May 4, 2011-Capitol Letter-PDF

Capitol Letter

May 4, 2011

XXXVII Issue 8

 

Contents:

Election Law

State Government Finance

Education

Environment

Equal Rights

Firearms

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

As voter ID bills wind their way through the legislature, LWV Minnesota continues to testify that a photo ID requirement for registered voters has no place in Minnesota’s election system because voting is a constitutional right and there is no evidence of voter impersonation in our state.

Voter ID Bills
Since our last Capitol Letter™, SF509, authored by Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), passed through additional committees and was heard on the Senate floor. In each committee and on the floor, the vote in favor of the bill was on party lines, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against passage. The House companion bill, HF210 authored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), also passed through additional committees.

LWV Public Policy Coordinator Sherri Knuth testified in several of the committees. Her written testimony is available on LWV Minnesota’s website here , and a video of her testimony before one committee is available here

On May 2 in the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kiffmeyer offered HF210 as a delete-all amendment to SF509 and the committee approved the bill on party lines, with the exception of Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) , who voted to approve. Now, if the House as a whole passes the bill, the Senate must decide whether it will accept the House’s language or whether the bill should go to a conference committee to resolve differences.   

A significant difference between the bills is whether it will be permissible for residents of facilities, such as nursing homes, group homes for the disabled and homeless shelters, to register to vote and then vote on Election Day if they do not have a valid photo ID.  SF509 provides for certification by a facility administrator that the voter is a resident. But HF210 does not; the only exception to the photo ID scheme in that bill is for residents of battered women’s shelters.

Bill for a Constitutional Amendment


HF1597, also authored by Rep. Kiffmeyer, proposes an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would require all voters to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls.
In Minnesota, a constitutional amendment can be put before the voters if a bill proposing the ballot question is passed by a simple majority in the House and Senate. It does not require the governor’s approval. The ballot question would be put to the voters in the next statewide election in 2012.

HF1597 was heard in the Government Operations and Elections Committee on April 29 and generated sharp debate before being approved on a party-line 7-5 vote. The legislators debated both the merits of a photo ID requirement and the propriety of putting this requirement in the state Constitution.

 “This is a strong, strong will-of-the-people issue,” Rep. Kiffmeyer said. “It is fair to take it to the people and let them have a direct say.”

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (DFL) disagreed, saying that the proposed amendment “is an attempt to change voting from a right to a privilege.” He also commented that the language in the amendment would end absentee voting in the state.

 Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) said that although he supports a photo ID requirement, he was not sure that putting the requirement into the constitution was appropriate.  “This amendment speaks to a foundational value,” he stated. If the legislature puts a photo ID requirement in statute and finds it doesn’t work as expected, it can be amended the following year, Rep. Beard explained. That is not true with a constitutional amendment.

Sherri Knuth testified against HF1597, saying, “Defining the procedures for voting is a function of law or statue, not a function of the constitution.” She also reminded the committee that the history of our country and state “is one of expanding, not restricting voters’ rights.”

HF1597 is scheduled to be heard in the Ways and Means Committee on May 4. There is no Senate companion.

You can listen to an audiotape of the Ways and Means Committee hearing on HF1597 here


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, LWV Minnesota volunteer lobbyist

One Bill Signed; Nine To Go

As the legislature’s May 23 adjournment deadline approaches, the pressure escalates on Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) and Republican legislative leaders to pass a general fund budget for the next biennium which begins July 1.

The 2012-13 budget must be balanced; it must eliminate our projected $5 billion deficit. The budgets produced by the governor and by the Republican-led House and Senate do not repay the $1.4 billion owed to K-12 schools, at least not in 2012-13. This reduces the deficit to $3.6 billion.

Republicans divided their budget into 10 bills by subject.  The $77 million agriculture and rural development omnibus bill, SF1016 authored by Sen. Doug Magnus (R –Slayton), passed the House (52-9) and Senate (104-20) with bipartisan support. Gov. Dayton signed it on April 15.

That’s one budget bill done!

The remaining nine bills are in conference committees which are trying to reconcile the House and Senate versions.  Since in general Republicans voted for these bills and DFLers against, practically all conference committee members are Republicans, with only an occasional DFLer.

Let’s compare the Republicans’ bills with Gov. Dayton’s proposed budget:

Proposed General Fund Budgets for FY2012-13 (1)

Spending Area

Governor

House

Senate

K-12 Education

$14.4 billion

$14.3 billion

$14.3 billion

Health/Human Services

12.2 billion

10.8 billion

10.9 billion

Taxes Aids & Credits

3.5 billion

2.6 billion

2.8 billion

Higher Education

2.7 billion

2.5 billion

2.8 billion

Public Safety & Judiciary

1.8 billion

1.8 billion

1.8 billion

State Government

915 million

771 million

538 million

Environment & Energy

268 million

235 million

253 million

Jobs & Economic Development

171 million

157 million

157 million

Transportation

180 million

41 million

139 million

Agriculture & Rural Development

77 million: passed by legislature/signed by governor

Total proposed spending (including debt service)

$37.3 billion

$34.3 billion

$34.5 billion



Everyone hopes a budget will pass by adjournment May 23.  Republican leaders say that they want to work out a budget on time. (2) They are meeting regularly with the Governor and his staff.   Gov. Dayton says his department commissioners are available to work with all conference committees.

But big obstacles remain. First, each side has entrenched positions about whether to raise taxes.
o    The governor proposes to spend $37.3 billion, as the chart shows. That’s $3 billion more than the Republican budget of $34.3/$34.5 billion. Gov. Dayton raises that $3 billion with tax increases.  
o    Republicans characterize their budget as an “all-cuts budget” with no tax increases, and they have refused to consider any increases in revenue.

Second, James Schowalter, the non-partisan commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, says that Republicans include about $1.2 billion in invalid revenue or spending numbers in their Health and Human Services and State Government bills. (3) For example
o    $600/$750 million for health care waivers or rate reductions from the federal government probably won’t be approved for this budget;  
o    $133 million in additional tax collections assumes the use of software that the Dept. of Revenue has not tested;
o    there is double counting of savings in employee or salary reductions for the same employees;
o    $60-$70 million is claimed in savings from refinancing state bonds, whereas only $10 million is realistic.

Questionable numbers cannot be used to reach a solid budget solution, but Republicans’ budgets rely on those numbers. This may illustrate how hard it is to close a $3.6 billion budget deficit without the help of any new revenue.

We hope Republicans and the Governor are working behind the scenes to bridge their differences.  If the legislature adjourns on May 23 without a signed budget, we expect that the
Governor will not call them back into session until an agreement has been reached, so we will not be paying our legislators extra money to finish work that could have been done on time. No one is placing bets on when such an agreement might be achieved.

House Proposes Constitutional Amendments on Budget


Based on our finance position, LWV Minnesota opposes two bills that were introduced on April 28 and 29:

HF1598, authored by Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa), proposes an amendment to the Constitution to require a 3/5 majority vote of the legislature to pass a law increasing state income tax, state sales or property tax, or imposing a new state tax. This would give a minority a strangle-hold on state finances. The Taxes Committee scheduled a hearing for May 2.

HF1612, authored by Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) proposes a constitutional amendment limiting budget spending in a biennium to the revenue collected in the prior biennium. In order to spend any more, there would need to be “a declared national security or peacetime emergency.”

Regarding HF1612, an April 29 article by Minnesota Budget Bites (4) points out that: (a) a similar amendment was passed in Colorado and later suspended because of the damage that the resulting cuts did to education and public health; and (b) Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer just vetoed a similar proposal, citing Colorado’s negative experience.

 Republicans propose to spend $34.3 to $34.5 billion for 2012-13.  If the amendment called for by HF1612 were added to the Constitution, general fund spending for FY2012-13 would be capped at $30.7 billion, the amount collected in FY2010-11.  To live within the terms of their own amendment, Republicans would need to cut their budget $3.6 - $3.8 billion more, and find $1.2 billion in additional cuts to replace their unproven numbers, discussed above.  

As of this writing, these two bills do not have Senate companions.
        
(1) Chart information from: Comparisons – Spending and Revenue Change  - 2011 session, Apr. 18, 2011, House Fiscal Analysis Department. www.house.leg.state.mn.us/fiscal/files/cccomparison11.pdf

 (2) “Gov’s deadline questioned as session deadline looms”, Session Daily, Apr. 29, 2011.

(3) The details were spelled out in a letter dated Apr. 4, 2011 to Republican legislative leaders from James Schowalter, Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, and Myron Frans, Commissioner of Dept. of Revenue. http://www.scribd.com/doc/52843211/4-12-11-Admin-Revenue-Letter

(4) “Proposed constitutional amendments would create gridlock and hurt economic growth.”


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 and Shari Dion, LWV Minnesota volunteer lobbyists

Education Finance Omnibus Bills

With less than a month left in the session, it is concerning that, except for Alternative Teacher Licensure, little agreement has been reached regarding E-12 education. House and Senate Omnibus Finance bills, passed three weeks ago, need to be reconciled before being sent to Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL). The ideological divide is still wide.

Public education advocates are becoming increasingly concerned that public school funding may be at risk if other state budget challenges are not resolved. It is especially hard to imagine how compromises will be reached if some new revenue is not a part of the solution. Please contact the governor and your legislators to convey the LWV Minnesota position in support of well-funded, adequate education from early childhood through higher education.

House conferees: Chair Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing), Rep. Connie Doepke (R-Orono) and Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau). Senate conferees: Chair Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville), Sen. Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park) and Sen. Pam Wolf (R-Spring Lake Park).

Grading Schools

After completing its review of House and Senate proposals in the Education Finance Omnibus Bill (HF934, authored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington)), the Education Finance conference committee took testimony on a proposal for an A-F school grading system (HF638) based on state math and reading tests. Author Rep. Pam Myhra (R-Burnsville) borrowed the approach from Florida. Proponents of the grading system suggest that it will provide incentive for schools to do better and that it will be easier for parents to understand how schools are doing. Opponents believe it will oversimplify student achievement and be biased against schools who serve more families with low incomes. The stakes would be high as some funding would be based on those school grades. Sound familiar?

Education Policy Omnibus Bill

The House Education Reform Committee has approved its Education Policy Omnibus Bill, HF1381 (Rep. Erickson). Its most controversial proposal may be from HF1487, sponsored by Rep. Myhra. This is a plan to retain third grade students who are not proficient in reading, another reform borrowed from Florida. Rep. John Benson (DFL-Minnetonka) successfully offered an amendment that allows parents, teachers and administrators to work together to make the final decision before a student would be retained.  Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) supports early childhood education as an alternative to this type of policy, saying “A child who can’t read in third grade is in deep weeds.  We have to get to them earlier.” (1)

Governor Jeb Bush Takes a Field Trip to Minnesota

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) visited Minnesota to report on Florida’s education reforms and improved outcomes. Since 1999 Florida has implemented a variety of reforms that start in early childhood and include a constitutional commitment to lower class sizes at all grade levels. They have also increased per pupil funding nearly 20% more than Minnesota did during the past ten years. (2)

Florida’s low graduation rates and poor performance on national achievement tests have steadily improved. Their high school graduation rates, AP test taking, and AP test passing rates have increased for students overall as well as for African American and Hispanic student subgroups. According to Gov. Bush, Florida is one of only three states that were recognized as closing the achievement gap between affluent and low-income students and between white and minority students in 4th grade reading and math. In a comparison of 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores, a sampling of fourth grade students from Florida outperformed their Minnesota counterparts - overall and in subgroups of low income, African American, and Hispanic students.

With everyone focused on closing Minnesota’s achievement gaps, it was clear that Gov. Bush’s presentation  (3) moved some legislators.

“Jeb Bush gives voice to those who want to change the system,” said Rep. Garofalo, Education Finance Committee Chair. (4)

While many do want change in Minnesota’s public education system, there is still much disagreement about how to make the changes that will close our achievement gaps without tossing out what our schools are doing well. The jury is still out on which of Florida’s reforms have most impacted results and how well apparent gains will be maintained and increased in the future.

David Figlio, a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, said that because of Florida’s accountability measures, which are more nuanced than the national No Child Left Behind standards, “early-year literacy and numeracy skills seem to be improving, especially for schools that serve disadvantaged populations.” But that progress erodes as students age. By eighth grade, Florida students begin to lose their advantage on the NAEP, and by 12th grade, they fall behind national averages. “If kids graduated from fourth grade, I think [Gov. Bush] would have been an unqualified success,” said Sherman Dorn, an education professor at the University of South Florida. (5)

Legislators will want to think long and hard before copying all or part of Florida’s school work. Florida’s graduation rates are still significantly lower than Minnesota’s graduation rates, and we presently do much better than Florida in a myriad of other national rankings, including average SAT and ACT scores and the number of college graduates. (6)

Commissioner’s Education Finance Working Group

This working group is charged with crafting a proposal to the governor that will improve Minnesota’s complex and flawed school funding system. According to SEE (Schools for Equity in Education) the work is hindered by the lack of any significant new revenue.  

A proposal from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has been developed mainly by the highly respected finance director, Tom Melcher. The working group spent time comparing this proposal with the New Minnesota Miracle proposed several years ago and previous attempts at funding reform during the administrations of Governors Tim Pawlenty and Jesse Ventura. The most contentious discussion thus far has centered on referendum revenue.  The group agreed to keep such funding “in the mix” for the time being.

So far, the group has reviewed three issues:
1.    Providing all day kindergarten for at-risk students with the intent to fund it for all children as funding becomes available.
2.    Simplifying the formula by adjusting pupil weightings.  
3.    Creation of a uniform general education levy to incorporate a $400 referendum roll-in and consolidate several miscellaneous levies. (7)



(1) “‘Social promotion’ to promote literacy,” Session Weekly, Apr. 29, 2011

(2) SEE legislative update, Apr. 29, 2011.

(3) http://tinyurl.com/68rb5t4

(4) “Jeb Bush Leads Broad Push for Education Change With ‘Florida Formula,’” New York Times, Apr. 26, 2011.
(5) See footnote 4.

(6) “Why Would Minnesota Want to Be Like Florida?” MPR News, Apr. 26, 2011.

(7) SEE legislative update, Apr. 22, 2011

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, LWV Minnesota Volunteer Lobbyist

The Race to the Bottom

Minnesotans care deeply about our lakes, rivers and streams, our wetlands and wildlife habitat.  The number one reason 1.6 million Minnesota voters supported the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008 was to clean up and protect Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams. In a Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP) poll last November, more than 80 percent of Minnesota voters were concerned about toxic chemicals polluting Lake Superior, polluting the Mississippi River and polluting our drinking water; and about pollutants being released into the environment, ending up in our food and/or destroying wildlife habitat.

Yet in spite of this, the race to the bottom discussed in the last Capitol Letter™ continues – in terms of the pollution our legislators are prepared to accept and the scientific evidence they ignore.

The Omnibus Environment Finance bills, HF1010 and SF1029, are in conference committee which began meeting Friday, April 29. House conferees are sponsor Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), and Representatives Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar), Paul Torkelson (R-Nelson Township), Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska), and David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake). Senate conferees are sponsor Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) and Senators Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont), John Pederson (R-St. Cloud), Chris Gerlach (R-Apple Valley), and Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls).

LWV Minnesota signed-on to a letter to conferees from MEP that spelled out the policy provisions in this bill that weaken existing air and water protections. These include the following:
•    Prohibiting new water rules to protect and restore our lakes, rivers and streams that are contained in the Senate language 55.19 (section 60).
•    Repealing protections for the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area contained in Senate bill language 50.30 (section 49).
•    Exempting large ethanol facilities from mandatory environmental review as contained in Senate language 47.32 (section 48).
•    Weakening permit standards for large feedlots as called for in Senate language 45.11 and 47.28.
•    Threatening the future of wild rice, our state grain, by suspending the sulfate pollution standards for wild rice waters. We oppose both the House language in 41.15 which would relax the wild rice standard from the current 10 milligrams per liter and the Senate language contained in 58.19 that would suspend the current standard. MEP supports allowing the MPCA to proceed with a scientific study while leaving the current 10 milligrams per liter sulfate pollution standard in place.
•    Attempting to limit protections for phosphorus discharges into Lake Pepin, as intended by the Senate language under 53.30 (section 54).

And this says nothing about the draconian cuts to agencies that protect our environment. Cuts to the Department of Natural Resources, for example, will lengthen permit review timeframes, reduce attention to aquatic and terrestrial invasives, reduce flood mitigation efforts, “mothball” five to 10 state parks, and reduce enforcement capacity. (1)

The conference committee is scheduled to reconvene on May 4.

Meanwhile, Rep. McNamara, chair of the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, has put together an Omnibus Environment Policy bill, HF1097, with a number of troubling features. A “delete-all” amendment posted the afternoon of May 2 includes the following:

•    Over 20 sections contain major changes to the Environmental Quality Board (EQB), including eliminating the requirement that the Agriculture Commissioner report to the EQB on sustainable agriculture or on the commissioner’s pesticide management plan. These changes undermine the coordination of environmental policy in the state.
•    Two sections (3 and 75) weaken the MPCA’s regulatory role in oversight and permitting of pesticide applications to land.
•    Two sections (6 and 88) eliminate mandatory Environmental Assessment Worksheets for expansion of ethanol and bio-butanol plants, in spite of the fact that these plants have significant environmental impacts.
•    Section 60 weakens wetland replacement, making it easier for the mining industry to destroy wetlands by allowing a more favorable ratio for wetland replacement.
•    Section 94 delays the deadline for counties to adopt ordinances related to failing septic systems, thereby allowing the continued discharge of untreated sewage into lakes, rivers and streams.
•    Section 95 imposes a one-year moratorium on state agency rulemaking to protect water quality, limiting the state’s ability to respond to new and unforeseen threats to Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. (2)

These bills and many others gut environmental protections legislated over several decades. Given the outpouring of support for the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, one suspects that legislators offering these bills believe that their constituents are too busy to notice the details of work they are doing in St. Paul.

 (1) Testimony before Conference Committee, Commissioner Tom Landwehr, DNR, April 29, 2011.

(2) MEP Hotlist for House Members, Week of May 2, 2011.


EQUAL RIGHTS

LWVUS Social Policy: LWVUS supports legislation to equalize the legal rights, obligations, and benefits available to same-gender couples with those available to heterosexual couples. LWVUS supports legislation to permit same-gender couples to marry under civil law.


Helen Palmer, LWV Minnesota volunteer lobbyist

A bill proposing to amend the Minnesota Constitution to provide that only “a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota” was heard in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on April 29. At the end of the intense 3-1/2 hour hearing, SF1308, whose chief author is Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), passed by a vote of  8 to 4, with Republicans for and Democrats against. The bill will now proceed to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.

A House companion bill, HF1614, whose chief author is Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud), will be heard in the Civil Law Committee on May 2 and in the Ways and Means Committee on May 4.  

Same-sex marriage is already prohibited under Minnesota statues; the effort to make it part of the Constitution is to make it bedrock law and extremely difficult to change.

At the April 29 hearing, eight people testified in favor of the bill and 15 against. The overarching argument of those favoring the bill was that the issue of defining marriage was too important to be left to the legislators themselves, but needed, rather, to be a matter for the public to decide.

LWV Minnesota testified against the bill, arguing that it amounted to an assault on a minority group. We stated that the fundamental rights of any minority should not be subject to the vagaries of the majority, as would be the case if this amendment proposal is on the ballot. We also pointed out that in this representative democracy, our elected officials are expected to make informed decisions and to safeguard the civil rights of all our citizens.  

If the bill wins legislative approval, the proposed amendment will be submitted to the voters at the 2012 general election. It would take a majority of those voting to put this amendment into our Constitution.


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, LWV Minnesota lobbyist
Heathers Martens, Guest Author, Protect Minnesota

HF1467, introduced by Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder), is "Shoot First" legislation that includes the following provisions:

•    It would allow people to shoot to kill, even in public places, with impunity if they felt "reasonably" threatened – something very hard to disprove if the only witness has been killed.
•    It requires that Minnesota give reciprocity to other states' permits to carry, even if the issuing state has lax screening and/or no training requirements.
•    It places restrictions on law enforcement's ability to confiscate guns and revoke gun permits from the homes of domestic abusers.
•    It weakens Minnesota's system of background checks on those purchasing guns.  Instead of requiring the renewal of gun permits each year, as is currently required, the bill would extend the period between issuance and renewal to five years. It would require a background check on every permit-holder each year for those five years.

On the last point, law enforcement testified that about 75 percent of people who get the current one-year permit do not apply again. HF1467 would be costly, requiring background checks on every permit-holder, most of whom may not apply for a permit again.

The bill also requires law enforcement to get permits back from people who become prohibited buyers – but there is currently no mechanism for doing so – and requires the state to transfer certain background check records to the Federal database – but it provides no funding to do so.

Despite opposition from the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, the bill passed the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee 10-7, with Republicans voting “yes,” and Democrats “no.” It was referred to the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee.

As of this writing, the Senate companion, SF1357, authored by Sen. Gretchen Hoffman (R-Vergas), has not been heard in any committee.


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, LWV Minnesota volunteer lobbyist

Bonding for Public Housing Rehabilitation and Preservation?

A possible bright spot on the housing horizon would be a $10 million bond fund appropriation for rehabilitation and preservation of aging public housing.  Identical companion bills in the House and Senate propose to make this appropriation from the bond proceeds fund to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.
 
Both bills have strong bipartisan authorship.  HF344 is being carried by Rep. Morrie Lanning (R-Moorhead), Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont), Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker), Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park), Rep. Rich Murray (R-Albert Lea), Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Minneapolis), Rep. John Benson (DFL-Minnetonka), and Rep. Carol McFarlane (R-White Bear Lake).  SF219 is authored by Sen. John Pederson (R-St. Cloud), Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont), Sen. Doug Magnus (R-Slayton) and Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin).

A related provision in Gov. Dayton’s bonding proposal would allow the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to issue non-profit housing bonds in an amount up to $10 million for acquisition and rehabilitation of foreclosed property for use as low-income rental property.  (HF607 authored by Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker) and SF459 authored by Sen. Keith Langseth (DFL-Glyndon).) The governor’s bill would authorize a standing appropriation from the general fund for the debt service on the bonds.

The remaining question is whether the legislature will authorize any bonding in an odd-numbered year which is traditionally reserved for budgeting and not generally associated with bond appropriations.  Neither the House nor the Senate bill has had a hearing to date.


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, LWV Minnesota volunteer lobbyist

The announcement by Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) that he would not renew the executive order requiring Minnesota to participate in enforcing federal immigration law is in line with LWV Minnesota’s Immigration position. The original order, issued by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), required state cooperation with federal authorities in areas of customs enforcement, document fraud and gang activity.

Gov. Dayton recognized that this directive did not require any actions the state was not already taking and sent a negative message to the immigrant community.  The state’s cooperation with federal authorities on these issues has been consistent, and no directive was needed.  Many people viewed Gov. Pawlenty’s directive as an attempt to position himself as tough on undocumented residents for his potential presidential bid.  

We reported in the last Capitol Letter that Gov. Dayton decided not to renew Gov. Pawlenty’s executive order requiring state contractors to use the E-Verify system when hiring workers.  The day after this announcement was made, Rep. Ernie Leidiger (R- Mayer) introduced a bill to put Gov. Pawlenty’s E-Verify directive into statue.  HF1376 was referred to the Government Operations and Elections Committee where a hearing was held on April 14th.  

A representative from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce testified there are concerns about the accuracy of the E-Verify database and the effect errors can have on U.S. citizens, legal immigrants and businesses.  The Chamber also pointed out that requiring E-Verify will place a burden on all business, especially small business.  

HF1376 passed after the bill’s author and the committee agreed to modify the language to change the effective date from July 1, 2011 to “when the commissioner of management and budget determines that e-verify produces accurate results.” It was referred to the State Government Finance Committee. There is no Senate companion.

The House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee passed HF358 on a strictly party-line vote. HF358, authored by Rep. Bob Barrett (R–Center City), bans cities from having Separation Ordinances that separate local police duties from federal, civil immigration enforcement. See the March 2nd issue of the Capitol Letter for more details about Separation Ordinances.

LWV Minnesota opposes this bill; 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. Furthermore, the bill creates a private right of action that would allow a private citizen to file a lawsuit against any individual or government entity if, in the perception of the person bringing the lawsuit, the government or its employee is not complying with reporting or enforcement of laws or regulations. This could clog the courts with nuisance suits.
 
Very lengthy testimony, overwhelmingly in opposition to the bill, was heard, forcing the hearing to go longer than scheduled and to be held over for a vote the next day. Representatives from the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth police departments spoke in opposition to this bill.  The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, the League of Minnesota Cities, ACLU, Advocates for Human Rights and many other groups also testified in opposition.

HF358 was sent to Judiciary Policy and Finance where no hearing has been scheduled.  There is no Senate companion.


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, LWV Minnesota volunteer lobbyist

Omnibus Transportation Finance Bill
 
The Senate conferees for the Omnibus Transportation Finance bill (HF1140 and SF898) have been named. They include Sen. Joe Gimse (R-Shakopee); Sen. John Howe (R-Red Wing); Sen. Al DeKruif (R-Madison Lake); Sen. Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park); and Sen. Ted Lillie (R-Lake Elmo). They will work with the House conferees noted in the April 13 Capitol Letter™ to reconcile differences in the two bills.  

As was pointed out in the March 30 Capitol Letter™, one of the main differences in the two bills is the amount dedicated to metro-area transit. The House bill would eliminate all general fund dollars for transit (currently $129.78 million) while the Senate bill would cut $32 million over two years.

The biennial budget presented by Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL) contains up to a $10.8 million cut to metropolitan area transit. Gov. Dayton invited transit supporters to a round-table discussion during the legislature’s spring break. The discussion was part of a series of conversations emphasizing what an all-cuts budget would do to the state’s viability. (1)

Bill to Modify Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Planning  

Sen. Claire Robling (R-Jordan) sponsored SF1157 to curtail the Metropolitan Council’s authority over long-range transportation planning.  The bill would replace a 33-person transportation advisory board to the Met Council with a 24-person panel that would assume the council’s current authority over developing long-range transportation plans in the Twin Cities.  Seventeen of the 24 people on the board would be elected officials from cities and counties.

The bill passed the Local Government and Elections Committee and was re-referred to the Transportation Committee as of May 2.  According to a Star Tribune article on April 27, 2011, Sen. Robling does not expect the measure to pass this year but hopes that it will foster wider debate over transportation planning continuing into next year. (2)

Some growing suburbs want more transportation funds to go toward highway expansion projects and they balk at the Met Council’s emphasis on maintenance and transit. The CMAL position supports the continuing role of the Metropolitan Council in the metropolitan area’s transportation planning and, therefore, is not supportive of a plan that would move this function to the control of a legislative panel.
 
(1) “Transit advocates get their chance to lambaste GOP budget cuts,” MinnPost, Apr. 22, 2011.

(2) “Bill to curb Met Council moves forward,” Star Tribune, Apr. 27, 2011.

Copyright 2014 League of Women Voters Minnesota (LWV Minnesota)