Feb 2, 2011-Capitol Letter-PDF
February 2, 2011
Volume XXXVII Issue 2
State Government Finance
LWVUS Position: Voting is a fundamental citizen right that must be guaranteed.
LWVMN Position: Support improvements in election laws regulating election procedures, voting and school district elections.Sherri Knuth
, LWV Minnesota Public Policy Coordinator, (651) 224-5445
Comprehensive bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate to modify Minnesota’s election system. Former Secretary of State Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer
(R-Big Lake) has introduced HF210
, similar bills that completely rewrite much of our election law. Sen. Warren Limmer
(R-Maple Grove) has authored the Senate companion, SF169
HF210 and HF89
, authored by Rep. Mike Benson
(R-Rochester) and discussed in the Jan. 20, 2011 Capitol Letter
, are scheduled to be heard in the Government Operations and Elections Committee
on Feb. 3, 2011. LWV Minnesota will testify in opposition to both bills.
HF210 makes it illegal for citizens who have lost, forgotten or do not possess government-issued ID to register or to cast a regular ballot. The reasons LWV Minnesota opposes photo ID requirements for registered voters at the polls were discussed in the Jan. 20 Capitol Letter.
HF 210 bans all forms of citizen vouching for Election Day registration. Vouching allows a registered voter of the same precinct who has personal knowledge of another citizen’s residency in that precinct to legally affirm that person’s residence for purposes of registration. This provision has been allowed in Minnesota since 1973. In 2005, procedures were put in place to allow employees of residential facilities to assist their residents by vouching for them, regardless of if the employee voted in that precinct.
Citizens living in many residential facilities are less likely to possess a government-issued ID and are more likely to rely on vouching to register to vote. These facilities include assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, veterans’ homes, residential treatment programs, residential facilities for persons with developmental disabilities, battered women’s shelters, and homeless shelters. These citizens have the constitutional right to vote and that right should be protected.
Voter-assistance from a guardian, conservator or any paid individual providing health-related care is also prohibited by HF210. Justin Page, attorney with the Minnesota Disability Law Center
and a partner with LWV Minnesota in the Voting Rights Coalition, has stated that “Minnesota law clearly provides that individuals with disabilities who need assistance marking the ballot are entitled to request such assistance. The bill would severely limit assistance to voters with disabilities. This will increase the barriers that people with disabilities face when voting and violate state and federal anti-discrimination laws.”
STATE GOVERNMENT FINANCE
LWVMN Position: Support of a balanced and diversified revenue system that is equitable, progressive, and reliable. Support of long-term financial management projections and a budget reserve. (1995)
LWVMN Position on Government Spending: LWVMN believes that 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….
Debby McNeil, lobbyist, 952-925-9095$1 billion in Budget Cuts proposed
The most pressing priority for lawmakers this session is passing a balanced budget for the 2012-13 biennium, in the face of a $6.2 billion forecast deficit. Gov. Mark Dayton
(DFL) will present his proposed budget on February 15, but Republican leaders are already introducing bills consistent with an “all cuts” deficit solution. On January 18 they introduced HF130
, authored by House Ways and Means Committee
Chair Rep. Mary Liz Holberg
(R-Lakeville), and its Senate companion, SF60,
authored by Senate Finance Committee
Chair Sen. Claire Robling
(R-Jordan). These bills call for $1 billion in spending cuts – over $800 million from the 2012-13 biennium starting July 1, 2011, and the rest from this year’s budget.
Both bills were rushed through the legislature without hearings in key committees like health and human services and higher education. So the public received little information or chance for input, and House members had no opportunity to learn anything about the impact of their actions.
HF130 passed the House on Jan. 27, 68-63. At this writing HF130 has been sent to the Senate and referred to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee
. SF60 has had its Second Reading in the Senate and awaits floor action.
What are some reasons for the Republicans’ fast action? (1) They want to present their “all cuts” budget position before Gov. Dayton puts out his budget proposals; (2) They hope to improve the February economic forecast, on which lawmakers will rely to formulate the next budget. To affect the forecast, a bill must be signed into law by the governor very soon.
Here are the $800+ million in proposed cuts in HF130/SF60 for 2012-13:
o $185 million from higher education (U of MN and MnSCU);
o $ 46 million from health and human services;
o $105 million from the renter’s credit;
o $ 12 million, eliminating the political contribution refund;
o $487 million from local government aid to cities and counties
These are actually extensions of one-year cuts made by the last legislature and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) to balance this year’s budget. Painful as it will be to continue these cuts, Rep. Holberg believes that lawmakers should start working on the deficit now. In fact, these cuts do not compare with the hardship of a $6.2 billion “all cuts” budget that could do damage to public schools, colleges, infrastructure and social services.
The bills also require the state to withhold $125 - $200 million in spending from this year's budget, with the specific cuts left to the governor's discretion. With the state’s revenue for this biennium nearly spent at this point, these cuts would be hard to accomplish. Finally, the House bill also freezes state workers’ salaries.
DFLers claim that the public will pay for these cuts in other ways, in the form of higher local taxes, increased fees,
and reduced social services to children and those who are poor, elderly or disabled.
Gov. Dayton has already said that he does not favor “piecemeal cuts and partial solutions” like these in creating the next budget. A veto is expected.EDUCATION
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.
Lonni Skrentner, lobbyist, 952-994-7804
Shari Dion, intern lobbyist, 651-494-2835
There has been a flurry of education bills. Since there is no new money anywhere, most bills are being phrased as policy, although many of those policies are designed to save money. With one party in control of both houses, companion bills emerge quickly and are more closely aligned, thereby increasing the chance of early passage.
These days public employees, teachers and unions are in the limelight – whether they like it or not.
Bills in ProcessHF63
, an alternative teacher licensure bill sponsored by House Education Finance Committee
Chair Rep. Pat Garofalo
(R-Farmington), won out over HF 3
, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Mariani
Rep. Mariani presented his bill as a “delete all” amendment, saying that his bill did a better job linking alternative teacher licensure to higher education supervision and had a better teacher evaluation system, Teacher Performance Assessment (Charlotte Danielson’s model which has been well researched and documented). The delete-all amendment failed on a straight party line vote.
Jan Alswager, lead lobbyist for Education Minnesota
, testified on HF 63, stressing the new compromising attitude of the teachers’ union. Education Minnesota supports alternative pathways that are well connected to a higher education institution and have a true student teaching component and full training in a content area.
SF40, sponsored by Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), Senate Education Committee Chair, is the companion bill to HF 63 and has passed committee, so floor action on alternative licensure is likely to happen soon. These bills expand on the Teach for America model and provide Minnesota with its own alternative pathway.
In a press release, Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher stated, “Education Minnesota has always felt there is value in alternative licensure under limited circumstances, such as filling shortage areas or in cases where mid-career professionals want to teach in their area of expertise.”
Another major bill going forward is being touted as “mandate relief,” although its most significant feature is a hard freeze on all school employee salaries. SF56
, sponsored by Sen. Dave Thompson
(R-Lakeville), was introduced in committee on Jan. 25. The bill has four components:
• Repeals the maintenance-of-effort requirement associated with the safe schools levy
• Repeals the January 15 contract deadline and corresponding $25 per-pupil penalty
• Repeals the 2% staff development set aside
• Imposes a “hard” wage freeze for all school employees. Prohibits any wage increases including step and lane increases, cost-of-living adjustments, lump sum payments and increases to deferred compensation plans. Does not prohibit employer increases toward the cost of medical or dental premiums provided that the employee contribution was not decreased.
Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), a member of the Education Committee, argued in her weekly Capitol Update that “a wage freeze might end up being part of a comprehensive approach to the budget shortfall,” but it is better to start by involving “everyone from the bottom up” as part of the solution.
The Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) testified in favor of the pay freeze, arguing it would allow districts to retain staff and programs.
SF56 has no companion bill in the House, though rumor had it that Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) would introduce one. In comments to constituents, Rep. Downey denied authorship and said he favors a hard freeze, but a state mandate conflicts with local control.
Two stand-alone House bills, HF115, sponsored by Rep. Bob Barrett (R-Shafer), and HF92, sponsored by Rep. Downey, would repeal the biennial January 15 contract settlement deadline and $25 per-pupil state aid penalty that is imposed if that deadline isn’t met. Rep. Downey argued that the one-sided penalty jeopardizes good-faith negotiations in his district and had the unintended consequence of eroding a previously positive dynamic between teachers and the community. Education Minnesota opposes the repeal. Ms. Alswager said teacher strikes since 1995 occurred only during years without a deadline.
Both bills passed out of the House Education Reform Committee
and now go to the House Education Finance Committee
Several education groups have included the contract settlement deadline and penalty in their mandate relief wish list.
A companion to Rep. Barrett’s bill, SF148
, sponsored by Sen. Sean Nienow
(R-Cambridge), awaits action by the Senate Education Committee.
There is also discussion about teacher evaluation and performance pay. Rep. Kory Kath (DFL-Owatonna) offered an amendment to HF3 that added a teacher assessment requirement, but it was defeated. Chair Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) preferred to discuss this issue later.
In other important news, Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke to education and business leaders the week of Jan. 14 at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon. He said Minnesota needs to work harder to close its enormous achievement gap (one of the largest in the US), lower its high school dropout rate and adopt alternative licensure for teachers.
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, 952-545-8696
The week of Jan. 17 saw three hearings in the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee
, all focused on a consideration of HF1
, “Environmental permitting efficiency provided, and environmental review requirements modified.” Sponsored by Rep. Dan Fabian
(R-Roseau), the bill includes the following:
• Establishes a goal for the MPCA and the DNR to issue permits within 150 days and requires reports to the legislature providing details for applications not meeting the goal.
• Allows construction to take place before federal water discharge permits are issued by repealing the MPCA rule prohibiting construction before a final permit is issued.
• Requires that final decisions on permits be made within 30 days—rather than 90 days—of the final approval of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
• Allows a project proposer, rather than the responsible government unit (RGU), to prepare the draft EIS.
Please see the Jan. 20 Capitol Letter for an explanation of the permitting process and environmental review, but in brief, the purpose is to protect our shared resources.
LWV Minnesota opposes HF1 and Gwen Myers testified against it on Jan. 20. The core of her testimony was based on our position that citizens have a right to know what their government is doing and to take part in the decision-making process at every level. Focusing on the section of the bill that would allow a project proposer to prepare the draft EIS, rather than the responsible government unit, she noted that (1) this would put the proposer in charge of his own EIS – giving us a fox and henhouse problem – and (2) it would take the RGU out of the initial processes. Taking the RGU out of the initial process will make the underlying information and analysis unavailable to the public, clearly violating the right of citizens to know what is being proposed n the early stages of a project proposal.
After two DFL amendments were rejected, HF1 passed out of committee on a voice vote and was re-referred to the Civil Law Committee
. Several members of this committee were concerned about keeping the environment review process publicly transparent. Rep. Mary Liz Holberg
(R-Lakeville) offered to work with Rep. Fabian to clarify the language. Some changes in language were offered in the Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee
and it was re-referred to the Ways and Means Committee
Meanwhile, on Jan. 24 Gov. Mark Dayton
(DFL) issued an executive order
that will streamline the environmental permitting process within the DNR and the MPCA. His order will do several things that HF1 would accomplish, similarly modifying timelines, but not including such things as beginning construction before a permit is issued or allowing the proposer to do his own EIS. There is a bipartisan goal of making the permitting process more efficient, and this order was worked out with DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr and MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen.
Gov. Dayton’s executive order has not deterred legislators: HF1 continues to make its way through House committees, while its Senate companion SF42
, authored by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen
(R-Alexandria) is scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 1. Sulfide Mining
Gwen Myers, lobbyist, 952-545-8696
There are a number of threads to follow when considering the proposed sulfide mining operations in Minnesota’s Arrowhead. One thread is being played out in the effort to modify environmental review requirements and make permitting more efficient, as describe in the Environmental Review essay.
Following this thread, the Senate Environment Committee
made a pilgrimage to Hibbing on Friday, Jan. 28 to hear from Iron Rangers. Large numbers of local politicians and union officials stepped forward to declare that the proposed PolyMet
mine would save the Iron Range, and the DNR’s permitting process was standing in the way of Range prosperity. However, a few citizens warned against zipping through the permitting process too quickly.
Our friend and ally Bob Tammen, a retired mining electrician from Soudan, said it wasn’t the permitting process that was holding up the process. He reminded the committee that the EPA had given the Draft Environmental Impact Statement a failing grade, and for good reason. “They want to dump copper mining tailings on top of iron mining tailings in a pond that’s already leaking. The problem is not the permitting process, the problem is their defective mine plan.”
At this same hearing Brad Sagen of the Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness
wondered why, if the hearing was truly about learning the impacts of proposed development projects, no one from a community that had actually developed a precious metals mine had been invited. He suggested that they might have brought a tale of boom and bust economies and devastating pollution.
Another thread is the water quality issue, noted in the last Capitol Letter. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce
, representing mining interests, has filed suit against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency over how much sulfate mining companies can discharge into Minnesota’s water. Since it will be very difficult to meet the state’s sulfate standards, the mining interests want them changed. Sulfates are toxic to wild rice and leach heavy metals out of rock, further polluting our waters with mercury, among other things.
Yet another thread involves the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), whose mission is to advance regional growth of northeastern Minnesota. The IRRRB, a state agency, decided to get into the act by approving a $4 million loan to PolyMet, the company that is pursuing a large open-pit sulfide mine but has yet to get environmental approvals. The money would be used by PolyMet to purchase lands required for a proposed land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service.
A suit has been filed by five conservation groups against the IRRRB challenging this loan. “Minnesota law prohibits state agencies from providing any approvals, permits or loans for proposed projects that are still going through the environmental review process,” according to an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity
. Betsy Daub, policy director at the Friends of the BWCA
, said “Our state laws require agencies to ensure our clean water and other natural resources will be protected before they throw the state’s support behind a project.” She noted that the environmental review process was “far from over and serious doubts remain about whether the mine can be developed safely.”
Two lawsuits and a legislative effort to weaken our environmental standards – and there are many more threads to this story which may surface in the coming months.
6. Josephine Marcotty, “Mining interests sue over water rule,” Star Tribune, Dec. 18, 2010
LWVUS Position: Protect the health and safety of citizens through limiting the accessibility and regulating the ownership of handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons, and support the allocation of resources to better regulate and monitor gun dealers.
LWVMN Position: Action to support restrictions on the sale, possession and use of firearms by private parties in the state of Minnesota.
Mary Lewis Grow, lobbyist 507-645-5378
A bill to repeal Minnesota’s state background check system for the purchase of firearms:
Those advocating more effective screening and stronger background checks before the purchase of firearms and explosives were surprised by the introduction last week of a legislative proposal to eliminate Minnesota’s current state system of background checks. HF 161
, filed on January 20 by Rep. Steve Drazkowski
(R-Mazeppa), was originally about extending the gun permit period from one year to five. But in a last-minute maneuver, Rep. Drazkowski’s bill turned into something much more sweeping.
The timing of the proposed legislation seemed odd, if not insensitive, following the shootings in Tucson.
The bill’s first hearing took place on January 26 before the House Committee on Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance
, chaired by Rep. Tony Cornish
Advocates for the legislation argued that repealing Minnesota’s state background check requirements would save money and relieve law enforcement of the burdens mandated by our state’s current system. They argued further that a state system of checks is duplicative and redundant, given the national computerized system of background checks required for sales by licensed firearms dealers (but not by private sellers, even at gun shows).
These claims were refuted by both Dennis Flaherty, Executive Director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association
and Dave Pecchia, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of Chiefs of Police
. They reported that the costs to law enforcement, in both time and money, were inconsequential when compared to the life-saving benefits of conducting the more thorough background checks required by Minnesota law.
Bloomington police sergeant Mark Elliott, who is responsible for background check screening in that city, testified that the state system is not duplicative of the national one and that the Minnesota system of checks had uncovered dozens of unqualified purchasers that the federal NICS system had missed – just in Bloomington alone. Because the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, is only as effective as the data that different jurisdictions – with varying degrees of compliance -- enter into the national database, we would risk arming many inappropriate buyers if we eliminated Minnesota’s stricter system of checks, Sgt. Elliott testified.
The bill passed out of committee along straight party lines, with the 10 Republicans voting in favor and the seven Democrats voting against it. HF161 will need to pass out of the Civil Law Committee
in the House before going to a floor vote. It will also need to clear the Judiciary Committee
and a floor vote in the Senate.
Polls consistently show that gun owners and non-gun-owners alike favor stricter background-check laws. Conservative pollster Frank Luntz, for example, found that fully 86% of gun owners polled want stronger safeguards to keep guns from getting into the wrong hands, and even 69% of NRA members polled believed that the gun show loophole should be closed.
Capitol observers should be prepared to see proponents continue to push their agenda of weakening current gun laws. Rep. Tom Hackbarth
(R-Cedar) has introduced HF131
, a “Right to Bear Arms” amendment to the state constitution, with the hope that such an amendment could form the basis for a challenge to any Minnesota firearms law with which the proponents disagree. In addition, Rep. Cornish wants to introduce a bill prohibiting the confiscation of firearms during an emergency.
Proponents are also expected to continue their efforts of the last two legislative sessions to take the “Castle Doctrine” out into the streets. HF 498
, introduced by Rep. Cornish in the 2007-08 session and nicknamed the “Shoot-First” law, would allow those who feel “reasonably threatened” in any location to shoot to kill with impunity.
LWVMN Position: All people have a right to housing. The public and private sectors should work together to ensure that everyone has access to adequate, decent, affordable housing.
Jeanne LeFevre, lobbyist, 651-483-9154
, authored by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg
(R-Lakeville), passed off the House floor on January 27. The companion bill, SF60
, authored by Sen. Claire Robling
(R-Jordan) was given its second reading on the same day and awaits action by the full Senate. This bill impacts affordable housing in Minnesota in two ways. First, the bill makes permanent the reductions to the renters’ credit for low-income Minnesotans that were enacted on a temporary basis in Laws 2010, 1st Special Session, chapter 1. Second, the bill reduces local government aid payments for 2011 and 2012, increasing the likelihood that local governments will raise property taxes to make up for the deficiency.
The House and Senate bills are not identical on all points, however, making further negotiations on the bills in a conference committee likely. In addition, Gov. Mark Dayton
(DFL) does not support the “piecemeal” approach to our $6.2 billion budget deficit represented by these two bills. Homeless Day on the HillMinnesota Coalition for the Homeless
is sponsoring a Day on the Hill on March 15. If you wish to participate, training and briefing will take place between 9:00 and 10:00 AM on March 15th at Christ Lutheran Church, 105 University Avenue West. Meetings with legislators will follow between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. If you intend to participate, please register in advance by sending your name, address, legislative district, and telephone number to the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless at firstname.lastname@example.org.Housing Jobs Campaign
The Minnesota Housing Partnership, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers
, has set a legislative agenda for the 2011 session that emphasizes the need to create residential construction jobs in Minnesota while developing needed affordable housing. Between the end of 2004 and the end of 2010, Minnesota lost one-half of its residential construction jobs. In order to put construction workers back to work, the HousingJobs campaign seeks:
• $100 million in state bonding money for public housing restoration, community land trusts, foreclosure remediation and supportive housing
• To capture future increases in deed and mortgage tax revenues (without increasing the rate of these taxes) to expand affordable housing production capacity, and
• To create state housing tax credits for affordable housing and historic preservation, thereby leveraging additional private sector money for affordable housing construction. METROPOLITAN ISSUES
Council of Metropolitan Area Leagues (CMAL) 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….
CMAL Position on Land Use and Environmental Quality. CMAL 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
Lois Quam, lobbyist (612) 861-2601Gov. Mark Dayton
(DFL) is in the process of making appointments to the Metropolitan Council
. Susan Haigh has been sworn in as the new chair replacing Peter Bell. Haigh appears to be well-qualified; she is a former Ramsey County Commissioner and current leader for the local Habitat for Humanity program. She indicated that her priorities are transit, economic development and housing.
The chair serves at large while 16 candidates will be appointed as Commissioners representing specific geographic areas. A series of four public meetings for candidates will be held between February 9 and 17; following those meetings a nominating committee will make recommendations to the Governor. There is more information about the public meetings at www.metrocouncil.org/newsletter/planning2011.
The Minneapolis City Council
has endorsed a proposal to have metropolitan-area mayors, council members and county commissioners make up a majority of the Met Council.1 Council members believe that an entity with the responsibility of the Met Council needs more public accountability. This proposal is similar to a bill introduced by Rep. Frank Hornstein
(DFL-Minneapolis) in the last session of the legislature. The city’s proposal calls for a “more muscular Metro Council that spends more time working to reduce racial and economic disparities within the region….” It also recommends that the Met Council be more active in planning and nurturing large facilities operated by the public sector, including sports venues.
Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles released a transit-system audit on January 21, 2011. While the report noted that the metropolitan transit system performed favorably in comparison with 11 peer organizations, the report was critical of the fragmented management of the transit system and its feuding bureaucracies. It pointed out that agencies exercising some control over transit include the Metropolitan Council, an advisory board, seven regional railroad authorities, seven county boards, a special panel that spends a ¼ cent sales tax and 6 suburban bus operations, plus task forces and commissions. Judy Randall, audit manager, said that there are no lines of hierarchy for decisions on future transit lines. The response of the Metropolitan Council is available on the Council website.2