Inside the Minnesota Capitol

Inside the Minnesota Capitol

Minnesota politics, regulatory agencies and state government news updates

Competing Budgets

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Lengthy floor sessions ensued this week as House and Senate lawmakers took up supplemental budget bills in their respective chambers. The Republican House had three bills to debate over the course of the week. The DFL Senate had all of its proposals for spending the $900 million budget surplus in a single bill, which was scheduled for a vote Thursday. In addition, lawmakers found time for some potentially contentious committee hearings this week on Real ID and guns.

Education Omnibus Budget Bill

First out of the gate was the House Education budget bill, taken up on the floor Monday afternoon.

The GOP proposed budget for schools and state colleges and universities does not spend any new money in the current two-year budget cycle. Instead, spending on some new proposals is expected to be paid for with $55 million from faster repayment of state loans by some school districts.  House Republicans this year have proposed largely holding the line on the current $42 billion two-year budget.

Among new programs are proposals to recruit and retain teachers of color in Minnesota, where statewide only 4 percent of teachers are minorities. Also, the bill would offer loan forgiveness and tuition incentives for educators. There is also grant money for para-professionals in education who are interested in becoming licensed teachers. The teacher workforce effort had bipartisan support.

Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), Chair of the House Education Finance Committee, highlighted a measure she sponsored that would form a working group to examine school discipline problems, following several high-profile assaults on teachers. Teachers would be notified if students with past incidents of violence are placed in their classrooms.

House DFLers largely criticized the budget proposal, arguing that with a $900 million projected budget surplus, legislators should spend more on higher education and tuition relief.  A provision requiring additional oversight of fetal tissue research at the University of Minnesota also generated some heated debate.

Agriculture/Environment/Energy/Jobs Budget Bill

The House passed a supplemental budget bill Wednesday that includes new spending to expand rural broadband, promote tourism, and tackle racial economic disparities.

The measure adds $12 million in new spending overall. House Democrats criticized the GOP bill as another missed opportunity to make key investments with the state’s $900 million budget surplus. House Republicans want to use that surplus for transportation projects and tax cuts. The bill includes $6 million for proposals aimed at reducing racial economic disparities. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, however, is seeking $100 million for similar efforts and Senate Democrats want $91 million. Democrats also took aim at the bill’s broadband investment of $15 million in 2017, as it is just a fraction of what the Governor and Senate are seeking.  House Republicans countered that their plan also comes with a pledge to make another $25 million broadband investment in 2018. Committee Chair Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) said the money will help the state leverage additional federal money and private sector matches.

The House bill includes a repeal of the 2014 law allowing unionization of child care workers, money to complete the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System project in southwestern Minnesota and money for anticipated lawsuits related to the PolyMet mining project. It also includes cuts to the Minnesota Investment Fund, Job Creation Fund, and eliminates money for the Minnesota Film Board (an incentive program used to lure moviemakers to the state). Garofalo said those government subsidies and perks have primarily benefited the Twin Cities metro area, and thinks a better strategy is to get investment in infrastructure, primarily in Greater Minnesota.

Health and Human Services/State Department/Public Safety

The last of three budget bills in the House, HHS/state government/public safety, was approved in the wee-hours Friday morning following a twelve hour debate.

The budget bill would clamp down on state agency travel and cut salaries for commissioners. On the health care side, it would start the process of shifting Minnesota into a federal health care exchange and out of MNSURE, the state based exchange. It includes programs for integrating substance abuse and mental health care, reductions to counties’ share of chemical dependency payments, public health program eligibility verification, and increased funding for training physicians serving Greater Minnesota. The bill would require licensing of facilities that perform abortions, and imposes a prohibition on facilities that perform abortions from receiving Title X and federal family planning grants.

Under the Public Safety article, the bill increases penalties for driving unlicensed and failing to stop for a school bus. It would also prohibit use of a drone within one mile of a public safety helicopter.  For state department spending, the bill delivers a one-time $500,000 appropriation for MN.IT Services to perform a study of cybersecurity across state government.

Gov. Mark Dayton warned that the combination of zero funding for areas where he proposed funding combined with troubling policy measures would make it unlikely for him to sign off on the bill in its current form. House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) defended the House budget approach, which he said is aimed at preserving the surplus for use on road construction and tax cuts.

Senate Omnibus Supplemental

In the Senate, majority Democrats used a single budget bill that would carve up much of the surplus for new or expanded programs. The Senate supplemental spending plan is similar to what Gov. Dayton is seeking.

The DFL bill includes spending increases for education, rural broadband expansion, and programs to tackle racial economic disparities. It also funds a freight rail director position, improves emergency response for oil trains, and hires additional rail inspectors.

Senate Republicans argued that the money should go toward road and bridge funding, which was an unresolved issue from last session. Senate Minority Leader David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) said last year’s unfinished work is the reason there is a surplus. Senate Transportation Chair Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) opposed the effort to use one-time spending rather than continue to work on a long-range funding measure for roads, bridges and transit. Senate Democrats favor a gas tax increase, while House Republicans insist on using only existing revenues. Conference committee negotiations on last year’s transportation bill began today.

The last amendment of the evening, offered by Senate Taxes Vice Chair Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), created a hostile work environment. She offered a provision reallocating Republican Senate office space inside the State Office Building to the Revisor of Statutes. DFL lawmakers moved into the new $90 million Minnesota Senate Building that they supported before the start of the 2016 session. GOP lawmakers who opposed the project refused to move in until after the 2016 elections. The controversial amendment cancels the current lease and significantly reduces the amount of space available for lawmakers. Republicans expressed outrage. Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) said “This is the first time in my life that I’ve been embarrassed to be a Minnesota senator.”

The competing supplemental budget plans in the Senate and House will need to go to conference to be resolved.

Bonding

The House Capital Investment Committee Chair Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) said Tuesday the fate of a House bonding bill is closely linked to the outcome of lawmakers’ negotiations over comprehensive tax and transportation legislation.

Even-year legislative sessions are generally regarded as “bonding years,” when lawmakers pass a large-scale borrowing package that helps fund infrastructure projects across the state.  Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a $1.4 billion package — it would be the largest in state history — and Senate DFLers said they would like to see a similarly sized bill, although no proposal has yet been unveiled.

House Republican leadership earlier this month released budget targets that call for a $600 million bonding bill. Bonding bills require a sixty percent supermajority to pass. Torkelson described the bonding bill as “dessert” – something that comes at the end of session.

House lawmakers on the bonding committee heard dozens of bills that laid out the capital investment needs of state agencies and local governments across the state. Torkelson said lawmakers are evaluating and prioritizing projects now so they are ready when the time comes.

The Senate Capital Investment Committee also met Tuesday, hearing county transportation requests. Transportation Chair Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) testified that he did not want to advocate for bonding requests as they are one time funding and he strongly believes a long-term funding plan is imperative. The Committee heard about the Moorhead rail grade separation project and the I-35-Lake Street Station projects, among others. Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin made a strong pitch for a half-cent sales tax increase to replace the need for future bonding requests. Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Plummer) concluded that he hopes to have a transportation package this session. He announced that he plans to unveil an omnibus bonding bill Monday morning.

Real ID

Minnesotans could begin applying for federal Real ID Act-compliant driver’s licenses and ID cards by Oct. 1, 2016, under a bill a House committee advanced Monday.

Sponsored by Rep. Dennis Smith (R-Maple Grove), the bill would lay out new requirements for issuing the more secure state IDs, including new security features on the cards, added proof of residency requirements and extended data retention timelines.

The bill would bring Minnesota into compliance with the federal law to make state-issued IDs more secure in the face of terrorism concerns, and help the state beat a 2018 deadline requiring enhanced IDs to board domestic commercial flights.

Currently, Minnesotans cannot gain entrance to secure federal facilities and military bases using only standard state-issued IDs.  Gov. Mark Dayton requested a new Department of Homeland Security extension to allow Minnesota IDs to be used to enter those facilities while the state works toward satisfying federal requirements.

The House Civil Law and Data Practices and Government Operations Committees both approved the bill and referred it to the Transportation Committee. The Senate companion passed out of the Transportation Committee and was referred to the State and Local Government Committee.

Every state will be federal Real ID compliant by the 2020 deadline, when the Department of Homeland Security has said it will issue no more extensions to states that do not meet the new standards.

Background Checks for Firearms

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a well-attended, informational hearing on Tuesday on two gun bills. One bill would require criminal background checks on all gun sales. The other bill would allow law enforcement or family members to get court orders to prevent people who pose a danger to themselves or others from possessing a firearm.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) described his bills as common sense solutions that would help keep Minnesotans safer. Latz wants to expand the criminal background check requirement to gun shows, personal sales and online transactions. Supporters and opponents spent more than two hours testifying. Bill proponents told lawmakers of their personal stories and concerns over gun shows and online sales. Gun rights advocates spoke against the bill and disputed many of the statistics used by its supporters, saying most criminals obtain their guns from other criminals. They also warned that this bill would move the state closer to a gun owner registry.

Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) described the hearing as “political mumbo jumbo” to get an issue “spiked up” for the election. Latz said gun control is an unavoidable campaign issue that will shake out district by district this fall.

Finance Deadline Week/One Month and Counting

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Midnight Thursday marked the deadline for all finance bills to make their way through their respective chambers before today’s Passover Break.

Omnibus Budget Bills

By the end of the week, the House combined eight omnibus finance bills into three as laid out in a plan presented Monday to the House Ways and Means Committee by Chair Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud). Still to be reconciled are the 2015 omnibus taxes and omnibus transportation finance bills, which remain in conference committees.

The House omnibus bills were grouped as follows:

  • K-12 education and higher education;
  • jobs, agriculture and environment and natural resources; and
  • health and human services, public safety and state government.

Rep. Knoblach said that the Senate will have only one supplemental budget bill, but thinks it would be nice to have the bills somewhat narrower than just one big bill. In past supplemental budget years, it has been common for the House to end up with a single omnibus finance bill.

Though the House will have three omnibus bills, there will still be only one conference committee with the Senate. Knoblach said he will probably introduce a small “overarching” bill for conference committee in addition to the three omnibus bills.

In the Senate, Finance Chair Richard Cohen (DFL-St. Paul) also took up their respective articles throughout the week, and rolled them into one omnibus finance package late Thursday. The respective budget bills will now move to the Senate and House floors for consideration.

Water Quality

Hoping to rally public support for his clean water initiatives and pressure the Legislature to do more this session, Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday declared it “Water Action Week.”

Dayton said he wants to make Minnesotans more aware of the quality of their drinking water and get them involved in efforts to protect it. The Governor has been pushing hard for improvements since state studies found troubling levels of nitrates, phosphorus and other chemicals in some drinking water supplies.

Last session, he championed a buffer requirement to prevent runoff. This year, he hosted a statewide summit on water quality and proposed a $220 million state investment in water projects and programs.

Dayton said the House Republicans’ proposal for a $600 million bonding bill is “woefully inadequate” to make needed water infrastructure improvements. His bonding bill proposal totals $1.4 billion, including $167 million to help small communities replace aging drinking water and waste water facilities.

House Capital Investment Committee Chair Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) said he shares the Governor’s interest in water quality projects, but isn’t ready to say how many of those projects might fit into the House bonding bill.

Fair Tax

In its last meeting, the House Taxes Committee held an informational hearing on implementation of a “Fair Tax.” The concept is being heard in several states, and Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) is the House sponsor of a bill that would put the framework in place for “Fair Tax” implementation in Minnesota. The bill’s companion, sponsored by Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville), has not had a hearing in the Senate Taxes Committee.

The bill would eliminate most taxes, including alcohol and tobacco taxes, and establish a framework for replacing them with a very broad state sales tax. Based on a formula, a monthly credit would be paid to people living at the poverty level based on household size. If implemented, sales taxes would not only be expanded to most consumer items, but also most services.

Supporters say a “Fair Tax” would do away with tax deductions and carve outs, including mortgage interest deductions. Drazkowski said it is a simple idea that would incentivize people to work and save.

Critics say implementation of the tax would create an inordinately high consumer tax that would most likely mean less revenue to the state’s General Fund. Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston), the Taxes Committee Chair, said the concept “is most likely a federal issue. I’m not quite sure mechanically how it would work if one state did it and no other states did. This is a concept bill. We’re not laying it over; we’re not voting on it; this is certainly not the position of the House GOP.”

Racial Disparity

Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) sent a letter to Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) Tuesday asking him to target at least $50 million to the issue of racial disparities. Thirty of her DFL colleagues, including Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis), co-signed the letter.

Moran, who is the only African American member of the House, noted that the median income of black Minnesotans fell by 14 percent between 2013 and 2014. Gov. Mark Dayton proposed $100 million this session to tackle racial disparities. The DFL-controlled state Senate proposed $90 million.

Moran is critical of House GOP leaders for not including a specific allocation for economic disparities in their budget targets. Daudt said the requests for more money do not do enough to address academic achievement gaps he believes are at the root of the economic disparities.

House Republicans included some funding initiatives related to economic disparities in their recently released finance bills. They point out 11 items totaling $6.4 million in this year’s jobs bill and 13 education bill provisions totaling $19.3 million. House Ways and Means Chair Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud) stressed that Republicans still want the disparity discussion to include an expansion of tax credits for private school tuition.

Patent Trolling

Minnesota legislators are trying to fix a growing problem hitting businesses around the country: “patent trolls.”

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska), would allow an attorney general to bring civil action against someone who has made a “bad faith claim” against another for infringement on any potentially patented product. A penalty of up to $50,000 per violation could be imposed on any individual or business. Currently, 27 states have passed legislation to help prevent patent trolling.

The bill has the intent of targeting patent assertion entities — businesses that acquire patents with no intention of using the technology itself, but rather suing for alleged infringement. Businesses have found the cost of fighting a frivolous claim in court prohibitive, forcing many businesses to simply settle.

The House approved the legislation unanimously, 129-0. It’s expected to be brought up for a vote on the Senate floor next week, where it is sponsored by Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis).

The legislation has broad support from trade groups, including real estate agents, restaurants and insurance agents. Proponents say the bill would offer consumers and businesses stronger safeguards. Attorney General Swanson said she welcomed the legislation, partly because it could help curb legal costs.

REAL ID

The House and Senate have each held an informational hearing with Commissioner Mona Dohman, Department of Public Safety (DPS). Both hearings included a review of the report requested in the first REAL ID bill and many questions were raised by members.

There continues to be discussion of whether a second REAL ID bill, for implementation, is needed this session. DPS was not able to answer all the timing questions and indicated they will do more research and get back to the respective chairs.  The Governor has sent a letter to the federal Department of Homeland Security requesting an extension for Minnesota. The big question from legislators, whether Minnesota will obtain the extension from Homeland Security based solely on lifting the prohibition on DPS’s ability to prepare for implementation of Real ID (first bill), is not yet answerable.

The second House REAL ID bill was introduced Thursday, and is scheduled for a hearing in the House Civil Law and Data Practices for Monday.

Supplemental Budgets, Bonding and Tax Targets

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With the passage of policy committee deadlines, the Legislature has shifted its attention to supplemental budgets, bonding and tax targets. Finance bills have to be out of Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees by April 21. In addition, lawmakers have six weeks left to reach compromises on transportation and taxes.

Budget Surplus Spending

Democrats in the Minnesota Senate released their General Fund budget targets this week for spending the State’s $900 million surplus. Not surprisingly, the plan contrasts sharply with the one House Republicans announced last week.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) said that they would spend the $900 million surplus among their spending divisions, and reserve some cash in the bonding bill. Bakk said the Senate plan includes some one-time spending to limit the impact on future budgets.

House Republicans rolled out a supplemental budget blueprint Thursday that proposes no net increase in State spending. The plan would divide the State’s $900 million budget surplus between the two leftover items from last session: transportation funding and tax cuts.

During a Wednesday press conference with Senate leadership, Majority Leader Bakk explained that the Senate Democrat’s budget is all inclusive, but a little incomplete. He highlighted three components – bonding, transportation, and family leave. Senate leadership said Pre-K will also be a part of the bill, something Gov. Mark Dayton pushed hard for last session. Bakk noted that their spending and the Governor’s are similar.

Senate Finance Chair Richard Cohen (DFL-St. Paul) said the budget forecast shows a leveling off. He said they won’t base the budget on the current forecast since there appears to be a downturn. New Senate Finance Equity Subcommittee Chair Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis) said that there is an absolute commitment from the Governor and Senate DFL on funding the equity issue.

Senate Tax Chair Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook) noted that after the forecast, the tax bill was re-scored. He said they will try to fit some new priorities in the tax bill, including the disparity issue.

When asked about the Senate and House budget targets being far apart during the question and answer session, Bakk said he told the House Speaker he has to figure out if he wants a tax bill or a transportation bill; there is not enough money for both. He added that Speaker Daudt and Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) need to work together to get the votes to spend some money.

Bakk said he left $111 million unspent, and can use some of that for bonding. He expects the bonding proposal to be close to the $1.4 billion that the Governor wants, vs. the House $600 million proposal.

They hope to have the Senate Finance bill on the floor by Thursday of next week before the Passover break.

Legacy Funding

House Legacy Funding Finance Committee Chair Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) called its first meeting of 2016 on Monday.

Urdahl told the committee that the only bill on the agenda, which was laid over and has no Senate companion – was “vehicle” legislation that would take its final form at the next meeting. But he then outlined the challenges facing the four funds created when voters approved the Legacy Amendment in 2008. Those funds are: Clean Water Fund, Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, Outdoor Heritage, and Parks and Trails Fund.

Urdahl said that because sales tax revenue did not meet projections, we have a little bit of a deficit. Because the February forecast showed lower-than-expected revenues, three of the four Legacy Funds face a projected deficit. Only the Parks and Trails Fund shows a positive balance ($156,000). However, Urdahl said steps have already been taken to address these shortfalls.

While the contents of the Legacy bill are expected to be much different when the committee next takes up the bill, Urdahl said the language it currently contains may begin to resolve an ongoing question that must be answered each time funds are appropriated.

The law requires legacy dollars to “supplement” rather than “supplant” existing expenditures. The legislation would require those seeking money from the Parks and Trails or the Arts and Cultural Heritage funds to disclose whether a given program or project has been funded in the past (since 2006) and, if so, how it was funded. The other two funds were not included because it’s believed they are overseen by advisory boards that should already be considering this question.

Urdahl said this information would help legislators determine whether future Legacy appropriations would be going to efforts that had previously been funded.

Transportation Funding

The chair of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) expressed frustration with Gov. Mark Dayton’s supplemental transportation spending requests on Wednesday, dismissing the proposal as “not a serious plan.” He expressed annoyance at its similarity to the Administration’s original 2015 budget recommendations.

The Governor is calling for additional funds in Fiscal Year 2017 for highway construction, at-grade rail crossing improvements, more State rail inspectors, and registration and commercial licensing of drones. His plan also includes a proposed increase in the motor vehicle fuels tax and vehicle registration fee to fund road and bridge projects, and an expanded metro area sales tax dedicated to Twin Cities transitway expansion.

Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle say striking a transportation funding deal remains a high priority this session, but little progress has been made in bridging the gap between the House and Senate plans.

The House Republican plan would raise an additional $7 billion for roads and bridges over the next decade, in part by redirecting motor vehicle-related tax revenue away from the State’s General Fund, identifying inefficiencies in the MnDOT budget, and utilizing some of the State’s projected budget surplus.

Meanwhile, the Senate DFL package proposes to raise roughly $11 billion for roads, bridges and transit by instituting a new gas tax and expanding a metro area transit-dedicated sales tax from one-quarter to three-quarters of a cent.

Real ID

In a report released Thursday, the Department of Public Safety estimated that it could cost up to $5 million to implement Real ID (security enhanced driver’s licenses) starting this fall.

The Minnesota Legislature ordered the study as it tries to respond to a deadline imposed by the federal government aimed at making identification cards harder to counterfeit. Unless Minnesota makes the change in the next couple of years, Minnesota travelers would have a tougher time boarding flights or getting on military bases.

Legislators are considering bills to usher in Real ID in October, so the cards that require more proof of identity and take more time to process can become uniform in time to meet federal enforcement timelines.

Minnesota faces a 2018 deadline to comply, but the State has applied for a waiver that could extend the deadline until 2020.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he is hopeful that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will give the State some leeway, and is unsure whether he and lawmakers can get it resolved this year. House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said the Legislature still has time to tackle the topic during this legislative session and bring certainty to the traveling public.

Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) has been leery of the Real ID over worries about securing sensitive data. After the report’s release, he said there is ample time to think it through.

First-time applicants for a Real ID must present a valid passport, a certified birth certificate, a certificate of citizenship, or another recognized primary document. The corresponding documents or digital images are kept on file for seven to 10 years. Lawmakers said they will consider rules for data handling to safeguard applicant information.

Fantasy Sports

The Minnesota House voted Monday on legislation to legalize the rapidly growing recreational activity known as fantasy sports.

Rep. Tim Sanders (R-Blaine) said his bill would clarify that the games are legal. He insists that fantasy sports are not gambling. He said the competitions are based on performances of real-life athletes.

The bill moved quickly through the committee process with little opposition. The group Citizens Against Gambling Expansion has spoken against the legislation, arguing that daily fantasy sports games are a form of illegal online wagering.

The Sanders bill would codify the experience in State statute and provide a definition for fantasy sports with an entry fee, noting that it is not a lottery or other form of betting.

The House passed the bill 100-28 Monday. It now moves to the Senate where Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) is the sponsor. “The purpose of the bill is to take something that is so important to many Minnesotans — daily weekly, seasonal fantasy sports — and to codify it in statute that it is legal, that it is fun and helps build community,” Sanders said in a press conference earlier in the day.

Sanders said the consumer of fantasy sports will not be impacted in their game-play, but operators will face stricter regulations, describing it as one of the strongest bills in the country.

The bill, as successfully amended by Sanders on the House Floor, would provide many consumer protections. Among them, the operator must implement reasonable procedures to prevent a game operator from being a participant in a game that they offer and verify that a player is at least 18 years of age.

Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) successfully added an amendment that would require a game operator to have an independent audit with the results submitted to the Commissioner of Public Safety by March 15 of each year.

State and Federal Campaign Finance Reports Due – April 14 and April 15

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While most of us are focused on getting our taxes finished, do not forget to file your campaign finance reports too!

All Minnesota political committees, political funds, independent expenditure committees and independent expenditure funds are required to file a quarterly report of receipts and expenditures no later than Thursday, April 14, 2016.   The period covered by this report is January 1 through March 31, 2016.

State reports must be filed electronically. The Board will consider exceptions to the electronic filing requirements if you can show that your committee or fund has a good reason for not filing electronically. If granted, a waiver of the electronic filing requirements is valid for two (2) years. A committee or fund that fails to file the annual report by the due date is subject to a late filing fee of $50 per day, not to exceed $1,000. Additional information about state reporting requirements can be found at: http://www.cfboard.state.mn.us/index.html

Unless they elect to file monthly, all federally registered PACs and Super PACs are being required to file a quarterly report of receipts and expenditures no later than Friday, April 15, 2016. Like the state reports, the period covered is January 1 through March 31, 2016.

Under the FEC’s mandatory electronic filing rules, any committee that receives contributions or makes expenditures in excess of $50,000 in a calendar year, or expects to do so, must submit all campaign finance reports electronically. Committees that do not meet the $50,000 threshold are permitted to file paper reports but the FEC strongly recommends the voluntary use of the electronic filing system. Once a committee begins to file reports electronically, on a voluntary basis, it must continue to do so for the remainder of the calendar year unless the FEC determines that extraordinary and unforeseeable circumstances make electronic filing impractical.

Reports filed electronically must be received and validated by the FEC by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on the filing deadline. Paper filers must ensure that the FEC receives their report by the close of business on the date of the filing deadline. The filing deadline is not extended because the due date falls on a weekend. Additional information about federal filing requirements can be found at: http://www.fec.gov/info/filing.shtml

If you have any questions about either of these reports, or any other campaign finance or lobbying issues, please contact either John Knapp at (612) 604-6404 or Tami Diehm at (612) 604-6658.

Second Committee Deadline/Week 5

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The Minnesota Legislature wrapped up second committee deadline week, marking the last opportunity for committees to act favorably on bills, or companions of bills, that met the first deadline in the other house.

GOP Budget Targets

House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), Majority Leader Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) and House Ways and Means Chairman Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud) announced targets for budget adjustments on Thursday. In light of the Legislature establishing a two year budget last year, House Republicans are proposing no net increase in spending in the supplemental finance bills.

Speaker Daudt said that House Republicans will focus on tax relief for families and fixing Minnesota’s roads and bridges. The transportation and tax relief bills from last year currently remain in conference committees. The Republican transportation plan spends $7 billion on roads and bridges over the next 10 years without an increase in the gas tax. It would repair or replace more than 15,500 lane miles of road and 330 bridges statewide. Proposals in the Republican tax relief bill include phasing-out the tax on social security benefits and military pay, tax credits for families saving for college and students paying off their loans, expanded deductions for families with school-aged children, and property tax relief for farmers and small businesses.

Among the adjustments, House Republicans are proposing additional funding of $35 million for broadband in rural Minnesota. There is an equal amount of cuts in other budget areas. State government finance is reduced by $9.5 million, and there are also cuts in agriculture and public safety. Bonding is set at $600 million.

The House GOP targets contrast sharply with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposals. Dayton wants to spend $700 million of the surplus. His bonding bill proposal is $1.4 billion. Senate Democrats plan to release their competing budget outline next week. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) said the Senate plan will include some one-time spending to limit the impact on future budgets.

Taxes

House Republicans are pushing for tax cuts with a renewed focus this session on phasing out the state tax on Social Security income. GOP leaders say the move is needed to keep retirees from leaving the state, although Senate Democrats and Gov. Mark Dayton warn that the loss of revenue from such a large cut would threaten future state budgets.

The tax bill House Republicans passed last year, when the state budget had a $1.9 billion projected surplus, would have cut the Social Security tax by 20 percent a year for five years. The proposal remains alive this session in a conference committee. This year, the estimated surplus dropped to $900 million. Cutting the Social Security tax, however, is still a top priority, said House Taxes Committee Chair Greg Davids (R-Preston). He wants Minnesota to be a friendly place for retirees.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue estimates the GOP phase-out plan would affect 381,000 returns in the current tax year, with an average reduction of $213. In Minnesota, Social Security benefits are fully exempt from state and federal taxes for married couples with annual incomes of less than $32,000. The full exemption applies to individuals with income of less than $25,000. There is a 50 percent exemption on slightly higher incomes.

Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) and other Democrats want to raise the income thresholds, which haven’t changed since 1994. Dayton also supports an adjustment, but he did not include one in his supplemental budget plan.

Senate Taxes Committee Chair Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook) said the state could spend about $15 million a year and exempt everyone who makes less than $60,000. Skoe said the full exemption favored by Republicans would primarily benefit people with the highest incomes. Skoe said Senate Democrats won’t support any tax cuts that put the budget at risk. Some Republicans see room to negotiate a phase-out schedule agreeable to Democrats. House and Senate negotiators will begin working again on a potential tax bill compromise later this month.

Gun Cell Phone Cases

Divided over proposed regulation of actual firearms, Minnesota lawmakers gave bipartisan support to a bill outlawing smartphone cases made to look like pistols or revolvers. Legislation making it a crime to buy, possess, manufacture or sell the gun-replica phone cases cleared committees Wednesday, and now awaits action on the House and Senate floors.

Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) and others first raised their concerns last year and hoped retailers would voluntarily pull them from the shelves. However, when some began filtering into the state through online sales, Atkins said a state ban became necessary. Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell, speaking on behalf of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, described the cases as no win situations and recipes for disaster.

Under the bill, violations would be a petty misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $300.

First Committee Deadline – Week Four at the Capitol

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The universe of legislation in play will be significantly winnowed down this week as it is the first committee deadline. Committees must act favorably on bills in the house of origin. The focus will increasingly turn to the budget and tax bill as we move to the second half of session.

Real ID

The REAL ID bill, part 1, Senate File 1646 passed the House and Senate this week. This bill will repeal the prohibition that currently exists on the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) ability to prepare for implementation of REAL ID. The bill will allow DPS to prepare a fiscal note on the cost of implementation of the federal regulation, as well as plan for needed technological infrastructure. The Legislature has asked for DPS to look at a dual track for a compliant and non-compliant driver’s license. The bill asks for an extension from the federal government to allow Minnesota drivers’ licenses to be accepted for access to federal and military facilities.

Currently, Minnesotans can use their drivers’ licenses for access to commercial aircraft, but if Minnesota is not compliant by 2018, we would need a separate extension.

The report from DPS is due back to the Legislature by April 14, 2016. DPS Commissioner Mona Dohman has indicated the Department can meet this deadline. The Governor signed the bill Thursday.

The bill authors, Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) and Rep. Dennis Smith (R-Maple Grove), will begin working on REAL ID part 2 as they await the report from DPS. The second part will be more difficult as this bill will need to deal with the concerns of privacy advocates and the specifics of the federal compliancy requirements.

Fantasy Sports

Legislation to explicitly authorize fantasy sports games in the state is on its way to a vote in the Minnesota House. The House Public Safety Committee approved the measure Tuesday. It won approval last week from the House Commerce Committee.

The bill would define fantasy sports, both daily and seasonal, as contests of skill, not gambling. Current state law doesn’t say anything about the legality of fantasy games.

Rep. Tim Sanders (R-Blaine) said he wants to clarify the issue in Minnesota and thinks now is the time to codify what is already accessible or lawful here in Minnesota, and officially make fantasy sports legal. Sean Ostrow, Manager of Government Affairs for the fantasy sports company FanDuel, said Sanders’ bill includes common sense consumer protections and regulations.

There has been no action yet on the Senate version of the bill.

North Star Rail Extension

Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud) and Sen. John Pederson (R-St. Cloud) wish to extend the Northstar Commuter Rail line to reach their city. They introduced bills requiring two daily round trips between Minneapolis and St. Cloud.

Knoblach said Monday that the extra 27 miles can run along existing tracks to an Amtrak station in St. Cloud. The state would have to negotiate track use with BNSF Railway. Knoblach said to keep operating costs down, the number of weekday round trip Minneapolis-to-Big Lake runs would be reduced from five to four, and there would be one fewer trip in the already reduced weekend schedule as well. The bill bars the state from increasing spending in the current operating budget.

The new bill had its first hearing Tuesday night before the House Transportation Committee. Two Democrats, Sen. Alice Johnson (DFL-Blaine) and Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids) are also seeking $1 million in state bonding to fund the line extension.

Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commission Charlie Zelle said in a joint statement: “We share the governor’s strong support for extending Northstar to St. Cloud. It’s not feasible to extend service, build additional track, serve more people, and have it cost the same as it does today. It is unlikely that BNSF railroad would allow the state to operate on its track at no additional cost. Any proposal to extend Northstar will take real funding solutions.”

Drones

A Senate bill to regulate drone usage made its way through the Senate Judiciary and Transportation committees this week. Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope) is carrying the bill for MnDOT. The agency sees a window for Minnesota to act in the absence of federal regulation. Senate File 3312 defines drones as a powered aircraft that are operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft. The legislation adds three misdemeanor violations: launching or recovering a drone from private property without consent; using a drone with intent to interfere with an aircraft in motion; and knowingly operating a drone within an emergency zone established by law enforcement/fire-emergency services or within one mile of a helicopter operated by such entities.

Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker) is carrying a similar bill in the House and worked its way through the House Government Operations committee on Thursday on its way to the Public Safety committee.

Universal Pre-K

In setting the stage for another showdown with legislators, Gov. Mark Dayton visited preschool classrooms at the Kaposia Education Center in South St. Paul Thursday to highlight his $25 million plan to start offering voluntary pre-kindergarten programs throughout Minnesota.

Dayton’s spending proposal, which is significantly lower than the $348 million he wanted last session, would benefit 3,700 children. The Governor told reporters that he’s hopeful about winning legislative approval of this year’s smaller request, and will seek additional money next session during a budget year.

Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport) said she believes preschool should be available to all families, not just those with low incomes. Sieben is sponsoring legislation to establish a universal pre-kindergarten option.

There is no House companion bill. House Republicans have favored early learning scholarships, which target low-income families, rather than universal pre-kindergarten. The issue pitted Republicans and Democrats against one another at the end of last session and contributed to the derailing of the transportation budget bill.

Fast Pace for Third Week of Session

Posted in Budget, Minnesota Governor, Uncategorized

Lawmakers begin a short Easter recess today and will return to the Capitol on Tuesday.

Real ID

The Minnesota Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to direct the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to study how to bring the State in compliance with the federal Real ID law.

House members are expected to act on the companion bill as soon as Tuesday, giving DPS until March 31 to report back on timelines, costs, and other logistics. There is urgency involved because lawmakers expect to consider a second bill later this session to allow implementation of the security-enhanced licenses, which will be required for domestic air travel in the absence of a passport come 2018.

Minnesota is one of a few remaining states that refused to make any moves toward embracing the Real ID, which requires driver’s license applicants to submit more paperwork to prove their identity. Congress passed the law a decade ago, but federal agencies have only recently begun enforcing rules surrounding it by limiting access to federal buildings and military bases unless visitors present compliant identification cards. It will become essential at airports as soon as 2018.

The bill the Senate passed on a 63-2 vote is short of full implementation. It lifts a gag order that had been in place that prohibited State officials from doing any kind of planning. Once a report is delivered to the Legislature, debate will shift to discussion of rolling out the new driver’s licenses and ID cards.

Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) made clear he was consenting only to the study for now. Sen. Bruce Anderson (R-Buffalo) said he worries that data collected and maintained by states will be misused by agencies conducting surveillance. He was one of the two votes against passage.

Iron Range Unemployment Benefits

The debate over a bill giving laid-off Iron Rangers additional unemployment benefits, promised action in the first week of session, finally came to a close on Thursday. While there was broad agreement about giving up to 26 weeks in extended assistance, the two chambers got caught up in procedural moves.

The House adopted a plan that would also give businesses statewide a refund from the surplus in unemployment fund premiums.   It would give businesses credit for future payments and set up a trigger for rebates when future balances exceed certain solvency thresholds. Senate Democrats objected to having the emergency assistance linked to anything else. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) on Thursday took quick action on the standalone business relief measure as a way to detach it from the benefits extension. He urged the House to pass independent bills before leaving for an Easter recess Thursday.

On the heels of frenzied negotiations, the House did just that, sending both bills to the Governor for his signature. Dayton delayed a trip to California to allow him to do so.

Fantasy Sports

A national debate over daily fantasy sports games is underway, and is taking place in the Minnesota legislature. Rep. Tim Sanders (R-Blaine) has sponsored a bill authorizing fantasy sports to continue to exist as is. The House Commerce Committee held a hearing on the bill on Tuesday. The bill would show that fantasy sports games are games of skill, and would allow the companies to operate in Minnesota without being taxed or regulated.

Sanders says the daily fantasy companies have prospered so far without government intervention and should continue to do so in Minnesota. Sanders amended his bill to provide some additional consumer protections, including requirements that employees of fantasy game operators not participate in the games, establish a minimum player age of 18, segregate player funds from operational funds of the game operator, and prohibits fantasy games based on athletes participating in college games.

Racial Disparities 

Minnesota’s rapidly shifting demographic makeup has ignited a comprehensive debate on how to reduce persistent racial disparities in housing, education, and the labor force. In his supplemental budget proposal last week, Gov. Mark Dayton allocated $100 million for a legislative agenda aimed at ensuring racial equity. His proposals, if enacted, would provide one-time infusions of capital into business-development programs, youth employment initiatives and down-payment assistance for lower-income first-time home buyers. He also wants more funding for the Department of Human Rights, a State agency that investigates complaints of workplace discrimination.

Senate and House members are working to craft their own proposals. Of the $100 million Dayton has proposed for racial equity, nearly $34 million has been left to be assigned by legislators.

House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud) said he is supportive of efforts to expand the Department of Human Rights. He said he supported some proposals by Senate DFLers, including a job-training program. Republicans have so far offered a proposal to raise education tax credits and expand them to also offset private school tuition, an effort to reduce the State’s achievement gap in education. Knoblach said the tax credits would offer lower-income families more school choices. Senate DFLers and Dayton, however, have criticized the tax credits, saying that low-income families cannot afford the upfront cost of private school, even with up to $3,500 in refundable tax credits. Knoblach countered that private schools may be able to cover tuition with financial aid for qualified families.

Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis) said legislators should consider focusing on developing minority-owned businesses that can create jobs, and funding for adult GED programs which would help train underemployed residents.

Some legislators and community leaders said Dayton’s one-time spending proposals are a start, but they said they would like to see a longer-term commitment to ongoing funding, in addition to other systemic changes.

Week Two at the Capitol

Posted in Bills, Budget, Democrats, Health Care, House of Representatives, Legislation, Minnesota Governor, Republicans, Senate, Tax

On Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled his $100 million supplemental budget proposal to deliver tax cuts for over 400,000 Minnesota families, make needed investments in early learning to eliminate achievement gaps, rebuild the state’s aging infrastructure, assure clean and affordable drinking water, and expand economic opportunity by addressing disparities.

Dayton has suggested diverting $67 million of the equity package toward grants and spending that would be administered by departments in charge of things like economic development and education. The proposal leaves $33 million for lawmakers and community groups to find other initiatives aimed at reducing the disparities.

The governor’s plan also emphasizes education. He wants to lower college tuition for teachers to make the profession more appealing, and recruit more teachers of color to reflect an increasingly diverse student body. The Office of Higher Education would allocate $20 million in grants intended to provide students with mentors and other assistance to help close the racial graduation gap.

Dayton stressed that his ideas are just a starting point. Legislators will be proposing their own supplemental budget.

Iron Range Unemployment Benefits

Leaders from both parties have vowed to make extending benefits one of their first priorities this session.

House Ways & Means Committee Republicans on Monday linked a measure to extend unemployment benefits for laid-off Iron Range steelworkers with a tax refund for businesses that pay into the state’s unemployment trust fund. DFLers don’t want the two items tied together.

Republicans on the committee signaled that the bill is a reasonable compromise for DFLers who have opposed directly tying unemployment benefits to the tax credits, and instead have said they want to pass a “clean” bill. Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) inserted two new provisions into the bill that he said are agreeable to the DFL.  The new proposal would extend benefits for 26 weeks paired with a return of about $258 million to the state’s businesses instead of the original $272 million, and would automatically return money to employers in future years if the unemployment fund reaches a certain threshold. The revised measure was taken up and passed by a vote of 104-25 by the full House on Thursday. Prior to the vote, Sen. Bakk said he will not accept a combined bill, so it may end up in conference, further delaying implementation.

Compassionate Care/Aid in Dying

On Wednesday, Sens. Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Center) and John Marty (DFL-Roseville), along with Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley) held a press conference on the Compassionate Care Act.

Sen. Eaton said that the bill provides another tool to show humanity at the end of life.  Sen. Marty said that polls show strong public support. Rep. Freiberg is the House author and noted that the bill contains narrow circumstances in which an individual could choose to administer end of life medication.

Eaton explained that patients would have to have a mental health assessment by a doctor, along with a second opinion. Patients would have to have less than 6 months to live, not be coerced, and be aware of alternatives. It was explained that the prescription must be self-administered, and a patient would apply for it when palliative and hospice care are not sufficient. Even if it is not needed, supporters say it is a huge relief knowing it is an option.

The cause grew out of Oregon’s 1997 Death with Dignity Act. Similar legislation has spread to at least four other states and is under consideration in others. Eaton introduced the measure last year and has been holding listening sessions across the state to build support.

Later that day, the bill was heard in the Senate Health and Human Services  Committee. The hearing about the government’s role in allowing terminally ill people to control when and how they die drew hundreds of people and hours of emotional testimony. The issue became so contentious that at the close of a long day, Sen. Eaton abruptly offered to withdraw the measure. Eaton said that so many misunderstandings had arisen about the proposal that it was not ready for a vote. She added that the short legislative session left little time to correct the record, so she would try again next year.

Paid Family Leave

Sen. Katie Sieben’s (DFL-Cottage Grove) proposal for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave received a Senate Judiciary hearing on Thursday. The bill includes a new insurance model (affordable payroll insurance pool) to help provide paid leave for all Minnesota workers. It provides partial wage replacement for a major life event. The payout would be calculated based on a maximum average weekly wage or $1,000 per week. The program would be funded with a 50% employer and 50% employee contribution. It would be phased in over time and would have a startup cost for the State, but would eventually be self-funded. The payout would be progressive so that those earning the lowest wages would get the biggest payout. If an employer currently provides paid leave with the same or better benefits then they would be granted an exemption.

Among the testifiers was Ryan Wick, MN Employment Law Council. He said the underlying principle is fine, but that there would be unintended administrative consequences for employers. He also testified that the opt out provision is really not an opt out since no employer will be able to meet all the requirements, and that no state union has these benefits. Cam Winton with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce said that the bill is rushed and would be a new tax on employees and employers. He said it would provide a richer benefit set than any other state.

The bill was passed as amended and re-referred to the Senate Jobs committee.

Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) Committee Assignments

Sen. Abeler was elected in a special election last month to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Branden Petersen. He had not been appointed to any committees two weeks into session.  The delay in Abeler’s appointments had been due to a dispute between Senate Majority Leader Bakk and Sen. Minority Leader David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) over the reorganization of legislative committees more broadly. Hann announced on Thursday that an agreement had been reached and that Abeler would be assigned to Finance HHS Budget, Finance Higher Education Budget, Higher Education and Workforce Development, and State and Local Government.

2016 Minnesota Session Begins

Posted in Uncategorized

Acrimony and Lengthy Debate

The 2016 Minnesota Legislative Session convened at noon on Tuesday, March 8. With a condensed ten week calendar, it will be a race against the clock to complete business. The House spent the bulk of their opening session arguing about space issues at the Capitol. Democrats expressed dismay over allocating just 18 seats in our House Chambers for members of the public, and 15 seats for reporters.

The opening Senate session was not a kumbaya moment either. Republicans were not pleased with a recent DFL decision to break into two, the Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Budget Division. Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) will chair the Environment and Energy Budget Division and Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisolm) will chair what remains of his committee, now called the Natural Resources, Economic Development, and Agriculture Budget Division. Tomassoni, an Iron Range lawmaker, was criticized last year over a number of provisions in environment legislation that were viewed as favorable to business interests at the expense of environmental concerns. Republicans noted that the newly formed committee will only have representation from one Iron Range member and will be chaired by a Twin Cities environmentalist (Marty). They demanded to know who made the decision. Bakk said he was meeting with Minority Leader David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) later in the day and would provide him with that information, but would not give names while on the floor of the Senate.

Out of the Gate

There are a few areas of agreement heading into the 2016 session. Both parties support a 26 week extension of unemployment benefits for laid-off Iron Range mine workers. On Thursday, following heated debate, the Senate took up and passed the package. Republicans offered an amendment to extend a one-time, $270 million unemployment tax credit to business and a provision to automatically reduce employer rates if the unemployment trust fund grows beyond federal solvency guidelines. The amendment was not adopted, but is likely to be offered and adopted in the House, sending the bill to conference committee.

In addition, House and Senate leaders are also ready to pass a measure to move the State toward compliance with the federal driver’s license and identification card requirements (Real ID).

On Thursday, March 10, the Senate Transportation Committee amended a bill in committee with a delete-all, which allows Real ID planning. This is the first bill in a two part series. This bill will allow the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to plan for implementation of the Real ID; however, it requires additional approval before DPS can fully implement Real ID.

The amended language requires a report to the Legislature from DPS by March 31, 2016 that will include planning for implementation, itemizing costs, and implementing a two-tier license program among other items.

Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) assured the committee he will have the second bill before the committee as soon as DPS can provide the needed information. He intends to pass the Real ID measure this session.

The bill will next be heard in Senate Judiciary on Friday, March 11, 2016. It will be on the Senate floor next week, and then sent to the House.

Transportation

DFL Governor Mark Dayton recently said he was pessimistic about getting a meaningful transportation funding bill this year, even though it’s one of his top priorities. Dayton prefers a dedicated gas tax increase for road and bridge projects. He opposes a House Republican plan to use existing sales tax revenue from the General Fund.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) says he’s optimistic about getting a transportation deal, if all sides can focus on the areas where they agree. Daudt made it clear that a gas tax increase is not one of those areas.

Taxes

House Republicans are also still pushing for the $2 billion in tax cuts that they passed last session. Their plan includes a phase out of the tax on Social Security income.

Democrats say the cost of those tax cuts is too high. The latest State economic forecast showed even less money than expected sitting around. The revised budget surplus for the current biennium of $900 million was $300 million lower than the estimate from early December. Bakk said the shrinking surplus makes spending decisions harder this session.

However, House Taxes Chair Greg Davids (R-Preston) said that chances of a new tax bill this year are slim. Last year’s omnibus tax bill is stalled in conference committee. Davids is not keen on having a second tax bill to contend with this year. He did say that if they can get agreement on a few items, like the federal conformity measure, it could happen. The committee did hear two bills this week: one allowing for a historic rehabilitation tax credit, and another allowing a sales tax exemption for different types of equipment used by internet service providers.

Bonding

The second year of a biennium is often considered a capital bonding year to fund a wide array of projects through proceeds from the sales of bonds. House Capital Investment Committee members heard many requests on Thursday, including $35 million for the State’s Rural Finance Authority; $14.5 million for construction of a new seal and sea lion habitat at St. Paul’s Como Zoo; $10 million for Metropolitan Regional Parks from the Met Council; and $8.2 million for asset preservation and facility upgrades at the Minnesota State Academies.

Dayton has proposed $1.4 billion in borrowing for public construction projects throughout the State. House Republicans say they want to keep the bonding bill at about $800 million.

Paid Family Leave

On Monday, Sen. Katie Sieben (D-Cottage Grove) along with the Minnesota Coalition for Paid Family Leave held a press conference unveiling a proposal for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. It includes a new insurance model (affordable payroll insurance pool) to help provide paid leave for all Minnesota workers.

The bill was described as providing partial wage replacement for a major life event. The payout would be calculated based on a maximum average weekly wage or $1,000 per week. Bill sponsor Sieben said that Minnesota has one of the highest female work participation rates, and that paid family leave is the most basic family value.

The program would be funded with a 50% employer and 50% employee contribution and would include State workers. The program would be phased in over time and would have a startup cost for the State, but would eventually be self-funded. The payout would be progressive so that those earning the lowest wages would get the biggest payout. If an employer currently provides paid leave with the same or better benefits then they would be granted an exemption.

In February, Gov. Dayton proposed paid parental leave for the State’s 35,000 public employees. His plan would provide six weeks of paid leave to new parents. Dayton plans to include his proposal in a supplemental budget this year.

Mining

Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday that he will not grant access to State land for the development of a copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA).

In a letter to a top executive of Twin Metals Minnesota, Dayton said he has an obligation to protect an extraordinary natural legacy. Monday’s letter was the first time Dayton definitively and publicly stated opposition to mining in the Boundary Waters wilderness. It followed last week’s approval by the Department of Natural Resources of a 10-year environmental review for another mining project, proposed by PolyMet Mining Corp.

PolyMet’s project lies in a watershed that drains southeast towards Lake Superior, while the Twin Metals watershed drains north toward the BWCA.

Dayton’s statement delighted environmental groups, but outraged Iron Range legislators who have been pushing him to allow copper-nickel mining projects to move forward.

Capitol Departures

Posted in Democrats, Elections, House of Representatives, Republicans, Senate, Uncategorized

The 2016 election cycle includes all 201 legislative seats and elections create lots of new faces at the Capitol. Add to that the 21 retirements/resignations that have been announced thus far, and 2017 will be a year of change. Hopefully it will also include a completed renovation of the State Capitol building.

Political endorsing conventions generally occur in March and April and there may be a few more retirement announcements before then, but for the time being, this is the list. Note that the filing period for the State Primary and General Election opens May 17 and closes May 31, 2016.

Senate Retirements (12)

DFL
  1. Jim Metzen (DFL-South St. Paul)
  2. Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada)
  3. Kathy Sheran (DFL-Mankato)
  4. Roger Reinert (DFL-Duluth)
  5. Barb Goodwin (DFL-Columbia Heights)
  6. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport)
  7. LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Plummer)
GOP
  1. Branden Petersen (R-Andover) – Jim Abeler won the Special Election on February 9, 2016.
  2. John Pederson (R-St. Cloud)
  3. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen)
  4. David Brown (R-Becker)
  5. David Thompson (R-Lakeville)

House Retirements (9)

DFL
  1. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) resigned his seat this summer and moved out of the country. Peggy Flanagan (DFL-St. Louis Park) won a Special Election in November 2015.
  2. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake) passed away in fall of 2015. Rob Eckland (DFL-Int’l Falls) won a Special Election in December 2015.
  3. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) resigned after 23 years of public service to take a lobbying position. Chad Anderson (R-Bloomington) won the Special Election on February 9, 2016.
  4. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester)
  5. Carly Melin (DFL-Duluth)
  6. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) is running for an open seat on the Dakota County Commission this fall.
GOP
  1. Mark Anderson (R-Lake Shore)
  2. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing)
  3. Tim Sanders (R-Blaine)