January 22, 2015

Vol. XLII No. 1    

                                      League of  Women Voters Minnesota 

Print Capitol Letter

 
LWV Minnesota advocates on public policy issues for the purpose of creating a strong democracy. Our positions are reached through a study and consensus process and are detailed in our Program for Action.  The reports in each Capitol Letter™ are largely the work of volunteer citizen lobbyists.

 

The work of LWV Minnesota is entirely nonpartisan; we never support or oppose parties or candidates.
Finding bills, committees and legislators:  If you would like more information about a bill, committee or legislator cited in the Capitol Letter, please visitthe Minnesota State Legislature webpage: http://www.leg.state.mn.us/ 
 
LWV Minnesota also conducts voter education and outreach. Our voter service work is separate from our advocacy work and is never used to advance a particular policy agenda or issue. 

 

WELCOME TO THE 2015 CAPITOL LETTER™

On January 8, the first day of the 2015 session, the newly elected legislators were sworn into office. This will be a budget session, and members of both parties have cited education and transportation as major budget goals for this session.

With the House returned to Republican control, some level of bipartisanship will be required to accomplish these goals.  Budget forecasts have come in with more revenues than originally anticipated, leaving the legislature some “wiggle room” to increase funding to favored projects.

While the budget will be the centerpiece of this session, we expect to see legislation relating to child protection, immigration, and election law.  LWV Minnesota will continue to focus on advocating for early voting, restoration of felons’ voting rights, and campaign finance reform. Other issues of importance include selection of judges and redistricting. We will also continue to advocate on other issues, such as the environment, immigration, education, and child protection, but this will be volunteer driven.

Members of the Action Committee welcome speaking requests: Sarah Risser on Restoration of Voting Rights; Gwen Myers on Environmental issues; Mary Lewis Grow on Gun Violence, and Judy Stuthman on Immigration.  We can also recommend speakers on other issues: Protection of Children, Selection of Judges, Campaign Finance Reform, and Early Childhood Education. Send your speaking requests to Jeanne LeFevre at jjlefevre@comcast.net or Kathy Tomsich at ktomsich@comcast.net.

LWV Minnesota members play an important role every legislative session. Call your legislators, write letters to the editor, and speak up at town hall meetings to voice your support for LWV Minnesota positionson all of these important issues. Legislators listen to their constituents.

The Capitol Letter™, a bi-weekly report on legislative issues, will provide you with the details of bills and includes web links to other important information.  New bills will be in boldface followed by the name(s) of the author(s) and LWV Minnesota’s position on that bill: Support, Oppose, Support in Part, Oppose in Part, Watch.

During the legislative session, LWV Minnesota’s biweekly E-News to members will provide a link to the latest issue of the Capitol Letter™. There is also a link to the Capitol Letter™ on the home page of the LWV Minnesota website.  

Action Alerts go out via email when more immediate action on a certain issue is needed. 

Jeanne LeFevre and Kathy Tomsich, Action Committee Co-Chairs

 

ELECTION LAW

LWVUS Position: Voting is a fundamental citizen right that must be guaranteed.

LWV Minnesota Position: Support improvements in election laws regulating election procedures, voting and school district elections.

Restoration of Voting Rights - a LWV Minnesota legislative priority

Sarah Risser, Volunteer Lobbyist

Convicted felons are the last and largest group of American citizens locked out of the political process. Of the 57,000 Minnesotans that have been disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, 47,000—a full 82 percent—are living in the community, in many cases working, raising families, and paying taxes. While the majority of disenfranchised citizens are white and live in greater Minnesota, minority communities, especially African American communities, are disproportionately affected.

LWV Minnesota supports legislation that would restore the vote to citizens immediately upon release from prison or jail, a policy embraced by 13 other states including North Dakota, Indiana, and Ohio.

There is growing bipartisan support for this issue; a number of Republican senators have indicated strong support, including a willingness to sign legislation, and two Libertarian organizations have recently joined the Restore the Vote Coalition. So far, there is only one bill providing for restoration of voting rights for felons living in our community.

NewHF 120 Rep. Joe Mullery (DFL – Minneapolis)(Support) Individuals convicted of a felony shall retain the right to vote once they are no longer incarcerated.  This bill was referred to the Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee. There is no Senate companion bill.

Action:LWV Minnesota Members are encouraged to contact their legislators and urge them to support restoring the vote to non-incarcerated citizens with felony convictions.

Other opportunities to get involved include: Phone Banking at Take Action Minnesota on Thursday, January 22, from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm. Register with Take Action Minnesota.

Second Chance Day on the Hill will take place at Christ Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill on Thursday January 29th at 10:00 am. More information is available on theSecond Chance Coalitionwebsite. If you plan on participating, please send your name and House district number.

Steve Simon

Secretary of State Simon speaking at the Coalition for Voting Rights and Susan Tucker, Executive Director of LWV Minnesota, seated far right.

Early Voting - a LWV Minnesota legislative priority

Kathy Tomsich, Volunteer Lobbyist

Secretary of State Steve Simon spoke at the January 9th meeting of the Voting Rights Coalition and stated his legislative priorities; it was a long list, but early voting is one of his first priorities. In Minnesota, the only type of early voting is absentee voting which is complicated and costly, about $7 per absentee ballot for processing. According to S.O.S. Simon, in the 2014 election, 2000 absentee ballots were rejected due to voters not following directions. S.O.S. Simon’s proposal for expanding voters’ Early Voting option is in line with LWV’s position: during a period prior to Election Day, voters will be able to cast their ballots at election offices, such as county offices or city halls, just like they do on Election Day, sign the roster, mark the ballot, and place it in the ballot box. There would be no special forms or envelopes involved in this easier and less expensive form of Early Voting.

In the last session, the legislature passed a bill allowing for no excuse absentee voting, a legislative priority for LWV Minnesota. With this new option, county election officials experienced a 55% increase in absentee ballots in the 2014 election over the 2010 election. For the 2016 presidential election, they expect to see an even more dramatic increase which will strain their budgets. We expect county officials to be strong advocates of Early Voting along with legislators who recognize the cost savings and the fact that 31 other states already allow Early Voting. 

NEW Bill HF 47 Early Voting and funding provided.  Rep. Connie Bernardy (DFL- Fridley) (Support)

This requires early voting to be available to voters from the 15 days before the election up through the third day before the election. Early voting must be allowed between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm during that time period. Locations for early voting will be designated by the counties. This bill has been referred to Government Operations and Election Policy Committee. There is no Senate companion bill at this time.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE - a LWV Minnesota legislative priority

LWV US Position: Methods of financing political campaigns should ensure the public’s right to know, combat corruption and undue influence, enable candidates to compete more equitably for public office, and allow maximum citizen participation in the political process (Revised 1982).

LWV Minnesota Position: Support improvements in election laws regulating campaign practices.

Joan Sullivan, volunteer lobbyist

NEW Companion bills HF 43 and SF 154 “Expressly advocating”, definition modified,
relating to elections, and campaign finance, and electioneering communications disclosure provided. Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan), Rep. Barbara Yarusso (DFL-Shoreview), et al., and Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan), and Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville)(Support)

This session we are again following this issue of “dark money”, which Rep. Winkler reintroduced last week, saying, “The public deserves to know who’s funding these ads, what influence that has at the Legislature, and whether their legislator is being corrupted by this secret money infiltrating state politics.”

Proponents of this legislation intend for the “expressly advocating” restriction to be broadened to include sponsor identification for any electioneering communication that implies a position for or against a specific candidate in addition to the specific terms “support”, “oppose”, “for”, or “against”.

A similar set of bills was narrowly defeated last session when outside groups (the NRA, etc.) inserted themselves at the last minute, claiming that forced disclosure of funding sources would violate the groups’ right of free speech.

Rep. Winkler called for a straight up or down vote right away on the House floor, but his motion was defeated. The House Republican leadership argued that committees should have time to conduct hearings so legislators can learn what’s in it and the public can testify. The House bill is now in the Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee; the Senate bill was referred to the Rules and Administration Committee.

STATE GOVERNMENT FINANCE

LWV Minnesota Position:Support a balanced and diversified revenue system that is equitable, progressive, and reliable. Support of long-term financial management projections and a budget reserve. (1995)

LWV Minnesota Position on Government Spending:The highest priority areas for state spending are the following: (1) K-12 (regular) education; (2) Health Care: (3) Environmental protection....

Criteria for Limiting Spending(1) State subsidies for sports teams, convention centers and similar projects should be among the first items to be curtailed….

Jeanne LeFevre, Volunteer Lobbyist

On December 4, 2014, the Minnesota Management and Budget Office (MMB) issued its November Budget & Economic Forecast document.  Highlights of the forecast included:

Overall higher revenues and lower spending led to a forecast balance of $556 million for fiscal years 2014-2015,

$183 million of this surplus will be allocated to the budget reserve, leaving a surplus balance of $373 million, and

$1.037 billion was projected to be available for the fiscal year 2016-2017 budget, up from the $603 million that was estimated at the end of last year’s session.

On January 12, 2015, the MMB issued a revenue and economic update covering the months of November – December, 2014.  Revenues from all major tax types were higher than previously forecast for that period, with total revenues coming in at $212 million, or 6.4%, higher than expected.  In addition, MMB believes that the economic outlook for 2015 has improved since the November forecast, citing job growth, increased retail sales, increased industrial production, and reduction in gasoline prices.

The next steps in the budget process will likely be the introduction of the Governor’s proposed budget for the next biennium.  Final budget decisions are not generally made until the February Forecast is issued by MMB.

CHILD PROTECTION

LWVUS Position:  Support policies and programs that promote the well-being, development and safety of all children.

LWV Minnesota PositionSupport adequate staffing and resources for child protection services.

Phyllis Skinner, volunteer lobbyist

Rich Gerhman spoke at the Jan. 16th Action Committee meeting.

According to Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota, Minnesota responds to 28% of child maltreatment reports while the national average is 62%.  The Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Child Protection, created September 2014, was a result of a major investigative reporting series of the child welfare system by the Star Tribune. Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota, a volunteer advocacy organization whose mission is to improve the state’s services to victims of child abuse and neglect, worked with the Star Tribune on this series. Their Executive Director, Rich Gehrman, is a member of the Governor’s Task Force.

The Task Force made initial recommendations and will make final recommendations in March 2015. These Initial Recommendations included significant changes in policy and practice that are included in bills recently introduced in the legislature that amend current Minnesota Statues that deal with the safety of children.

Sen. Kathy Sheran (DFL- Mankato) arranged a briefing on these recommendations for the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services, and Housing on January 12, 2015. Another hearing in this Committee to continue this briefing is scheduled for Wednesday, January 21st from 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm in Room 15 of the Capitol building. Once these briefings are completed the committee will hear the following bill.

NEW Bill SF4 Child maltreatment reports screening modified. Sen. Sheran, Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center), Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), Sen. John Hoffman (DFL- Champlin) (Watch)  This bill is to implement a number of the Initial Recommendations relating to screening decisions. It will now allow an agency to consider collateral information and previously screened out reports of alleged maltreatment when making screening decisions. It also requires the use of screening guidelines provided by DHS in making decisions. Referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services, and Housing. 

NEW Bills HF 8 and HF 191 Child maltreatment reports screening modified. Bills are being introduced by Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) et al. These two bills will be merged into HF 191. (Watch) This bill will make child safety the top priority for protecting children. Previously, family assessment was identified as the preferred method. In addition, county social service agencies will be required to cooperate consistently with law enforcement. The first hearing on these bills is in the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee on Wednesday, January 21st in Room 200 of the State Office Building. On the prior day, Tuesday January 20th, the same committee will get a briefing on the preliminary report of the Task Force, also at 2:45 pm in Room 200 of SOB.

FUNDING OF EDUCATION AND CHILDCARE

LWVUS Position:  Support programs, services and policies at all levels of government to expand the supply of affordable, quality child care for all who need it, in order to increase access to employment and to prevent and reduce poverty.

LWVMN Position:  All Minnesota children should have equal access to a good public education.  State funding for education should be at a level that makes programs of comparable substance and quality available to all.  A student’s access to a good education should not depend on the wealth of his or her school district.

Linda Rogers, Volunteer Lobbyist

Governors and lawmakers have often melded the concepts of early education and child- care. The past two legislative sessions have seen the development of early childhood “scholarships” to families who meet required poverty levels.  These scholarships can be used at public or private preschools, mixed with childcare or not, that meet state developed standards. The efficacy of the scholarships has not yet been proven. Supporters are asking for additional dollars this session through HF156, introduced by Rep. Joe Mullery (DFL - Minneapolis).  It had a first reading and was referred to Health and Human Services Reform Committee.

Sen. John Hoffman (DFL- Champlin) has broadened the conversation between early childhood educators and early childcare providers with SF6, a bill that would provide access to preschool for 4-year-olds across Minnesota. (Support)  Preschool would remain an option that families can exercise for their 4-year-olds, not a mandate. Preschool for 3-year-olds is not a part of SF6. After a first reading, SF6 was referred to the Senate Finance committee.

Though unlikely to pass this session, the bill is the first to articulate a universal plan to fund education of Minnesotans at an earlier age, as do a number of other states. Though the state has funded some specific preschool programs for some time, access is dependent on a number of factors: geography, ability to pay, transportation, and the vision of local school boards.

If enacted, the bill would push the Department of Education to fully develop Minnesota standards for kindergarten readiness and would require local school districts to extend their continuum of education. Some school districts would need to rent or build additional classrooms to accommodate the tiny learners; others would need to redesign existing space. Sen. Hoffman’s bill preserves the scholarships for families to use if they choose a state approved preschool provider other than a public school district. School districts would receive a per-pupil amount to fund their programs.

Former State Senator Duane Benson wrote an articlein the Star Tribune looking at another angle of the early education and childcare relationships as it plays out in childcare subsidies from the state, and mentioned bipartisan discussion of improving effectiveness, but as of yet, no bills have been mentioned.

ENVIRONMENT

LWVUS Position:Natural resources should be managed as interrelated parts of life-supporting ecosystems. Resources should be conserved and protected to assure their future availability. Pollution of these resources should be controlled in order to preserve the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the ecosystem and to protect public health.

Gwen Myers, Lobbyist

A new cast of characters took power in the MN House on Jan. 6, 2015, with the standard call from new Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) for bipartisan cooperation to do the work for Minnesotans. One of his first moves, however, gave environmentalists much to worry about; he failed to give Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis) a place on any committee dealing with the environment. In most of Rep. Wagenius’s previous 14 terms in the House she has either chaired or served on the major environment committee and is among the strongest and most knowledgeable voices for protecting Minnesota’s clean water, land, and air. We hope this nasty swipe does not set the tone for environmental legislation this session.

In addition, the new committee structure now includes “Mining and Outdoor Recreation,” a curious combination, chaired by Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar). A wolf-hunting and mining enthusiast, Chair Hackbarth hasscheduled an informational hearing on wolves for Jan. 20, and the first of two or three similar hearings on mining on Jan. 21. Wolf-hunting proponents hope to find a way to overturn the Federal District Court decision placing wolves in the Great Lakes region back on the Endangered Species List. Proponents in Congress are also working on this. Chair Hackbarth is a long-time ally of DFL legislators from the Range who favor mining of any and all kinds. He and Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisolm), chair of the Senate Environment Finance Division, will work together on bills that promote mining. (Sen. Tomassoni has just taken the job of executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, a lobbying organization. He is taking a leave of absence during the session and sees no problem with any conflicts of interest.)

Meanwhile, LWV Minnesota continues to work in a number of coalitions under the umbrella of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership(MEP). Working with about 70 members, MEP has narrowed its interests to the following:

  • Clean Water – MEP is supporting the recommendations of the Clean Water Council, which include implementation of programs to end point and non-point pollution (e.g. farm fields) and restoration and protection strategies. The latter includes support for Forever Green, a program started last session.
  • Move MN – Support for a balanced and comprehensive transportation system to serve citizens and business alike.
  • Clean Energy and Jobs – The focus is on energy efficiency, saving energy and creating jobs. One goal is to produce 40% of our energy from clean sources by 2030.
  • Defense – The challenge is to catch the damaging proposals that are sure to arise before they sneak through under the radar and we find them in a must-pass finance bill, for example. Stay tuned.

What can you do?Go to the Legislative website, find the Committee site, and then find the committee you want to follow. The committee home page will give you an opportunity to subscribe to committee mailings. You will also be able to find a list of bills referred to that committee, if you want to know what has been introduced in that area. Let your legislators know what you like and/or what bothers you.

IMMIGRATION

LWVMN PositionThe Department of Public Safety should recognize the Matricular consular as an acceptable document to prove identity for obtaining a driver's license.

Judy Stuthman, LWVMN Immigration Lobbyist

Bills that would modify identification documents required for obtaining drivers licenses in Minnesota have been introduced in the 2015 Legislative Session. A bill was passed in the Senate in 2013, but a bill has not yet passed in the House. It did pass out of house committee in 2014, but not in time to have a floor vote before the session ended. The bills are HF97 authored by Rep. Rod Hamilton (R–Mountain Lake) and HF98 authored by Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Minneapolis). The bills appear to be the same, and both have been referred to the Transportation Policy and Finance Committee. SF134 and SF224 authored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis) have been introduced and referred to the Transportation and Public Safety Committee. This issue has bipartisan support in the Twin Cities and in rural MN.  Previous to 2003, when an administrative change was made by then Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the undocumented were able to drive.  Some are still able to legally drive as they are not required to show citizenship status when renewing their licenses. The reasons this should pass include:

  • Many of the undocumented have been here for 10-20 years and are part of our society and workforce. Public transportation is not available for those working in smaller cities and towns where businesses depend on their labor.
  • Safety on our roads and highways will be enhanced when all drivers are able to take the driving test and buy insurance.
  • Accurate identity will be provided on the driver’s license.

This makes sense and is something wanted by the undocumented in our communities.

Ten states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico allow the undocumented to drive. The Mexican Consulates in all 50 states are starting to issue secure birth certificates to the undocumented in preparation for the possibility of driving licenses being issued in more states.

LWVUS supports President Obama's use of executive authority, 11/20/2014, to limit deportation of many undocumented immigrants. “The order focuses mainly on families – keeping them together rather than breaking them up through unnecessary deportation . . . the League has exhaustively studied this issue and agrees that deportation is not appropriate for unauthorized immigrants who have no history of criminal activity . . . Congress still must act on a comprehensive immigration policy. The President's executive action, while a good start, is just a temporary first step. Congress needs to stop pointing fingers and get to work on this vital issue . . . and act humanely in the long run best interests of our nation.”  Elizabeth MacNamara, President LWVUS

TRANSPORTATION

LWV MN Position: – government spending: support maintaining “a viable statewide transportation system including public transit”.

Details: Support a state plan that should:

  • Be tied closely to integrated planning (e.g. human services, highways)

Lois Quam, Volunteer Lobbyist

The LWVMN’s legislative priorities for 2015 regarding transportation need to begin with support for a reasonable and reliable source of funding for statewide transportation infrastructure, both for rebuilding aging bridges and highways and for expanding public transportation systems throughout the state. The LWV Minnesota recognizes that our state’s transportation system is a significant part of the way we use our state’s natural resources.

We need only look at the statistics on our current infrastructure to recognize that for too long we have been neglecting this valuable resource, and we know that timely maintenance saves money in the long term.

We need to be aware that our current funding formulas for transportation is based on a per gallon tax, despite the fact that newer cars are more fuel efficient; as expenses for maintaining or upgrading our infrastructure go up, our funding source is flat or declining.

The developing systems of public transit in metropolitan areas are proving their value. Bus, rapid transit, and light rail systems in the Twin Cities regularly exceed projected ridership.

In addition, business leaders recognize that a modern transportation system is a vital step toward supporting existing business and attracting future business growth in Minnesota.

The Move MN Coalition has proposed a ten-year plan for financing an effort to fix Minnesota’s most urgent transportation needs. The plan suggests that we:

  • Apply state’s sales tax to the price of fuel ($422 million)
  • Increase the Twin Cities seven-county sales tax ($342 million)
  • Adjust license tab fees ($60 million)
  • Close the leased vehicle sales tax loophole ($32 million)
  • Additional funding for local streets and safer routes to school and work.

There are individuals who will object to any increase in taxes for any reason. Realistically, we all need to face the facts and accept that, although we must continue to demand efficiency, transparency, and appropriate prioritization of projects, as a state we will benefit individually and collectively from a more realistic funding structure for improved roads, highways, and bridges.

FAMILY VIOLENCE

LWVMN Position: Support improved procedures for agencies dealing with family violence.  Support improved services for the victims.

Florence Hedeen, Volunteer Lobbyist

This legislative session, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (MCBW) has identified two legislative priorities: funding and legal rights for women fleeing an abuser.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) was created in 2003, consolidating five programs, including Battered Women’s Services, under one umbrella. The OJP recently reported that over the years from 2000-2015 funding has been decreased by 40%in inflation adjusted dollars for Crime Victims Services. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women is joining with others to request a $10 million increase in the OJP budget for Crime Victim Services.

In 2014, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against a woman who was driving impaired while fleeing her abuser. Learn more about it here. The MCBW would like legislative changes in driver license revocation procedures to take into account situations involving domestic abuse.

Copyright 2014 League of Women Voters Minnesota (LWV Minnesota)