Capitol Letter-Feb 15, 2011-PDF

Capitol Letter

February 15, 2011

XXXVII Issue 3

 

Contents:

Election Law

State Government Finance

Education

Early Childhood Education

Environment

Immigration

Metropolitan Issues


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, LWV Minnesota Public Policy Coordinator, (651) 224-5445

The two bills that would require a photo ID of a registered voter on Election Day brought many organizations, including LWV Minnesota, to the Capitol on Feb. 3 and 8 to testify. HF89, authored by Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester), and HF210, authored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), were explained in the Jan. 19 and Feb. 2 Capitol Letters. In addition to requiring a photo ID, the second of these bills imposes other restrictions and rewrites large areas of our election law. Despite eloquent testimony against the bills, they were passed out of the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.

In testimony before the committee, Gwen Myers expressed LWV’s opposition to the bills based on our concern that they would disenfranchise specific groups of citizens. She then introduced two witnesses, Mary Lou Hill, a 94-year-old member of the Minneapolis LWV, and Jessica Peterson White, a member of the Northfield LWV.

Ms. Hill testified that she was born before women had the right to vote. By requiring a photo ID of registered voters, the bills would disenfranchise thousands of elderly men and women, many of whom had been proudly casting their ballots for 50 years or more.

“It is easy for one of you,” Ms. Hill told committee members, “to run down to the government center to update your driver’s license or to get a Minnesota ID.  Senior citizens may have a number of problems with this simple activity. (1) They may not drive and may not have anyone to take them. (2) They may not be able to walk without pain – or at all. (3) If they are new to the state, they may have difficulty proving who they are.  This is especially true for elderly women who have probably changed their names once or twice since they were born.”

Ms. Peterson White, a lead election judge in Northfield during the last two elections, testified about the importance of vouching as a means of registering on Election Day. HF210 would eliminate vouching.

“On Election Day,” Ms. Peterson White said, “we find that many elderly voters in the precinct have moved into a new facility since the last election – often from an assisted living unit to a skilled nursing unit at the same facility. As election judges, we must make sure they are registered to vote at their new address, even though this address may be only across the street or next door to the address of their previous registration. . . . Last November, we would have been forced to turn away many elderly citizens if vouching were not an option.”

Representatives of the disabled community, the Battered Women’s Legal Advocacy Project, the Minnesota ACLU and student organizations also spoke against provisions in the bills. Several testifiers, including Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Ramsey County Elections Manager Joe Mansky, spoke in favor of making changes in Minnesota’s election law only through bipartisan study and agreement.

Testimony in favor of the bills focused on improving the integrity of Minnesota’s election system with concerns raised about large numbers of voters somehow voting illegally without the knowledge of trained election officials. Rep. Benson acknowledged LWV’s efforts to educate members and the public about the integrity of Minnesota’s election system but stated, “The public’s perception is their reality.”

Several amendments were considered for each bill.  With author approval, the committee unanimously adopted an amendment to HF210 that will preserve existing law (1) allowing a voter under guardianship to vote unless a judge specifically indicates otherwise and (2) allowing a disabled voter to be assisted by an individual of the voter’s choice. Limiting the voter’s choice in the latter provision would have violated federal law, a fact which encouraged the author’s support.

Both bills passed on party lines, with the nine Republicans on the committee voting in favor and the six DFLers voting against. The bills are now headed to the House State Government Finance Committee, where committee members will have a fiscal note detailing the cost of implementation.

The Senate has yet to schedule any elections bill for a committee hearing.

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, lobbyist, 952-925-9095

The Republic majority in the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) disagree on how to balance the 2012-13 general fund budget, in the face of a $6.2 billion deficit. Gov. Dayton advocates “investing in Minnesota,” with increasing income taxes for the wealthy as part of the solution.  The Republicans’ strategy is “all cuts/no new taxes,” and in that spirit they passed HF130/SF60, cutting $901 million.  The governor vetoed the bill, calling it a piecemeal budget solution that reduced funding for human services, higher education and local government aid.  Republicans in turn will likely criticize the governor’s proposed budget, unveiled February 15. (Watch for analysis in the next Capitol Letter).

Hard as it will be for the DFL and Republicans to agree on a balanced 2012-13 budget, there is a bigger problem lurking.  In the long term, state revenues will probably grow more slowly than state spending. Without corrective action the budget will have a structural imbalance (revenues lower than spending) over the next 20 years! This is forecast by the Budget Trends Study Commission, which was appointed in 2007 by the legislature and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R).  

The commission reports(1)  that Minnesota will undergo fundamental demographic change over the next 20 years, as the state’s 1.4 million baby boomers turn 65 and begin their retirement years. As they age, their state-funded health care costs will drastically increase. The number of younger workers will grow, but not enough to produce tax revenue that keeps pace with spending. These are the hard numbers: annual revenue is projected to increase at an average annual rate of 3.9%, while overall spending increases by 5.4%, and health care spending rises annually by 8.9 %.  The gap between spending and revenue will get wider each year, creating long-term structural imbalance in the budget.  Health care costs will increase the fastest (8.9%). If left unchecked they will squeeze other spending areas in the state budget. With revenues lagging behind spending every year, the commission believed tax increases would not raise enough money to close the gap. So if the budget is going to balance long term, spending needs to be reduced – particularly fast-growing health care spending.

The commission recommended ways to strengthen the state’s finances, which Gov. Dayton and the legislature would be smart to follow:

•    Balance the budget for two biennia at a time, 2012-13 and 2014-15. This will help reduce the kind of huge imbalance we have now between revenues and expenditures.  Start reducing the growth of health care costs now so they retreat from their unsustainable trajectory.
•    Use one-time funds such as federal stimulus money for one-time expenses, not to cover continuing spending for just one year.
•    Add funds to the depleted budget reserve. Build it eventually to $2.1 billion.
•    Reduce the achievement gap in public education.  Today’s youth are tomorrow’s workforce.

Because there will be fewer young workers following the baby boomer generation, this is one more reason that every child deserves an excellent education.

While Minnesota needs an alternative to living in long-term structural deficit, our elected representatives will need political courage to make the unpopular decisions that solve the state’s budget problems.

1. Budget Trends Study Commission report

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

Governor Dayton’s Vision for Education Reform


On February 4th, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius shared the Governor’s seven point plan for improving Minnesota’s schools, “Better Schools for a Better Minnesota.” (1)  Gov. Dayton also announced his intention to keep his campaign promise to increase state funding for education, something he has previously referred to as a kind of reform in and of itself, given the recent history of education funding in Minnesota. The press release (2) from the Governor’s office summarized key aspects of his plan as follows:

The top three priorities of the plan are to improve state education funding, to focus more resources and raise the profile of Early Childhood Education and to narrow achievement gaps in our system.  Other components of the plan are to improve literacy statewide, offer support for high quality teaching, and create better testing to improve student learning.

In his State of the State address a few days later, Gov. Dayton again emphasized his commitment to education and his promise to increase state funding for K-12 education every year that he is Governor – “no excuses, no exceptions.” Specific details of his funding proposals will not be known until he releases his budget on February 15, although the Governor did state that he expects increased funding to be tied to improvements in the quality of education.

Gov. Dayton has consistently expressed his belief that Minnesota teachers and schools have been doing many good things. To improve upon those good things, he calls for less teacher bashing, productive engagement of education professionals and parents, greater public-private partnerships, strengthened early childhood education, and a focus on schools currently experiencing impressive successes.

Making his education funding promise a reality will be a challenge. The governor can’t accomplish this goal by himself, and while many legislators campaigned with promises that they would not cut education funding, many also pledged that they would cut spending and would not increase taxes.

Mixed Reviews

Deputy Majority Leader Sen. Geoff Michel (R-Edina) reacted to Gov. Dayton’s plans to increase education funding: “It just seems difficult to add a lot of money in one part of the budget without knowing where his cuts and reductions are.”  (3)

The Chair of the House Education Reform Committee, Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), was dismissive of Gov. Dayton’s vision: “I see nothing new here. Invest means to spend more. I see nothing about parents in this seven-point plan, not a thing about empowering parents. Parents are our first teachers of students."  (4)

Beth Hawkins, MinnPost education contributor, described the “high marks” Gov. Dayton’s seven point plan received from school district leaders and policymakers. “In particular, educators praised the emphasis the governor placed on early-childhood education and kindergarten readiness as a means to closing the achievement gap.”  (6)

Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent Dennis Carlson praised the governor’s decision to establish a Governor’s Commission on Better School Funding and, in particular, the news that the panel will involve financial analyst Tom Melcher, director of the Education Department’s Program Finance Division.(7)

Alternative Licensure - Common but Shaky Ground

While there is bipartisan support for establishing alternative pathways to teacher licensure, some details remain controversial, as reflected in bill amendments offered by both parties. (7) The debate centered around whether pathways must be in partnership with colleges or universities or be targeted to specific areas. In spite of objection from some DFLers on the basis of quality-control, the bill would streamline the licensing of teachers trained out-of-state. The bill also makes it easier for schools to hire teachers who do not have traditional education training, but meet other requirements, e.g., passing three tests (basic skills, pedagogy, and content) and participating in at least 200 hours of training.

The House and Senate passed the alternative licensure bills, HF63/SF40, sponsored by Education Finance Committee Chair Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) and Education Committee Chair Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista). A conference committee is expected to work out the differences between the House and Senate language.

Though he had sponsored a different alternative-pathways bill, Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) expressed support for Rep. Garofalo’s alternative licensure bill. (8)
 
Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures?

SF56 was passed by the Senate, 36-29. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville), aims to reduce school mandates and financial pressures by repealing the safe schools maintenance-of-effort requirement, the 2% staff development set-aside requirement, and the January 15 contract bargaining deadline and penalty. It also places a two-year hard freeze on all school employee salaries.

The bill has been the subject of passionate testimony and debate both for and against. Under different circumstances, some of the bill’s supporters, such as the Minnesota School Boards Association and the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, might have taken a different position on the bill. Given the desperate financial circumstances of many of their member districts, it seems these organizations are willing to give up some “local control” for much needed flexibility. Many school districts are in financial survival mode.

HF381, a companion bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa), has been introduced and referred to the House Education Reform Committee. 

  1. http://mn.gov/governor/images/Better-Schools-For-A-Better-Minnesota.pdf
  2. http://mn.gov/governor/newsroom/pressreleasedetail.jsp?id=9625
  3. http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/02/04/dayton-education-budget/
  4. http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/02/04/dayton-education-budget/
  5. http://www.minnpost.com/learningcurve/2011/02/07/25547/education_leaders_laud_daytons_7-point_plan
 6.  http://www.minnpost.com/learningcurve/2011/02/07/25547/education_leaders_laud_daytons_7-point_plan
 7.  http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/sessiondaily.asp?storyid=2423
 8.  http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/sessiondaily.asp?storyid=242

 

Early Childhood Education

LWVUS Position:  LWVUS supports policies and programs at all levels... that promote the well being, encourage the full development and ensure the safety of all children.  These include... early childhood education.

LWVMN Position:  Equal Opportunity Support of increased state responsibility in creating equal public educational opportunities for all Minnesota children....


Kathie Cerra, lobbyist, (952) 929-7337

On February 4, 2011, Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) and Education Commissioner Brenda Casselius   presented an Education Plan Press Conference. The Governor’s plan includes an increase in funding for K-12 education and a focus on early childhood education. The governor’s plan, “Better Schools for a Better Minnesota,” presents “A 7-Point Plan for Achieving Excellence.”

A number of elements in this plan pertain directly to early childhood education:  

•    Section 1, “Funding Education for the Future, includes “Invest in Early Childhood Education, and All-Day Kindergarten.”
•    Section 2, “Better Early Childhood Education,” calls for voluntary all-day kindergarten, expansion of the existing K-12 system into a comprehensive pre-K-12 system, and implementation of clearly defined readiness standards.
•    Section 4, “Reading Well by 3rd Grade,” calls for adoption of pre-K-3 literacy standards.
•    Section 5, “Support Teaching for Better Schools,” includes support of early childhood teacher observation and development.
•    Section 7, “A Department of Education that Provides Educational Leadership and Support,” calls for reauthorizing the Statewide Early Childhood Advisory Council and reestablishing a Children’s Cabinet. It also charges the Commissioner of Education with leadership of early childhood initiatives.

Clearly, these elements of the Governor’s plan are good news for Early Childhood Education. Ready 4 K has devoted space on its website to the Governor’s plan, as well as to links to “Better Schools for a Better Minnesota,” and a video of the Feb. 4 press conference. (1)

In the Minnesota Senate, SF331 was introduced by Sen. Geoff Michel (R-Edina), Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Minneapolis) and Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) and referred to the Senate Committee on Education.  SF331, “a bill for an act relating to early childhood education,” creates an early childhood education scholarship finance system, provides tax credits for training and retaining early education workers, improves early childhood education programming, and appropriates money to accomplish these goals.

1.  www.ready4k.org


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, Lobbyist, 952-545-8696

Environmental Bills of Note

“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” was the refrain we heard from the new leadership in the Legislature, and it quickly became clear that a major avenue to creating more jobs was to relax environmental standards. You can see some of the results in the bills below.


Environmental Review and Permitting

HF1 and SF42, “Environmental permitting efficiency provided, and environmental review requirements modified,” are moving right along in their respective houses. Described in the Feb. 2nd Capitol Letter, these bills call for an expedited environmental review process involving less public opportunity to engage in the process. HF1, authored by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau), passed the House 82-42 on Feb. 10. SF42, authored by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), awaits action on the Senate floor.

Gwen Myers testified against both bills in their respective environment committees with the core of LWV Minnesota’s objection 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. These bills allow a project proposer to prepare the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), rather than the responsible government unit (RGU). This plan puts the proposer in charge of his own EIS and takes the RGU out of the initial processes.  This approach not only makes the underlying information and analysis unavailable to the public, it makes the RGU dependent on the proposer’s inclination to turn over all data pertinent to the proposal.

Among other arguments against these bills is the fact that the Office of Legislative Auditor will have a report on the Environmental Review Process out in about two weeks.

 

Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area

The Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area  (MRCCA) (1), a narrow corridor that extends from Dayton to Hastings, provides a state designation and framework for protecting and enhancing the natural and cultural resources of our National Park on the Mississippi River.  SF39, sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park), would repeal the DNR's authority to promulgate rules for the MRCCA, effectively stripping out all of the protections provided by Minn. Stat. §116G.15.

Section 116G.15 was amended in 2009 with bipartisan support to direct the DNR to update MRCCA standards and guidelines through state rulemaking.  The DNR spent 18 months developing the standards but missed a January 1 deadline to notice their intent to publish the draft rules. Repeal of the MRCCA rulemaking would be a drastic measure that would eliminate important state-level protection for a resource of statewide and national significance.

"Many, many stakeholders were involved in bringing these much-needed protections to the Mississippi River Critical Area," said Whitney Clark, executive director of Friends of the Mississippi River. "It would be a huge step backward to roll back this important work for our great river." LWV Minnesota agrees.

The House companion is HF95 authored by Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park). Her bill awaits a hearing in the House Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee.

Dirty Coal Plants in- and out-of-state

Rep. Mike Beard (R-Burnsville) has authored HF72, which would remove the ban on increased carbon dioxide emissions by utilities. It repeals language enacted in 2007 that imposed a moratorium on construction in Minnesota of electric generating plants with a capacity of 50 megawatts or more and the purchase of electricity from such plants located outside the state. The moratorium, designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions produced by the electric generating sector, began on August 1, 2009. HF72 is the so-called “dirty coal bill” that would lift the current prohibition on buying electricity from dirty coal plants in North Dakota. The bill is pending in the House Commerce Committee.

The companion to this bill is SF86 and is authored by Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont). Her bill is pending a hearing in her own Senate Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee.

 

1. http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/watermgmt_section/critical_area/index.html

 IMMIGRATION

LWVMN Position:  Support incorporating immigrants into our communities by providing access to education, by endorsing the development of secure identification documents, and by respecting the right of law enforcement personnel to perform their duties without the burden of interpreting federal immigration policies.  Oppose residents with legal immigrant status running for local office.


Kathy Tomsich, lobbyist, 651-490-1809

There has been a long-standing effort to force local public safety officials to enforce federal immigration laws, an effort LWV Minnesota opposes. HF 152, authored by Rep. Tony Cornish (R- Good Thunder), is similar to proposals introduced in previous sessions that were designed to get the local police to do just that. This bill creates the state crimes of knowingly possessing and knowingly selling two or more identification documents without permission or lawful authority.  It also provides for a gross misdemeanor penalty for a violation involving two identification documents and a three-year felony for a violation involving three or more documents.

In contrast to previous versions of this bill, HF 152 increases the number of documents in possession along with the penalties, plus there is a specific list of identification documents.  The documents listed are issued primarily by the federal government, e.g., a passport, an immigration visa, an alien registration card or a Social Security card. Those issued by a state or local government include a driver’s license, a marriage license or a photo identification card.

LWV Minnesota opposes HF152.  The bill is redundant because federal statutes already deal with the possession or sale of false identification documents.  Making this a state crime would require local police to enforce the law, thus increasing the workload of departments which are already underfunded and have more critical crimes that require their attention.  In addition, the college student who is convicted of possessing a couple of fake IDs would end up facing a gross misdemeanor or a felony conviction, either of which would be a disproportionate penalty for the crime.

On Feb. 3 a hearing on HF152 was held in the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee, of which Rep. Cornish is chair.  The bill passed and was referred to the Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee.  No hearing has been scheduled in that committee. Sen. Gretchen Hoffman (R-Vergas) has authored the Senate companion, SF 108. It awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Metropolitan Issues

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) 861-2601

Progress on Light Rail Central Corridor 

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has sent the Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Project to Congress where it is allowed a 60-day courtesy review prior to execution of the agreement.  President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget proposal contains the Central Corridor funding, but it hasn’t been approved as yet by Congress. Local officials expressed confidence that the agreement, which provides half of the $1 billion price of the line, will be signed. Threats by some members of Congress, however, to eliminate funding for the entire New Starts transit program (which includes Central Corridor) create a concern that will only be relieved when the FTA and local officials sign the agreement.  So far $145 million has been spent on design, property and construction, with trains expected to begin rolling in 2014.  The project is poised to create at least 3,400 jobs. (1)

Met Council Appointees

A seven-member nominating committee will recommend candidates to Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) for appointment to the sixteen Metropolitan Council Districts.  The committee is chaired by Jay Cowles, co-chair of the Itasca Project (2) Transportation Committee.  Finalists are listed by district on the Metropolitan Council website.(3) Appointees are appointed to a 4-year term concurrent with the term of the governor.

Other Transit News  

A new transit station at I-35W and 46th Street is a sign of progress in creation of bus rapid transit in the I-35W corridor.  Rapid transit buses will use the MnPASS express lanes on 35W between destinations which will include the University of Minnesota, downtown Minneapolis, Best Buy headquarters, the new U.S. Bank employment center and Normandale Community College.  The bus rapid transit (BRT) concept offers all-day freeway service in both directions linked to park-and-ride facilities and neighborhood bus routes.(4)  The plan offers a convenience level similar to light rail without as extensive an infrastructure investment.

1. Minnesota Public Radio News broadcast, Feb. 3, 2011.

2. http://www.theitascaproject.com/overview.htm

3. www.metrocouncil.org/newsletter/planning2011/ApplicantMeetingsjan.htm

4. http://metrocouncil.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=869

Copyright 2013 League of Women Voters Minnesota (LWV Minnesota)