Minnesota has a two-year legislative session. What happens if a bill is introduced in the first year of the biennium but does not reach the floor for a final vote? Most of these bills remain "alive" and can be brought up for consideration in the second year of the biennium. For more details, read "What now for all those leftover bills?" in Session Daily.
LWV US Position on Voting: Voting is a fundamental citizen right that must be guaranteed.
LWV Minnesota Position on Election Laws: Support improvements in election laws regulating election procedures, voting and school district elections.
Sherri Knuth, Policy and Outreach Manager
Despite the number of election proposals alive earlier in the session in various bills, only several provisions made it into the final omnibus bill that passed the legislature on the last day of the session and was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton.
The final bill was the conference committee report onHF 894, authored byRep. Steve Simon (DFL-Hopkins). The Senate companion was authored by Rep. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport). In both bodies, the bill garnered bi-partisan support, passing on a 99-32 vote in the House and a 56-9 vote in the Senate.
These are the significant provisions of the bill:
Article 1: No-excuse Absentee Balloting. A voter is no longer required to show one of the enumerated reasons for requesting an absentee ballot. Rather, effective 2014, no “excuse” will be required for voting absentee. In addition, election officials may begin to count absentee ballots seven days before Election Day, rather than the four days provided in current statute. Election administrators had sought this change to alleviate time pressures on the weekend and Monday leading up to Election Day.
Article 2: Reduction in Vouching, Publicly-funded Recounts, and Technical Changes. The number of citizens a registered voter may vouch for (as to residence in the precinct) is reduced from 15 to eight. Article 2 also reduces the threshold for publicly-funded recounts for some offices to one-quarter of one percent rather than one-half of one percent. Article 2 makes numerous technical changes.
Article 3: Voting Data on Individuals Serving a Felony Sentence. Article 3 allocates funds to provide for improved data sharing between the Secretary of State’s office and Department of Corrections regarding individuals on probation for felony sentences who, under current Minnesota law, do not have voting rights until their sentences are completed. The aim is to improve identification of those persons who are ineligible to vote pending completion of their sentences.
Article 4: Electronic Rosters. A pilot project is set up to explore the use of electronic rosters for the purposes of processing Election Day registrations or verifying the registration status of preregistered voters. Our neighboring state, Iowa, uses this type of system and it speeds procedures at the polls. Those with driver’s licenses or state ID cards are able to swipe their card and their voter registration status is immediately processed. (However, a photo ID is not a requirement for voting.) Article 4 also sets up a task force to explore incorporating photos in the electronic rosters.
Article 5: Vacancies in Nominations. This article provides for a special election to be held in the event a candidate for certain offices dies or develops a catastrophic illness with a designated time before an election. The death of Senator Paul Wellstone is frequently cited as an example of when this article would be used.
Earlier in the session, LWV Minnesota testified against reducing the number of voters a registered voter can vouch for from 15 to eight. Vouching is an important tool for allowing students in temporary housing and voters who lack stable housing to cast their votes.
The final bill does not contain several election changes that were part of the earlier House and Senate omnibus and/or stand-alone bills. These include early voting, notification by first-class mail to felons living in the community of their voting status, an earlier (June) primary election, and the agreement among the states to elect the president by national popular vote.
LWV Minnesota will continue to work to enact early voting in Minnesota. This popular voting method is available in 32 states and is utilized by voters across the political spectrum. LWV Minnesota also supports restoring voting rights for felons living in the community—more about this in the future.
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
Three conference committee reports, passed on the last day of the legislative session and subsequently signed by the governor, will provide revenues to fund the state budget during the next two years.
Chapter 136 (HF 1070 authored by Rep. John Ward (DFL-Baxter)) is a bare bones bonding bill substituted for a larger bonding bill that could not achieve the super-majority vote needed to authorize state borrowing. The new law authorizes borrowing of $176.8 million to fund:
- $20 million for flood hazard mitigation grants
- $131.7 million for renovation and restoration of the capitol building and the legislative office building parking ramp
- $18.9 million for demolition and construction at a veterans affairs skilled nursing facility, and
- $8 million to the Public Facilities Authority clean water revolving fund.
Other capital projects found their way into other bills. For example, support for the destination medical center sought by Mayo Clinic and disaster assistance for Worthington and Red Wing are provided in the tax omnibus bill.
Chapter 137 (HF 1183 authored by Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis)) appropriates the revenues from the Legacy Amendment. This act was met with two line-item vetoes by Gov. Mark Dayton. Specifically, the governor vetoed a $6.3 million appropriation to the Metropolitan Council for restoration projects in metropolitan regional parks and a $6 million appropriation for aquatic invasive species grants. The veto message itself is more dramatic than most. Gov. Dayton acknowledges that he told Senate Majority Leader Tom Baak (DFL-Cook) that the vetoed projects were “in” but subsequently vetoed them due to push-back from organizations opposed to the inclusion of projects that had not been recommended by the Lessard-Sams Council.
Chapter 143 (HF 677 authored by Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington)) is the tax omnibus bill. This act added provisions that will produce $2 billion in new revenues during the next biennium. These provisions include:
- a new fourth income tax bracket at 9.85%, applicable to couples with incomes over $250,000 and single taxpayers with incomes over $150,000
- an increase to the cigarette tax of approximately $1.60 per pack
- new sales taxes on certain purchases by businesses
- closing certain tax loopholes.
The funds raised will go, in part, to:
- eliminate the state’s deficit
- provide property tax relief by expanding eligibility for the Homestead Credit Refund
- partially pay back the money owed to school districts.
The tax omnibus also includes back-up funding for the state’s share of the new Vikings stadium in the event that the shortfall in revenues expected from electronic pull-tabs continues.
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.
Guest author Jeremy Schroeder, Executive Director of Common Cause Minnesota, and Sherri Knuth, LWV Minnesota Policy and Outreach Manager
Companion bill HF 863and SF 661Campaign Finance law modifications. Rep. Ryan Winkler(DFL-Golden Valley) and Sen. Ann Rest(DFL-New Hope) State legislators passed campaign finance legislation which will increase the money in elections by substantially increasing contribution limits for candidate campaigns. The rational for the increase is that candidates need to be able to compete with the large amount of special interest spending since the Citizens United decision.
Although recognizing the problem of candidates trying to be heard over the large monied special interests in elections, Jeremy Schroeder of Common Cause Minnesota states, “ The solution adopted by the legislature does not address the bigger problem in our democracy: the influence of money in elections. Instead of changing Minnesota's system to correct the symptoms, which is competing with influx of special interest money, we should look at ways to fix the problem itself and hold tighter limits to special interest spending in elections.”
In the final days of the session, the bill was also stripped of provisions requiring special interests disclose the spending they do prior to elections. While the bills in both chambers originally required special interests to disclose the amount they spend on “electioneering communications,” the final bill does not. Twenty-five other states require such disclosure.
While the final bill was not a great step forward, the bill as it was introduced contained provisions which would help Minnesotans know exactly who is behind campaign ads. This gives democracy reform organizations, including Common Cause Minnesota and the League of Women Voters, a strong place to start next year.
Funding of the Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board
The final budget bill raised the budget of the Campaign Finance and Disclosure Board to $1 million, a 42% increase. LWV Minnesota fully supported this increase to enable the board to accomplish its work. We thank the governor and legislature for making this increase.
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
LWVUS Position: 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 well being, encourage the full development and ensure the safety of all children. These include: ………early childhood education…
LWV Minnesota 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.
Kathie Cerra, Volunteer Lobbyist
NEWHF 630 and SF 453 Omnibus Education Policy and Finance. Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) and Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood). The 2013 E-12 Omnibus Bill, passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, adds $485 million in new funding for schools, including $40 million in early childhood scholarships for low income children. This represents a modest 2% increase in E-12 funding, following years of decreasing investment in education in Minnesota.
The $40 million in early childhood scholarships, although welcome, falls far short of the $185.2 million sought by MinneMinds, the coalition of organizations advocating high quality early childhood care and education.
The E-12 Omnibus Bill provides for all-day kindergarten for Minnesota students, with kindergarten students enrolled in an all-day kindergarten program counted as one adjusted pupil unit, the same as students in grades 1-6. This is an increase in current funding which counts a kindergarten student as 0.6 student unit. A district may use the all-day kindergarten revenue for three- and four-year-olds as long it does not charge for kindergarten.
NEW Also of note is the passage of companion bills HF 950 and SF 778. Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul). This legislation will give many daycare providers and personal care assistants who contract with the state the opportunity to vote to unionize. The bill would affect 12,700 providers who care for children in Minnesota’s need-based Child Care Assistance Program. Unionizing would give providers and personal care assistants the ability to engage in collective bargaining with the state.
For further details, refer to Parents United and Schools for Equity in Education.
LWV US Position: Support environmentally sound policies that reduce energy growth rates, emphasize energy conservation and encourage the use of renewable resources
Lynn Gitelis, volunteer lobbyist
After several years of defending existing clean energy standards but making no progress, we’re delighted this year to finally get a positive result for solar energy! The Minnesota Clean Energy and Jobs campaign, in which LWV Minnesota participates, was successful in getting a bill passed and signed, with the additional benefit of having established a strong coalition of organizations that can continue to move forward with clean energy advocacy.
NEW HF 729 and S.F. 1607 Omnibus jobs, economic development, housing, commerce, and energy bill. Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) and Sen. David Tomassoni, (DFL- Chisholm). LWV Minnesota supported the energy provisions of the legislation.
Legislative history:Rep. Will Morgan (DFL-Burnsville) and Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL- Brooklyn Center) were the original House and Senate chief authors, respectively, of solar energy bills. The original bills were heard and laid over.
The bills were later included in the House and Senate Omnibus Energy bills, HF 956 authored by Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL- Brooklyn Park) and SF 901 sponsored by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville). Each Omnibus Energy bill passed its respective chamber. The bills were conferenced, and the conference committee produced its report.
Before the conference report made it through the entire process of passing both the House and Senate floors, a motion was made in the Omnibus Jobs and Economic Development conference committee to amend that bill by adding in the exact language of the Omnibus Energy conference report. That motion prevailed, and suddenly the Energy bill also existed as an article in the Omnibus Jobs and Economic Development bill. The entire omnibus bill then passed and was signed by the governor.
Major provisions related to solar energy:
- Establishes a goal of reaching 10 percent solar by 2030.
- Requires 10 percent of the solar standard be met by small solar projects (less than 20 kw), in order to serve residential and small business customers.
- Raises the customer net-metering cap to 1 MW (megawatt) for investor-owned utilities; and provides new protections for customers.
- Requires Xcel Energy to establish a Community-Shared Solar program allowing customers to pool their resources and invest in a solar project together and have a portion of the solar project’s power credited to their bill. It authorizes other utilities to develop similar programs
- Establishes a Value of Solar Tariff, which would establish a price for solar that assesses the overall value of solar, making solar projects easier to finance. Minnesota is among the first states in the country to adopt a statewide rate paying solar its worth.
- Establishes new solar incentives to expand access to rooftop solar for residents.
- Commissions a one year study of the transmission and grid options for getting 40 percent of our state’s electricity from renewable energy in 2030.
- Increases the utility energy savings goal to "at least" 1.5 percent of energy sales annually and requires utilities to consider all cost-effective energy efficiency over other energy options.
LWV US 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.
LWV Minnesota Positions: See Program for Action, pp. 7-10
Gwen Myers, Volunteer Lobbyist
It was a good year for our Great Outdoors. “After years of budget cuts and reallocations, state agencies now get a boost in funding, and a mandate to use it effectively,” according to Stephanie Hemphill on MPR. The Pollution Control Agency (PCA) had an increase of 6% and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) received $15 million in new funding, especially for forestry and groundwater monitoring. Particulars follow.
The Omnibus Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance and Policy Bill
HF 976, authored by Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis), appropriates more than $700 million for environment and natural resources and $81 million for agriculture. Unfortunately, the bill did not include a water usage fee increase that was opposed by irrigators and some industrial users. The provision was designed to make users more aware of our waning groundwater resources and to pay for additional monitoring of both ground and surface waters. Money for these purposes, $7.6 million, will come from the General Fund, which will now be supplemented by new taxes on the top 2% plus the increased cigarette tax.
The final version of the bill also includes:
- more than $20 million to the Department of Agriculture to be used for such things as a competitive grants program to fund small renewable energy projects for rural residents;
- $12.8 million for management, awareness, research and monitoring of aquatic and terrestrial invasive species;
- $300,000 to protect pollinator habitat, and language directing the Department of Agriculture to incorporate pollinator habitat best practices into pesticide applicator and county agricultural inspector training. See Session Daily, May 18, 2013.
LWV Minnesota’s position on this bill is found in the May 8 Capitol Letter™.
Frac Sand Mining
Included in the Omnibus Environment bill was the final version of language on frac sand mining. The frac sand mining saga was covered most recently in the May 8 Capitol Letter™.. Strategy changed rapidly after that report was written when Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) withdrew his support for firm protections of trout streams. The major features protecting southeast Minnesota in the omnibus bill follow:
- Frac sand mines within a mile of a trout stream are prohibited unless granted a “trout stream setback permit” by the DNR. (Since the DNR Commissioner testified at the frac-sand hearings that a mile setback is necessary to protect trout streams, it would appear that to be consistent, the DNR should deny these special permits.)
- Local governments can extend moratoriums on frac sand facilities until March 2015 regardless of how long moratoriums have already been in place. State law had a two-year maximum.
- The PCA must create rules to address silica dust from frac sand projects. The PCA must use this authority to set an ambient air quality standard that is enforceable at the property line of the frac sand facility.
- The DNR must create rules for reclamation of frac sand mines. Among other things, this must include posting a bond so that frac sand companies that go out of business or go bankrupt don’t shift this reclamation cost onto the public.
- For two years, the threshold for environmental review for frac sand mines is lowered from 40 acres to 20 acres and the environmental review requires studies dealing with water quality and quantity, air quality and traffic impacts.
- During this two-year period, the Environmental Quality Board must update its environmental review rules to better address the frac sand industry. These new rules must set strict standards on cumulative impacts and define as one project multiple mines that will be operated or managed by the same owners.
See the legislative session wrap-up by Bobby King at the Land Stewardship Project.
Recall that the Legacy bill (HF 1183 authored by Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis)) deals with money coming in as a result of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed in 2008. It includes recommendations from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, the Clean Water Council and others. It appropriated more than $495 million distributed as follows:
• Clean Water Fund - $194.9 million
• Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund - $115.9 million
• Outdoor Heritage Fund - $100.05 million
• Parks and Trails Fund - $85.1 million
A number of issues that LWV Minnesota was following ended up in the Legacy Bill:
The $22 million for Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) Reserve in the House Bonding bill, HF 270, was lost when the bill failed to get the 3/5 majority required of bonding bills. This was first described in the Feb. 22 Capitol Letter™. A stripped down bonding bill, HF 1070 authored by Rep. John Ward (DFL-Baxter), passed in the last minutes of the session on May 20. It focused on preventing the Capitol building from crumbling around the legislators but did not include money for RIM.
However, $13.4 million for RIM survived in the Legacy bill, HF 1183. This bill’s tortured course through the legislative process concluded on the last day when the conference committee met in the morning and the bill was among the last passed that night. Some of its provisions were controversial because they did not reflect exactly the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. Rep. Kahn included funds for habitat restoration in metro parks and funds to combat aquatic invasive species. Hunting and fishing groups, among others, prevailed and Gov. Dayton line-item vetoed these allocations.
The Clean Water Accountability Act, first described in the March 21 Capitol Letter™, also landed in the Legacy bill and requires the state to be more precise in identifying sources of pollution from farm fields. It also requires the state to set timelines and benchmarks to track progress in cleaning up lakes and rivers. See Session Daily, May 20, 2013. Included in the provisions to monitor and protect our water are the following:
• $20.4 million to the Board of Soil and Water Resources (BSWR) for grants to protect and restore surface water and drinking water, to keep water on the land, enhance and restore water quality;
• $18 million for the total maximum daily load grant program;
• $15.2 million for the Pollution Control Agency to complete 20 percent of the statewide assessments of surface water quality and trends;
• $12 million to BWSR for grants to local government units that have multiyear plans for a significant reduction in water pollution in a selected watershed;
• $5 million to increase monitoring and evaluation of nitrates in groundwater areas vulnerable to degradation;
• $4 million for the DNR to install additional monitoring gauges to help determine the relationship between stream flow and groundwater.
LWV Minnesota Position: Support a comprehensive and coordinated system of programs and services for mentally ill adults and emotionally disturbed children and adolescents. Priority should be given to persons with serious and persistent mental illness and/or acute mental illness.
Barb Person, Volunteer Lobbyist
A number of bills were passed by both the House and Senate this session and rolled into the Health and Human Services Omnibus bill, HF 1233 authored by Rep. Thomas Huntley (DFL–Duluth) and Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL–Kerrick). Both chambers passed the conference committee bill and it was signed by the governor.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota (NAMI) summarized the funding for children’s mental health needs that are included in this omnibus bill. Quoting from their summary, the bill includes:
- Increasing funding for school-linked mental health services by $7.434 million the first biennium and $9.814 the second biennium.
- Requiring case management services to be offered to young adults between 18-21 who have been receiving children’s case management and requiring that a transition plan be developed before discontinuing children’s case management services.
- Adding coverage for additional services under Medical Assistance such as family pyschoeducation, mental health treatment plan development and clinical care consultation.
- Adding family peer specialists to the types of mental health practitioner than can be covered under a children’s mental health provider. These are parents who have a child with a mental illness who undergo specialized training. Having them on staff creates a family-driven mental health system and provides great support to families.
- Funding mental health first aid training for people who work with youth.
- Funding in-reach community-based service coordination for a child or young adult up to age 21 with a serious emotional disturbance who has frequented the hospital emergency room two or more times in the previous consecutive three months or been admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit two or more times in the previous consecutive four months, or is being discharged to a shelter.
- Providing intensive treatment in foster care. Many children in foster care have serious mental illnesses and need more than what can be typically provided through a family foster home.
- Increasing funding for mental health crisis services by $1.5 million for the biennium for both children and adults.
- Requiring a review of the state’s only hospital for children with mental illnesses to determine need, service model, etc.
- Funding Text4Life, a text message based crisis line.
- Requiring DHS (Department of Human Services) to conduct a children’s provider survey to identify and measure issues that arise in dealing with the management of medical assistance.
- Adding a new benefit under Medical Assistance for intensive autism therapy.
Visit the NAMI website for more details on funding for Mental Health Care in the 2013 Session.
LWVUS Position: Support violence prevention programs in all communities.
LWV Minnesota Position: Support violence prevention programs in our community. (1994)
LWV Minnesota Position: Support improved procedures for agencies dealing with family violence. Support improved services for the victims.
Kathy Tomsich, Volunteer Lobbyist
The “Safe Harbor/No Closed Door” or “Safe Harbor 2013” bill was included in the Health and Human Services Finance Omnibus Bill, HF 1233 authored by Rep. Thomas Huntley (DFL–Duluth). Both chambers adopted the conference committee report and passed the bill which was signed by the governor.
The Advocates for Human Rights summarized the policy and funding provisions in the final bill as follows (quoted):
- Extends Safe Harbor provisions to ALL sexually exploited youth by removing the age distinction in Safe Harbor 2011;
- Secures funding for a statewide director of child sex trafficking prevention in the Minnesota Department of Health;
- Secures funding for six regional navigator positions to connect sexually exploited youth throughout the state with the shelter, support and services they need;
- Secures a $700,000 training fund for law enforcement, prosecutors and others who encounter sexually exploited youth and an additional $100,000 to compensate local law enforcement agencies for sending personnel to trainings; and
- Secures $1 million for Safe Harbor housing and shelter.
“In total,” the Advocates for Human Rights states, “this is $2.8 million dollars to build the system that will respond to sexually exploited youth in Minnesota! That is $2 million from the Health and Human Services budget and $800,000 from the Public Safety Omnibus Bill.”
While the appropriations for 2013 Safe Harbor are below what was requested, the goal of reducing sex trafficking of youth was bolstered by a dramatic $4 million increase in funding for homeless youth this session, as described further below.
NEW Companion bills HF 698 and SF 565 Runaway and Homeless Youth Act Modified. Rep. Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan) and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL- Minneapolis). Session Dailyreports that Rep. Halverson’s bill:
“would modify what would be renamed the Homeless Youth Act, an existing law that she said has been partially – but never fully – funded. The bill would send $8 million to the Department of Human Services over the next two years to support the Act, and add that amount to base appropriations in future biennia. The bill would create a Homeless Youth Act fund and allow the department to award grants to providers who serve homeless youth, provide street and community outreach, and run emergency shelters and supportive housing.”
The bill went through committee and was included in the final Health and Human Services Finance Omnibus Bill. The final H&H Services Finance Omnibus bill includes the policy provisions in HF 698 and appropriates $4 million for housing and services for youth who are homeless or at risk, including sexually exploited children. It also directs the commissioner of Human Services to establish a Homeless Youth Act fund as outlined in HF 698.
Information for this report came from the Advocates for Human Rights and the Minnesota Homeless Coalition.