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Lawmakers file letter of protest against DFL Rep. Ron Erhardt for bird flu comments

A bipartisan group of lawmakers who took Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, to task for donning a lab coat and stethoscope and claiming on the House floor that he believed humans could contract avian flu for eating the meat of infected turkeys has filed a formal letter of protest and dissent, saying his actions are not his first “disreputable act.”

The letter, signed by Republican Reps. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake, Dave Baker of Willmar and Tim Miller of Prinzburg, along with DFL Rep. Jeanne Poppe of Austin, was filed in the Journal of the House for Wednesday’s session.

In the letter, the representatives, all representing districts impacted by the spread of avian flu, called Erhardt’s meandering speech “A grossly misleading and dilatory act.” Each of the four immediately called out Erhardt on the floor Tuesday for statements they called misleading and not funny.

“We, the undersigned, feel that Representative Erhardt potentially caused further damage to Minnesota family farmers by suggesting that consumption of Minnesota poultry products is somehow unsafe to humans,” the letter said. “He disrespectfully sought a Privilege of the House to make light of a situation that has already led to the death of more than five million birds, the loss of more than 230 jobs, and untold economic impact to the State of Minnesota.”

After receiving immediate criticism Tuesday, Erhardt issued a statement of apology, saying he had since learned more about avian flu and was mistaken in implying that turkey meat is unsafe to eat.

The letter goes on to express concern over Erhardt, who at one point in his floor speech claimed to “put on my former doctoring hat and clothes.”

“This insinuates that he has some professional medical capacity and authority on the issue. Representative Erhardt is not listed as, nor has he ever claimed to be, a medical professional. This is not the first disreputable act of Representative Erhardt, and we request that in the future he be more respectful to the citizens of Minnesota in the business of the House.”

Erhardt, 85, lists his occupation as a financial planner. He has served in the House since 1990 in non-consecutive terms. This is his 11th term.

Read the letter here:

Rep Erhardt Letter of Protest Dissent

Daudt, Bakk, other legislative leaders meet for budget talks

Top legislative leaders met privately for about two hours on Wednesday afternoon, trying to strike a deal on state spending levels that will allow them to wrap up the legislative session. 

GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, and several other key lawmakers and staff members joined in the meeting in Daudt's office. Bakk said afterward that the group "made some headway" but also acknowleged that a final agreement on spending levels for 2015-16 still appears a ways off. 

Asked whether the group was close to a total spending figure, Bakk replied, "I don't think we are." 

DFL senators and Gov. Mark Dayton want to spend about $43 billion, while House Republicans are just under $40 billion plus about $2 billion in tax cuts. Daudt did acknowledge earlier in the day that Republicans would likely have to retreat from that full amount in order to compromise with DFLers. 

Bakk said the group would resume discussions later Wednesday evening. Lawmakers have until the end of the day on Monday, May 18, to finish assembling the state budget, otherwise risking a special session. 

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