February 9, 2012

Vol.XXXIX No.1

Print Capitol Letter

Table of Contents

Welcome to the 2012 Capitol Letter™

Election Law

State Government Finance

Education

Environment

Firearms

Immigration

Metropolitan Issues

Reproductive Choice


 
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 LWV Minnesota Education Fund, a separate entity, conducts voter service work and is never used to influence legislation.

 

Welcome to the 2012 Capitol Letter™

The 2012 legislative session opened on Jan. 24. From all accounts, it will be a lively session, with emphasis on issues core to LWV’s mission, including voting rights and state government finance. 

Through the work of our volunteer lobbyists, LWV Minnesota will advocate at the State Capitol in a variety of areas, based on the positions established in our Program for Action. Our staff lobbyist will focus primarily on voting rights.

Our members play an important role in helping the public understand voting rights and election integrity. We repeatedly hear that the public is influenced by letters to the editor authored by LWV members. The information we provide in the Capitol Letter™ will help keep you abreast of the issues.

In addition, we encourage you to call, email or write letters to legislators and make your views known. Legislators pay close attention to their constituents’ views.

The Capitol Letter™ will come out every two weeks during the legislation session. It includes web links to legislators, bills and other important information.  Action Alerts go out when more immediate action on a certain issue is needed. To sign up to receive Action Alerts, please email Sherri Knuth, Public Policy Coordinator, at sknuth@lwvmn.org

The Minnesota Legislature’s website provides a wealth of information on legislators, committees and bills. You can go to the legislature’s website to sign up for updates on any bills you want to follow, to learn who your legislators are, or to get the contact information for your legislators.

In addition, both the House information office (651-296-2146) and Senate information office (651-296-0504) are very helpful, both with furnishing information and helping you find things on the website.

--Jeanne LeFevre and Kathy Tomsich, Action Committee Co-Chairs


ELECTION LAW

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, Public Policy Coordinator

Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Bills are pending in both the Senate and House to put a question on the ballot in the November 2012 election, asking whether the state constitution should be amended to require that (1) all voters present an approved form of photographic identification prior to voting and (2) all voters be subject to identical eligibility verification standards regardless of the time of their registration. The bills are HF 1597, authored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) and SF 1577 authored by Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson). HF 1597 had a hearing and was passed by one committee last session.

The Senate Local Government and Elections Committee held a hearing last week on the Senate bill.  Numerous citizens and spokespeople from a variety of organizations testified against the bill. They included citizens from the disabled community, students, the AARP, veterans, organizations that serve the homeless or those living in poverty, election integrity experts, and LWV Minnesota. These testifiers explained the barriers and difficulties that many citizens would face in trying to obtain a government-issued photo ID bearing their current address.

Gwen Myers, volunteer lobbyist for LWV Minnesota, testified that the history of our country is one of expanding voting rights to include all citizens, regardless of race, gender, or ownership of private property. Requiring a photo ID would be a step backwards. Whatever the intentions of the authors, the photo ID requirement would create barriers to voting for approximately 11% of the population because they do not have the designated form of photo ID.

Sherri Knuth, Public Policy Coordinator for LWV Minnesota, testified that Minnesota should learn from the experiences of other states that have passed voter photo-ID requirements. Some citizens in those states have encountered real barriers in obtaining government-issued photo IDs, belying the claims of photo-ID proponents that requiring a photo ID is an insignificant burden.

Beth Fraser from the Secretary of State’s Office testified and released an analysis[i] of how many registered voters in Minnesota do not have the type of photo ID required under the terms of legislation advanced last year and therefore would need to get a valid ID. Approximately 215,000 registered voters in Minnesota are in this group.

Fraser also testified that the language subjecting all voters to “identical eligibility verification standards regardless of the time of their registration” threatens to eliminate Election Day Registration and Absentee Ballot voting. Senator Newman introduced an amendment[ii] to the bill to provide leeway—“all voters must be subject to identical eligibility verification standards, as far as practicable…”, but the Secretary of State’s office remains concerned that the language could be interpreted in future legislative or judicial proceedings to eliminate same-day registration and Absentee Ballots.  

Election Integrity Task Force

When Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) vetoed last year’s election bill, he also established a Task Force on Election Integrity. The task force has issued a preliminary report and plans to continue working to eliminate the only eligibility issue in Minnesota elections, that of felons voting before they have completed their sentences.

[i] See “OSS Estimates of Registered Voters Lacking Valid or Current ID,” available on this webpage.

[ii] At the time this report is being written, the amendment to SF 1577 has not been posted on the Senate’s website. 

 

STATE GOVERNMENT FINANCE

LWVMN 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)

 

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, volunteer  lobbyist

 Budgeting by Constitutional Amendment: A Bad Idea

 

Bills are now pending in the legislature to use Minnesota’s constitution as a vehicle for restricting state budgeting.  If any of these bills are approved by both houses of the legislature, voters will decide in November whether to amend the constitution to include these new, severe limits on the legislature’s ability to budget.1       

The budgeting bills are:

HF 1598
SF 1384

Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa)
Sen. Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park)

Requiring a 3/5 supermajority vote in each house to increase taxes

HF 1661
SF 1378

Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska)
Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen)

Limiting general fund spending in a biennium to 98% of forecasted revenues

HF 1612
SF 1364

Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina)
Sen. Julianne Ortman (R –Chanhassen)

Limiting all spending in a biennium to the amount of revenue collected in the previous biennium

       

LWVMN supports preserving the ability of a simple majority of legislators to determine the overall size of the general fund budget and manage available resources.  LWVMN opposes all of these bills, because:

    1. The bills will frustrate our state’s future investment in core areas like schools, higher education, public safety, public health, and infrastructure.
    2. They will tie the hands of our elected officials who are trying to deal with changing demographic, social and economic needs.
    3. Experience from other states (such as California) shows that these across-the-board budget restrictions just result in legislative gridlock and inability to agree on good budget solutions. 
    4. A small minority of lawmakers could wield outsized control over state finances by holding out for measures they favor but the majority does not support.
    5. The amendments will likely have the unintended consequence of actually putting the state in worse financial shape in the long run.

 

Passage of these constitutional amendments would place artificial limits on the revenue available, with the result that our legislators will be tempted to use more one-time gimmicks to make a biennial budget appear better than it really is. These kinds of budget tricks already occur at the legislature. Minnesota’s current general fund budget was balanced with $3 billion of one-time solutions, such as shifting money owed to k-12 schools into the indefinite future and covering the state’s ongoing expenses temporarily with one-time tobacco bonds.  

If budget restrictions were written into the constitution, legislators will be sorely tempted to create more short-term ways to patch up budget problems. This will only leave Minnesota financially weaker in the long-term. 

With the exception of HF1598, none of the bills has been considered in committee yet.  Stay tuned to the Capitol Letter™ every two weeks for more developments!             

(1) This report is based in part on materials prepared by the Minnesota Budget Project, an initiative of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.  See their excellent information on proposed constitutional amendments. 

 

 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.


MN Constitution: Article XIII Section 1. UNIFORM SYSTEM OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.


Lonni Skrentner, volunteer lobbyist 

Very little that is truly about education funding has taken place in the first week-and-a-half of the legislative session. That is not unusual because this is not a major budget session.

A noteworthy event for those of us who value public education was the announcement by Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) that she will not seek re-election in the fall of 2012.  Rep. Greiling has been a passionate advocate in pursuit of a “New Minnesota Miracle” to replace our broken funding formula; many in the education community will miss her.

HF 1770 and SF 1493, authored by Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R-Woodbury) and Sen. Ted Daley (R-Eagan), would require teachers who enter approved teacher preparation programs to pass a basic skills exam, including college level math. Although the governor vetoed a similar bill last session, the authors believe that they have addressed the governor’s concerns. The bills stirred lengthy debates, leading to amendments in the House Education Reform Committee and the Senate Education Committee to allow teacher candidates to enter a program without taking the test but require them to pass the basic skills exam before receiving their teaching license. The bills have been sent to the floor in each legislative body. 

HF1858, a bill which would require operating referenda to be conducted at the general election in even-numbered years, was introduced by Rep. Duane Quam (R-Byron). The bill was referred to the Education Finance Committee.

Equalization of funding is an issue with many of the organizations that follow education. The question has been whether the education committees hold the power to start the discussion or whether the tax committees do.  The Senate Committee on Taxes invited Eric Nauman, a fiscal analyst from the Senate Education Committee to the committee, and observers said that once he got to the issue of equalization, members really sat up and took notice. The committee members agreed that the Tax Committee has jurisdiction to address the equalization issue but the committee ran out of time to address the issue. They will schedule another date for Nauman to return so the committee can continue this very important conversation.

The tempo will certainly pick up after precinct caucuses.

 

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

Poll Results on the Environment

Once again, polling results1 demonstrate that Minnesotans across the political spectrum care about our clean water and clean air, our wetlands, prairies and forests.

    • 79% believe we can have a clean environment and a strong economy; we do not have to make a choice.
    • 86% range between believing that we need tougher environmental laws and that the laws and enforcement are about right; 12% believe these laws are too tough.
    • 79% believe rollbacks of environmental laws would be a concern, with 39% expressing great concern.

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) has sponsored this poll for a number of years and the results continue to validate the results of the vote on the Minnesota Water, Air, Heritage and Legacy Amendment, which passed in 2008.

Environmental Review and Permitting

In spite of clear public support for a clean environment, the disheartening trend seen last session of allowing special exemptions from our environmental laws for special interests continues. The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee met on Jan. 31 to consider SF1567, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), which became, after amendment, a “bill for an act relating to environment; providing for permitting efficiency; modifying environmental review requirements; eliminating conservation rate structure requirement; modifying terms for certain permits….”

SF1567 is considered the State Chamber of Commerce’s bill and the State Chamber’s lobbyist, Anthony Kwilas, helped Sen. Ingebrigtsen explain the bill to the committee. The interests of big business are clear in the proposal, allowing, as it does, a business to write its own lengthy and technical permit application, as explained below.

The permit process is designed to control and reduce the pollution of our environment, e.g., the particulate matter that contributes to asthma, the mercury that contaminates our fish, and the chemicals that are being dumped into our rivers.

SF1567 chisels away at this process in a number of ways, but Gwen Myers, LWV Minnesota, testified specifically against the provision that would allow the permit applicant to select a “permit application professional” of his or her choice, rather than relying on Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) professionals, to prepare and review the permit application. Furthermore, the permit application submitted by this “permit application professional” would be “deemed complete and approved,” giving the MPCA just 30 days to review a technical and lengthy document.

This is a stark case of a conflict of interest. The permit application professional will be under pressure to serve the interests of his employer, the permit applicant, not the interests of the citizens of Minnesota. Last year, we allowed the fox to guard the hen house by allowing corporate special interests to write their own environmental studies.Now we want the fox to be in charge of our chicken coop’s security system. Permit professionals should be employed by the people of Minnesota, not an entity with a stake in the outcome.

Sen. Ken Kelash (DFL-Minneapolis) and Sen. Linda Higgins (DFL-Minneapolis) raised several issues with the author, and Ms. Myers urged the committee to allow efforts currently underway to unfold before further “streamlining legislation” is considered.

The bill passed as amended, however, and was sent to the Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth.

1From a statewide telephone of 500 registered Minnesota voters, conducted Jan. 9-11, 2012, for MEP by the bipartisan research team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and Public Opinion Strategies. The margin of error for the full statewide samples is 4.4 percentage points, plus or minus; margins of error for subgroups within the sample will be larger.

2 See Capitol Letter, “Environment,” Feb. 2, 2011

 

 

FIREARMS

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. (1990, 1994, 1998)


LWVMN Position: Support restrictions on the sale, possession and use of firearms by private parties in the state of Minnesota. (1990)

 

Mary Lewis Grow, volunteer lobbyist

Many firearms-related bills have already been introduced or carried over from last session.  This summary includes only the most controversial and/or those with the largest potential consequences:

LWV Minnesota supports HF 547, a bill that would close the “gun show loophole” by requiring background checks at gun shows by unlicensed sellers as well as licensed dealers. HF 547 is authored by Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul).

LWV Minnesota does not support several bills which would make firearms more accessible.

Two versions of a “Right to Bear Arms” Minnesota constitutional amendment have been introduced. HF 430, authored by Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick (R-Deer River), and HF 131, authored by Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R- Cedar), would be far more sweeping than the current U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment.  The court’s recent rulings allow for regulation of firearms but not the outright prohibition of ownership. By calling gun ownership a “fundamental” right with no exception for felons, domestic abusers, or the dangerously mentally ill, either bill could pave the way for expensive legal challenges to Minnesota gun laws, both present and future.

HF 161, introduced last year by Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa), would eliminate Minnesota’s state system of background checks. The bill did not advance after being referred to the Public Safety and Crime Prevention and Finance Committee in 2011. This year, proponents are expected to continue to push the bill.

HF 1816, authored by Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester), would legalize the sale of silencers to DNR agents and law enforcement, raising concerns of wider availability of silencers.

“Shoot First” and ask questions later is how opponents have characterized HF 1467, introduced last session by Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder). The bill would legalize the shooting of another person, anywhere, as a first rather than last resort if the shooter “feels threatened.” The bill also creates the presumption that a homeowner’s killing of any trespasser, even a non-threatening and unarmed one, would be legally justified.

HF 1467 also would allow any person who has a permit to carry from another state to carry a loaded gun in public in Minnesota, even if the permit originated in a state which has few or no requirements for training or background checks. HF 1467 passed last year in the House but did not advance in the Senate.

HF 1717, sponsored by Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), would place a gag order on health care providers by making it illegal to inquire of patients whether firearms in the home pose a threat or are stored safely.

It is worth noting that the National Rifle Association (NRA) exerts a strong influence on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). See Legislating under the Influence, Common Cause Minnesota, p. 26. In addition, the report (p. 14) indicates that a number of current Minnesota legislators are active in at least one of ALEC’s task forces. 

 

IMMIGRATION 

LWVUS Position:  A basic level of quality health care at an affordable cost should be available to all US residents.


LWVMN Position:  Support access to comprehensive pre-natal and child health care. (1987)


Judy Stuthman, volunteer lobbyist

 HF 1888 and SF 1672, authored by Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Minneapolis), and Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis), have been introduced.  These bills will attempt to rectify “unintended consequences” resulting from last summer’s budget agreement, as reported in a recent Star Tribune article. 

As reported in the article, on November 29, 2011, letters were mailed to 2,300 Minnesota residents, who were not U.S. citizens, informing them they would no longer receive most health care services provided by state-subsidized Medical Assistance and Minnesota Care as of Jan. 1, 2012.  This was later extended one week.  They would still receive emergency care at a hospital (a very expensive alternative) but would no longer be eligible for chemotherapy, dialysis or over 20 other services.  Pre-natal care, labor and delivery were on the list but coverage for these has been restored. 


 

METROPOLITAN ISSUES

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….

 

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, volunteer lobbyist

Governor Dayton’s Bonding Proposal  Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) released his $775 million capital investment proposal prior to the opening of the legislative session.  Gov. Dayton pointed out in support of his proposal that interest rates are low and the need for capital investments is high, and spending money on these investments would create 21,700 jobs. Session Daily, Jan. 17, 2012. As of the date this report was written, the governor’s proposal had not yet been formally introduced in the legislature.

Speaker Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) countered that the proposal puts local spending projects on par with core infrastructure and is therefore unwise and ill-advised. Session Daily, Jan. 17, 2012. Rep. Zellers’ preferred approach is to improve the business climate by streamlining burdensome regulations and reducing the impact of government on Minnesotans.  Session Weekly, Feb. 3, 2012.

According to an analysis of the governor’s investment areas published in the Session Daily, 36 percent of the funding would be for projects in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area.  Among those projects are:

    • $25 million toward construction of the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Transit Line;
    • $25 million to renovate Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis;
    • $78 million for the University of Minnesota, including $54 million to renovate a steam plant facility on the Minneapolis campus to  a multi-utility power plant to serve the campus and reduce its carbon footprint by10 percent; and
    • $27 million to construct a new 7500 seat stadium in St. Paul to house the St. Paul Saints and to be used for amateur sports.

My hope is that the legislature and governor take a long view on maintaining the quality of life and the economic engine that are reflected in our state’s metropolitan area and come together to support these essential projects.

 

REPRODUCTIVE CHOICE

LWVUS position:   Protect the constitutional right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices. (1983)

 

Catherine Menick, volunteer lobbyist

Two bills introduced in the legislature place undue restrictions on facilities that perform abortions. HF 1841, authored by Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Lake Elmo), follows on the heels of similar efforts in other states  such as Pennsylvania, Kansas, and South Dakota, and is known colloquially as a TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) law.

The effect of TRAP legislation is to impose stringent rules that will cost so much to uphold that facilities providing safe and legal abortions will be forced to shut down due to lack of funds.  An example of such a rule is that all exits of a clinic be modified to be wide enough for a gurney to pass through. Some states have gone so far as to mandate square footage minimums for facilities that provide abortion services.HF 1841 imposes financial penalties for failure to follow its requirements. 

Several things about this legislation warrant concern: (1) Minnesota has already passed similar laws along with 44 other states, and this extremely restrictive legislation is unnecessary; (2) the legislation stipulates minute licensure requirements that are NOT required for any other medical setting for any comparable procedures; and (3) the bill pushes the responsibility for determining compliance thresholds  to a future commissioner of health.

The expensive requirements and penalties outlined in HF 1841 would indirectly defund clinics that provide abortions, despite the myriad other vital health services available in those clinics. Many of the clinics which would be affected serve low-income women who would otherwise not have access to basic health care.

LWV Minnesota stands in opposition to this legislation. HF1841 was referred to the Health and Human Services Reform Committee. There is no Senate companion.

Companion bills HF 1929 and SF 1540, authored by Rep. Mike LeMieur (R-Little Falls) and Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Brainerd), use another ‘backdoor’ method to restrict the opportunity for abortions to be performed. It requires that all abortions performed after the first trimester occur only in hospitals. It includes an extremely restrictive provision: only a physician can perform any type of abortion procedure and must be physically present in the room when the procedure occurs.  Since abortion procedures require at least two or more appointments, this puts a heavy burden on physicians whose schedules are already quite tight due to chronic underfunding.

LWV Minnesota is opposed to HF 1929. HF 1929 was referred to the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee. SF 1540 was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee.

 

Copyright 2014 League of Women Voters Minnesota (LWV Minnesota)