Capitol Letter 

March 2, 2011

XXXVII Issue 4

 

Contents

Election Law

State Government Finance

Domestic Violence

Education

Early Childhood Education

Environment

Firearms

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

Photo ID Legislation

One of the bills that would require a photo ID of registered voters at the polls on Election Day passed out of the House State Government Finance Committee on Feb. 28. The vote in favor of HF89, authored by Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester), was on party lines, with Republicans voting in favor and DFLers voting against the bill.

Prior to the hearing, a fiscal note was released for HF89. The note states that costs will be $422,000 from the General Fund in Fiscal Year 2012 and $2,848,000 from the General Fund in Fiscal Year 2013. The total through 2015 will be about $5 million and ongoing costs will occur in subsequent elections.

The costs projected in the fiscal note are higher than those predicted for prior photo ID bills in Minnesota, reflecting the evolution of law in state and federal courts following the enactment of photo ID laws in other states. Courts have ruled that states must do more than simply furnish a free photo ID card. They must also:
•    take adequate steps to ensure that photo IDs are not unduly burdensome to obtain and
•    engage in widespread publicity and public education to inform voters of the new requirement and remind them to bring photo IDs to the polls.   

In addition to the costs the state would incur if the bill is passed, local governments would incur costs to train staff and administer the processes for providing free IDs and implementing a provisional ballot system. A process has been initiated to survey local governments regarding the costs they will incur, but the results were not available at the time of the hearing on Feb. 28.

Three testifiers from county, city and township governments, respectively, expressed concerns about the additional burdens placed on local government coffers if the photo ID bill becomes law. There is no language in the bill guaranteeing that local governments will receive funding from the state.

Sherri Knuth testified on behalf of LWV Minnesota at the hearing and the LWV submitted a letter to the committee regarding projected costs. Ms. Knuth stated, “Minnesota should not incur the expense of implementing a photo ID law nor place the burden of additional expenses on local governments. Our state faces a historic budget deficit. New expenses should be incurred only when absolutely necessary. And requiring a photo ID of registered voters at the polls is not necessary because there is no evidence of voter impersonation in Minnesota.”

Testifiers in favor of the bill focused primarily on policy issues, and Rep. Benson discounted the figures in the fiscal note.

HF89 has been re-referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. A Senate companion, SF479, authored by Sen. John Howe (R-Red Wing), has been filed.

A Bill regarding Election Judges

LWV Minnesota also testified in favor of HF591, authored by Rep. Kate Knuth (D-New Brighton). This bill permits a candidate for office, and certain relatives of the candidate, to serve as an election judge in a precinct where the candidate's name does not appear on the ballot. LWV Minnesota supports the bill because experience as an election judge should be helpful to legislators when they consider bills on election law. The bill was approved unanimously in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee. It does not have a Senate companion.

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

Governor Proposes Fiscal 2012-2013 Budget


Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) presented his General Fund budget for the 2012-13 fiscal biennium starting July 1st.  It is meant to promote the governor’s main priorities:
1)    Make taxes more progressive by raising income taxes for wealthy residents, who pay less state/local tax percentage-wise, than other earners.
2)    Avoid reducing local government aid so cities and counties are not forced to raise regressive property taxes.
3)    Increase K-12 education funding.
4)    Protect health care for the neediest and promote health care reform.
5)    Reduce the budget’s persistent long-term structural gap between lower revenues and higher spending.

Here is how the governor’s budget advances these priorities:

1) The governor covers the forecasted $6.2 billion general fund deficit with $4.129 billion in new taxes, mostly on wealthy Minnesotans, and about $2 billion in spending reductions.

New taxes include:
•    10.95% fourth tier income tax for people with taxable income over $85,000 (single) to $150,000 (filing jointly):  $1.89 billion
•    three year, 3% surtax on taxable income over $500,000:  $918 million
•    1% statewide property tax on homes over $1 million:  $80 million
•    surcharge on health care providers such as hospitals and nursing homes:  net $627 million
•    corporate tax changes $355 million

Spending reductions include:
•    $1.4 billion K-12 school shift; repaid starting in 2014 at 10% per year;
•    $171 million from higher education;
•    $680 million from health and human services.

2) Local government aids and credits are not reduced. The state tries to solve its own financial problems instead of passing them on to cities and counties.

3) K-12 education funding is not reduced.

4) The rising cost of health care is the most important long-term financial problem faced by the state. The Feb. 23 Minnesota Budget Bites blog explains the spending situation for health and human services.

5) These changes reduce the 2014-15 biennium’s projected deficit from $5.1 to $1.1 billion.
    
The overall General Fund spending proposed by the governor, including the percent of the General Fund, is:

K-12 education:      $14.24   billion (38.4%)    
Health and human services:        11.99   billion (32.3%)
City/county aids and credits:          3.47   billion (9.3%)
Higher education:          2.75   billion (7.4%)
Public safety:          1.82   billion (5%)
Other areas:         2.82   billion (7.6%)              

Total general fund spending:    $37.09  billion (100%)

The first four categories are 87% of the General Fund budget.  The governor’s priority was not to reduce spending for two of them (K-12 education and local government aid), so the other two had to be reduced (health and human services and higher education).
    
What’s next for the budget?

By the time you read this, Minnesota Management and Budget will have issued its February forecast showing the state’s expected financial picture for 2012-2015. The governor may then modify his budget. Also, Republican legislators are expected to unveil their proposed budget, which they have promised will rely on spending cuts to solve the $6.2 billion deficit.

We see two views on balancing the budget, reflecting different ideas about restoring Minnesota’s economy and financial balance. Republicans believe that the economy will be stronger and more jobs created if wealthy Minnesotans keep their money for investing in the economy instead of paying more taxes. Republicans are concerned that the wealthy will leave the state and businesses will not locate or expand here if Gov. Dayton’s tax proposals become law.

DFLers believe that people and businesses decide where to locate based not only on taxes rates, but also on “quality of life” factors like caliber of public schools, arts and culture, upkeep of roads and infrastructure.  Taxes are an investment in maintaining a high quality of life. DFLers also support aid for low-income families partly because it stimulates job growth as those benefits are spent.

How will our elected officials bridge their ideological gap?

Governor’s Unexpectedly Large Bonding Bill

Normally lawmakers pass a bonding bill in the first year of the biennium and a budget in the second year. Last year was the first year of the 2010-11 biennium, and the legislature passed a major bonding bill, most of which Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) signed into law. Gov. Dayton has proposed that as the legislature works on the 2012-13 general fund budget, the legislature pass another bonding bill this year for up to $1 billion.  These are general obligation bonds, with support coming from the general fund.

The governor believes that a bonding bill should not wait because it could help generate needed construction jobs this year.  He would consider this year’s bill the major bonding legislation for the biennium. The Republicans are adamantly opposed, though some of their constituents would like to see these construction projects get under way.

In the House Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker), chair of the Capital Investment Committee, is sponsor of the governor’s bill, HF607. After a hearing in that committee, the bill was laid over for further consideration. The Senate bill, SF459, sponsored by Sen. Keith Langseth (DFL-Glyndon), awaits a hearing in the Capital Investment Committee.

Included in the governor’s proposal are $531 million in projects said to be “shovel ready,” and the governor has invited the legislature to add projects up to $1 billion total. Gov. Dayton’s chosen projects include:
•    $127.6 million for MNSCU campuses
•    $98.8 for the University of Minnesota, including $51.33 million for a new physics and nanotechnology building
•    $72.9 million for the Department of Natural Resources, including $28 million for flood mitigation
•    $20 million for a new St. Paul Saints baseball stadium
•    $28 million for renovation/expansion of the Mayo Civic Center complex in Rochester
 
Some projects include contributions from institutional, federal, or local funds.

Separately, the bill authorizes the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to issue $10 million in housing bonds to buy and rehabilitate foreclosed properties that would be rented to low and moderate income families. Community land trusts could also buy land on which foreclosed homes sit and similarly rent out the homes.

It has been said that this bill would provide 28,000 jobs. While that may be accurate, most of those jobs would not be created this year. Bonds are not normally issued while the legislature is in session, especially this session before a new budget is passed.  This is because Minnesota wants to present the most stable financial picture to organizations that rate states’ bonds: the higher the rating, the lower the interest rate at which the state can sell its bonds. From the state’s viewpoint, the best time to issue bonds and have its financial stability evaluated is after a budget bill is passed and the legislature adjourns, on May 23 or later if a special session is required.  

Once bond legislation is enacted, all the bonds are not sold the first year. They may be issued over several years under this type of formula: 15% first year; 30% second year; 30% third year; 13% fourth year; 2% fifth year. Though as much as 23% have been issued in the first year, this is less than ¼ of the total.  So even if this bonding bill were to create 28,000 jobs as advertised, this would not all happen in 2011, but over a number of years.  

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

LWVMN Position: Family violence: Support improved procedures for agencies dealing with family violence. Support improved services for the victims. This includes more advocates to protect the interests of victims of family violence, more shelters for battered women, and provision for immediate legal remedies for victims of family violence, among other things.

LWVUS Position: Support violence prevention programs in our communities.


Ami Wazlawik, Action Committee Intern, 651-270-7986

A bill sponsored by Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glenco), HF469, clarifies language in Harassment Restraining Order (HRO) laws. An application for an HRO can be filed in the county of residence of either party or in the county where the harassment occurred.

The bill also expands the filing fee waiver for certain restraining order petitions. Filing fees can be more than $300, which can be prohibitive in many cases. Current law provides that the filing fee is waived if the petition alleges acts that would constitute (1) criminal sexual conduct or (2) a gross misdemeanor or felony-level stalking crime. This bill expands the list to include petitions alleging second or subsequent stalking violations or conduct constituting a pattern of stalking.

Rep. Gruenhagen’s bill has no Senate companion.  

Harassment Restraining Orders and Orders for Protection

Minnesota law helps protect victims of harassment, stalking, sexual and domestic violence with legal orders that require the alleged perpetrator to stop harming and to have no contact with the victim.


Harassment Restraining Order


(See Minnesota Statute 609.748)

A Harassment Restraining Order is a court order forbidding the Respondent (the alleged abusing party) from harassing and/or making contact with the Petitioner (person seeking HRO) and/or any minor children in the home. The Respondent is not a family member or intimate acquaintance. Petitioners may request:
•    no contact with the Respondent (including via third person, phone, work, e-mail etc.);
•    no harassment;
•    that the Respondent stay away from petitioner’s home or workplace.

Other specific kinds of relief may also be considered.

To qualify for an HRO, the Petitioner must be being harassed OR must have been sexually assaulted, AND must have the name of the person who is harassing or has assaulted her/him. An HRO will generally last for two years.

Order for Protection

(See Minnesota Statute 518B.01)

An Order for Protection (OFP) is a court order forbidding the Respondent (the alleged abusing party) from physically harming the Petitioner (person seeking the OFP) or any minor children in the home, or causing fear of immediate physical harm. The OFP can also order the Respondent not to have any contact with the Petitioner and/or remove the Respondent from the home.
To qualify for an OFP, the Petitioner and Respondent must currently live or have lived together OR the Petitioner and Respondent have a child in common OR the Petitioner and Respondent are related by blood OR the Petitioner and Respondent are in a significant romantic or sexual relationship AND there has to have been a recent incident of domestic abuse. Filing fees are waived for OFPs. An OFP lasts up to two years and can be extended by a judge.

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

 

The Governor’s Education Budget

Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) has proposed a budget that maintains the primary E-12 funding streams for the biennium at current levels and includes new funding to cover enrollment increases. To support his vision of stronger public schools and a more competitive work force Gov. Dayton would invest $52 million in (1) optional all-day kindergarten for low-income students, (2) an early childhood rating system, (3) awards to promote excellence in education, and (4) innovations to close the achievement gap.

This approach was praised by Tom Dooher, President of Education Minnesota. However, a letter from Senate Republicans to the governor affirmed their position that they will not accept ANY form of tax increase to cut into the currently projected $6.2 billion budget deficit. LWV Minnesota finds it hard to imagine how better educational outcomes and future economic competitiveness will be achieved without making strategic investments aimed at raising the bar for all students and teachers, and closing Minnesota’s sizable achievement gaps.

There are some E-12 cuts in the governor’s budget. Gov Dayton proposes no new school districts be approved to participate in QComp, Minnesota’s alternative teacher pay-for-performance program. Other cost-saving measures include elimination of magnet school grants and charter school start-up aid. In addition, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) operating budget would again be reduced, this time by $991,000 annually. Total savings to the state for these proposed reductions would amount to $27 million for FY 2012-13.

Gov. Dayton’s budget plan extends the school payment percentage shift through FY 2013 and the property tax levy recognition shift; this would reduce the state’s budget deficit by $1.44 billion.

Alternative Pathways to Teacher Licensure

Negotiations continue on the legislation to develop alternative pathways to teacher licensure. The House and Senate have passed slightly different versions of the legislation and the Senate has tabled the House bill in an attempt to work on a compromise with the governor.  

Gov. Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius have written three letters to Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), chair of the Senate Education Committee, voicing concerns about the failure to require a major in teaching field or any link to a university. Sen. Olson countered that the whole point of the measure was to create an alternative to the traditional programs; limiting the alternatively certified teachers to their college majors would rule out lots of highly educated career-changers (1) . Sen. Olson has said publicly that the governor’s changes would gut the bill (2).   The last letter from Commissioner Cassellius proposed compromises on both points.

The bill awaits Sen. Olson’s response. According to MinnPost, this is the first time the GOP-controlled statehouse and the DFL governor have squared off on broadly backed legislation neither can afford to be accused of killing (3).

Laid over for Inclusion in Omnibus Bill

Several bills would modify how schools districts may use part of their operating capital revenue. HF71, sponsored by Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park) would add a category to help pay for costs associated with closing a school, such as packing, shipping and moving. Its companion, SF166, is sponsored by Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park).

Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) sponsored HF301, which would allow the revenue to be used for leasing vehicles such as school buses, not only to purchase them. Sen. LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Plummer) sponsored its companion, SF171.

HF346, sponsored by Rep. Carol MacFarlane (R-White Bear Lake), would extend temporary authorization that allows any district to transfer up to $51 per pupil unit from a reserved-for-operating account to its general fund balance. The bill would make that authority permanent and would require that the district’s operating capital needs are being met (4).  SF 239, the companion, is sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park).

Odds and Ends

In the House Education Reform Committee Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) proposed HF269 that creates an optional “safety net” for school boards: “If a local school district offers a contract proposal that is in line with what the state has added to the per pupil formula, teachers are precluded from striking.” (5) Teachers would still be able to strike or pursue interest arbitration for noneconomic issues. Given the potential impact of this bill and the discussions it has already generated, this will be one to watch. The bill has been re-referred to House Education Finance. SF250, authored by Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont), is the Senate companion.

The House Education Finance Committee heard HF576, sponsored by Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing). Like Gov. Dayton, Rep. Kelly would extend through 2013 the current   school aid payment shift adjustment. To save the state money, schools are having 30% of their funding delayed. It is normal for schools to have 10% of their school aid payments delayed, easing the state's cash flow, but an adjustment of this size means most school districts must borrow millions of dollars and pay interest on those loans. Rep. Kelly's bill would correct the timing of school aid payments in 2014, whereas Gov. Dayton's plan would gradually reset the timing over 10 years beginning in 2014.   


HF576 as amended and passed (18-0) out of the House Education Finance Committee would also repeal the ability of the state to withhold school aid payments for state cash flow borrowing purposes. This is a fix for the problem that arose in 2010 because the present statute requires the state to  "borrow" money from districts with substantial reserve funds before it does its own short term borrowing when it cannot pay its  bills with cash on hand. This penalized well-run school districts.  HF576 has been re-referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

In the Senate Education Committee SF209 , sponsored by Sen. Ted Daley (R-Eagan), and SF242  sponsored by Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) were introduced.  Both bills have the goal of protecting school districts with higher reserve funds from state borrowing.

 

The House Education Reform Committee passed HF511, a bill sponsored by Chair Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton). It repeals or alters several mandates, including the January 15 collective bargaining agreement deadline and aid penalty, the maintenance of effort requirements for school counselors and other student support professionals, and requirements for use of staff development and operating capital funds. The bill will be re-referred to Government Operations and Elections. “In the long run, they might try to marry this bill with SF56, which includes the employee pay freeze language and other mandate relief,” Minnesota School Boards Association lobbyist Kirk Schneidawind said (6).  Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville) is the chief author of SF56.

“Parents United This Week @ the Capitol” highlighted an aspect of Rep. Erickson’s HF511 related to the state's academic standards, graduation requirements, and related benchmarks (7):
Current legislation requires the commissioner to “review and revise the standards;” this bill requires the commissioner to “review and recommend revisions to the legislature” and prohibits the commissioner from revising. Another provision states, “the commissioner shall adopt new rules and amend existing rules related to children with disabilities only after receiving specific legislative authority to do so.”

If such changes become law, the result would be a transfer of authority and responsibility from the commissioner, part of the executive branch, to the legislature. This appears to affect the balance of power between branches of government.


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 January 19, 2011, the Office of Early Learning Task Force, established by the Minnesota legislature in 2010, released its report. The job of the Task Force was to make recommendations for streamlining early childhood programs into one office of early learning. The purpose of this office would be to work toward achieving the statewide goal of school readiness for all children entering school in 2020. Currently, the Minnesota system attending to the development of Minnesota children in early childhood shares authority, financing, and accountability between the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Task Force considered three options: an office of early learning within a single agency, offices within multiple agencies, and a free standing office or department. The Early Learning Task Force, together with the Early Childhood Advisory Council, recommended the establishment of a freestanding Office of Early Learning.

The Task Force also made recommendations for stages of implementation of this plan. The recommendation to Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) is that a reorganization order be issued, calling for an Office of Early Learning that would have authority and responsibility for managing early childhood care and education programs. The Task Force recommends that, concurrently, the governor appoint a Director of Early Learning with cabinet-level stature within the Department of Education “….with the authority and responsibility for policy, fiscal and rule making decisions related to all early childhood care and education programs." (1) The Director would work with department heads to determine a phase-in plan, with the ultimate goal of establishing a single government entity responsible for early childhood programs in Minnesota.

At an Education Plan Press Conference on February 4, 2011, Gov. Dayton stressed investment in early childhood education and all-day kindergarten. Gov. Dayton also charged Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius with leadership of early childhood initiatives and called for reauthorizing the Statewide Early Childhood Advisory Council. Perhaps these plans will foster implementation of the recommendations of the Early Learning Task Force.


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

More Environmental Bills of Note

The new leadership in the Legislature is quickly moving forward to pass a number of bills that will have a negative effect on our environment. Whether the bills will produce jobs or reduce the deficit is questionable.

Environmental Review and Permitting

HF1 / SF42 have passed both houses, without dealing with the bills’ problems. The House passed HF1 (1) on Feb. 10; the Senate adopted HF1 language, amended it and passed it on Feb 24.(2) Described in the Feb. 2nd Capitol Letter™, these bills call for an expedited environmental review process with fewer opportunities for the public to engage.

The provision allowing a company to prepare its own draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), rather than having the responsible government unit (RGU) do it, remains intact. We still have a “fox and henhouse” problem with nothing to protect the hens from being eaten by the foxes.

In addition, during floor debate in the House, a provision was added to exempt the Iron Range Resource and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) from the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act's requirement that agencies take environmental impacts into consideration before making financial decisions relating to any project. Financial accountability is not well served by allowing this or any agency to loan public money to a project without first understanding the environmental impact of the project.

The Senate amended the House version of HF1, and the House concurred with the new Senate language on Feb. 28. If Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) has not acted on this bill by the time you read this, please contact him and urge him to veto the bill: 651-201-3400; 1-800-657-3717; mark.dayton@state.mn.us

The Office of Legislative Auditor released its report on Environmental Review as scheduled on March 1.
Information in the report will be useful in any future effort to reform the review process.  

1House roll call to pass bill http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/journals/2011-12/J0210014.htm#317  passed 82-42
2Senate roll call  HF1 http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/journals/2011-2012/20110224018.pdf#Page18   passed 49-16

 

Legislative Approval of Agency Rules:

There appears to be an across-the-board effort to get the legislature into the rulemaking process. Rule-making is the process by which the agencies make the rules necessary to implement legislative direction found in laws passed by the legislature. An agency, like the DNR, makes the rules; they are subject to a hearing before an administrative law judge - where testimony is taken. The judge issues a ruling and then the rules go to the governor, who can line-item veto them, but since his agency heads have made the rules (except for election rules made by the Office of the Secretary of State), he usually approves. This is an administrative power which the legislature is trying to take away.

SF261, authored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), would require legislative approval of any state agency rule-making process that would cost $10,000 or more. Similar legislation has been introduced relating to elections, education, and health and human services. The House companion, HR203, is authored by Rep. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake).

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) vetoed this bill in 2003 because it would shift rulemaking authority to the legislature and would have many “unintended consequences.”  These include a more cumbersome process where delays and higher costs can be expected, as every rule must be approved by the legislature.  In addition, rulemaking schedules differ from the legislative schedule, making it impractical to act in a timely manner.

Removal of Ban on Utilities’ Carbon Dioxide Emissions (Dirty Coal Bill)

SF86, authored by Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) is the companion to HF72, discussed in the Feb. 15 Capitol Letter™. The bill repeals the state’s current standards on building new coal-fired power plants and allows utilities to build new coal plants without having to offset their pollution emissions, a critical part of the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act that had bipartisan support and was signed into law by Gov. Pawlenty.

LWV Minnesota believes that we must invest in renewable energy and efficiencies, rather than going back to 20th century technology that pollutes our air and water. Fish contaminated with mercury in our most pristine northern lakes are just one result of our dependence on coal. We must not roll back our environmental standards.

HF72 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee on March 2, while SF86 is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee on March 3. Sen. Rosen is chair of this committee.

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.

LWVMN Position: Action to support restrictions on the sale, possession and use of firearms by private parties in the state of Minnesota.


Mary Lewis Grow, lobbyist 507-645-5378

HF161, introduced by Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa), would eliminate Minnesota’s system of background checks before the purchase of a firearm. It passed out of the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee on January 26.  It has received no further hearings and has no Senate companion, but observers still believe it will pass with overwhelming Republican support.  

While some legislators are seeking to weaken the screening process for the purchase of firearms, others are working to address weaknesses in existing law.  Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul) and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) are the chief authors once again of legislation to close the gun-show loophole in existing background check requirements (HF547 and SF465 respectively).  

Currently, background checks are required only on sales conducted by federally-licensed-firearms dealers.  Unlicensed individuals may sell guns at gun shows without any background check whatsoever.  Since many crime guns enter the system through unregulated sales, it makes sense to apply the same standards to all gun show sales as those required by federally-licensed dealers.

An important bipartisan study by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that "states requiring the same background checks at gun shows as those required for store purchases show an export rate for guns used in crimes that's nearly half the national average."  Further, "There were nearly 60 percent more gun murders in the 10 states where exports were highest than in the states with low export rates -- and nearly three times as many fatal shootings of law enforcement officers." (1) In other words, there is a high correlation between weak gun laws and gun violence.  

1 “Price of Lax Gun Laws” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/23/opinion/23tue2.html?_r=1  

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

One issue that has created controversy nationally is whether or not local police should inquire about the immigration status of people they encounter while carrying out their regular duties.  This is at the heart of HF152 discussed in the last Capitol Letter™.

Most enforcement officials believe that inquiring about immigration status every time they encounter a person of color with an accent would alienate the immigrant community, causing them to be unwilling to report criminal activity or cooperate with local police.  Some immigrants would be afraid they or family members or friends would face deportation and would be reluctant to interact with the police in cases involving traffic offenses, domestic violence or other criminal offenses.  

Because of this many cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, have enacted Separation Ordinances, which state that local police will not inquire about immigration status and report that information to federal officials unless a crime has been committed.  A Separation Ordinance does NOT prevent police from cooperating with Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) or other federal agencies. In fact, in November 2010, the Star Tribune reported a case where the Minneapolis police worked with ICE officials to arrest members of a Somali gang who were suspected of human trafficking.

In previous legislative sessions we have seen bills that would prohibit Separation Ordinances and this session is no exception.  HF 358, authored by Rep. Bob Barrett (R- Center City) prohibits any Separation Ordinances and/or any restrictions on communicating immigration status information to federal authorities. It also allows residents to go to court to force local officials to comply with this law, if the resident does not like the way the police are enforcing it.  

LWV Minnesota opposes this bill since we believe a Separation Ordinance is vital in maintaining the trust of the immigrant community and enabling local police to provide for the safety and security of all residents.  Further, the provision allowing citizens to sue local enforcement officials could clog the courts with nuisance suits.

HF 358 was referred to the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee. No hearing has been scheduled and there is no Senate companion.

METROPOLITAN ISSUES

Council of Metropolitan Area Leagues (CMAL) Position on the Met Council: Support the Metropolitan Council as the decision-making body for metropolitan needs…. Support provisions for coordinated metropolitan services focused through the Metropolitan Council. Support retention of an appointed Metropolitan Council with greater use of its existing powers. (1969, 1976, 1993)

CMAL Position on Transportation: Support the Metropolitan Council as the single metropolitan agency planning and coordinating a diverse transportation system….

CMAL Position on Land Use and Environmental Quality.  CMAL recognizes… the need for a strong public voice in land-use decisions.  CMAL supports metropolitan-level planning, programs and policies [in order to]:  (1) preserve and enhance the natural environment; (2) use public investment to the best advantage; and (3) provide area residents with diversity in choice of facilities and amenities


Lois Quam, lobbyist (612) 861-2601

Progress on Light Rail Central Corridor:  President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget recommends federal funding for the Central Corridor at $200 million – that’s up from $45 million in fiscal year 2011. In the current budget climate, it will be a relief to see the final affirmation by Congress of these budget items.  The Metropolitan Council would be the grantee of the federal funds.  

Construction began on the light rail line in 2010, and service is scheduled to begin in 2014.  Funding is provided by the Federal Transit Administration, the state of Minnesota, Counties Transit Improvement Board,  Ramsey and Hennepin counties’ regional railroad authorities, the city of St. Paul, the Metropolitan Council and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.(1)

Met Council Appointees:  There has not yet been an announcement of the sixteen new appointees under Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) as Metropolitan Council representatives. Public interviews were conducted in February, and final selections are expected by mid-March. Finalists are listed by district on the Met Council’s website. (2)

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