March 26, 2015

Vol. XLII No. 5    

                                      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. 

 

 

 

Committee Deadlines Established

In a joint statement, House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) have established the committee deadlines for the 2015 session. By March 20 committees must act favorably on bills in the house of origin. By March 27, committees must act on bills, or companion bills, that met the first deadline in the other house. Finally, by April 24, committees must act favorably on major appropriation and finance bills. Bills that do not meet these deadlines are effectively dead for the session, absent special action by the rules committees.

By law, legislators must adjourn this session by May 18. Legislative leaders have also agreed to a spring break from March 28 through noon, April 7. 

Table of Contents

Election Law

Campaign Finance

State Government Finance

Environment

Health and Environment

Education

 

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. Support restoration of voting rights for felons living in the community on probation or parole.

Many readers recall the 2012 Voter ID proposal that included provisional ballots. Preregistered voters who were not able to show a photo ID at the polls were allowed to fill in a provisional ballot that would only be counted if the voter returned to an election office within a fix period of time with the required photo ID. In general, provisional ballots make it more difficult for citizens to vote, especially low income people, people who do not drive and the disabled. Provisional ballots can be mandated for different situations other than a photo ID requirement. Presently Minnesota does not use provisional ballots in our elections, mainly because we have same day registration. Two bills have been introduced that will incorporate provisional ballots into our elections. Both bills are opposed by LWV Minnesota.

The first bill involves voters who are challenged at the poll site. Preregistered voters’ eligibility to vote may be challenged in two different ways. There could be a mark in the voter roster next to their name indicating the voter may not be eligible because of address, citizenship, felony or guardianship status or for other eligibility questions. A voter could also be challenged by an individual who has personal knowledge that the voter is not eligible to vote. Our present procedure for clearing a challenge requires an election judge to question the voter after he/she swears to answer all eligibility questions truthfully, understanding that they could be convicted of a felony if they lie. If the answers indicate the voter is eligible, he/she is allowed to vote. If the answers indicate the voter is not eligible, the voter is not allowed to vote. This process has worked well and there is no evidence that it has been abused or invited illegal voting.

Many of the roster challenges are due to limitations in our data base such as not being up to date on Election Day, a person not receiving a postcard from the Secretary of State, an address incorrectly typed into the data base or other administrative mistakes beyond the control of the voter. The data base from Corrections Department is not updated on a daily basis so someone who has recently completed his/her sentence may not be listed as eligible to vote; similarly for guardianships.

The process for clearing a challenge allows the voter to update his/her registration using election day registration.

NEW HF 90 Provisional balloting procedure established, Rep. Duane Quam (R – Bryon) Oppose. This bill establishes a system of provisional balloting for voters whose eligibility to vote is challenged. A provisional ballot will only be counted if the voter appears before the county auditor or municipal clerk within seven days of the election and presents proof of eligibility to vote. The voter would provide proof of residence in the same manner as permitted for same day registration.

LWV Minnesota believes that provisional ballots are not necessary, are costly and are harmful.    For instance, it  would require the  voter to bring evidence of residence to a county auditor or election office but not allow that voter to update his/her registration at the poll site, as we now do,  using documents or a driver’s license that they may have with them on election day. The bill does not recognize the limitations of the State Voter Registration System, forcing a voter to clear incorrect challenges in a burdensome way. Many eligible voters will decide it is not worth the time and effort to go through all of these procedures thus their ballots will not be counted.  The bill includes no funding for counties which will have to process provisional ballots or for training and hiring election judges who will handle these ballots at the poll site.

The bill has only one author and there is no Senate companion but it somehow managed to get a hearing in the House Elections Committee before the first deadline. At the hearing, the author could not provide any evidence that significant illegal voting has occurred in Minnesota. Several members questioned the need for this bill and declared that the harm it would cause outweighed any benefits. The good news is that the Elections committee voted to hold over HF 90 for further action. Unfortunately, it has been included in another bill which we will be watching.

NEW HF 1981, Eliminates election day registration and vouching, establishes provisional voter day registration and provisional balloting process, provides for early voting, Rep. Kelly Fenton (R – Woodbury), Rep. Jim Nash (R – Waconia), Rep. Cindy Pugh (R – Chanhassen), Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover), Rep. Eric Lucero (R – Dayton), Oppose.

The only provision of this bill which LWV Minnesota supports is the establishment of early voting which allows a voter to cast a live ballot at a county auditor’s office or municipal office 15 days prior to an election. The voter would use the same equipment and process as that used at the poll site on election day.

The bad parts of HF 1981 establish a system of provisional ballots to be used in several situations. It eliminates election day registration as we know it and replaces it with provisional registration. Voters who complete provisional registration would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. Vouching for proof of residence would not be allowed, even for residents of health care facilities. Voters whose eligibility to vote is challenged at the polls would be required to vote using a provisional ballot. Essentially, the provisions of HF 90 and the disadvantages discussed above have been included in this bill.

The advantages of Early Voting are entirely nullified by the introduction of provisional ballots.  This bill would make it more difficult for citizens to vote and is opposed by LWV Minnesota.

HF1981 was scheduled for a hearing in the House Elections Committee on March 19th but was withdrawn at the last minute. It has no Senate companion. It did not meet the first committee deadline and is dead for this session but it could be revived next session.

 

CAMPAIGN FINANCE- This is 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

Companion bills HF 43 and SF 214 “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). Support

This set of bills was previously explained in the Capitol Letter of January 22, 2015.

LWV MN testified in support of the Senate bill SF214 at the recent Senate Subcommittee on Elections hearing. Jeremy Schroeder of Common Cause Minnesota, and friend of the League, also testified in support. The bill successfully passed out of the Subcommittee on a strict party-line vote. It was recommended to pass and re-referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration. We shall soon see whether the Senate version makes it to the floor for a vote.

However, HF 43, the House version of this legislation, failed to progress to a floor vote. This disappointing outcome makes it highly unlikely that legislation on this key issue will become law this session.

We are also still following another set of bills related to campaign finance: SF205 Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan) and its companion bill HF337 Rep. Tim Sanders (R-Blaine). This set of bills would grant slightly more power to the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board concerning penalties and enforcement of campaign finance laws. The Senate bill has been recommended to pass; the House version passed its hearing, and has been sent to the House Finance 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 March 17, 2015, Governor Dayton unveiled his plan for a supplemental budget taking into account the higher income projected in the February forecast. The supplemental budget focuses on the following issues:

Education –

  • free full-day pre-kindergarten for all students regardless of family income ($343 million)
  • tuition freezes for University of Minnesota and MNSCU and expansion of the state grant program for higher education ($252 million)
  • additional  funding for governor’s proposed Regional Centers for Excellence ($6 million)
  • additional funding for special education ($41 million)
  • funding for teacher recruitment and retention ($25 million)

Children and Families-

  • increase in Working Family Tax Credit ($83 million)
  • funding for implementation of recommendations of Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children ($52 million)
  • expansion of the K-12 Education Tax Credit ($11 million)
  • raise cash payments to families under the Minnesota Family Investment Program which have not increased since 1986 ($68 million)

Communities-

  • additional investment in nursing homes ($25 million)
  • public safety, courts and corrections ($149 million)
  • additional funding for Housing Job Growth Initiative in Greater Minnesota ($10 million)
  • assistance for homeless and sexually exploited youth ($6 million)
  • addition to state’s Disaster Contingency account ($11 million)

On March 23, 2015, the Republican party revealed its ten year transportation spending proposal which would put a total of $7 billion into repair of the state’s roads and bridges. The proposal did not call for an increase to the state gas tax, but rather would fund the repair work with a combination of:

  • redirecting state revenues from a range of motor vehicle-related taxes ($300 million per year)
  • borrowing more than $2 billion
  • “realigning” MNDOT resources ($1.2 billion), and
  • Using a portion of the state’s projected budget surplus ($228 million)

On March 24, the House Ways & Means committee adopted its budget resolution for the 2016-2017 biennium. Each major finance or revenue committee was assigned a target, which may not be exceeded, as follows:

  • E-12 Education - $16.87 billion
  • Health and Human Services - $11.62 billion
  • Taxes - $3.24 billion
  • Higher Education - $2.95 billion
  • Public Safety - $2.08 billion
  • Capital projects and grants - $1.54 billion
  • State Government Finance - $902.64 million
  • Jobs and economic development - $330.9 million
  • Environment - $231 million
  • Transportation $133 million
  • Agriculture - $91.16 million

The budget resolution would reduce spending from the current biennium in several areas, including jobs and economic development, environment and state government finance.  The resolution also allocates $2 billion for tax relief, $100 million for the rainy-day fund, and leaves $319 million dollars unallocated, presumably to provide some end-of-session negotiating room.

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

Governor’s Buffer Initiative:HF1534/SF1537. LWV MN Supports. Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska)/ Sen. John Marty DFL - Roseville). This is the proposal by Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) to establish buffers to protect our waters from runoff pollution, to stabilize shores and banks, and to provide habitat for wildlife, including fish.  

This bill was described in the March 13 Capitol Letter, but basically it requires a 50-foot buffer adjacent to all perennial waters, including lakes, rivers, perennial streams. There are “Alternatives and Exemptions,” e.g., a landowner may seek approval for an alternative water quality conservation plan if he/she believes the 50-foot buffer will not improve water quality. Implementation of the law would belong to the local soil and water conservations districts, but the DNR would have the ultimate responsibility for enforcing the law.

Opponents are lined up, led by agricultural interests, and author Torkelson is carrying the bill in hopes of making significant changes. He objects to the one-size-fits-all prescription, apparently not satisfied with the lengthy section on Alternatives and Exemptions. Sen. Marty supports the bill.

The bill passed out of the Senate Environment Committee, but appears to have problems in the Senate Jobs, Agriculture. And Rural Development Committee. However, it is the governor’s priority, so it should have a future, in some form, this session.

There are many terrible environmental bills lined up which have the support of House Republicans and powerful DFL Senate members from Northern Minnesota. Several have been covered in past Capitol Letters. The following are among those which have made the first deadline, and LWV Minnesota opposes them all:

    • HF1494/SF1378 – Rep. Jeff Howe (R - Rockville)/Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R - Paynesville) – Limits DNR authority over groundwater appropriations permits. This is supported by agriculture interests, among others, which are using groundwater to irrigate crops and don’t want any limits placed on the amount of water they can suck out of the ground.
    • HF1394/SF1683 – Rep. Dan Fabian (R - Roseau)/Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL - Clearbrook) – Takes authority away from MPCA Citizen’s Board and gives it to the Commissioner. LWV MN testified against it, based on reducing a citizen’s right to know what the government is doing and to take part in the decision-making process at every level. 
    • HF1261/SF1329 – Rep. Ron Kresha (R - Little Falls)/Sen. Kent Eken (DFL - Twin Valley) - All state agency rulemaking must be approved by the Legislature if there is a significant economic effect. This means all agencies (DNR, MPCA, Health, Education…) would have legislative tampering. LWV MN has  testified against this and similar bills
    • HF1173 – no senate companion – Rep. Steve Green (R - Fosston). Mining companies need not abide by the Wetland Conservation Act.
    • HF1000/SF1007 – Rep. Carly Melin (DFL - Hibbing)/Sen. Tomassoni (DFL) - Wild rice water quality standards for sulfate, 10 parts per million, cannot be enforced until the DNR has adopted criteria for designating wild-rice water statewide. This is not expected for several years. The major source of sulfates is mining.

 

HEALTH AND 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 ecosystems and to protect public health. 

Early intervention and prevention measures are effective in helping children reach their full potential. The League supports policies and programs at all levels of the community and government that promote the wellbeing, encourage the full development and ensure the safety of all children.

Kay Kessel, Volunteer Lobbyist

The previous issue of the Capitol Letter discussed the Toxic Free Kids Act (TKFA). After two days of hearings the Toxic Free Kids Act, SF1099, as amended passed the Senate Commerce Committee and was referred to Finance. There was industry opposition by the American Chemistry Council, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, but the TKFA bill successfully passed. Senator Rest did remove food packaging from the bill so this product category is no longer covered by TFKA.

For seven years the LWV Minnesota and LWV Minneapolis have sponsored Healthy Legacy Forums and have included Education, Science, Environmental and Health organizations. Passing the Toxic Free Kids Act will help begin the regulation of toxic chemicals that affect our health. In the March 3rd issue of Insight News, Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, described how toxic chemicals have greater detrimental effects in low income neighborhoods and in communities of color.

NEW Companion Bills SF1215/HF 1100 Firefighter and Children’s Health Protection Act , Forbids flame-retardant chemical use in products, Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) and Rep. Jeff Howe(R-Rockville), Support.

The Children and Firefighter Health Protection Act prohibits certain chemicals from being manufactured or sold in children’s products, upholstered residential furniture, or mattresses. The prohibition applies to manufacturers as of July 1, 2017, and retailers as of July 1, 2018. The bill also prohibits manufacturers from replacing the prohibited chemicals with other chemicals known or suspected to cause certain harm. An article in the Star Tribune describes how firefighters are harmed by chemical coatings such as formaldehyde which can cause cancer.

This bill is moving more quickly through committees and also passed the Senate Commerce Committee. 

 

FUNDING OF  Pre K-12 EDUCATION/ CHILDCARE

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.

Childcare

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

 Kay Kessel, Volunteer Lobbyist

The Omnibus Education Policy Bills (SF1495/HF 1591) from the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Charles Wiger (DFL - Maplewood) and House Innovation Education Committee, Rep. Sondra Erickson (R - Princeton) have been created. An education policy omnibus bill is a compilation of several smaller bills all of which deal with education policy. Both of these are very large bills encompassing many provisions. There are substantial differences in the two bills, which is not unusual. For comparison you can see the highlights of the two omnibus bills by going to an Update by Parents United for Public Schools.

When you look at the early learning provisions of the two omnibus bills you will see that neither includes the governor’s approach to early childhood education: universal pre-school education for four year olds.   

The current House Education Policy Omnibus bill (HF1591) sets priorities for early learning scholarships.  However it does not include the development of Universal Pre-K for four year olds. 

Nor does the Senate Education Policy Omnibus bill (SF1495). This bill prioritizes scholarship applicants who are in foster care, homeless, or has a parent under 21 who is pursuing a high school diploma or post-secondary education. It also defines why a program would be disqualified and requires programs to maintain attendance and pay records of participating children.

The next big step will be deciding how to fund education. Once the details of the House and Senate budgets are revealed, conference committees will be formed to hash out the educational priorities from both Houses and the Governor.

In the meantime, Governor Dayton has been visiting schools promoting his full day voluntary preschool program for all four year olds and other proposals.

A news release from the Governor’s office included the following budget proposals:

Free, Full-Day PreK for Every Four-Year-Old – The Governor’s budget would invest $343 million to provide every four-year-old (47,000 kids) access to free, full-day pre-kindergarten learning opportunities statewide.

More Funding for Every School – The Governor’s budget would invest in K-12 schools statewide, increasing the per-pupil funding formula to $5,948 by 2017, and putting additional funding into the special education formula. These new resources would give local school districts the flexibility to meet the needs of their students and classrooms – from lowering class sizes, hiring new counselors, investing in technology, or providing other need programs and services.

Tackling the Achievement Gap – The Governor’s proposal would invest in a multi-layered approach to narrow the state’s achievement gap. It would eliminate the current Head Start waiting list, provide support to help all students read well, target educational support to parents of at-risk children ages 0-8, and more.

Healthy Students – The Governor’s budget would provide free breakfasts for pre-K-3 students, fund in-school programs to improve student behavior, and support parents of at-risk children.

Investing in Children and Families

Governor Dayton’s supplemental budget proposal would invest an additional $367 million in children and families over the next two years. Those new investments would make child care more affordable for 130,000 low- and middle-income families, provide additional tax relief for over 280,000 working families, and provide better services for low-income families and at-risk children in Minnesota. It would also provide more economic stability for 70,000 low-income children and 29,000 low-income adults, by increasing MFIP payments for the first time since 1986. The proposal would also invest in strategies to prevent the abuse and neglect of children. These efforts would put more money in the pockets of working families, and help ensure all children receive the care and support they need to succeed in school and life.”

There is much more to come next week and the weeks ahead.

 

 

 

Copyright 2014 League of Women Voters Minnesota (LWV Minnesota)