By Janell Cole
and Don Davis
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., left for Europe this weekend to discuss ways to regulate little-known and difficult-to-understand "credit default swaps."
The swaps are insurance-like contracts that financial institutions use to cover losses in bonds and other financial documents. They are not regulated, and Peterson thinks countries should watch them closely.
"It has to be global," Peterson said, so he and other House Agriculture Committee members plan to meet with top government financial regulators in England, Germany and Belgium during their weeklong trip.
In a recent hearing on establishing federal regulation, Peterson said, federal agencies were "fighting with each other over who will have jurisdiction."
Experts say the swap industry now tops $50 trillion annually, more than double the U.S. stock market. And being unregulated, people like Peterson fear even greater problems than Americans face in the current economic crunch.
"Very few people know much about the credit default swaps market, and even fewer people know the significant role they have played in the financial and credit crisis that has threatened the stability of our economy," Peterson said.
Peterson has talked with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team about the situation.
Outdoors panel starts
The council that will recommend how to spend money voters approved to come from a higher sales tax met for the first time on Monday.
The Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council convened in St. Paul to begin figuring out how it wants legislators to spend about $80 million in 2010, and more in later years. The money comes from a modest sales tax increase that was part of a constitutional amendment voters approved Nov. 4.
The council, named for long-time Sen. Bob Lessard of International Falls, does not have final say in how the additional money will be spent for wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat for game, fish and wildlife.
Two senators on the committee illustrate the range of people on the panel. Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, is one of the Senate's most liberal members, and a strong conservation advocate. Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, is a former Douglas County sheriff and very conservative.
"These members will provide informed opinions on the worth and overall impact of prospective projects to the Legislature," Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said.
Cigarettes sold in Minnesota now are less likely to start fires.
A new law requires cigarettes to be safer.
"There is no single issue that will have a greater impact on reducing the occurrence of fires and more importantly, fire deaths, than this legislation," said Nyle Zikmund of the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association. "In fact, this legislation ranks second only to smoke detector legislation, which was passed in the early 1970's, in terms of making an impact."
The law just now is taking effect, after it first came up in 1981. Unattended cigarettes are blamed for 25 percent of all fire deaths.
"Requiring all cigarettes sold in Minnesota to be 'fire-safe' will prevent deadly fires and save lives," said Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights.
Davis and Cole work for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Morris Sun Tribune.