April 5, 2012

Vol.XXXIX No. 5        

Print Capitol Letter

Table of Contents

ElectionLaw

State Government Finance

Education

Environment

Housing

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.

 

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

On April 2, 2012, the conference committee report on HF 2738, authored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) and SF 1577, authored by Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), was finalized. The conference report on the bill is headed to the House and Senate floors where it is expected to be passed this week.

The bill asks voters to approve significant changes in Minnesota’s election system via a constitutional amendment, but the extent of the changes is not evident from the language that will appear on the ballot in November: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?” Sounds simple, but read on….

After the last issue of the Capitol Letter™, SF 1577 went to the Senate floor where Sen. John Howe (R-Red Wing) successfully offered an amendment to allow “photographic or equivalent identification” (emphasis added). The purpose of this change was to allow for technological advances in methods of identification.

The amendment did not survive the conference committee; the report proposes modifying Article VII, Sec. 1 of the state Constitution to read, “All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot.” If a voter is unable to present such an ID, he or she would be permitted to “submit a provisional ballot,” which would be counted only if the voter “certifies” it “in the manner provided by law.”

The meaning of another sentence in the bill adopted by the conference committee was hotly debated at the committee hearing: “All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted” (emphasis added). Sen. Newman stated that the purpose was to eliminate vouching.

However, Beth Fraser of the Secretary of State’s office stated that the language could eliminate Election Day registration, absentee voting and mail-in balloting. These methods are used by almost one million Minnesota voters during a presidential election. With respect to Election Day registrants, Ms. Fraser said, it is simply not possible to verify their registrations in the polling place against all of the databases that are used to check new voter registrations. 

Concerns about the meaning of “substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification” are warranted, in LWV Minnesota’s view. This language, as Ms. Fraser testified, has not been used in any other photo-ID law in the nation, and it is not clear how it would be interpreted by future legislatures or courts.

Sherri Knuth testified on behalf of LWV Minnesota at the conference committee hearing. She stated that other states that have required voter identification have created exceptions for some categories of voters who have more difficulty obtaining IDs, such as the elderly in care facilities. She also urged the committee to delay implementation of the amendment, if it were to pass, to November 2014, rather than 2013, thus allowing time for voter education and for voters to obtain the necessary identification.

LWV Minnesota is adamantly opposed to this proposed amendment, as has been clear in Capitol Letter™ reports and our educational efforts to help members and the public understand the implications. Whatever the intentions of the authors of the proposal and of the legislators who support it, the consequences will create barriers to voting for some very specific groups of people, including the elderly, disabled, and poor, who are less likely to have the permitted government-issues photo IDs and do not have reasonable expectation of getting such a document.  

 

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

Hashing Out A Bonding Bill

The House and Senate are developing different versions of an omnibus capital investment, a.k.a bonding,  bill.  The House bill is HF 2622, sponsored by  Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker). The Senate bill, SF 2577, is authored by Senate Majority Leader David Senjem (R-Rochester). Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) presented his own capital investment proposal in January.

The governor’s bonding bill is an integral part of his jobs program. He believes that  bonding will create thousands of  jobs, especially in construction. Even assuming this happens, those jobs may only become available over a period of years. On the other hand, Republicans say that the private sector will add the needed jobs if the state’s tax and regulatory climate is favorable to business. Even so, the real issue with bonding this session is not whether to do it, but how much to spend.

Here are the general fund bond proposals so far:           

Governor:                    $761 million

Senate (SF 2577):    $496 million

House (HF 2622):    $280 million

When looking at these numbers, keep in mind:

(1) The House proposal looks small next to the proposals by the Senate and the Governor.  However, a separate house bill seeks $221 million in bonding to repair and restore the State Capitol. (HF 2754, sponsored by Rep. Howes).  So the total House bonding proposal is $501 million, which is comparable to the Senate’s $496 million.  The Senate proposes  just $25 million for State Capitol exterior work, so the Senate devotes more money than the House to projects besides the Capitol.

(2) A bonding bill this session will be in addition to  the $497 million bonding legislation that passed last July, which was a factor in resolving the state government shutdown.  It is not customary for the legislature  to pass large capital investment bills two years in a row, as may happen here in 2011 and 2012.                                                          

Here are examples of the differences in the Governor, Senate, and House proposals:

 

2012 BONDING PROPOSALS  (numbers in millions of $)1

 

AGENCY

GOVERNOR
3/6/12

SENATE
SF 2577, 3/29/12

HOUSE
HF 2622, 3/22/12

 U of MN

78

39

39

 MNSCU

112

127

56

 VA

30

30

3

 Flood hazard mitigation

20

30

4

 Pollution Control Agency

18

5

2

 SW Corridor Light Rail Transit

25

0

0

 Nicollet Mall/Sculpture Garden Impr

34

0

0

 St. Paul Saints new ballpark

27

0

0

 St. Paul Children’s Museum

0

0

12

 Rochester Convention Center

35

32

0

 MN State Hosp. St. Peter

40

0

0

 St. Cloud Men’s Prison

30

0

0

 Mankato Civic Center

15

.25

0

 St. Cloud Civic Center Expansion

10

10

1

 

Under the Minnesota Constitution (article XI, sec. 5, para. (a)), bonding bills require the vote of at least three-fifths of the members of each house of the legislature to pass.  In the House 81 votes are needed (out of 134), and in the Senate 41 votes are needed  (out of 67). Since Republicans hold a majority, but not a three-fifths supermajority, in each house, bonding legislation will pass this session only if it has bipartisan support.

1Information for this chart was selected from the Capital Investment Committee budget tracking spreadsheet, by Senate Fiscal Analysis, March 29, 2012.

 

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

The session is winding down toward an early end or a 10-day break beginning April 6.  Either way, there is a flurry of activity.

The Education Finance Omnibus bill, HF 2083/SF 2492, authored by Rep. Pat Garofolo (R-Farmington) and Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), passed both chambers and was sent to a conference committee on March 28th.   The very next day, the conference committee announced an agreement had been reached which would strip the bill of all policy provisions and begin paying back the $2.4 billion borrowed from Minnesota schools.  The proposal would use $415 million to buy down the shift by draining the newly-replenished state reserves and cash-flow account.  The controversial “first in, last out” language that would weaken teacher tenure during layoffs was stripped from the omnibus bill and placed in a separate bill (see below) in an effort to make the omnibus bill more acceptable to Gov. Dayton (DFL).  According to a recent MinnPost article, “The executive branch worries that early repayment could put the government at risk for short-term borrowing if the economy plummets again.”  

The conference committee on HF 1870, sponsored by Rep. Branden Petersen (R-Andover), has been scheduled and cancelled at least 5 times.  This bill is designed to force schools to change the method of teacher layoff from seniority to a system which accounts for teacher evaluation. The conference committee, in an unusual move, took testimony from Education Minnesota and Education Commissioner Brenda CasselliusSen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) believes they may hold the bill, looking for a compromise with the governor, according to her weekly Capitol Update.

After approval by the Education Finance Committee,  HF 2949/SF 2482, an education omnibus bill sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) and Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista),  advanced in the House.  The bill includes a number of statewide changes including the expansion of the  Post Secondary Enrollment Options program. In committee, Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) offered amendments to help students who still need to pass the Basic Skills Test to graduate and to place the recommendations of the integration task force into the legislation. Both amendments failed.

Some groups expressed concern about provisions in the bill that would redirect general revenue into early graduation achievement scholarships.  Session Daily reported, “Roger Aronson, legal counsel for both the Minnesota Association for Secondary School Principals and the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association, worried that the change could harm schools mid-year when they need the funding.”

The bill also bans the use of school resources for political activity, a move praised by some as necessary to protect education from bias and opposed by others concerned with the preservation of the right to free speech.

A digital learning requirement has passed both houses and been sent to the governor.  Rep. Pam Myhra (R-Burnsville) and Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) sponsored HF 2127/ SF 1528, which would require students graduating in 2017 and later to receive one digital learning course credit. Though the subject matter could vary from English to economics, the method of instruction would need to be based in technology. The full House passed the bill by a vote of 96-32. The Senate passed the bill 53-11 on March 15.

The House voted 104-26 to remove the responsibility of overseeing school trust lands from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which critics say has mismanaged the lands.  LWV Minnesota has opposed these bills, HF 2244, authored by Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell), and SF 1889, authored by Sen. Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park), because of environmental concerns. LWV Minnesota acknowledges mismanagement on the part of the DNR but believes there are better ways to solve the problem.

On a very local note, Rep Keith Downey (R-Edina) sponsored HF 2939 to make it “easier” for NW Edina residents to change from the Hopkins School District to the Edina district.  The Edina School Board did not ask for this legislation, and critics believe it might have many metro and statewide ramifications.  Sen. Geoff Michel (R-Edina) has sponsored the Senate companion, SF 2540.  The bill has passed the House and may receive a Senate hearing this coming week.

 

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

The bills to dramatically change the management of the “School Trust Lands,” HF 2244, authored by Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell), and SF 1889, authored by Sen. Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park), passed the House and Senate by wide margins. The Senate adopted the House language but amended it, so a conference committee will be named. This proposal was described in the last Capitol Letter and LWV Minnesota submitted a statement opposing the legislation. It remains to be seen whether the final bill will have been improved to the point that it does not put half of our entire state forest lands at risk of exploitation.

The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) has selected School Trust Lands for their Program Evaluation Division to evaluate. They list as possible evaluation issues the following:

    • Have the Legislature, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the State Board of Investment acted appropriately to fulfill their responsibilities as trustee for Minnesota public school districts? In particular, has DNR managed trust lands to provide the greatest possible economic return over time?
    • Would a different decision-making structure for school trust lands be likely to provide increased revenue or clearer oversight?
    • To what extent have DNR and the Legislature implemented the recommendations of the OLA’s 1998 School Trust Lands report?

Should Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) find reason to veto HF 2244, this OLA report will be of value to the DNR and to the 2013 Legislature.

Local Control

HF 389, which is authored by Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shakopee) and which would weaken township and community rights, passed off the House floor on March 29.  The vote was 76-53. 

Recall that this bill weakens the power of local governments to enact interim ordinances in order to quickly put a temporary freeze on major development over which there is significant community concern. This power is essential when a township is caught off-guard by proposals, especially those from outside corporate interests, such as a large-scale factory farm that might include a million-gallon manure lagoon. An interim ordinance freezes the status quo and gives the community time to review or create the appropriate zoning ordinances.

In the floor debate, the very worst provisions were removed from the bill by an amendment offered by Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park), but the bill still can put a township at a disadvantage by requiring it to give 10-day public notice and to hold a public hearing before adopting a moratorium.  Too often neighbors and township officials do not find out about a project until days before the permits are to be issued, so a moratorium could not be enacted in time to be effective. Project proposers must give meaningful public notice, if a public notice is required. This is not included in the bill.  This is still a one-sided bill that favors corporate special interests while providing nothing for local communities.

The Senate companion SF 270, authored Sen. Ray Vandeveer (R-Forest Lake), has had its second reading on the Senate floor.  LWV Minnesota continues to oppose HF 389/SF 270. 

Thanks to Bobby King, Land Stewardship Project, for this update on HF 389/SF 27


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

House and Senate Diverge on Bonding for Housing and Renters’ Credit

The House and Senate have now both passed bonding bills with significant variance in the amounts appropriated to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency for public housing rehabilitation and for Housing Infrastructure Bonds to address foreclosures, permanent supportive housing for the homeless and federally subsidized rental housing.  HF 2622, authored by Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker), provides $5 million in general obligation bonds for public housing rehabilitation while SF 2577, authored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), appropriates $6 million for this purpose.  The Senate bill also authorizes $30 million for Housing Infrastructure Bonds; significantly more than the $10 million authorized for that purpose under the House bill.

The House bill received its second reading on March 29, and, after an unsuccessful minority report was offered, was laid on the table.  Because measures to raise revenue must originate in the House, the Senate companion cannot proceed further until the House acts.

Dramatic cuts to the Renters’ Credit are included in the House omnibus tax bill, HF 2337, authored by Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston), (see Capitol Letter™, March 21, 2012).  The Senate’s omnibus tax bill (SF 1972) does not include these cuts.  The Senate bill, authored by Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen), was passed by the Senate on March 30.  Conferees have not yet been appointed.

 

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

Bonding

 Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker) presented a $280 million bonding bill (HF 2622) in the House Capital Investment Committee on March 22, as reported in Session Daily. The bill contains $38 million for transportation, targeting specifically road, rail and bridge improvements. On March 28, the Senate’s bonding bill SF 2577, authored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), was introduced and provides larger funding for transportation, $43.5 million.  

A noteworthy omission from the transportation area in both bonding bills is any mention of $25 million to the Metropolitan Council, which was included in Gov. Dayton’s bonding proposal, for a portion of the preliminary engineering costs for the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT). 

This omission comes despite compelling arguments from many sides:

    1. A letter from Susan Haigh, Chair of the Metropolitan Council, provided a thorough explanation of the commitments made by local partners in funding the light rail line.  She emphasized that the line is one of only ten New Starts projects selected by the federal government (out of 100 submitted) to move into the Preliminary Engineering phase of the program.  An award of 50 percent federal participation under the federal New Starts project would provide over $600 million toward the construction of the line.
    2. Chambers of Commerce, representing the business community, see the extension of the light rail into the southwest area of the metropolitan area as a significant building block for economic expansion in the southwest as well as the entire region.
    3. An analysis of transportation options, including doing nothing, adding Bus Rapid Transit, and light rail, identified that light rail best fulfilled the growing transportation needs and did so most effectively.  Express buses on highways, for example, could not take advantage of the shorter direct route that the new LRT route uses.
    4. And then there is the issue of tax equity. We pay our federal income taxes with diligence, and then become miserly when it comes to spending a little in order to reap the benefits of being a part of a federal union. Our legislative leaders decline to fund through bonding $25 million for preliminary engineering on a light rail line essential to regional development even though the project thereby stands a good chance of receiving $625 million from the Federal Transit Administration. Leaving the federal money on the table says we’re content with getting a paltry $0.73 back on every tax dollar we send to Washington. Compare that with Alaska - $1.83; North Dakota - $1.65 and even Wisconsin - $0.88. It makes no sense.


REPRODUCTIVE CHOICE

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

Catherine Menick, volunteer lobbyist

HF 2676, authored by Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker), passed the House on a roll call vote of 104-28 on March 27.  This is the bill that encourages the funding of "alternative to abortion" programs, which are generally Crisis Pregnancy Centers where staff lack medical treatment, knowledge, or training (see the last issue of the Capitol Letter ™). The House bill was substituted for the Senate bill on General Orders on March 29 and given its second reading.  The House bill passed the Senate on March 30 on a 53-9 roll call vote.   

TRAP law HF 2340, authored by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville), passed in the Health and Human Services Finance committee on March 22 with bipartisan support. Senate companion SF1921, authored by Sen. Claire Robling (R-Jordan), remains in the Finance committee as of date this report is written, and it too has bipartisan support. This is the law that seeks to "trap" abortion providers by requiring very specific and costly licensure measures, ideally such that abortion facilities will have to shut down. In conjunction with HF 2676, this bill would deal a heavy blow to reproductive choice organizations across the state.

HF 2674, authored by Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Lake Elmo), is nearly identical and has many of the same authors as HF 2340. It was introduced in early March and, having not seen movement since March 7, seems to have taken a back seat to the earlier HF 2340. Even earlier in the session, HF 1841, also authored by Rep. Lohmer, was introduced but seems to also have fallen by the wayside.  Of the three, this was the more minutely-detailed licensure bill.

HF 2675, introduced more recently, has taken a backseat to the nearly identical HF 2341, both authored by Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers). It passed out of the Civil Law committee on March 21, had its second reading on March 26, and has now been placed on the Calendar for the Day. Senate companion SF 1912, authored by Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Brainerd), remains in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety committee as of March 19.

This bill requires a physician to be physically present to administer the abortion-inducing medication.   According to a March 29 article in Thomson-Reuters, a judge in Oklahoma declared an ultrasound requirement passed in 2010 to be unconstitutional “because it is a ‘special law’ that treats abortion differently than other medical procedures.” Perhaps we will see more of the anti-choice laws being challenged with similar results.

 


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