming the new deductions that will come from buying a home. He also wants to get a jump on a tax season that promises to bring lots of extra headaches and delays for filers this year.

“I’m trying to get a head start on my taxes as much as possible,” Miller said, adding that he is not too nervous about forecasts of extra delays because he will file online and will not be waiting for too big a refund.

Plenty of other filers, though, may be in for more heartburn.

An IRS worker shortage, an enormous workload from administering pandemic-related programs and stalled legislation that would have given the agency billions of dollars for more expeditiously processing returns will combine to cause taxpayers pain this filing season.

“The IRS right now has unacceptable backlogs and the customer service that people are receiving is not what the American public deserves,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged Friday. “The agency has not been equipped with the resources to adequately serve taxpayers in normal times, let alone during a pandemic.”

She stressed that the problems predate the Biden administration and she urged understanding for beleaguered workers already saddled with huge backlogs. “It’s going to take some work, it’s going to take some time and I think people need to understand that they need funding,” Psaki said.

Agency officials are already warning filers that “in many areas, we are unable to deliver the amount of service and enforcement that our taxpayers and tax system deserves and needs,” as IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig put it earlier in the month.

Delays in processing are to be expected — especially because the IRS says it still is working through 2020 tax returns.

During the 2020 budget year, the IRS processed more than 240 million tax returns and issued roughly $736 billion in refunds, including $268 billion in stimulus payments, according to the latest IRS data. In that same time frame, 59.5 million people called or visited an IRS office.

Donald Williamson, an accounting and taxation professor at American University in Washington, said he expects “weeks and weeks” of IRS delays in 2022.

“You can blame Congress or the IRS. I imagine they’re trying to do the right thing but it just adds to further complexity,” he said. “My advice in 2022 is file early, get started tomorrow and try to put your taxes together with a qualified professional.”

Williamson said he advises his clients to file electronically, and those who expect hefty refunds in the tens of thousands should expect greater delays. Most backlogged returns were filed on paper and are amended returns.

Deadlines to file have been extended in the past two years due to the pandemic. It is unclear whether this year the agency will offer similar leeway to taxpayers.

There will be plenty of new issues to navigate this year.

For example, individuals who are eligible to claim the child tax credit and have gotten advance payments throughout the year may get a smaller refund than they normally would see.

People who did not get stimulus checks that they were qualified for as part of the pandemic relief package might yet be able to claim a “ recovery rebate credit ” on their taxes.

On Thursday, the IRS released a list of “ Top 5 Things to Remember,” with suggestions for taxpayers on what documents to pull together and what to do if their 2020 returns still have not been processed.

The IRS anticipates that most taxpayers will receive their refund within 21 days of when they file electronically, barring any issues with processing their return.

But plenty of pitfalls remain, in part due to staffing troubles at the IRS.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union that represents IRS workers, said the agency “has a hard time recruiting because they’re up against Burger King or McDonald’s,” which offer similar pay without requiring workers to “deal with confusing rules and regulations.”

As of Thursday, the agency’s careers website listed at least 180 open jobs, including clerks and tax examiners paid as little as $11 an hour. Of those, 42 positions were open to the public; most were available only to internal applicants.

A hoped-for $80 billion infusion for the agency was included in versions of President Joe Biden’s proposed package of social spending programs but that stalled on Capitol Hill.

Reardon said the IRS “is in a lot of trouble in terms of how it is effectively able to carry out its mission and that has to be rectified.”

“I think clearly the taxpayer gets the brunt of this,” he said, adding that IRS workers get “the brunt of that blame under horrible circumstances.”

Associated Press writer Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.

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New conservative target: Race as factor in COVID treatment



New conservative target: Race as factor in COVID treatment

MADISON, Wis. — Some conservatives are taking aim at policies that allow doctors to consider race as a risk factor when allocating scarce COVID-19 treatments, saying the protocols discriminate against white people.

The wave of infections brought on by the omicron variant and a shortage of treatments have focused attention on the policies.

Medical experts say the opposition is misleading. Health officials have long said there is a strong case for considering race as one of many risk factors in treatment decisions. And there is no evidence that race alone is being used to decide who gets medicine.

The issue came to the forefront last week after Fox News host Tucker Carlson, former President Donald Trump and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio jumped on the policies. In recent days, conservative law firms have pressured a Missouri-based health care system, Minnesota and Utah to drop their protocols and sued New York state over allocation guidelines or scoring systems that include race as a risk factor.

JP Leider, a senior fellow in the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota who helped develop that state’s allocation criteria, noted that prioritization has been going on for some time because there aren’t enough treatments to go around.

“You have to pick who comes first,” Leider said. “The problem is we have extremely conclusive evidence that (minorities) across the United States are having worse COVID outcomes compared to white folks. … Sometimes it’s acceptable to consider things like race and ethnicity when making decisions about when resources get allocated at a societal level.”

Since the pandemic began, health care systems and states have been grappling with how to best distribute treatments. The problem has only grown worse as the omicron variant has packed hospitals with COVID-19 patients.

Considerable evidence suggests that COVID-19 has hit certain racial and ethnic groups harder than whites. Research shows that people of color are at a higher risk of severe illness, are more likely to be hospitalized and are dying from COVID-19 at younger ages.

Data also show that minorities have been missing out on treatments. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an analysis of 41 health care systems that found that Black, Asian and Hispanic patients are less likely than whites to receive outpatient antibody treatment.

Omicron has rendered two widely available antibody treatments ineffective, leaving only one, which is in short supply.

The Food and Drug Administration has given health care providers guidance on when that treatment, sotrovimab, should be used, including a list of medical conditions that put patients at high risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. The FDA’s guidance says other factors such as race or ethnicity might also put patients at higher risk.

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Beverly boys jump on Tech Boston



Beverly boys jump on Tech Boston

BEVERLY – Tech Boston started its Sunday matinee like a basketball team that had been idle for 27 days. Ryder Frost and the Beverly High Panthers cared little about that and provided the rudest of welcomes to the rusty visitors.

Beverly broke to a quick 23-14 first-quarter lead and never looked back, dusting Tech Boston, 80-68.

“It was nice to be in this tournament atmosphere, against a team that we know is going to make a lot of noise in the tournament,” said Beverly coach Matt Karakoudas. “Knowing how hard they work, that’s the first thing you think of when you hear Tech Boston, it says a lot to be able to beat these guys.”

Frost, scoring inside and out, paced the 11-0 Panthers with 31 points.

“Ryder is only a sophomore, the sky is limit for him,” said Karakoudas. “He’s not scared of the moment, he’s not scared to take big shots, which is huge.”

The 6-foot-5 Frost hung 15 on the Bears in the opening quarter alone, canning three 3-pointers in the frame. He added nine in the second quarter and seven in the third.

The lead was 45-28 at the half. Tech Boston regrouped and kept battling, but Beverly guard Gabe Copeland did some serious work on the block, tossing in a dozen second-half points to keep Tech Boston at arm’s length. The Bears got as close as 10, but that came in the final 90 seconds.

“I’m very impressed with how hard my guys came out and played. They know that’s a tough team over there. We came out ready to play,” said Karakoudas. “I know Tech Boston has had it difficult. We were able to jump on them, which was huge, and then it was a really fun game in the second half.

“I think this win shows we can contend for a state title, because (Tech Boston) is a team that is going to contend for a state title in Div. 3.”

Beverly’s Joseph Parson tossed in 13 points, and Rook Landman added 10.

“Other guys played really well, Gabe Copeland in the second half came up huge. He’s been battling a bad knee. He sat out the last two games, but he wasn’t going to sit this one out,” said Karakoudas. “Offensive rebounds, put-backs, he did a great job. He is stronger than any guard you’re going to see. He’s just a man-child.”

For Tech Boston coach Johnny Williams, it felt good just to be back on the floor.

“Twenty-seven days, we’ve been off, couldn’t touch the ball. All city of Boston kids are at a disadvantage when they’re playing non-league games now,” said Williams, whose club entered this one off of three practice sessions. “These guys have been in the gym, with no time off. They’re a great team. I wish we could have been a little more competitive, but the chips lie where they lie.”

Senior Elijah Clunie paced Tech Boston with 23 points. Youssouf Mboukoh had 13 points, and Jamal Beauge added eight.

“I think we’re going to be better. We’re playing a great team, Beverly is a great team,” said Williams. “We really haven’t been able to practice. A lot of things we started to get going, it was just a hope.

“We’re going to always fight. I don’t think there’s a lead too big, that we don’t think we can come back from. We’re going to continue to fight no matter what.”

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