April 16, 2014

Vol. XLI No. 3    

                                      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. 

 

Table of Contents

Election Law

Campaign Finance

Education

Environment

Energy

Firearms

Immigration

Judicial Selection

Metropolitan Issues – Transit

Minimum Wage

State Government Finance

   

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.

By Sherri Knuth, LWV Minnesota Policy and Outreach Manager

Companion Bills SF 2288 and HF 2096 Voter registration and absentee ballot application online submission. Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Woodbury) and Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-Hopkins) (Support) This legislation, more fully described in the March 14 Capitol Letter, passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 129-2. SF 2288 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and its next stop is the Senate floor.Session Dailyreported on the bill recently and provided a video of the House floor session for easy viewing.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE

LWV US PositionMethods 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.

By Joan Sullivan, Volunteer Lobbyist

Companion bills SF 1915/ HF 1944, Campaign Finance: disclosure of electioneering communications, and further definition of express advocacy. Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley); Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport) (Support). The Senate bill continues to progress in that chamber. The Senate version was heard in the Judiciary Committee and is recommended to pass. The House version of this bill was heard in the Elections Committee and was recommended to be adopted with a minor amendment. The bills seemed to have stalled at this point.  This is most likely due to the National Rifle Association’s recent “Legislative Alert” to its members opposing this bill in Minnesota.  The NRA is linking these bills to “free speech” concerns, making some House members reluctant now to support HF1944. As reported previously, LWV Minnesota testified in favor of the bills in both election committees.

ACTIONContact Legislators; Write Letter to Editor: Email or phone your House representative and state senator and urge him or her to support HF 1944 or SF 1915. In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling McCutcheon vs. the Federal Elections Commission (discussed below), it is imperative that you contact your state legislators asking them to support transparency in Minnesota elections. Write a letter to the editor urging campaign finance reform. For more information read LWV Minnesota’snew reporton campaign finance: The Tip of the Iceberg: How Minnesota’s Campaign Finance Laws Limit Transparency.

Companion bills SF 1778/ HF 1961, Economic disclosure;  Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley); Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan). As reported previously, this bill expands the requirement from only considering the official’s financial interest to include the financial interest of the official’s spouse; this requirement is intended to prevent potential conflicts of interest. The Senate bill is still in the Rules and Administration Committee after being slightly amended on a technicality. The House bill passed, and has been recommended to be adopted as amended.

Companion bills SF 1730/ HF 1986 Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville); Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) (Support): Free food and beverages from lobbyists for legislators, under a provision added in 2013 to the State’s gift ban law, would no longer count as an exception. The Senate bill is still in the Rules and Admin. Committee, and is expected to pass; the House bill passed on March 10th and is awaiting Senate passage.

Outside the Minnesota State legislature, there has been a flurry of activity at the national level in the last two weeks. The United State Supreme Court again greatly loosened political giving two weeks ago, when it sided, as expected, with the plaintiffsin Shaun McCutcheon and The Republican National Committee vs. the Federal Elections Commission. The 5-4 decision strikes down the previous $123,200 aggregate limit (per two-year election cycle), and only affects the total amount an individual may give to  all federal candidates, political parties or political action committees. This ruling means that an individual will now be able to give money to many more candidates, political parties or action committees. This decision does not change the amount an individual is allowed to give to a specific candidate, which remains $5,200 for every two-year election cycle.

There was one piece of good news. Last week the United States Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of an Iowa case in which the plaintiffs were petitioning for the right of corporations to make direct contributions to political candidates, in addition to the indirect donations which are made to political action committees (PACs) under the Citizens United decision.

The courts recently have tended to uphold disclosure laws but are chipping away at limits on political donations. As to how this will affect Minnesota, opinion leaders tend to agree that the political parties will get a modest bump in donations, but will lose even more control of their message to the influence of outside groups.

EDUCATION

LWVUS Position:  Support equal access to education.  Support federal policies that provide an equitable, quality public education for all children Pre-K through 12.

LWV Minnesota Position:  Secure equal educational opportunities for all Minnesota children.

By Lonnie Skrentner, Volunteer Lobbyist

The Anti-Bullying legislation, The Safe and Supportive Schools Act, sponsored by Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls) and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL- Mpls) was passed as amended by both houses and signed into law by Governor Dayton on the steps of the Capitol on April 9, 2014. Critics are still concerned about the lack of required parental notification in the bill.  School administrators reasonably asked for flexibility since there are some family situations where notification could endanger the student.  Even critics say that the resulting legislation is better than the bill presented during the 2013 session. Session Daily reported on the bill passed by the Senate as amended and Rep. Davnie’s reaction: “The Senate amendments are largely clarifying language, he said, and would help reduce the price of the bill, which, according to the Revenue Department, would cost the General Fund $1.6 million in the 2014-2015 biennium. Davnie noted that the recent state funding increases to schools should help cover expected costs of implementation at the local level.” The law defines bullying and cyber-bullying and specifically prohibits bullying for sexual orientation, race, religion and other characteristics. It applies to actions on school premises, at school functions, on school transportation and by use of school technology. It requires bullying prevention programs at every school.

The Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill (HF3172/SF2785) has passed both houses and is headed for a conference committee.  The House position increases the student formula by 1% ($58). The House version spends $75 million on E-12 mostly on that increase in student formula. The only thing that seems certain is the $3.5 million for low income children’s lunches which is in both bills and a priority of Governor Dayton.  The House version also includes funding for recovery schools (those serving students upon return from substance abuse treatment programs).

The Omnibus Education Policy Bill (HF2397/SF1889) has passed the House.  Passage is expected in the Senate when the legislature returns from the Easter/Passover Recess on April 22. The bill has provisions focusing on increasing learning by English Language Learners (ELL), allowing six years of instruction instead of five.  The Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill increases funding for the ELL programs by $5.4 million. The bill establishes a system of “seals” to recognize graduates with bi- and multi-lingual abilities. The bill also changes requirements of teacher licensure, allowing the use of ACT Plus writing scores or SAT scores in place of the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Tests.

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, Volunteer Lobbyist

HF1322/SF1166Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-Minneapolis); Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville). (Support) This bill, which would phase out the sale of select triclosan products by 2015, was described in the lastCapitol Letter.It is stalled in the HouseEnv. and Natural Resources Policy Committeeand the SenateCommerce Committeebecause Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake) and Sen. James Metzen (DFL- S. St. Paul), the respective chairs, refuse to hear it.Friends of the Mississippicontinues to work on the bill.

HF2619/SF2304Rep. David Bly (DFL-Northfield); Sen. Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield). (Support) TheForever Greenbill, which supports innovative, high performance crop development, was also described in the lastCapitol Letter™. The issue continues to be getting enough money to fund this program over a period of years, necessary for any research project in order to attract the graduate students necessary to do the work. Land Stewardship Projectis meeting with important legislators on the conference committee on the Finance bill,HF3172.

HF1769/SF1601Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood); Sen. Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada). (Support) The bill to reestablish the Legislative Water Commission, described in the lastCapitol Letter, is included in the Senate Omnibus Finance bill,SF2785, but not in the House bill.The Senate bill appropriates $155,000 for the Legislative Water Commission. Whether this will be in the Conference Report on this bill remains to be seen.

HF2490House Omnibus Capital Investment bill – Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul). (Support). This bill includes $20 million for theReinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserveprogram, which qualifies for a range of federal matches from 1:1 up to 1.5:1 from Farm Bill programs. RIM Reserve’s goal is to restore wetlands and grasslands through permanent conservation easements on private lands, providing habitat for wildlife and improving water quality by holding erodible soils in place. The bill also includes $12 million for research on Aquatic Invasive Species and Bees. Another provision allows $12 million for the state to access estimated federal EPA matching funds for FY2015-16 – at a matching ratio of 1:5 for theClean Water Revolving Door Fundand theDrinking Water Revolving Fund. This would result in up to $60 million in federal dollars to provide low interest loans to local governments for clean water/drinking water infrastructure projects.

The Senate Capitol Investment bill, SF2605 authored by Sen. LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Plummer), has yet to have a hearing, but it has neither the $20 million for the RIM Reserve program, nor any funding for research on bees.

 ENERGY 

LWVUS Position:Natural resources should be managed as interrelated parts of life-supporting ecosystems…  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.

LWVUS Position – Energy: LWVUS supports (1) the environmentally sound use of energy resources, with consideration of the entire cycle of energy production; (2) predominant reliance on renewable resources; (3) action… to encourage the use of renewable resources and energy conservation.

Lynn Gitelis, Volunteer Lobbyist

NEW  Energy Omnibus BillHF 2834. Authors: Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis) (Support)

The goals of this Omnibus bill are:

  • increase the amount of wind and solar in Minnesota’s electric system; 
  • eliminate regulatory hurdles for wind and solar that increase costs;
  • make financing renewable energy convenient for individuals and businesses;
  • require electric utilities to make plans for 80% carbon emission reductions by 2050;
  • clean up Minnesota’s energy statutes by eliminating old and out of date sections.

This bill does not have a Senate companion as amendments offered in the Senate had no relation to energy topics. HF2834 is on the House Calendar for the Day on April 22, the day the legislators return from their Passover/Easter break. It appears that this bill will be referred to a conference committee from both houses to resolve differences between the House and Senate. No action requested at this time.

FIREARMS

 LWVUS Position:  Protect the health and safety of citizens through limiting the accessibility and regulating ownership of handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons and support the allocation of resources to better regulate and monitor gun dealers.

 LWV Minnesota Position:  Action to support restrictions on the sale, possession, and use of firearms by private parties in the state of Minnesota.

Mary Lewis Grow, Volunteer Lobbyist

NEWHF 3238, Domestic violence restraining order provisions modified; Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL- St. Paul Park) (Support).The legislation would prohibit the purchase or possession of firearms by those under a restraining order, and would require the surrender of firearms by those already owning them if they have been convicted of domestic violence.  This bill has passed out of the necessary House committees, Public Safety Finance and Policy and Judiciary Finance and Policy, and it awaits a floor vote after the recess. The Senate will take it up only if it passes in the House.

 ACTION Contact your legislators; Write Letters to Editor: E-mail or phone your House representative and urge him or her to support HF 3238. This bill is a common approach to reducing injuries and deaths when guns are available to people involved in domestic violence situations. 

IMMIGRATION

LWV Minnesota Position: The Department of Public Safety should recognize the Matricula Counsular as an acceptable document to prove identity for obtaining a driver’s license.

By Judy Stuthman, Volunteer Lobbyist

The calls of “People united can never be defeated” and “Yes we can!” in both Spanish and English rang out from the Capitol Rotunda.  On March 26th hundreds had assembled to encourage action for driver’s licenses for the undocumented.  Add the Aztec Dancers and two powerful drummers and you have one of the most passionate and dramatic rallies I have attended.  I wore my LWV button and stood amid those gathered…observing many Twins caps and t-shirts, University sweatshirts and other items that spoke for their state of Minnesota.  Several elected officials spoke to the large group, including Rep. Karen Clark (DFL – Minneapolis).  Rep. Clark was the author of HF348 that was introduced during the 2013 Legislative Session.  It did not come to the floor for a vote, and chances do not look good for its passage this year, but Governor Mark Dayton has changed his position and would support the undocumented obtaining Drivers Licenses for safety reasons.  As he announced on MPR's Daily Circuit program, he has not supported the undocumented having the privilege of driving in the past, but he recognizes the reality that many of the undocumented have been here for 10 – 20 years and are part of our society and workforce.  Many outside the Twin Cities live and work in communities without public transportation.  Gov. Dayton spoke of police officials in the Twin Cities, Worthington and other areas who support this not just for road safety, as individuals would take the written and oral tests to obtain the DL, but also because there would then be accurate identity established for obtaining the document.  Gov. Dayton said he may not sign a bill but would allow it to become law.  But again, chances do not look good for reintroduction and passage this session.

The many who gathered at the rally were not especially young.  There were very few teenagers, but there were families with young children.  Most of the 55,000- 85,000 undocumented estimated to be in Minnesota at this time, have been here for many years...it is simply too difficult to cross the border – to come in to our country or to leave it.  It is not possible for them to change their status.  So people stay, work and pay taxes.  Many drove legally before Gov. Tim Pawlenty made an administrative decision to change the documents required in 2003.  Comprehensive Immigration Reform at the federal level would help alleviate this problem.

JUDICIAL SELECTION

LWV Minnesota Position:  (a) Initial appointment of judgeship by the governor, who must choose from among a list of qualified candidates forwarded by nominating commission. (b) End-of-term evaluation of the judge’s performance by an evaluation commission, results to be made available to the public. (c) Retention election: voters choose to retain or not retain the judge (2008)

By Sherri Knuth, Policy and Outreach Manager 

Companion bills HF 1083 and SF 1082 Judicial Retention Elections. Rep. Steve Simon (DFL – St. Louis Park) and Sen. Ann Rest (DFL–New Hope) (Support). This bill, which was one of LWV Minnesota’s priorities this session, is not expected to advance. The bill failed to make it through all policy committees in the House by the March 28 committee deadline.

LWV Minnesota and other organizations worked tirelessly to get the bill passed this session. We thank our members for helping to set up forums on this issue, attending meetings with legislators, and contacting legislators by phone and email.

METROPOLITAN ISSUES – TRANSIT


CMAL (Council of Metropolitan Area Leagues) Position on the Met Council: Support the Metropolitan Council as the decision-making body for metropolitan needs…. Support provisions for coordinated metropolitan services focused through the Metropolitan Council. Support retention of an appointed Metropolitan Council with greater use of its existing powers. (1969, 1976, 1993)

CMAL Position on Transportation:Support the Metropolitan Council as the single metropolitan agency planning and coordinating a diverse transportation system, meeting varied needs, and having approval authority over this system’s major capital expenditures.  New funding sources should be service related. (1983)

CMAL supports: Various modes of transportation both public and private, including …buses….  A light rail transit mode can be supported if assured high ridership, economic feasibility and integration into the total transportation system.

CMAL Position on Land Use and Environmental QualityCMAL recognizes… the need for a strong public voice in land-use decisions.  CMAL supports metropolitan-level planning, programs and policies [in order to]:  (1) preserve and enhance the natural environment; (2) use public investment to the best advantage; and (3) provide area residents with diversity in choice of facilities and amenities.

By Lois Quam, volunteer lobbyist

Southwest Light Rail:  The whole Metropolitan Council voted 11-2 on April 9, 2014, to advance theSouthwest LRT (Metro Green Line Extension) Project.  This is a major step in creating the light rail network that already includes a line from the Mall of America to downtown Minneapolis and the Central Corridor (opening June 14, 2014) connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The 15.8 mile line will include 16 stations with a budget of between $1.673 and $1.683 billion with a projected opening in 2019. The most controversial portion of the project is the recommendation for shallow tunnels through the Kenilworth corridor of Minneapolis with a bridge over the channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles.

The next step in the process will be a joint public hearing by the Metropolitan Council and the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority on May 12, 2014. That begins a 45-day municipal consent period. Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh sees this as a critical opportunity to address community concerns.

This process could not have been more thorough and comprehensive. My hope is that everyone in a leadership position will take the long and wide view that takes into account the asset this transit system will be for the community as a whole.

Regional Planning: Planning is the most basic and essential function of the Metropolitan Council. In connection with the Metropolitan Council’s efforts to develop a framework that envisions the needs of our community looking off as far as 2040, we have an opportunity to read and comment on a draft document,ThriveMSP2040The Council has developed five Thrive outcomes:  Stewardship, Prosperity, Equity, Livability and Sustainability. The Council’s goal is to envision a future for our area with specific plans for transportation, water, regional parks and housing. LWV members are some of the best informed citizens in the state and metropolitan area, so this is your chance to add your voice to this process. Comments are due by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, April 28, 2014. Clickherefor information on how to submit your comments.

 MINIMUM WAGE

LWVUS Position:  Meeting Basic Human Needssupport programs and policies to prevent or reduce poverty and to promote self-sufficiency for individuals and families.

Judy Stuthman, Volunteer Lobbyist

HF 92/SF 3to raise the minimum wage has passed and was signed by Gov. Dayton on April 14th.  This is the first increase since 2005, and the poor economy since then has left many workers falling below the federal poverty line of $19,530. Rep. Diane Loeffler (DFL-Minneapolis), summarized who earns the minimum wage: 43% work full-time, 58% have at least some post-secondary education, 30% are married, 20% are parents.  Almost two-thirds of the workers are women. 

Research by the JOBS NOW Coalition shows that raising the wage will have the following effect:

  • Improve the income of 357,000 working Minnesotans.
  • Improve the income of 274,000 working adults age 20 and up.
  • Improve the income of 202,000 working women.
  • Improve economic security for 137,000 children whose parents are low-wage earners.
  • Increase annual consumer spending power in Minnesota by $472 million.
  • Boost the aggregate income of working women by $256,987,000.
  • Boost the aggregate income of working people of color by $124,416,000.

 

The author of HF 92, Rep. Ryan Winkler( DFL-Golden Valley), reported that the “majority of Minnesotans in the labor force are earning less than they did a decade ago, even though they are, as a group, more highly educated, more productive and bring more work experience to their jobs.”  Our communities will benefit “since low-wage workers are likely to spend most of a minimum wage increase rapidly and locally….” 

The Minimum Wage Bill will raise wages for employees of large businesses doing gross sales of over $500,000 in steps:

  1. Raise to $8.00 by Aug. 1, 2014
  2. Raise to $8.50 on Aug. 1, 2015
  3. Raise to $9.50 on Aug. 1, 2016
  4. Index to inflation, but not to exceed 2.5% per year, beginning Jan. 1, 2018. 

For small businesses (gross sales of under $500,000) the minimum wage will go to $6.50 in August 2014, $7.25 in August 2015 and finally to $7.75 in 2016.

There is also a “90 day training wage” for 18 and 19 year olds, and all 16 and 17 year olds.  These wages would also increase each year with inflation beginning in 2018.

Minnesota will now go from one of the lowest minimum wage states to one of the highest, and indexing will help keep these workers from immediately falling back into poverty as the cost of living goes up.  Minnesota’s economy and unemployment rate are better than most states, and this increase will help individuals and families move out of poverty, recognize the value and dignity of work, and help move people off public assistance programs, a win for all of us.

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

NEW Capital Investment billOn April 3rd, the House Capital Investment Committee passed a $914.6 million bonding bill (HF2490, Rep. Alice Hausman; DFL- St.Paul) and a $125 million capital projects bill that would be funded by general fund money (HF1068; Rep. Hausman).  Neither of the Senate companions for these bills has received a hearing in the Senate.  Because of the constitutional requirement that bills providing for state debt must receive at least a 3/5 majority in both houses of the legislature, HF2490 must gather some bi-partisan support to pass.  For information about specific projects included in HF 1068 seehttp://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/fiscal/files/bondingGF14.pdf ,and for projects included in HF2490 seehttp://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/fiscal/files/bonding14.pdf.  

Capital projects bills are typically among the last bills passed in a legislative session.

NEW Supplemental tax bill. On April 4th, the House passed HF3167 (Rep. Ann Lenczewski; DFL-Bloomington), a $103.25 million supplemental tax bill, consisting largely of property tax relief. The bill now goes to the Senate, where its companion, SF2726 (Sen. Rod Skoe; DFL-Clearbrook) has not yet had a hearing.

 

 
 

Copyright 2013 League of Women Voters Minnesota (LWV Minnesota)