March 21, 2012

Vol.XXXIX No. 4          

Print Capitol Letter

Table of Contents

Moving Bills Forward

Election Law

State Government Finance

Education

Environment

Firearms

Housing

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.

 

MOVING BILLS FORWARD IN THE 2012 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Catherine Menick, Action Committee Member

Every year the House and Senate set deadlines to help structure the process of getting bills through the legislature to the governor.  Committee deadlines allow legislators and lobbyists to plan the session and complete their work on time.  The legislature must adjourn on May 21, 2012. The goal of the Speaker of the House is for the legislature to adjourn by April 30, 2012.

The legislature establishes deadlines for committee action on bills, though there is no yearly deadline for the introduction of bills.  The legislature establishes these by concurrent resolution each regular session.  These are deadlines by which a bill must have been acted upon if it is to remain alive.

By the first deadline, March 16, 2012 this year, a bill must have had cleared policy committees in its house of origin or it was dead.

By the second deadline, March 23, 2012, all relevant policy committees must act favorably on bills, or companions of bills, that met the first deadline in the other house.

The deadlines do not apply to the House Committees on Capital Investment, Ways and Means, Taxes, or Rules and Legislative Administration, nor to the Senate Committees on Capital Investment, Finance, Taxes, or Rules and Administration.

March 30. 2012 is the third deadline this year, the date by which finance divisions have to act favorably on omnibus appropriations bills and send them to the full Finance Committee in each house.

When a committee in either house acts favorably on a bill after a deadline, the bill must be referred in the Senate to the Committee on Rules and Administration or in the House to the Committee on Rules and Legislative Administration for disposition.  Either rules committee, when reporting a bill referred to the committee after deadline, may waive application of the rules to subsequent actions on that bill by other committees.

Thanks to the Minnesota Legislature's Website for this information

 

 

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 Manager

As of this writing on March 21, the bill for a constitutional amendment for voter photo-ID and voter verification passed the House early this morning, and the Senate companion is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. The bills are HF 2738, authored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), and SF 1577, authored by Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson). (See the last three Capitol Letters™ for more detailed information on these bills.)

The debate on the House floor was long and contentious, ranging from the need for such a change in Minnesota election procedures, the meaning of the language in the amendment, suggested alternative language, and the advisability of making changes in election law via a constitutional amendment.

Rep. Steve Simon (D-St. Louis Park) criticized making voting procedures part of the constitution rather than handling them in statutes which can be more easily amended by the legislature as the need arises. "Amending the constitution should only be done when absolutely necessary to accomplish a goal…," Rep. Simon said.

As described in previous issues of the Capitol Letter™, LWV continues to oppose the bill for the amendment. As written, the language raises significant concerns about the continued viability of Election Day Registration and the impact on absentee and mail-in balloting, and it does not delineate what types of photo IDs will be permitted. It will be up to the next legislature to pass implementing legislation.

The final vote in the House was 72-62 on party lines. SF 1577 will likely reach the Senate floor this week.

Additional note: Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) has introduced HF 2937, a bill that would incorporate photos of voters in electronic or paper rosters as an alternative to requiring each voter to bring a photo ID to the polls. She also introduced it as an amendment during the House floor debate. The bill follows a proposal by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie for such a system, discussed in the Feb. 24 issue of the Capitol Letter™.

 

 

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                            

Governor Unveils His  Supplemental Budget

On March 12, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) presented his proposed supplemental general fund  budget. Since thankfully no deficit is forecast for the current 2012-13 biennium (in fact there is a projected $323 million surplus),  the governor is using the supplemental budget to advance his priorities, including jobs programs and restoring some cuts to Health and Human Services.    

The supplemental budget balances all by itself for FY2012-13 and does not dip into budget reserves. It proposes $44 million in additional spending and $44 million in additional revenue.

The main spending proposals are in the areas of job promotion and Health and Human Services.  With respect to job promotion, the governor proposes:

  • A new Jobs Now Tax Credit for businesses hiring veterans, recent graduates, or unemployed Minnesotans (spending: $35 million in 2014-15).
  • A one-time appropriation to the state’s Minnesota Investment Fund, which makes financing to businesses available through local governments (spending: $10 million in 2013).    
  • Increasing annual funding for the FastTRAC program, which offers education and career training (spending: $2 million/year in FY2013-2015).

With respect to Health and Human Services, the governor proposes:

  • Reverse a 20% cut in pay to personal care attendants (PCAs) who care for disabled family members. A state court order has kept this reduction from taking  effect. (spending: $6 million in 2013; $33 million in 2014-15).
  • Restore dialysis and chemotherapy  treatment to the Emergency Medical Assistance fund, which covers eligible non-citizens who do not qualify for medical assistance (spending: $4 million in 2013; $10 million in 2014-15).        

The main revenue proposals are:

  • Tax a greater percentage of a company’s foreign income (additional corporate income tax revenue: $40 million in 2013;  $110 million in 2014-15).
  • Require some online businesses to collect Minnesota sales tax, just as bricks-and-mortar businesses do  (additional sales tax revenue: $3.7 million in 2013; $10 million in 2014-15).

Two bills have been introduced that include the governor’s proposed corporate income tax changes.  SF 2479 authored by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) is set for an informational hearing before the Senate Taxes Committee on March 20. Its companion, HF 2886, authored by  Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), was referred to the House Taxes Committee.

(Some information for this section of the report comes from Minnesota Budget Bites and Session Daily Mar. 12, 2012.)

Proposal to Repay Part of School Shift  Using Reserves

On March 15, the House voted to pass HF 2083, authored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington).  One provision of the bill would move $430 million from the budget reserve to the general fund and use those reserves to reduce the $2.4 billion that the state owes to the K-12 public schools.  The bill was sent to the Senate where it was referred to the Education Committee.

Republicans consider it prudent financial management to use some of the budget reserve to  make a payment to the school districts.  Democrats  say the state should hold onto the reserve funds in case of future need for them and to reduce the need for borrowing money.  Currently there is $653 million in the budget reserve and $350 million in the cash flow account, for a total $1 billion in reserves. With a $33 billion budget, this is only about a 3% cushion.

The FY 2014-15 budget is already forecast to run a $1.1 billion deficit, which would use up the entire reserve if no cuts were made. Instead of spending reserves, Democrats propose to repay the schools with a tax increase on corporate overseas accounts. Republicans oppose the tax increase as damaging to the economy.

(Some information for this section of the report comes from Session Daily March 15, 2012.)

 

  

EDUCATION

LWVMN PositionAll 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

A number of bills pending in the legislature affect education funding and policy.

Most everyone accepts that the School Trust Fund Lands could produce more income for public schools.  However, the present legislative proposal is not supported by LWV Minnesota for several reasons.  HF 2244, authored by Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell), and SF 1889, authored by Sen. Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park), would put the management of the school trust lands into the hands of a new commission.  Instead of streamlining, the bill establishes a whole new bureaucracy.  It calls for a board controlled by the legislature, which will appoint a “director of trust lands and mineral assets” (no qualifications required, no confirmation required). This board and director are to contract with whatever entity they desire for land management purposes. This could include a private corporation or another unknown entity. We already have a state agency, the Department of Natural Resources, staffed by professionals, scientists and others, who work for the people of Minnesota and whose job it is to manage our state lands.  Many in the education community have supported these bills while not considering the possible environmental ramifications.

The House Ways and Means Committee approved HF 2083, an omnibus education finance bill sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington). The most contentious portion of the bill involves the education funds withheld by the state government and used to balance its budget. The bill would draw from the $1 billion the state is projected to have in reserve to partially pay back the schools.  Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Showalter, who was previously Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s Budget Director, testified against the use of the reserve money in this fashion; the state must get back on firm financial footing before paying back the shift.

Other legislators agree that money must go back to the schools, but had different ideas on where it should come from. Rep. Lyndon Carlson (DFL-Crystal) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have closed a number of corporate tax loopholes to create a permanent stream of revenue that would pay off the entire shift. The amendment failed 16-9.

Approved on a voice vote, HF 2083 now goes to the House floor. It has no Senate companion. According to an article in the Pioneer Press, “It's unclear whether the bill will have any traction in the Senate. Republican leaders there declined to say whether they support the idea and no hearings have been scheduled.”

Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) and Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) have introduced HF 1847/ SF 1656, bills that would require the education commissioner to receive legislative approval to adopt new academic standard rules. The bill would allow the commissioner to continue to review and revise school standards and benchmarks, but would alter rulemaking by requiring specific legislation to authorize those revisions as official rules. Rep. Erickson explained that the bill would create a necessary conversation about how rules are created and effect schools on a daily basis. The bill passed the Education Reform Committee and has been sent to the House floor. The Senate passed it 39-26 on March 1. Commentary: As a retired educator who was an active participant in the legislative fight over the social studies standards, this sounds like a recipe for gridlock and disaster.

The controversial so-called “last in, first out” bill, HF 1870 authored by Rep. Branden Petersen (R-Andover) and its Senate companion SF1690, authored by Sen. Pam Wolf (R-Spring Lake Park), was discussed in the previous Capitol Letter. It passed both chambers and is headed to a Conference Committee meeting on Monday March 19th.  MN 2020 summarized the argument against the new bills well, in my estimation, writing “Governor Dayton is going to have a big decision to make soon. The state Senate and House of Representatives have each passed bills replacing seniority with a teacher evaluation system as the initial determinant of teacher layoffs. Here's the thing: that system doesn't exist yet.

It's being developed by a task force working under the Minnesota Department of Education. We're still a long way from having this system drafted, much less refined to the point of being workable. The bottom line is that the system won't go statewide until the 2014-15 school year, with plans for improvements and revisions after that. It seems to me that we have more pressing matters in our schools than specifying the uses of a system that's five years from completion.”

 If you have strong feelings about HF 1870, you can communicate with the conferees: Rep. Petersen, Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina), Rep. Erickson, Rep. Kelby Woodward (R-Belle Plaine), Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul),  Sen. Wolf,  Sen. Theodore Daley (R-Eagan), Sen. Kruse, Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) and Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka).

On the miscellaneous front, there is a bill that expands Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), the program that allows students to use state funding to gain both high school and college credit simultaneously. SF 1531, authored by Sen. Gen Olson (R–Minnetrista), passed two committees and is headed to a hearing in the Higher Education Committee. The House companion, HF 2025 authored by Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), has moved to the Government Operations and Elections Committee. As introduced, the bill would expand the program to ninth and tenth graders; however, ninth graders were removed from the bill as it was passed on. Commentary: The idea that anyone except a very gifted ninth or tenth grader is ready for college work seems rather farfetched.

 Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) sponsored HF2580, which would empower parents in chronically low-performing districts to petition their school boards for reform. A majority of parents would agree on one of four intervention models proposed in the bill, such as school restart and closure, which the board would be required to implement. The Education Reform Committee approved the bill and sent it to the Education Finance Committee. It has no Senate companion.

 

 

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

School Trust Lands

Moving smartly through both houses of the Legislature are bills dramatically changing the management of the “School Trust Lands.” The bills are HF 2244 and SF 1889 sponsored by Rep. Tim O-Driscoll (R-Sartell) and Sen.Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park).

School trust lands are lands the state has acquired since 1858 from the federal government for the support of schools, and today they make up more than half of our entire state forest land. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has managed these lands from the beginning and their reporting in the past has not been as clear as it should have been. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr recently issued an Operational Order outlining an effective operation sufficiently transparent for the Legislature and MN citizens to monitor.

LWV Minnesota submitted a statement in opposition to SF1889 to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on March 15. We oppose the bill for several reasons. First, it calls for a board, controlled by the legislature, that will appoint a “director of trust lands and mineral assets,” with no qualifications specified and no confirmation required. This director and board may contract with whatever entity they desire to manage 2.5 million acres of forest, lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. There is no guarantee these acres will not be stripped to provide maximum financial return for the school trust fund.

Second, the trust beneficiaries are not the only ones impacted by this bill. These lands are in the watersheds of Lake Superior, the BWCAW and the Mississippi River. Water quality in these watersheds affects the entire population of Minnesota, as does the health of the fauna in this huge area. Care for our waters and wildlife is a public trust for the entire state.

Finally, the legislation gives the Legislature complete control over this new bureaucracy. Politics will play a leading role in the management of this valuable land. Professionals with a responsibility to the people of Minnesota – the DNR – could be completely removed from the equation.

Assault on the Environment at the Capitol continues

Many of the dreadful bills weakening environmental protections are being gathered into SF 1830 and HF 2164, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) and Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings). HF 2164 began with fewer than 20 pages and consisted primarily of provisions requested by the DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. It is now almost 75 pages long and has absorbed some terrible bills.

It includes SF 2004/HF 2434, sponsored by Sen. Gretchen Hoffman (R-Vergas) and Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls), that facilitate the sale of Minnesota water across our borders, and SF 2042/HF 2393 sponsored by Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) and Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick (R-Deer River), that violate the Wetland Conservation Act, allowing for more of our wetlands to be destroyed, as described in the March 8th issue of the Capitol Letter™. It also contains SF 1857/HF 2207, sponsored by Sen. John Carlson (R-Bemidji) and Rep. Carol McFarlane (R-White Bear Lake), which would expedite land exchanges between the BWCAW and the state, allowing the state to gain access to school trust lands within the BWCAW, but in many cases stripping federal protections from large areas of Superior National Forest

It is impossible for this reporter to follow the myriad of bills designed to impede the protection of our environment. Environmental lobbyists are following about 60 bills which are moving, somewhere, in the legislative process. A number of these bills are designed to reduce the power of the executive agencies and, as such, may face a veto from Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) as he protects the power of the Executive Branch of our state government.

 

 

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

Governor Dayton vetoed the “Shoot First” bill, HF 1467/SF 1357, authored by Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder) and Sen. Gretchen Hoffman (R- Vergas), and it appears that there will not be an effort to override the veto since there aren’t sufficient votes to do so.

Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder) has introduced HF 2121, a proposed “Right to Bear Arms With No Limits” constitutional amendment. There has not yet been a hearing on the bill in the House, but Rep. Cornish, chair of the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee, could schedule his own bill for a hearing at any time. While the official deadline to get a bill through the first policy committee was March 16, it is still possible for this bill to find its way to the floor as an amendment.

No Senate companion bill has been introduced but we will need to remain vigilant. While many possible amendments have been introduced, it is not known how many will make their way to the ballot, or how those decisions are being made.

 

 

HOUSING

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, volunteer lobbyist

Renters’ Credit Again in Jeopardy

Dramatic cuts to the Renters’ Credit have been amended into the House omnibus tax bill (HF 2337), which passed in the Taxes Committee this week, and was re-referred to the Ways and Means Committee. This bill also includes a reduction in the statewide property tax paid by businesses and cabins, as well as increases in a few business tax credits, paid for in part by the reduction of the Renters’ Credit. 

The Renters’ Credit refunds a portion of the property taxes that more than 281,000 low- and moderate-income Minnesota households pay through their rents.  The bill proposes a substantial restructuring of the Renters’ Credit, similar to what was passed by the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Governor Dayton. Some of the proposed changes impact all renters:

  • The share of rent that is considered the renter’s share of property taxes is the starting point for calculating the Renters’ Credit. The bill cuts it from 17 percent to 15 percent.
  • The value of the Renters’ Credit would be eroded over time, because the income ceiling and refund schedule would no longer be indexed for inflation.

In addition, the bill would create two very different property tax refund schedules – one for households that include seniors and people with severe disabilities, and one for all other kinds of households.

For households that include seniors and people with disabilities:

  • The maximum income for eligible families is reduced from $53,539 to $40,000.
  • The maximum refund amount is cut for households with incomes between $26,010 and $40,000.
  • The average credit for these households is cut by $103, and 4,100 households will lose their entire credit.

For all other households:

  • The maximum income for eligible families is cut to $25,000.
  • The maximum refund amount is cut from $1,550 to $1,000.
  • Refund amounts are reduced across all income ranges.
  • The average credit is cut by $256 for these households, and 62,100 will lose their entire credit.

These changes would cut property tax refunds this year by $67 million, and are in addition to the $26 million cut that was passed in the 2011 budget.

 

 

REPRODUCTIVE CHOICE

LWVUS position on reproductive choice:   LWVUS believes that public policy in a pluralistic society must affirm the constitutional right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices (1983).

Catherine Menick, volunteer lobbyist

The number of bills to restrict the right of Minnesotan women to make their own reproductive choices is increasing rapidly. There are now sixteen bills regarding the abortion procedure in various stages of the legislative process. Many remain in the committees to which they were first referred. However, two stand out as particularly damaging.

HF 2340, known as a TRAP law (cf. the February 9, 2012 Capitol Letter™), has passed the Health and Human Services Reform Committee and moved to the Government Operations and Elections Committee. The bill, authored by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville), is designed specifically to constrain the budgets of abortion providers so much that they have to shut down their facilities. These financial constraints are brought on by mandating strict and exorbitant licensure requirements, such as keeping doorways a particular width and requiring a minimum square footage to store medical records. The Senate companion bill, SF 1921, authored by Sen. Claire Robling (R- Jordan), is flying through the process, moving from the State Innovations and Veterans Committee to the Finance Committee in twenty-four hours. The bill is expected to reach the Governor and to be vetoed at that point.

The recently introduced HF 2676, authored by Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker), would provide state funding to organizations with “alternative-to-abortion” programs. Many organizations with such programs are known as Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). Undercover volunteers from NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota recently went to several area CPCs and found some staffers’ talking points to be questionable, as reported by the Star Tribune. Many CPCs are strictly anti-abortion and seek to dissuade a client from obtaining an abortion using misinformation, rather than informing a client about her full-range of options in a safe, medical context.

HF 2676, in conjunction with HF 2340, effectively shifts assistance in reproductive matters from medical professionals to non-medically trained volunteers whose primary goal is to eliminate abortion as a choice. Together, the two bills achieve this by constricting funding for organizations that include abortion as an option and increasing funding for organizations like crisis pregnancy centers. HF 2676 is currently in the Health and Human Services Finance Committee and its companion, SF 2330 authored by Sen. John Carlson (R-Bemidji), is in the Health and Human Services Committee.

Both pieces of legislation have bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The League of Women Voters Minnesota opposes both of these bills.

Copyright 2013 League of Women Voters Minnesota (LWV Minnesota)