Capitol Letter

March 16, 2011

 XXXVII Issue 5

 

Contents

ELECTION LAW

STATE GOVERNMENT FINANCE

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

EDUCATION

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

ENVIRONMENT

HOUSING

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

Voter ID Bills


Despite the opposition of many groups, including LWV Minnesota, two voter ID bills are expected to advance in the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee this week. SF479, authored by Sen. John Sterling Howe (R-Red Wing) requires a government-issued photo ID of registered voters at the polls and sets up a provisional balloting system.  The companion is HF89, authored by Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester).

SF509, authored by Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), includes many changes to Minnesota election law, including requiring registered voters to show a government-issued photo ID on Election Day, setting up a provisional balloting system, banning all forms of citizen vouching for Election Day registration, and establishing electronic rosters connected to the statewide voter registration system. The companion is HF210, authored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake).

Senator Limmer introduced a “delete-all” amendment which addressed some concerns raised about HF210 but did not substantially change provisions relating to photo IDs, provisional balloting, and elimination of vouching. The amendment reduced the number of precincts that would have an electronic roster to a precinct located in a city with more than 25,000 registered voters that is also in a county with more than 75,000 registered voters.

Sen. Limmer also deleted a portion of the amendment that restricted the physical assistance some disabled citizens are permitted to receive when voting. Sen. Limmer and Rep. Kiffmeyer stated that they are working on that issue and will address it in a stand-alone bill.

The Local Government and Elections Committee heard testimony regarding the bills on March 14 and will continue to hear testimony on March 16, when members of LWV Minnesota will testify. On March 14, Edina City Clerk Debra Mangen, who is also co-chair of the League of Minnesota Cities Election Task Force, testified that the complexity of provisional balloting would increase the possibility of errors. She suggested if a voter ID law were to be implemented, a voter without a photo ID at the polling place should be allowed to sign an affidavit and vote a regular ballot rather than vote by provisional ballot.

Indiana’s photo ID law(1),which is similar to the bills proposed in Minnesota, did not prevent Indiana’s Secretary of State from voting in the wrong precinct in a recent election. The Indiana law does not require the photo ID to have an accurate home address, so the Secretary of State was using a photo ID with his ex-wife’s address and voting in her precinct, although he had moved. The Secretary of State faces a felony count of voter fraud.(2)

As LWV Minnesota has repeatedly stated, photo IDs only prevent voter impersonation. Yet, Minnesota has no history of voter impersonation. Photo ID bills are a solution in search of a problem.

Clarifying Felon Voting Rights

LWV Minnesota submitted a letter to the House Government Operations and Elections Committee in support of HF718, authored by Rep. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis). The bill requires (1) notice to defendants that conviction of a felony will result in the loss of their right to vote and (2) notice of an inmate’s restoration of civil rights, including the right to vote, when the inmate’s sentence is discharged.

At the present time, notice to defendants of the loss of their right to vote and notice to offenders who have been discharged from their sentences is inconsistent. The result is confusion and a lack of knowledge regarding the legality of voting or the restoration of the right to vote.

The House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved the bill and referred it to the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. There is no Senate companion. The House and Senate passed a similar bill last year but it was vetoed.

(1)  http://www.in.gov/sos/elections/2401.htm
(2)  http://www.indystar.com/article/20110303/NEWS/110303019/Indiana-Secretary-State-White-indicted-faces-7-felony-counts?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|IndyStar.com

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

February Forecast: The News behind the Good News

On February 28 Minnesota Management and Budget released its February 2011 Forecast, showing that the $6.2 billion general fund deficit for 2012-13 is expected to shrink to $5 billion:
    Balance from 2011 plus revenues:          $34.268 billion
    Expenditures, including reserves:         -39.296 billion
    Forecast deficit, 2012-13:       ($5.028 billion)        

Though this forecast shows improvement in the state’s finances, there are concerns:
1.    A $5 billion deficit is 13% of general fund spending.
2.    The improvement is based substantially on one-time reduced medical assistance spending and increased tax collection from capital gains income, which is an unpredictable source of tax revenue.
3.    Minnesota has a persistent structural gap between lower revenues and higher spending.  For 2012-13, spending will grow 9.6%, compared to revenue growth of 8.7%.  This imbalance continues long-term, with a $4.4 billion deficit projected for 2014-15

A Tale of Two Budget Plans

Lawmakers and the Governor customarily rely on the February 2011 forecast to formulate the FY2012-13 general fund budget.  Once the new forecast came out:
•    Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) modified his plan, eliminating a 3% temporary surcharge on taxable income over $500,000. He canceled $200+ million in cuts mostly to health and human services.  He proposes reducing spending by about $2 billion and increasing taxes by about $3 billion, to close the deficit and balance the budget.
•    House and Senate Republican leaders released their budget spending targets.(1) These targets tell each finance committee how much they must cut within their area of the budget. They propose an all-cuts budget, reducing spending by $5 billion and imposing no new taxes, to eliminate the deficit and balance the budget.
It’s important to note that the Republicans have not identified actual programs that would be cut; the impact of these cuts on real people has yet to be defined.  

 

Let’s compare the major spending in the Republicans’ and the Governor’s plans(2):  


Altogether, Republicans would spend $34.3 billion, exactly the revenue expected in 2012-13 per the February forecast above.  Gov. Dayton would spend $37 billion and pay for the additional spending with $3 billion in tax increases, mostly on the well-to-do.

The issue of new taxes, or not, is the biggest ideological and practical difference in these two plans.

Without new tax revenues in their plan, Republicans must make deeper cuts, ranging from 13% to 51% as we see above, to balance the budget.  Gov. Dayton’s plan fully funds two of the four largest spending areas (Local Government Aid and K-12 education), and makes only single-digit cuts in other areas.

One thing Republican leaders and the Governor agree on: $1.4 billion owed to K-12 schools, which was shifted from 2010-11 into 2012-13, will not be repaid in 2012-13 after all. This reduces the $5 billion deficit to a $3.6 billion deficit as a starting point.

Republicans have fast- tracked the budget, setting a March 25 deadline for all appropriations bills to be presented to the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee for final action before floor passage. The expectation is that Gov. Dayton will veto these bills and then serious negotiations will begin.   Still, it is hard to see how the ideological differences will be bridged even by adjournment on May 23.
    
(1)  House budget targets:  http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/comm/docs/TargetSpreadsheet.pdf Senate budget targets: http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/departments/fiscalpol/tracking/2011/Overall_Senate%20Targets%202011%20Session.pdf

(2) Sources for chart:  Fiscal 2012-13 Senate and House Republican Proposed General Fund Spending Targets; and Minnesota Budget Project’s Budget Bites blog 3/10/11: http://minnesotabudgetbites.org/2011/03/10/house-and-senate-lay-out-an-all-cuts-strategy-for-balancing-the-budget/


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

Safe Harbors Bill

HF556, sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith (R-Mound), ensures that youth who are involved in prostitution are treated as victims and not as criminals. The bill also directs the development of a victim-centered model for working with sexually exploited youth and increases the fine on adult purchasers of adult prostitution services. The bill was approved by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee and is scheduled for a hearing in the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee on March 15.

This bipartisan bill has 20 coauthors. To date there is no Senate companion.

Harassment Restraining Orders

HF469, described in the March 2 Capitol Letter, now has a Senate companion; SF574 is sponsored by Rep. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes). HF469 has passed one committee and been re-referred to the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee.

Further changes could be made to restraining order law if a bill sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder) is passed. HF738 allows victims to file charges (alleging a violation of an HRO) in either the county where they live or the county where the alleged violator lives. The bill also includes language that acknowledges the prevalence of stalking and harassment that is perpetrated via electronic communication, such as text messages, emails or Facebook. The language of the bill reads:

“A person may be prosecuted at the place where any call is made or received or, in the case of wireless or electronic communication or any communication made through any available technologies, where the actor or victim resides.”HF738 has been approved by the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee and was sent to the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee.

Repeat Offenders

Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R-Woodbury) has sponsored a bill that would increase the penalties for second and subsequent fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct offenses. HF532 passed the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee and was heard in the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee, where it was laid over pending a fiscal note.  The Senate companion is SF794, sponsored by Sen. John Harrington (DFL-St. Paul).

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, lobbyist, 952-994-7804
Shari Dion, lobbyist, 651-494-2835

As the legislature grapples with the budget deficit, there are a number of tangled webs and difficult questions.  Does lowering the number of mandates on schools actually save dollars or weaken the commitment to “programs of comparable substance and quality (being) available to all”? Is flat funding actually holding K-12 “harmless,” or should inflation be considered, which would posit that the flat funding allocated by both the governor and the legislature is actually a cut to education spending?  

One has to admit that just about every topic under discussion has a relationship to the budget deficit, though SF40/HF63 on teacher licensure might be an exception.

Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) signed into law an alternative licensure provision for K-12 teachers on March 7.  This is seen as a triumph of bi-partisanship at a time when little bi-partisanship has been seen. Sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) and Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), the law will take effect Aug. 1, 2011. It includes content-specific examinations and performance assessments (video submissions) for teachers in standard and alternative pathways to licensure. The Board of Teaching is given the power to rescind the certification for any program which fails to meet the requirements.  Candidates in the alternative pathway will be granted a two-year limited license, with a possible one-year renewal.  Candidates may then move on to a standard license.(1)

Senate and House leadership released their budget targets for various legislative areas this week. The targets for education are very similar to the governor’s plan, though they do not specify funding for early childhood.  Both the Senate and the House propose basically flat education funding, with a continuation of the current school-aid shift that was put in place in the last biennium. This “shifts” 30% of school funding to some later date.  The governor’s proposal includes a plan to begin repaying the shift in 2015.  The legislative proposal makes no mention of repayment.

Now that similar education funding targets have been established, policy makers and interest groups will increase their focus on how those funds should be spent; much jockeying will take place in finance committees. The emphasis will be on improving education in Minnesota without additional resources. What constitutes an improvement will vary depending on one’s point of view.

League of Women Voters Minnesota’s position emphasizes equal access to a good education for all students and recognizes the constitutional mandate for a uniform, thorough, and efficient system of public schools throughout the state. That’s a tall order!

Given the variety of needs, abilities, and backgrounds of students and the variety of geographic-specific challenges schools face, it is no wonder that the “perfect” public school system has yet to be established or funded. Overall, Minnesota’s public schools do very well with many students and in many ways, but problems, such as large achievement gaps, persist. With outcomes that vary so significantly, the present system doesn’t seem uniform, thorough or efficient.

The League of Women Voters Minnesota encourages policy makers and interest groups to resist oversimplification of the challenges students and public schools face and also to remember that educational outcomes will be influenced by all sorts of policies, not just “education policies.”

How can better results be achieved with no additional resources? Is it possible to distribute and use current education funds differently without just creating a new set of winners and losers?

For a long time, a debate has been waged regarding the fairness of categorical funding (targeted funding that is distributed unevenly among schools) versus basic revenue (funding that is distributed evenly on a per pupil basis to schools). Sen. David Brown (R-Becker) has introduced SF422, a bill that would, among other things, significantly reduce the integration funding that goes to Duluth, St. Paul, and Minneapolis school districts. The bill modifies education funding formulas to put priority on basic revenue in order to minimize differences in the amount of per student general education revenue received among schools statewide. This bill was heard in the Senate Education Committee on March 10 and laid over for possible inclusion in the Education Omnibus bill. HF720 is the companion bill sponsored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake).

The House Education Finance Committee discussed and heard testimony regarding integration revenue. Several questions are being asked regarding the purpose, distribution, and use of these funds. When student demographics and achievement results vary significantly among Minnesota’s schools, how can integration funds be distributed and used for the greatest benefits to students? Should the focus be on closing race-based achievement gaps, increasing students’ cross-cultural competence, or both goals?

The debate regarding the purpose, value, and fairness of integration and similar categorical funds is likely to heat up in the coming weeks. During the last few years, public school districts across the state have worked together with a common goal of overhauling what they consider a broken education funding system; hopefully they will not be pitted against each other at this point.
 
HF273, sponsored by Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-Belle Plaine), was heard in the House Education Reform Committee. The bill provides vouchers that could be used at private schools by students who meet certain income requirements and attend schools that are considered persistently low performing. To be eligible, the bill requires nonpublic schools to accept students randomly, comply with student testing requirements, and provide a procedure that allows students to opt out of objectionable instructional materials upon request.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota testified against the bill, urging legislators to oppose HF273 on several bases, including that it violates the Minnesota Constitution by giving public money to religious schools and threatens civil rights. The ACLU stated that there is a lack of evidence that the use of private school vouchers results in improved student achievement. The ACLU also expressed concern that the transfer of funds away from public schools would do nothing to help improve the performance of a public school that is struggling.(2)

The bill was heavily debated and several amendments were offered by Democrat minority committee members. The bill was passed without recommendation (a 12-8 party-line vote) to the House Education Finance Committee. Sen. Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) sponsors the Senate companion, SF388.

(1)  http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/sessiondaily.asp?storyid=2495

(2)  http://www.parentsunited.org/uploads/hf273_short.pdf

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 March 7, the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Gen Olson (R- Minnetrista), heard testimony regarding  SF331, a bill  sponsored by Sen. Geoff Michel (R-Edina) and Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Minneapolis) concerning early childhood education accountability and scholarships. Sen. Michel stressed the fact that 50% of Minnesota children enter school not ready to learn, noting that kindergarten is too late to begin education programs for these children. Rep. Michel stated that this bill redirects and coordinates the $400 million in federal and state funds, spent annually in Minnesota for early childhood care and education programs, in order to get our money’s worth. Sen. Michel praised the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF) for its actions in raising money in order to create, conduct, and research an early childhood initiative for high-risk three- and four-year olds, using the Parent Aware Rating System for childcare programs.   

Duane Benson, Executive Director of MELF, whose pilot project this bill is based upon, spoke in support of the bill. He noted that the bill, which uses the Parent Aware Rating System, is directed to high risk children, empowers parents to select high quality care for their children, raises the quality of child care programs, and rewards programs which voluntarily participate. Child care programs that sign up for the rating system receive help and coaching, and become eligible for publicly-funded scholarship students. They receive tax credits for training and retaining child care workers. Businesses also receive tax credits for contributing to the scholarship program.

SF331 has bipartisan support among its sponsors and is supported by the business community through MELF. Todd Otis, president of Ready 4 K, expressed support for various parts of the bill, but expressed concerns about the source of some of its funding. He urged the committee not to use education funds as the source of dollars, noting that early childhood education in Minnesota is underfunded, comprising only1% of the state’s budget. Steve Kerr of the Anoka- Hennepin School District raised grave concerns about the bill’s repeal of the $10 million in state aid distributed annually to school districts for School Readiness Programs.


SF331 is a lengthy and complex bill, as it involves funding from both Education and Health and Human Services. The Education Committee sent the bill to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee with “no recommendation.” Sen. Michel noted that he expects the bill will return to the Education Committee after its hearing in the HHS and Tax Committees.

SF331’s House companion, HF669 sponsored by Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) and Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood), has been re-referred from the Education Reform Committee to Education Finance.

Voices for Children Advocacy Day at the Capitol is Wednesday, March 17. Parents, teachers, children and early education professionals will gather at the Capitol for story time with legislators, visits with legislators, and children’s activities. Contact Parents United for Public Schools for more information.

On the national level, the stopgap federal spending bill signed by President Barack Obama on March 2 cuts federal funding for the current year for a number of education programs, including a cut of $24.8 million for Reading is Fundamental (RIF).  This is bad news for Reach Out and Read, a national early literacy promotion program conducted by pediatricians in health care clinics throughout the country. Reach Out and Read in Minnesota receives large amounts of RIF funding to purchase books for distribution to babies and young children in Minnesota health care clinics serving low income children.(1)
(1)  http://www.parentsunited.org/110303_14.html

 

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


An Avalanche of Bills That Undermine Environmental Protections

Along with the avalanche of new ideas for weakening environmental protections, a number of bills which have failed in past sessions are resurfacing. For example, SF444, sponsored by Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids), is a repeat. It “modifies” the wetland replacement requirements in Minnesota’s Arrowhead to accommodate the PolyMet mining proposal, which will destroy 1,000 acres of wetland, if approved. While this bill has failed in the past, it may pass this year – along with an assortment of other bills that LWV Minnesota opposes based on our positions on the environment.

Lifting of the Nuclear Power Plant Moratorium

SF4/HF9 would repeal the 17-year-old moratorium on building new nuclear power plants in the state. These bills have passed both houses and the conference committee met for the first time Saturday, Mar. 12. Gov. Dayton has established three requirements of any nuclear bill to get his signature: (1) No new nuclear plants until there is a federally-designated nuclear waste storage facility. (2) Language guaranteeing that ratepayers are not on the hook for plant planning and design costs until it is online. (3) A provision addressing the production of weapons-grade plutonium, which is already in the House bill.(1)

The leaders of the conference committee are the bills’ authors, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Amy Koch (R-Buffalo) and Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers). These legislators are not happy with the governor’s conditions, which essentially kill the bill, and the conference committee adjourned without taking action. If the governor vetoes the bill, there may be an override attempt.

Ethanol Plants Exempted from Mandatory EAW

Sponsored by Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont), SF435 exempts ethanol production facilities from the mandatory Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) process. Under current rules, a mandatory EAW is required for the construction or expansion of an ethanol facility which would have a production capacity of 5,000,000 gallons or more annually.  Emissions from ethanol plants include a number of air pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide, as well as significant water use and wastewater discharge from plant operations. The EAW process exists to provide plant operators, host communities and concerned citizens with a more thorough understanding of the environmental and public health impacts of these operations. LWV Minnesota believes the process should be maintained for ethanol facilities.

Sen. Rosen’s bill was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on March 15. Its House companion, HF716 sponsored by Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont), has passed out of one committee and awaits a hearing in the House Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee.


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

SF86/ HF72, authored by Sen. Rosen and Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee), would repeal the current standards for building new coal fired power plants and allow utilities to build new coal plants without having to offset their pollution emissions. This legislation would undo a critical part of the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act that was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Both of these bills have passed the necessary committees and had a Second Reading on the floor of each house.

Water Bills and Issues

In spite of Minnesota voters’ clear statement when they voted for the Legacy Amendment in 2008 that they value clean water, bills that threaten our water quality have been introduced.

Two of these bills, SF161 and SF196, authored by Sen. John Pederson (R-St. Cloud,) received second hearings this past week. The bills were the focus of a Star Tribune editorial on March 14.(2)
SF161 would require the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin to establish a phosphorous standard for Lake Pepin and implement that new standard only from June to September each year. Phosphorous does not disappear from our wastewater from October through May, so it is not clear why regulation should be limited to four months of the year. The Star Tribune called this a “clumsy attempt to allow wastewater treatment plants to circumvent” the effort to clean up Lake Pepin.

 HF368, the House companion, is authored by Rep. King Banaian (R-St. Cloud). It has not received a hearing.

SF196 prohibits water-related rulemaking until 2013 while the Department of Administration studies existing water rules.  This bill would prevent agencies from completing rules that have been prepared by the Pawlenty administration and from adopting new rules to protect Minnesota’s water.  The rules have been through extensive review by stakeholders and are needed to update standards, comply with federal law, and streamline regulatory requirements. The rulemaking process is the appropriate forum to address any areas of disagreement.  LWV Minnesota sees no reason to delay protecting Minnesota’s water.  

Sulfate Standards for Waters with Wild Rice

HF1002, authored by Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia) would raise the allowable sulfate level in wastewater discharges from 10 milligrams per liter to 50 milligrams per liter into waters where wild rice grows. The current standard was established in 1973 to protect wild rice. Northern mining interests believe this standard is not based on good science, and in fact, it may be too strict for them to meet.(3)

SF732, authored by Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), is the Senate companion. Neither bill has had a hearing but may appear as floor amendments at some time in the future.

Mississippi River Criteria Corridor

SF39, authored by Sen. Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park), would repeal the Mississippi River corridor critical area designation that covers the river front planning and development along the 72-mile Mississippi river from Dayton through Hastings. The bill is awaiting final action by the Senate.

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

Thanks to Minnesota Environmental Partnership for much of this information.

(1)    Eric Roper, “Dayton’s Nuclear Bill Demands Are a Tough Sell,” Star Tribune, March 11, 2011 http://www.startribune.com/politics/blogs/117829608.html

(2)   http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/117831763.html
(3) Josephine Marcotty, ”Mining interests sue state over water rule,” Star Tribune, Dec. 18, 2010, http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/health/112110814.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU

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, lobbyist, 651-483-9154

 

Proposed Budget Cuts for Jobs & Economic Development

Late last week, the House and Senate Republican caucuses released their proposed budget targets for each committee. The targets for the committees that handle the budget for housing programs—the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee and the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Committee--are a proposed 41% cut from the last biennium (FY 10-11) in the Senate and a 53% cut in the House. Note that these figures do not specify how much should be cut from Minnesota Housing versus other programs, such as the Department of Employment and Economic Development, which gets funding from the same committee.

By contrast, the Governor proposed much more modest cuts to the Jobs and Economic Development programs overall, including about a 5% cut specified for Minnesota Housing, as compared to last biennium.

New Housing Data Released

Housing data(1) released this week by the Minnesota Housing Partnership show that the rental vacancy rate in the Twin Cities has continued to fall for the fourth consecutive quarter.  The rate, which one year ago was 7.3%, has fallen to 3.8%, indicating either a higher demand for rentals, fewer available rental properties, or both.  

The number of foreclosures in Minnesota this quarter was 5,298, down significantly and perhaps the lowest number in two years.  The Minnesota Housing Partnership believes that this reduction is due in large part to a foreclosure moratorium voluntarily imposed by a number of major banks.

Family homelessness figures for Hennepin County remained essentially flat when compared to the fourth quarter of 2009; however the number of homeless families (257) far exceeded the 157 housed in Hennepin County shelters in 2006.

Finally, housing industry data shows a continuing downturn, with quarterly employment in residential housing construction at its lowest level in 17 years and an eight month supply of homes for sale, compared to a 6.2 month supply in the fourth quarter of 2009.

(1)  http://mhponline.org/images/stories/docs/research/2x4/mhp2x4report_q410_full.pdf

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

Bit by bit we are seeing a pattern emerging in immigration-related bills in the legislature. More bills are being introduced that create new state crimes; they duplicate existing federal statues and thus require local police to enforce federal immigration laws. We anticipate these bills will be rolled into an omnibus bill creating a version of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law. LWV Minnesota opposes all of these bills.

 Rep. Steve Smith (R- Mound) has introduced two bills, HF691 and HF628.  HF691 requires law enforcement officers to record the country of citizenship and immigration status of felon arrestees, and peace officers would be required to report suspected immigration violations by felon arrestees.  Essentially, this bill brings immigration enforcement down into the police procedure level. In addition, law enforcement officials are already required to record the immigration status for felons when they are booked at a county jail, so this is a duplication of existing statues. This bill was referred to the committee on Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance.  No hearing is scheduled and there is no Senate companion.

Rep. Smith’s HF628 is a strange hybrid involving the issues of hiring undocumented immigrants, forgery of documents and sex trafficking. It establishes penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Employers who use the E-Verify system would not be charged with this crime if they hired someone cleared by this system. This is another duplication of existing federal immigration law.

The provision relating to forgery takes a current state statue, doubles the penalties and adds documents which, if altered, would constitute the crime of aggravated forgery.  The new documents are mainly federal, such as a passport, social security card or any other ID issued by the federal government.  Again, this is a duplication of federal statutes.

This bill also adds sex trafficking to the crime of labor trafficking of someone under the age of 18.  There is concern that the person charged with this crime could be under age 18, i.e., a teenager could arrange for a friend who is under 18 to engage in prostitution. LWV Minnesota would like to see this provision in the bill changed so no one under age 18 could be charged with sex trafficking, but would instead be treated as a victim in need of services and rehabilitation.  The Safe Harbors Bill would remove this conflict.

HF 628 was referred to Commerce and Regulatory Reform.  There is no Senate companion and no hearing is scheduled.

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

Met Council Appointees

Sixteen new members were appointed on March 9, 2011, to positions on the Metropolitan Council.  New Council Members and brief biographies are listed by district at the Met Council’s website.(1) District boundaries can be accessed by the tab in the upper right corner of the page.

Metropolitan Transit Update

Gov. Mark Dayton’s $37.09 billion budget proposal for fiscal years 2012-13 contains up to a $10.8 million cut to metropolitan area transit over the two-year period.  At the same time the House Republicans outlined plans for a $34 billion budget and released a spreadsheet detailing a 28.1 percent decrease in transportation funding for the biennium.(2)

The Star Tribune reported that a shortfall in transit funding would require an adjustment to the current transit budget either by reducing service or increasing fares. There is a general consensus that the maximum reasonable cuts to service have already been made and a $.25 increase in fares would be the likely method of compensating for revenue losses.  This is despite the fact that such a fare increase is predicted to reduce ridership by 3% and the fact that Twin Cities metropolitan fares are among the highest 25% of metropolitan areas in the nation.(3)

The group Transit for Livable Communities and allies met recently with the Metropolitan Council’s Regional Administrator Pat Born to emphasize the importance of adopting new strategies to reduce highway travel demand – the number and length of car trips. Transit for Livable Communities reminded the Metropolitan Council that transit-supportive land use needs to be emphasized in addition to highway and transit construction.(4)

(1)  http://www.metrocouncil.org/about/members.htm

(2)  Session Daily, Mar. 10. 2011

(3)  Pat Doyle, “Metro bus, train fares could jump 25 cents,” Star Tribune, Feb. 22, 2011. http://www.startribune.com/local/116706569.html

(4)  http://tlcminnesota.typepad.com/blog/2011/03/met-council-land-use-and-planning-resources-report.html

Copyright 2013 League of Women Voters Minnesota (LWV Minnesota)