Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Weeks of December 16 & 23, 2007

Here's a link to a state guide that I found useful, and which you might want to pass along to your local school. The text is from the MPCA.

Healthy Sustainable Schools: Guide & Assessment Tool

With a goal of helping Minnesota K-12 schools reduce operating costs, reduce environmental impacts and promote a healthy indoor/outdoor environment for students, the MPCA has produced a free on-line and printed resource that provides a:
  • Guide (65 p.) to the many physical/operational aspects of a school that can be changed.
  • Assessment Tool (60 p.) - a checklist - for walking through school buildings and documenting what needs to be done to make improvements.

Aimed at motivated parents and school officials committed to making improvements, the Guide helps advocates for change sell their recommendations by summarizing the many benefits of a healthier school, which include:

  • Enhanced student health and performance
  • Higher performing school buildings with reduced operating & maintenance costs
  • Reduced environmental impacts
  • Increased student attendance
  • Increased staff satisfaction

The Guide covers the following topics under the headings of Buildings & Operations, Reduce / Reuse / Recycle, Health & Wellness, and Toxicity Reduction:

  • Green building; energy and water conservation
  • Smart growth; building location / community adjacencies /size
  • Environmentally preferable purchasing; green cleaning
  • 3R options; paper and food waste reduction; composting
  • Indoor air quality; integrated pest management
  • School bus emissions; mercury, lead, chemicals management
  • Nutrition
The Assessment Tool for Change includes these chapters:
  • Free Topic Experts and Resources
  • Getting Started
  • Establishing a Team
  • Building Awareness and Support (includes model policy statements)
  • School Assessment Forms
  • Final Tips

View and download the Guide and Assessment Tool at the web site above, where you will also find 6 school case studies. Three of these 5- to 8-page studies are from pilot projects that used and refined the Guide and Tool. For those school leaders working on an improvement project, contact the MPCA's Linda Countryman (linda.countryman@state.mn.us; 651/215-0269) for a free printed copy of this resource and for additional assistance.

Schedule: On Tuesday, December 18th, I did an interview about the district for House Public Information Services. The ten-minute interview will be on my House web site soon. In the afternoon, I attended a meeting of some of my colleagues on internal efficiencies. In the evening, I attended a meeting of the House DFL Caucus. On Wednesday, December 19th, I chaired the second meeting of the Subcommittee on Drinking Water Source Protection. Testifiers included the DNR, the MN Geological Survey on its county atlas program, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on recharge of groundwater, and the University of MN. The goal of the day's session was to get a better understanding of the science of water, especially groundwater. In the evening I met with several members of the Shoreview Sierra Communities group about drinking water issues.


Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident supporting state education tax on wealthier school districts to help support less wealthy ones; Lino Lakes resident against an NTSB recommendation that state require motorcyclists to wear helmets; two Shoreview residents and one Circle Pines resident against greater government involvement in health care (see previous post on the Minnesota Majority e-mail campaign on this); Lino Lakes resident against DNR position to put down a bear in northern MN that is hibernating under a cabin; Shoreview residents supporting universal health care; Shoreview resident about Board of Medical Practice; Shoreview resident about a local election issue; Shoreview resident asking about property tax computation; Shoreview resident against HF635 relating to wireless regulation; Circle Pines resident supporting state acquisition of proposed Lake Vermillion state park

Friday, December 14, 2007

Week of December 9, 2007

Schedule: On Monday, December 10th, I attended a meeting at the MN Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) where a representative of the Michigan Environmental Council presented on a proposed on-line tool for "water withdrawal" permitting. One concern here in MN and elsewhere is that some large-scale users of groundwater (e.g., bottled water plant, ethanol plant) might use too much water so that other residential and agricultural users cannot get enough water. In Michigan, they are proposing that a potential large-scale water user can go on-line and find out whether there is enough water in a particular area. We don't have our groundwater all mapped out in MN so we can't do this yet.

On Wednesday, December 12th, I attended a meeting of the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board (SWMCB) so I could hear a presentation about a proposed paint product stewardship project. Counties spend a lot of our money to help safely recycle or dispose of our old paint. The state and the metro counties are working with paint manufacturers to see if they can create a system where paint manufacturers can help pick up part of the tab through a consumer fee or incorporating the cost of waste management in the price of the new product. Later in the day I attended a meeting of the House Suburban DFL Caucus and then a DFL House Caucus fundraiser in St. Paul. On Thursday, December 13th, I attended a half-day program by ISAIAH called "Conversation on Health." It was an effort to get supporters of change in the health care system together. On Friday, December 14th, I attended a meeting of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts with about two dozen legislators. The AMSD presented on expected deficits for metro school districts and several superintendents debriefed recent unsuccessful attempts to pass local school levies. Senator Pogemiller and Speaker Kelliher also spoke. Finally, I sat in on a meeting of the East Metro PFC Oversight Working Group, which is monitoring Department of Health efforts to address contamination from 3M chemicals in drinking water.

Visitors: Lino Lakes resident about environment and economic development issues; House researcher on solid waste legislation; committee chair about drinking water issues; House researchers about a health care issue

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes resident about Lino prison; Golden Lake Elementary parent about education; Lino Lakes resident about heart-healthy initiatives; Lino Lakes resident supporting constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage; Lexington resident wanting tougher penalties for deer-baiting; Circle Pines resident, three Lino Lakes residents, and four Shoreview residents supporting "Free Markets Health Care Petition" that opposes new health care mandates (Minnesota Majority, the organization that organized the health care petition, has five issues that it works on: health care; illegal immigration; gay marriage; sex education; and stem cell research)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Week of December 2, 2007

Schedule: On Monday, December 3rd, I attended a meeting of the Solid Waste Administrators Association (SWAA) where they discussed how recent e-waste legislation is working out. (It is working out quite well, actually.) I also took the bus from the Capitol to downtown Minneapolis for that meeting using my Go To card. It was cheaper than parking! On Tuesday, December 4th, I attended a legislative listening session by the Anoka County Affordable Housing Coalition. About twenty organizations and about six or seven legislators from both parties were in attendance, as well as several people who are living in a local shelter. It became clear that some of these homeless Minnesotans have multiple issues to deal with, including mental health, criminal background (sometimes by a parent or relative), substance abuse, and a lack of skills to be able to deal with all the forms, agencies, and so on that you have to deal with to get housing and benefits. And some homeless people have also had a run of bad luck, including a recent divorce, health problems, escape from domestic violence, etc. It seems very overwhelming, and I compliment the staff of these advocacy organizations for their commitment and skills.

Here are some freaky statistics: In Anoka County, the workforce ratio (the number of retired workers compared to the number of employed workers) was 1 to 9 in 2005. In 2030, it is expected to be 1 to 3.7! This is another indication that our population is aging quickly, and this has radical consequences for housing.

On Wednesday, December 5th, I attended a meeting with some of my colleagues on health care.

On Thursday, December 6th through Saturday, December 8th, I attended a conference in Chicago of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) for the Great Lakes region. This trip was not taken at taxpayer expense, and I received a scholarship from NCEL in order to go. The funding for the scholarship came from the Joyce Foundation. Topics included chemicals found in umbilical cord blood, renewable energy, Great Lakes ballast water legislation to combat invasive species, e-waste, green building, climate change, clean cars, and smart growth. We also toured the Chicago Center for Green Technology and a Mercy Housing low-income housing project that incorporates green building techniques, including a battery-free and low-profile wind turbine design that I had not seen before.

Visitors: House researcher about solid waste legislation; a committee administrator about the drinking water subcommittee; lobbyist for Clean Water Action about future environmental proposals

Constituent contacts: North Oaks resident concerned about decreasing health care coverage and increasing cost; Shoreview resident supporting universal health coverage, concerned about overcapacity in K-12 education, better funding for transportation, and lower property taxes; Shoreview resident about bike trail funding; Shoreview resident about MN Board of Medical Practice

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Health Care Column: comments welcome!

Here's a column I wrote to the community newspapers on health care. I hope that you will share your comments on health care with me at rep.paul.gardner@house.mn.


The 2008 session of the state legislature will include a hefty discussion about health care access and costs.

Health insurance costs continue to rise dramatically. In the months before the next session, my colleagues in the House and Senate are discussing several reforms that could reverse some troubling trends. I hope that constituents will share their ideas and opinions with me before the session starts on February 12th.

The trends will not surprise you. Minnesota currently has the highest percentage of people uninsured since 1998, including over 100,000 children. And these are not just people making minimum wage. The share of Minnesotans with employment-based health insurance was just 65.7% in 2006, a new all-time low. Since 2000, private health insurance premiums have risen by an average of 10% per year, outpacing yearly income increases by over three times. This inflation reduces the ability of employers to hire more people, and when employers do not provide health coverage, workers are left trying to find coverage on their own.

Cost containment needs to be a priority. The state legislature made positive strides this year and is continuing to look for practical solutions that will help limit health care costs, while maintaining the high quality of care.

Along with insuring over 30,000 Minnesota kids who were previously not covered, we enacted legislation creating a more cost-effective health care system. In December, a new health care payment reform plan will be initiated that rewards cost-effective primary and preventive care and discourages overuse of expensive and many times unnecessary procedures. Minnesota also became only the 2nd state in the country to adopt uniform billing practices. Combined with electronic medical records (which need to have necessary data protections), this will lower administrative costs.

In June, a bipartisan coalition of legislators began studying Minnesota's health care system, focusing on cost-containment and affordability. This Health Care Access Commission, comprised of both Republican and Democratic State Representatives and Senators, will release their policy recommendations this January. The commission plans to offer proposals that correct redundancy and inefficiencies in health care payments, creating a lower-cost reimbursement structure. Their recommendations will also focus on the need to reduce expensive health care services through preventative measures and early treatment for chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes.

Challenges will still remain. Many uninsured Minnesotans can pay for health coverage but insurance companies may choose not cover them. Reimbursement rates for Minnesota Care, like Medicare, are usually lower than normal market rates so doctors and clinics may limit the number of patients accepted under these programs if we expand them on a much larger scale.

I very much would like to hear your opinions, questions, and concerns about how health care costs and access issues are affecting you, and what ideas you have. Please e-mail me at Rep.Paul.Gardner@house.mn, write me at the Capitol, or call my office at 651-296-2907. Also check out my blog at http://www.paulgardner53a.blogspot.com for more information on my other legislative activities.

Week of November 25, 2007

Schedule: At church on Sunday, the speaker was Tom Gillaspy, the state demographer. He spoke about how our population is aging. That will have massive fiscal repercussions for us as the baby boomers retire. On Tuesday, November 27th, I toured Century College in White Bear Lake/Mahtomedi with the chair of the House Higher Education Committee, Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), and Rep. Carol McFarlane (R-White Bear Lake). Several hundred of my constituents attend Century so I wanted to tag along for the tour, since I haven't been there before. (The number of students from 53A at local MnSCU campuses is listed in a previous post.
Here are a couple of interesting items that I heard at Century:
* The state is not going to have enough dentists in the near future. Century is training hygienists and other dental technicians.
* The state has a nursing shortage, and Century's nursing program now has the state's first paramedic-to-RN accelerated program. (My neighbor is participating in this program.)
* Century has one of just seven orthotics and prosthetic labs in the U.S. The campus is cranking out graduates who then--among other things--are producing artificial limbs for returning veterans. In fact, some Iraq vets are in the program.
* The student body comes from 100+ nationalities. Their digital language lab (DLL) assists many students in their English proficiency.
* Minnesota imports engineers from other states and countries. To meet future labor needs, Century has a fabrication lab (the "Fab Lab") where students learn applied engineering. They get an associate of applied science degree and many complete a four-year degree at the University of Minnesota.

We also met with some faculty and members of the student Senate. More than 200 veterans are students. I met three of them in a meeting with the student senate.

Some other interesting factoids:
* For each additional $6 million annually from the state, the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities System (MnSCU) can reduce tuition by 1% for a year. Tuition at Century went up by only 4% this year after much larger increases in past years.
* Seven percent of full-time equivalent course loads at Century are taken on-line
* There is a dispute between the legislature and the MnSCU board of trustees as to how much the MnSCU office should be spending on technology versus tuition reduction.

In the afternoon of November 27th, I attended a meeting of the Eastern Transportation Alliance (ETA), a group of city and county governments that are promoting transit expansion in the greater St. Paul metro area and areas from Chisago County in the north to Olmsted County in the south. The group is asking the Governor and the Legislature for $140 million in bonding money in 2008 to complete the Central Corridor light rail line along University Avenue. The idea is that this line, along with a refurbished Union Depot in St. Paul, will allow suburbs in the northeast and southeast metro to tap into a larger transit network. Our district is kind in the middle of transit proposals to the east (like the Rush Line) and to the west (Northstar Corridor and a proposed passenger rail line from Duluth to Minneapolis via Cambridge). You can get a better idea of what is proposed in the Central Corridor and the Union Depot at the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority website.

I would like to spend my time relating to transit on bus service and park-and-ride lots for the moment. Speaking of park-and-ride lots, I received a letter from Metro Transit responding to an inquiry regarding lots in Lino Lakes. Metro Transit is trying to build a parking structure at 95th Avenue and 35W (in Blaine) where there is an existing (and full) parking lot of 1,000 spaces. The construction would be from September 2008 to September 2009. A temporary park-and-ride for 200 spaces would be required during construction, and that location could be at the proposed Lino Lakes library site at Highway 23 and 35W in Lino Lakes. Metro Transit also wrote that a park-and-ride for 200 spaces could be possible at the northwest corner of 35E and Highway 14 in Lino Lakes as plans for that intersection develop in early 2008.

On Wednesday, November 28th, I attended a Local Government Officials Meeting for Anoka County in Ham Lake. Anoka County staff presented a draft legislative package. (The 2007 version is on-line and it is very similar.) The most interesting presentation was given by Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah, who spoke on Anoka County Human Services. The presentation gave the facts about what we might otherwise call "welfare" and the myths that are out there about it. Here are some factoids I picked up:

* A breakdown of benefits issued by the county in 2006 for public assistance included 89% ($268,818,008) for health care (especially nursing homes, Medicare), five percent for food assistance ($13,805,648) , and six percent ($17,888,007) for cash assistance. These are state and federal dollars and the county only pays for staff to administer the benefits.
* The average costs for nursing home care are about $3,500 to $6,500 per month.
* 70% of people on MFIP (Minnesota Family Investment Program, a cash program for families with children) in Anoka County have only been on public assistance for less than two years. The cash benefit is $532 per month and $378 for food stamps per month.
* 69% of MFIP recipients are children.
* The average monthly caseload for the County for MFIP is 1,798.

After viewing the Star Tribune's web site on the 35W bridge collapse, I found that there were three of my constituents on that bridge, including one who was killed. I was pleased that the Governor announced some temporary relief for survivors but I was distressed that it took so long for him to take action. The temporary assistance comes from an existing tort claims fund. It looks like Senator Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) and Rep. Dennis Ozment (R-Rosemount) worked with the Governor after the 9/11 fund special master spoke on this issue a few weeks ago.

Visitors: On November 27th I met with a House researcher, MPCA staffers, and another House member on some recycling initiatives.

Constituent contacts: district resident about my bill on scrap metal theft because his company provides alarm systems for construction sites, which have been targets for thieves (the company is RSI Alarm, based in White Bear Lake, and it sells globally); Circle Pines resident about property tax assessments; Shoreview resident about special education and transportation policy; Shoreview resident about MN Board of Medical Practice issue; Circle Pines resident about MnDOT rules about audible pedestian signals for blind pedestrians; Lino Lakes resident about environmental issues; Shoreview resident about health care premium increases and the precariousness of coverage and supporting transit; Shoreview resident supporting fewer mandates and increased competition in health care

Monday, November 19, 2007

Week of November 18, 2007

Schedule: On Monday, November 19th, I met with another House member and a House researcher on a recycling issue. On Tuesday, November 20th, I met with a KSTP reporter about the bill I authored to combat metal theft.

Visitors: Shoreview residents about possible 2008 legislative agenda on health care, transportation, and education

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident asking "when are you representatives going to protect honest citizens instead of illegal's, criminals and your corrupt buddies" (I'm wondering if news about the Secretary of State's recent admission about using official data for fundraising is the source of this contact); Lino Lakes resident promoting tax cuts for economic growth

New Law Working! KSTP-TV did a story on November 20th on how the new law that I wrote to combat metal theft is working. Hooray! A link to the story is at http://kstp.com/article/stories/S263403.shtml. Burglaries in the 4th precinct in North Minneapolis (mostly copper wire and pipe theft) have dropped by 75 percent! Authorities in Hugo now tell me that they are making some progress with a scrap metal dealer who was buying a lot of stolen metal in that community. The new law also include tougher penalties if someone tampers with electrical transmission equipment, like copper wire. Three men were arrested recently for cutting through Xcel Energy electrical cable underground, and they may be charged with felonies instead of misdemeanors. (This is not a good idea--several thieves in the Midwest have electrocuted themselves this way.)

Another New Law Working! Another bill I spent a lot of time on was on electronic waste. Under the new law, manufacturers of electronics are responsible for the cost of recycling old computers, TVS, and other devices. (The cost eventually is incorporated into the cost of a new device for consumers.) One electronics recycler held a collection event at the Mall of America last week and collected 1 million pounds of electronics that filled 86 trailers! The major barrier to collecting this material in the past has been the high cost of recycling this potentially toxic material. You can find out about e-waste recycling in our area at http://www.greenguardian.com/.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Week of November 11, 2007

Schedule: On Tuesday, November 13th, I spoke to a class of seniors at Centennial High School. They asked a lot of good questions! Several members of the class want to boost recycling at the school, so since that's what I used to do I might meet with them later. In the evening, my family attended a Veterans Day concert at Mounds View High School given by fourth and fifth graders from my children's school. What a great job. There was even a WWII vet there from the Merchant Marine! I didn't know that they have their own song. My kids go to this site for the lyrics and music for the service anthems. On Wednesday, November 14th, I met with the director of Friends of Ramsey County Suburban Libraries about the organization's activities and capital campaign efforts. The Roseville Library, the busiest in the state, will undergo expansion next year if plans go ahead. On Thursday, November 15th, I attended part of a hearing for Rep. Ryan Winkler's proposal for disaster victim compensation. Later than morning, I attended a meeting of the Metropolitan Council's Water Supply Planning Committee, where there were several interesting presentations. After that, I made some remarks at an America Recycles Day event at the Children's Museum in St. Paul put on my by old employer, the Recycling Association of Minnesota. In the afternoon, I will have met with the House Capitol Investment Committee in Coon Rapids about the proposed bike trail for the Rice Creek/Chain of Lakes preserve in Lino Lakes. On Friday, November 16th, I attended a book signing for the new history of Shoreview entitled Shoreview Reflections. There is a one-hour DVD that goes with the history, and you can view a trailer or the whole video on-line.

Visitors: None

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident against Canadian-style health care system in the U.S.; Blaine resident pleased with new legislation for manufactured home (aka trailer) park residents that would help them with relocation costs if the park owners sell the property

Monday, November 5, 2007

Week of November 4, 2007

Schedule: On Wednesday, November 7th, I attended a meeting of the House Environmental Finance Committee on MPCA issues, including wastewater treatment, deformed frogs, ballast water on Lake Superior, and a few other things. On Thursday, November 8th, I chaired the first meeting of the Drinking Water Source Protection Subcommittee in Apple Valley (more below), and visited a compost site in Empire Township (Dakota County) and an industrial landfill in Rosemount as Vice-Chair of the Solid Waste, Recycling & Resource Conservation Working Group. On Friday, November 9th, I attended part of a meeting of the Legislative Coordinating Committee's Subcommittee on Claims as it will discuss possible claims against the state for the 35W bridge collapse. (More below.)

Visitors: On Monday, November 5th, I met with a house researcher and staff from the Department of Health on drinking water issues.

Constituent contacts: North Oaks resident about freezing a credit report; Shoreview? resident about the labor force used for 35W bridge reconstruction; Lino Lakes resident supporting recent energy legislation and the legislature's on-time finish and asking about measures to constrain spending; North Oaks resident concerned about new reporting requirements for water management organizations; Shoreview resident upset about Taxpayers' League President's comments about education; Shoreview resident with shingle recycling question; Shoreview resident asking about tax deductions for education expenses

Interesting You Tube Video: A constituent e-mailed me a link to this You Tube video. It's called "Do You Know 2.0?" It lays out some of the global demographic and information technology trends that will face us in the next few decades, and asks viewers and elected officials to consider how they will take this information into account when supporting education. Especially thought provoking is the idea that we don't actually know what skills students will need 20 years from now, because the world is changing constantly.

Levy results: The White Bear Lake School District is the only school district in 53A that had a levy question up for consideration on election night. Its levy passed and the district will now be able for now to avoid closing several schools and letting go about 100 teachers. Congratulations to the levy advocates.

Smoking Ban Update: Tuesday's Shoreview Press has an article on how the smoking ban is working in the north metro, and I've got some quotes there. (A few of them aren't quite right, but what are you gonna do.)

35W Bridge Replacement Funding: I'm a little confused by the testimony of MnDOT officials and the words to the media by the MnDOT Commissioner. In the Legislative Action Committee that is meeting monthly to monitor funding needs for the new 35W bridge, MnDOT officials say that they have the money they need in order to do both the bridge and other scheduled road and bridge projects. After the committee meeting, the MnDOT Commissioner said that MnDOT will have to delay some road and bridge projects if the committee doesn't approve additional funding. Which is it?

Drinking Water Hearing: The first meeting of my Drinking Water Source Protection Committee was Thursday this week in Apple Valley. The first presentation was on Dakota County's Ambient Groundwater Quality (AGQS) study. Dakota County is the only county to have systematically test private wells, and boy is there a lot of stuff in them. A majority of private wells tested (mostly in the agricultural areas of Dakota County) have nitrates in them from fertilizers as well as the most common pesticides for corn and soybeans. The second presentation was on the Met Council's drinking water supply planning. While the Twin Cities should not end up like Atlanta or the desert Southwest, there is a lot of long-term planning that needs to go on about the sustainability of our water supply. Finally, we had a report from the Environmental Quality Board on sustainability of our drinking water.

35W Bridge Collapse: The Friday hearing on possible claims against the state from the 35W bridge collapse was instructive. Ken Feinberg, who served as special master for The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, testified about his experience with the 9/11 fund as well as other tragedies. He said that there were several lessons he learned that would be helpful here in Minnesota.

* "Timeliness is critical" and there is "no reason to hold victims hostage" waiting for a cause to be determined in the bridge collapse. The 9/11 fund was distributing funds to victims within 100 days of 9/11. He indicated that if the state decided to compensate the victims of the bridge collapse, there is nothing stopping the state from requesting reimbursement of some or all of the compensation if someone other than the state has liability discovered through the investigation and then is penalized through the court system. So in the meantime, he suggested, the legislature could compensate victims before a cause is determined to deal with health costs, lost work, etc.
* "Simplicity is a virtue." The 9/11 fund dealt with the families of thousands of people who died, and the bridge collapse is dealing with perhaps 100-150 people. Therefore, it might not be necessary to create a special office with staff and other resources to handle compensation here in Minnesota, and an existing state office could handle the process.
* It is up to the legislature as the representative of the people to determine whether the bridge collapse warrants special treatment over other tragedies where victims were not compensated.

Among the options discussed Friday for the bridge collapse were:
1. Raising the tort liability cap currently in statute ($1,000,000, which would be split among 100-150 people) to a higher number just for the bridge collapse.
2. Set up a special compensation fund, then determine what the right amount is for compensation for each victim or survivor and pay accordingly
3. Do #2, but deduct from the state's share the amount of private insurance or any other compensation received for that victim or survivor ("collateral offsets")
4. Do #2, but then ask for reimbursement from victims or survivors if an entity other than the state is found liable

Other legislative blogs: The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) has a blog index at "The Thicket." You can find a link to The Thicket in the links section on the right.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Week of October 28, 2007

Schedule: On Sunday, October 28th, I spent some time knocking on a few doors in the district just to keep in touch with constituents. It is very easy to become isolated from the district at the Capitol, so I wanted to see what is on their minds. On Tuesday, October 29th, I sat in on part of a House Education Finance Reform Work Group chaired by Rep. Greiling. The presenter from P.S. Minnesota outlined how the state's education formula can be changed to be simpler and to make it more effective to local needs. On Wednesday, October 30th, I sat in on a meeting of the Legislative Electric Energy Task Force, where it had presentations on nuclear energy, transmission lines, and electricity distribution. On Thursday, November 1st, I attended a meeting of the 35W/E Coalition, an effort of several north metro cities to coordinate their transportation and land use decisions. (The cities include Hugo, Lino Lakes, Centerville, Forest Lake, and Columbus.)

Visitors: On Sunday, October 28th I met with a bridge collapse survivor from the district about the experience. (In the interests of this person's privacy, I'll just leave it at that.) On Monday, October 29th at the Capitol, I met with a house researcher on a consumer issue; two staffers from Hennepin County and a county lobbyist about proposed compost legislation; staff from the Anoka County Community Action Program about energy assistance programs; legislative affairs staff from the University of Minnesota about their proposed bonding package for 2008 (watch short on-line video presentations on-line); staff and police from the City of Minneapolis about my scrap metal legislation and a bill that would change regulation of pawn shops; and staff from the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District. On Tuesday, October 30th, I met with a lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council & American Plastics Council who introduced me to their new regional director.

Constituent contacts: North Oaks resident about pay-for-performance for doctors; Shoreview resident grateful for support on environmental issues; Shoreview resident pleased with new Shoreview-to-Minneapolis express bus service; Shoreview resident upset that Governor is not supporting a comprehensive transportation package; Shoreview resident suggesting sentencing reform for drug crimes; Shoreview resident promoting Oklahoma's approach to illegal immigration; Lino Lakes resident commenting on remarks of the President of the Taxpayers League of MN about education

A West Virginia resident also e-mailed all MN legislators recommending that we work to repeal the 17th amendment, which allowed for direct election of U.S. Senators, rather than having state legislatures select them. (This amendment passed in 1913 as a way to avoid the "smoke-filled room" method of picking U.S. Senators and to combat political machines. It was a hallmark of the Progressive Era, as was the push to create a direct primary for state offices instead of just relying on endorsements by party insiders.)

The meeting on the Mosquito Control District was intriguing, since most local residents don't know when the MMCD is spraying or applying treatment in their area. Here's a link to the MMCD's frequently asked questions page. The main objective when they use helicopters is to drop a "natural soil bacterium" (bacillus thuringiensis israelensis) on wetlands, although the MMCD does "fog" with a pesticide (the neurotoxins permethrin and resmethrin) for adult mosquitoes by request from cities. Permethrin is toxic to fish and cats.

You may have seen some TV reports about the President of the Taxpayers League (and my predecessor) and his comments about education recently. Although healthy and articulate debate about education should always be welcome, I found many of the comments to be disappointing and without any basis from data.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bridge Survivors: What is the State's Role?

Blog readers will remember that a Shoreview resident was among those killed in the 35W bridge collapse. I was contacted this week by a person from the district whose car fell onto the collapsed bridge and her spouse. Because of data privacy issues, legislators were not able to get any kind of lists of those who survived the collapse. Legislators have been hearing from other survivors and their loved ones about the challenges of their recovery. My colleague Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley recently helped to convene a meeting to hear the testimony from these folks, and he is proposing that the state create a Minnesota Disaster Survivors Compensation Fund. He developed this idea during the regular session so that the legislature did not have to meet in special session to get funds flowing to assist disaster victims. It is based on a fund that was set up successfully for 9/11 victims.

I would like to hear from constituents about this issue. What do you think is a fair way to address this issue?

10/31: I thought the Pioneer Press did a good job of discussing the pros and cons of this issue in their editorial on 10/29, "Help for Immediate Needs, Caution about Precedent." A letter in the 10/31 Pioneer Press, "It All Comes from Taxpayers," left me a little cold.

Education Subcommittee on Expectations & Accountability

One of the key issues in K-12 education is testing, and it leads to a lot of questions. For example, are we testing the right things for students? How much does it cost to administer the tests? Are we testing too much and teaching too little? Senator Rummel is co-chairing a Senate Education Subcommittee on Expectations & Accountability that is looking at this issue. She and Rep. Kathy Brynaert of Mankato are also co-chairing a Joint Education Policy Accountability Work Group so that both the House and Senate can hear about the most efficient ways to measure student achievement. For more information on this work group, I encourage you to contact Senator Sandy Rummel's office.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Weeks of October 13 & October 20, 2007

Schedule: On Sunday, October 14th, I met with some Cub Scouts at the Capitol. On Monday, October 15th, Rep. Ozment, MPCA Commissioner Brad Moore, several PCA staffers, and I visited a construction and demolition debris recycling facility in Minneapolis. On Tuesday, October 16th, I attended a Freedom to Breathe Happy Hour hosted by the Ramsey County Smoke-Free Coalition at a local bar. On Wednesday, October 17th, I met with several House colleagues and research staff on solid waste and drinking water issues. On Sunday, October 21nd to Monday, October 22nd I attended a Midwest Environmental Health Workshop convened by the National Conference of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) in Iowa City. The mileage and one night hotel stay are being covered by a scholarship from the NCEL. It was a five and half hour drive each way in my wife's hybrid car! Topics included radon, mercury, and PCBs. On Tuesday, October 23rd in the morning, I attended the U of M's annual water conference in Brooklyn Park to learn more science on drinking water. In the afternoon, I attended the Recycling Association of Minnesota's annual conference, where Rep. Sailer and I presented on legislative issues. On Tuesday, October 24th, Senator Rummel and I met with Secretary of State Ritchie and the Executive Director of the State Investment Board about a constituent idea to divest the state's investment in any companies doing business in Iran. I had to join the meeting by phone because I was just diagnosed with corneal erosion in my right eye--the outer cells on the eye are coming loose and it's really painful! The eye doctor told me to avoid driving while the eye has time to heal. On Thursday, October 25th, Senator Rummel and I attended a two-hour program in Blaine on how local governments can fund transportation projects. I also attended a short program in Shoreview on the basics of tax increment financing. On Saturday, October 27, I attended the Centennial Area Education Foundation dinner in Lino Lakes.

On Thursday, October 18th, I met with a job seeker; a developmentally disabled Shoreview resident and nonprofit advocate; representatives of the Minnesota Well Water Association about drinking water; and staff from the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board about drinking water. On Friday, October 27th, I met with a House researcher on health care budget items.

Constituent contacts
: Circle Pines resident copying me on correspondence to Congress about postal delivery problem; Lino Lakes resident about visiting the Capitol; Circle Pines resident about MFIP program (Minnesota Family Investment Program); Shoreview resident against poor service on bus route 262 in Shoreview; Lino Lakes resident about that city's charter commission; a constituent who survived the bridge collapse and spouse about how the state will respond to financial needs of victims; Circle Pines resident supporting toll lanes or roads as a part of a comprehensive transportation solution; North Oaks resident commenting on MPCA's response on Highway 96 landfill issue; Circle Pines resident about social security problem; Circle Pines resident about recycling issue; Circle Pines couple supporting single-payer health care; Lino Lakes resident supporting increased funding from the state for K-12 education to make districts less reliant on levies; Shoreview resident supporting educational testing and apprehensive about legislative proposals for disaster victims; Shoreview resident about water management organizations and watershed districts; Shoreview resident supporting recent smoking ban and bike trail repair

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Week of October 6, 2007

Schedule: On Monday, October 8th, I attended the Oberstar Forum at the Center for Transportation Studies at the U of M. I just stuck around to hear Jim Oberstar and Senator Klobuchar speak. In the evening I attended a meeting of the DFL House Caucus. On Wednesday, October 10th, I visited with fourth graders from Rice Lake Elementary School in Lino Lakes at the Capitol and attended a Senate hearing on the health impacts of atrazine, a common pesticide used on corn. Two testifiers spoke about how atrazine causes feminization of male frogs and is a likely cause of increased prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. The relevant issue for us in the suburbs is that atrazine (and other pesticides) can actually reach us through rainfall because they are evaporated with surface water and end up in the water cycle. On Thursday, October 11th, I chaperoned my son's first grade class field trip to the Shoreview Library. I didn't realize that the Shoreview Library houses the technical services office for all Ramsey County Libraries. So those folks in the basement prepare books for distribution to the libraries. On Friday, October 12th, I attended an all day meeting at the MPCA on their work for a biennial solid waste policy report.

Visitors: Met Council staff about drinking water; White Bear Lake resident about water issues

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes resident about contact information for Senator Klobuchar; Shoreview resident asking about DFL agenda for children's issues in 2008; Lino Lakes resident against rail and the gas tax; North Oaks resident, two Circle Pines residents, and Shoreview resident against Department of Commerce agreement to allow the Big Stone II coal plant

Monday, October 1, 2007

Weeks of September 23 & 30, 2007

Schedule: On Tuesday, September 25th, I attended a field hearing of the House Transportation Finance Committee in Anoka and met with the Chair of the Environmental Finance Committee about the drinking water subcommittee that I will be chairing. On Wednesday, September 26th, I met with the Mayor of North Oaks about the Highway 96 landfill issue. On Thursday, September 27th, as vice-chair of the Solid Waste, Recycling, and Resource Conservation Working Group, I toured a composting site in Chanhassen, where Carver County is mixing food waste with yard waste with great success. On Friday, September 28th, I attended a meeting of the Parker Hughes Advocacy Council Foundation in Roseville at the request of two constituents. On Monday, October 1st, I attended a press conference where Elwyn Tinklenberg announced his candidacy for Congress. On Wednesday, October 3rd, I attended an all-day hearing of the Environmental Finance Committee on DNR enforcement issues, a DFL House Caucus meeting at a gastroenterology clinic, and a meeting of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance. On Thursday, October 4th, in my capacity of vice-chair of the Heritage Finance Committee, I toured the Traverse des Sioux historic site in St. Peter (where the committee provided 2007 funding) and Farm America in Waseca at the request of Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder). On Friday, October 5, I attended a meeting of the East Metro PFC Oversight Working Group. (This group is monitoring the Health Department's work on the 3M groundwater contamination issue.)

Visitors: DNR Waters staff on drinking water issues; representatives of SKB Environmental about construction and demolition debris disposal at landfills

Constituent contacts: Lexington City Manager seeking details of manufactured home legislation; Circle Pines resident and Shoreview resident questioning MnDOT's process for managing bid for 35W bridge; Shoreview resident about parks and trails funding; Circle Pines resident asking questions about proposed Lino Lakes library (and not wanting to close the Circle Pines library); Shoreview resident about alleged North American Union and alternative theory about 9-11 attacks; Circle Pines resident about veteran's health issue; Shoreview resident updating me on bus service issues; Shoreview resident upset about Iranian President's visit to Columbia University; Shoreview resident opposed to removing the MnDOT Commissioner; Shoreview resident about issues with Board of Medical Practice

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Appointment to Chair Drinking Water Subcommittee

On Monday, September 18th, Speaker Kelliher appointed me to chair a subcommittee for drinking water source protection. Here is a link to the press release. You may have read articles from the Star Tribune on groundwater pollution called Battling Tainted Water, Hunting the Invisible, and A Toxic Well A Life Changed, and It's Amazing What We Don't Know, plus an editorial on the problem. The appointment was in the works before the Sunday article came out, so the articles were a coincidence.

Weeks of September 9 and September 16

We met in special session on the evening of September 11th and into the early hours of September 12th. According to an agreement with the Governor, we only discussed the issue of flood relief for southeastern Minnesota. (Interesting note: My wife's great-grandmother grew up within the confines of what is now Whitewater State Park, which was heavily damaged in the flooding.) There was a lot of "hurry-up-and-wait" to the session. The Governor asked us to convene at 5:00 p.m., which we did, but the bill was not in complete form until a few hours later. I also met in caucus twice with my DFL colleagues while all this was going on.

The Shoreview Press printed a letter to the editor from a Shoreview resident who felt that opposing points of view should be printed in the paper other than just letters to the editor. I think that is a good idea! I'm happy that the SV Press has done the "ask an official" feature to get detailed answers on certain policy issues. I would welcome the chance to hear from constituents who offer alternative ideas and expressed my support for the idea to the paper.

The Shoreview Press also printed "Ask an Official" that had questions from readers and the Press plus my answers on the legislative process, electronic waste recycling, and transportation.

Visitors: On September 10th, I met with the director of the Anoka County library system to better understand the details of a proposed Lino Lakes library, and I met with a Shoreview constituent about 2007 property tax relief proposals. On September 12th, I met with Ramsey County Commissioner Bennett about transportation funding proposals. On September 13th, I drove to Grand Rapids with another member to speak to the annual meeting of the Solid Waste Administrators Association (all the county solid waste officers) about solid waste issues. On September 17th, I met with a staffer about solid waste issues and met with two staffers from Ramsey County about transportation proposals. On September 19, I met with representatives of four scrap metal dealers and the Minneapolis Police plus Sen. Linda Higgins to discuss progress on the bill that we passed to combat metal theft. It was a good two-hour discussion about how we can improve the process. On September 20, I attended a training session for legislators on how to help veterans who are in the process of returning home. On September 21, I attended a meeting of the MN Resource Recovery Association on the effect of municipal waste processing (aka burning garbage in high-tech incinerators) on climate change.

Constituent contacts: three Shoreview residents pressing for the U of M to settle the clerical workers' strike; Shoreview resident supporting my vote for the Freedom to Breathe Act; Lino Lakes resident supporting constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage; Lino Lakes resident supporting raising taxes for transportation; Shoreview resident asking who paid for my recent end-of-session mailing (my campaign committee did-not printed at taxpayer expense); Shoreview resident disagreeing with points in my recent constituent mailing; Shoreview resident asking for help with understanding what the cable company can charge for phone service; Shoreview resident supporting gas tax increase for transportation; Shoreview resident concerned about application of chemical herbicides on lawns; Circle Pines resident disagreeing with issues in my recent mailing; Shoreview resident supporting flood relief legislation that will rehabilitate trails in SE MN; Circle Pines resident asking about bid process for 35W bridge reconstruction; Shoreview resident interested in distribution of revenues from gas tax and license tab fees; Shoreview resident giving input on my new subcommittee assignment; Lexington resident asking about potential state action to limit carbon emissions from cars;
Blaine resident preferring that homestead tax credits favor homeowners rather than renters; Shoreview resident supporting gas tax and income tax increase but supporting cut in property taxes; Shoreview resident concerned about county tax assessment process; Lino Lakes resident disagreeing with points in my recent constituent mailing

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Week of September 2, 2007

We continue to wait and see if the Governor will call a special session. The proposals change daily! In the meantime, here's what and who is coming through my office.

Visitors: lobbyist and staff from North Metro Mayors Association (NMMA) and I-35W Coalition supporting local government aid to suburban cities and supporting a comprehensive transportation funding plan; staff from MN Center for Environmental Advocacy discussing groundwater pollution issues; lobbyists for Municipal Legislative Commission (MLC) and Suburban Transit Association discussing transportation and transit (readers: the NMMA includes Circle Pines and the MLC includes Shoreview; their platforms vary); CentrePoint Energy lobbyist and staff updating me on relevant issues

Constituent contacts: Five residents in favor of constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage; Lino Lakes resident concerned about use of social security numbers by insurance companies; Shoreview resident against an increase in the gas tax; Shoreview resident in favor of an increase in the gas tax; Shoreview resident favoring tougher penalties for adults who leave children in the car and against female genital mutilation; district resident calling me a "party stooge"; Lino Lakes resident against increased spending and for tax cuts

Monday, September 3, 2007

Big Arrest in Metal Theft Case

One of the major bills I worked on in 2007 was combatting the theft of metals like pipe, wire, tubing, etc. from utilities, construction sites, and abandoned homes. There was a major arrest due to the new law on August 30 in Elk River. KARE-11 News covered the story. The search of the suspect's property led to the discovery of materials stolen from other sites in the state.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Good Primer on the Gas Tax and Where It Goes

House Research at the Capitol put together this very good document explaining where state funding for roads and bridges comes from and where it goes. The only change from this 2005 document is that within five years, 100% of the motor vehicle sales tax (MVST) will go to transportation. Of that MVST money, 60% will go to roads and bridges and 40% will go to transit. The biggest chunk of money on the chart is the gas tax, however, which is dedicated by Article XIV of the State Constitution to roads and bridges only.

Here's the link: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/issinfo/sshwyfd.htm.

Energy Efficiency at Mounds View Schools

Energy efficiency junkies might be interested in a summary recently published about energy efficiency initiatives by the Mounds View School District.

Help for Veterans and Their Families

The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs has a toll-free number at 1-888-546-5838 (LinkVet) for veterans and their families.

"LinkVet is a toll-free, one-stop customer service line for all Minnesota veterans. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, along with Crisis Connection, will provide information referral, immediate crisis intervention and psychological counseling 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"MVDA [Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs] staff will manage the lines Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

"Crisis Connection, a crisis support line with masters-level trained social workers, will field all crisis calls during business hours, after business hours, on weekends and holidays.

"Callers will connect to this service utilizing Link Live, a secure, encrypted communications tool that provides internet phone calling, Live Chat and secure email.

"Visit MDVA's one-stop website for on-line information at: www.minnesota.veteran.org."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Bridge

Obviously the issue the legislature is grappling with now is the 35W bridge collapse. Certainly readers were as shocked as I was to hear the news and to see the footage of the collapse. Of course the first priority in the hours after the collapse was to help the injured and locate the victims. Having been an emergency medical technician in college, I can certainly vouch for how difficult that work is. Many of those killed were from the north metro, since they were commuting home on the bridge. One in particular, Sherry Engebretson, was from district 53A; I did not know her personally, and I cannot imagine how difficult things are for her family right now.

Now the task ahead of us is to figure out how to replace the bridge, to consider other actions related to transportation funding in a special session, and to figure out what went wrong.

Replacing the bridge: The federal government is pledging $250 million toward replacement. Minneapolis would like to see a bridge that can carry light rail or at least bus rapid transit. The city and the Governor believe that a ten-lane bridge is desirable. Many believe that federal dollars will be slow in actually getting to Minnesota and that the state will foot the bill in the meantime. Personally I would like to see us build a bridge that takes into account what we might do in ten to twenty years, and that might be rail to the northern suburbs. Some major bridges including 169 at Bloomington Ferry apparently were built with footings to support rail in case that became necessary, which would reduce the future cost of rail. However, I recognize that there could be a substantial delay to rebuilding if rail is considered. I am waiting for updates from my colleagues on the transportation committee on what the trade-offs will be.

Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Special session: The Governor and the leaders of the House and Senate believe that a special session of a few days duration would be appropriate. Letters are going back and forth to determine areas of agreement so that we can act quickly and cooperatively. All members of the House of Representatives and the Senate were on a conference call with Senator Pogemiller and Speaker Kelliher about a week ago to update us on the situation and we get updates every day or every other day. I suspect we will see a special session that will focus on a comprehensive transportation package and perhaps some modest bonding proposals related to roads and bridges, as well as a modest property tax relief proposal.

During the regular session I supported an increase in the gas tax since it is constitutionally dedicated to roads and bridges and cannot be used for any other purpose, because the backlog of transportation projects is so huge, and because more and more of our property taxes are going to fix up local roads (and 38% of the gas tax pays for local roads). Some legislators, like Rep. Marty Seifert, say we should wait for the November forecast and put any surplus toward the 35W bridge replacement. But what about the other 1,000 bridges in Minnesota that are "structurally deficient"?

July and August 2007 Summary

Since things have been going slower in the summer, I'll provide this summary of my activities for July and August. I decided to take the summer off to be at home with my six and nine-year old children, so I haven't been at the Capitol much lately, but I do visit the office weekly to pick up mail.

On Sunday, July 8th, I met with several medical professionals (mostly doctors) in North Oaks to hear their ideas for health care reform. They also gave me a certificate from the Minnesota Medical Association thanking me for voting in favor of the workplace smoking ban.

On Monday, July 9th, I attended a public meeting in Bloomington by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on the new electronic waste recycling law. In attendance were representatives of electronics manufacturers, electronics recyclers, cities, and counties. I also attended a meeting of the Lino Lakes City Council with Senator Rummel to update them on our activities during the legislative session. Council members expressed interest in Anoka County's proposal for a new library on Lake Drive.

On Tuesday, July 10th, I met with the legislative affairs staff of the Met Council to discuss bus transit in District 53A. Of particular interest to me was the long term vision for how our area would be served by buses that feed into suburban rail stations or park and rides, such as those on the Northstar Commuter Rail line and the Rush Line along Highway 61. In the evening, I attended a meeting of the District 53 DFL.

On Friday, July 13th, I was interviewed on MPR's MidMorning program during the last ten minutes of the 10:00 a.m. show. The topic was on the recently passed electronic waste recycling legislation. In the afternoon, I helped staff a booth for the Ramsey County DFL at the Ramsey County Fair in Maplewood.

On Monday, July 16th, I attended a meeting of the Centennial School Board along with Senators Betzold, Rummel, and Vanderveer to update board members on the legislative session.
On Tuesday, July 17th, I met with a representative of Clean Water Action to talk about groundwater and drinking water pollution issues.

On Saturday, July 21st, I met with a large number of my suburban DFL colleagues.

On Tuesday, July 24th, I visited (with members of the Senate & House Energy Committees) the High Bridge power plant in St. Paul that is converting from coal to natural gas. We also visited the MISO facility in St. Paul. MISO stands for Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc. MISO is one of several organizations nationwide that monitor electrical generation and transmission and then move power from areas of low demand to areas of high demand in order to increase reliability of electrical generation in the Midwest.

On Friday, July 27th, I attended the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life event in White Bear Lake, where Rep. McFarlane and I received certificates thanking us for voting for the Freedom to Breathe Act. I have to confess that I was not aware of this event before. I was expecting about 30 people and there were about 1,000 people preparing to walk around the high school track all night to raise money for the American Cancer Society!

During the weekend of July 27th-29th, I set up the recycling program for the Slice of Shoreview and marched in the Saturday parade with campaign volunteers. The recycling program collects about six cubic yards of cans and bottles and six cubic yards of cardboard, or about 20% of the volume of waste from the Slice. It's a messy job but I've been doing it for six years and it is very satisfying at the end!

On August 21st, I attended a DFL House Caucus fundraising event in St. Paul. This event--a type held by both political parties--was a golf scramble followed by a reception. Attendees included DFL members of the House, some staff, and lobbyists who I assume made contributions to the DFL House Caucus. I am not a golfer but I came for the reception. For the record I will reiterate that my own personal campaign does not accept contributions from PACs or lobbyists.

On August 29th, I attended an Anoka County "local government officials meeting" at Chomonix Golf Course in Lino Lakes. City council members, county commissioners, and local mayors were mostly in attendance. I was the only legislator. Discussion items included emergency preparedness and the status of Anoka County's technical colleges, including Anoka Technical College and Anoka-Ramsey Community College. One proposal being thrown around is that there should be a four-year university in Anoka County because of growing population, increased congestion, etc. I was also asked to speak about a potential special session.

On August 30th, I met with three Anoka County Commissioners about a proposed special session and a proposed Minneapolis to Duluth rail line. I also toured North Metro TV in Blaine and met with staff about a bill I am co-authoring to allow more competition for video services in Minnesota.

Constituent contacts: Shoreview? constituent asking that the truck restrictions on 35E be lifted to help with congestion after the bridge collapse; Blaine resident proposing an entertainment tax in Minneapolis during rush hour to discourage non-business commuting near the 35W bridge site; Shoreview resident against rail and for extra lanes on 94; North Oaks resident asking about hospital pricing rules; Shoreview resident against light rail; Lino Lakes resident and allergy sufferer seeking flexibility in legislation restricting over the counter sales of pseudoephedrine; Lino Lakes resident concerned about Congress's possible failure to support a Skilled Nursing Facility market basket increase and against low increase in support for nursing homes; Shoreview resident supporting special pet-friendly license plates; Lino Lakes resident supporting federal legislation for the disabled; Lino Lakes resident about a traffic incident; Lino Lakes resident about possible job discrimination issue; Shoreview resident about bus service; Shoreview resident supporting tougher DUI penalties; Shoreview resident and vet against Rep. Lesch's proposed ban on certain dog breeds; Shoreview resident supporting bus transit; North Oaks resident supporting nuclear power; Lino Lakes resident supporting single-payer health care; Circle Pines resident supporting light rail on the new 35W bridge and supporting an increase in the gas tax; Shoreview resident against a gas tax increase and light rail on the new bridge; Shoreview resident against an increase in the gas tax; Blaine resident against light rail and supporting a deduction on the income tax should the gas tax be raised; Shoreview resident against a gas tax increase and wanting additional tax cuts for Minnesotans in the top 20% of income earners; Shoreview resident upset with MN Board of Medical Practices; Shoreview resident against bill to allow higher debt limit for Anoka county libraries; Shoreview resident against "sanctuary" laws for illegal immigrants; Shoreview resident supporting dog and cat breeder bill; Blaine resident against wheelage tax for roads; Shoreview resident against gas tax increase; North Oaks resident supporting an increase in the gas tax; Shoreview resident hesitant about gas tax; Circle Pines resident supporting light rail on the new 35W bridge; Shoreview resident and doctor supporting vote on smoking ban; Lino Lakes resident against a gas tax increase; Shoreview resident about prescription coverage under Minnesota Care

Met Council Response about Poor Bus Service on Route 262

Several district residents have complained to me about poor and unreliable bus service on Route 262, which goes up Rice Street and Hodgson Road through Shoreview and Lino Lakes. This route is run by a private company, Lorenz, Inc.

The Chairman of the Metropolitan Council copied me on a July 11th letter that he sent to a constituent to respond to these problems. Here's an exerpt.

"...the Metropolitan Transportation Services (MTS) staff will:
1. Conduct a comprehensive vehicle maintenance audit of all vehicles operated by Lorenz to assure the Council approved maintenance plan and procedures are being strictly adhered to
2. Consider the age, mileage and condition of these vehicles, then re-evaluate whethere the expectations being made of the contractor are reasonable
3. Search for funding to replace three forty-foot buses in 2007. ... [There is quite a bit after that about the need for legislation action on transit funding.]
4. Expand on-street supervision to more closely monitor service problems
5. Work with Lorenz to correct deficiencies in their driver training program and documentation...."

Anoka County Library in Lino Lakes

Plans are underway by Anoka County to build a new regional library in Lino Lakes off of Lake Drive near I-35W. This would effectively replace the Circle Pines Library, which is pretty small. After speaking with officials from Circle Pines, Lino Lakes, and the Anoka County Library Director and board members, I will be authoring a bill in 2008 to allow changes to library levy limits. Minnesota Statute 383E.20 puts a ceiling on capital bonding for Anoka County Libraries, but since the law went into effect in 1984, the dollar figure ceiling is now pretty low because of inflation. The bill would eliminate the dollar ceiling but keep the percent limit in place.

New Appointment

The Speaker of the House appointed me to the Legislative Coordinating Committee Working Group on Ethnic Heritage and New Americans. I'm not sure what is involved yet, but I believe that Rep. Pat Hamilton is the chair and we will probably only meet a few times.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Bus Service in Shoreview

During the last month or so, I've received a lot of constituent feedback about bus service in Shoreview. For example, seniors in a building on Victoria at Highway 96 have no local transportation service after the cutback of Route 227. There is also no service direct to Minneapolis from Shoreview. After inquiring about prospects for better service, I received this reply from Brian Lamb, General Manager of MetroTransit.

"...When Route 227 was cut back in September 2005, it was operating with a very high subsidy per passenger, in the range of $7.35 to $13.53 per passenger. This is far above both the system-wide average subsidy as well as the average subsidy for this type of suburban service. While we have received two petitions from residents in this part of Shoreview, the fact is that when the Route 227 served those residents until late 2005, not many of them actually used the service on a regular basis.

"Based on our recent analysis of ridership and running time for Route 227, we have determined that any expansion of service on Route 227 to Tanglewood Drive and the Shoreview Community Center would require an additional bus and driver to maintain the current frequency of service. Even with an increase in ridership from the new service area, the added costs would likely result in this route again exceeding regional passenger subsidy standards. Moreover, given the lack of funding for transit service expansion, increasing service in Shoreview would require cutting service somewhere else. For these reasons, we do not plan to expand service on Route 227 in the near future.

"On a positive note, we have determined that we are able to implement a demonstration of direct express service from the Shoreview Community Center to downtown Minneapolis by extending the existing Route 261 that currently starts from the Roseville Skating Center. Two trips each morning and afternoon will be extended to serve Shoreview. This can be accomplished at a relatively low cost and will be implemented in September 2007 on a demonstration basis. We hope that enough riders will use this service that we will be able to continue to operate it. While this does not address all the concerns you have raised, it does represent an increase in transit service for residents of Shoreview..."

Thanks to Met Council member Kris Sanda for assisting me in this effort to find out what options are for Shoreview residents.

Monday, July 2, 2007

And They Even Took the Kitchen Sink...

My most recent copy of the Hugo Citizen reports that thieves stole a stainless steel sink that was eight feet wide from a business in Hugo, just across the line from district 53A. (The Hugo paper is delivered in Lino Lakes.) Police reported that the sink showed up at a local scrap recycler. When the law I worked on goes into effect later this year, people bringing in an item to a scrap recycler will need to leave their contact information and show a driver's license so police can find the thieves.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Per diem rankings for state legislators

In reviewing the political websites from the time I was on vacation, I see that the Pioneer Press published a list of per diem that legislators accept. Good for them! Click on this link to see the article and member expense report for a pdf file ranking all House members. Readers of this blog will know that earlier this year, I took a dim view of the increase in the per diem rates for members of the House. We never got the chance to vote on the increase on the floor since it was all done in the Rules Committee. On the list you will see that my per diem for the entire session was just above $3,000, or $35 per day for weekdays only. House members can accept up to $77 per day for seven days a week, which would add up to roughly $11,000 for the five months of the session. My per diem is ranked 133rd out of 134 House members. (My colleague Steve Simon does not accept per diem. There are several former legislators on the list who did not get re-elected or retired who are on the list because they got one small expense reimbursement check and had $0 per diem.) All legislators have the same salary of $31,140.

Weeks of June 10-23, 2007

My family spent June 14-22 in Germany on the first real vacation we've taken together for many years. My wife travels to Dusseldorf for Ecolab regularly so we took the opportunity to all go once school got out. My wife also has some distant cousins who live in the state of Hessen (or Hesse), so we got a very good look at how regular Germans live. Here are some observations that might be interesting from a public policy viewpoint.

Transit: Wow! Compared to the United States, Germany has a higher population density, less parking, smaller streets, and higher gas prices. This creates a need for efficient transit. We never rented a car and took the train and other transit just about everywhere, except for the rural area where Michelle’s cousins live. (Even then there was a two-car tram—about the size of the Hiawatha trains—that ran about five miles away.) The main train stations in the cities served as transit hubs. You can pick up intercity rail trains (IC and ICE), suburban rail (S-bahn), subways (U-bahn), buses, trams, and even rental bikes at the station. The connections were convenient, the schedules were regular, and generally everything worked well. I realize that we can’t duplicate this system in Minnesota to the same degree, but growth and congestion are such in the Twin Cities that transit has become necessary to cope with growth and to give commuters more options. This is why I supported funding in the bonding bill for the Union Depot in St. Paul to serve as a transit hub and for the Rush Line Corridor that would run into suburban Ramsey County.

Smoking: Smoking in public places is rampant. There are no-smoking train cars and sections of restaurants, but it doesn’t matter. When I asked my daughter about the biggest difference between the U.S. and Germany, she said, “You can smell smoke inside a lot. It stinks!”

Recycling: Many of my recycling colleagues praise Germany’s Green Dot program, where manufacturers pay for costs of recycling their packaging. Coke bottles come in refillable plastic bottles and some glass and plastic containers have a deposit. In many towns, recyclable containers are put in one bag and paper is put in a rolling cart. But I was told that every town and district has a different way of organizing the program, which is a problem we have here. They do have organic curbside collection in some places, and a lot of people including my wife’s cousins have backyard composting bins. But just like the U.S., glass recycling is a problem. In highly automated recycling programs, glass breaks into small pieces and can get mixed in with the paper, causing quality programs at paper mills. So while there are deposits on some glass bottles (especially those specialized beer bottles with the attached ceramic cap and rubber seal), on the street in just about every town you can see neighborhood glass recycling containers about four or five feet tall and three or four feet wide. (We call them recycling igloos.) There are always three—one for clear, one for brown, and one for green glass. Glass containers are usually prohibited from the bags you put at your curb.

Even with the Green Dot program, my wife’s cousins pay 800 euros a year in a small town for bi-weekly garbage and monthly recycling—ouch! That’s about $1,220 a year. In Shoreview I pay about $27 a year for recycling and about $240 a year for weekly garbage, which includes a 9.75% state Solid Waste Management Tax and a 31% County Environmental Charge.

Energy: In the state of Hessen in the middle of the country, electricity costs about 20 euro cents per kilowatt-hour, or about $0.20. Our cost is about half that. There is an incentive or subsidy program for homeowners to install solar panels to heat their water, and you will see small panels about 2’ by 3’ on some roofs. Windmills are everywhere in the country, with usually six to eight of them together on hillsides. In my wife's relatives' houses in a small rural town, they use fuel oil for heat, and the fuel tanks are in the basement of the house! The tanks are rigid plastic totes, like ones we use in the U.S. for storage and transportation of chemicals. Ours--which are steel--are underground.

Hunting: Having served on the Environment & Natural Resources Committee in the House, I’ve learned a lot about hunting regulations in Minnesota. In Germany it is a whole other ballgame! My wife’s second cousin is what I would call “the town hunter.” My wife’s cousin took me on a tour of his area to show me his hunting blind so I peppered him with questions about the rules. He lives in a rural area in a town of 300 people. Although the different German states have slightly different regulations based on when the hunting season starts, the general hunting laws are the same. In Minnesota, to hunt on someone’s farmland you just need to ask permission. In Germany, one person gets the hunting “franchise” through a lease on local farmland. He works this out with the local farmers, who get some revenue from the franchise. No one else can hunt in this franchise area without the permission of the hunter who has the lease. He hunts mainly wild boar, which breed twice a year with about five or six young to a litter. He is financially liable for any damage to crops in his area by wild game. To be eligible to be a hunter, you must go through a one-year training program and a rigorous written examination.

There is a two-gun limit on ownership of handguns. (I found a Canadian report at http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/epic/site/imr-ri.nsf/en/gr116198e.html on German firearms regulations.)

Agriculture: It is interesting to see all over the country how diversified the crops are on local farms. You won’t see huge plots of one crop like corns and soybeans in Minnesota. You’ll see wheat, rapeseed, and corn in plots of about ten acres each or so.

Early childhood: I went with Michelle’s cousin to pick up his four-year old grandson at a pre-school—they call it kindergarten. Kindergarten in Germany is not connected to a primary school as it is in the U.S. It is for children from age three to six and they are all in the same classroom. The idea is that the younger children learn from the older children. The teacher to student ratio is roughly the same as in Minnesota—or about 1 teacher for about seven to ten kids. The four-year old cousin likes Sponge Bob and his other German cousins like Bob der Baumeister (Bob the Builder)!

Other public education: My kids had the chance to attend a primary school class where my wife’s cousin teaches. The kids were 10 years old and were taking their first year of English language. (English is required!) My daughter and son got to teach a bit, showing postcards of Minnesota and talking about basic stuff like colors, numbers, etc. My daughter observed that kids get called on my raising their hand up with the index finger up only. The class was about 25 students. My wife’s cousin will teach the same class over the course of four years (about 1st through 4th grade in our system) and then start over. The kids were also taking a bike safety class from a police officer. The school has a bike course that was a mini-version of the street set-up at the MnDOT licensing station in Arden Hills off of County Road I.

By the time students in Germany get to what we call middle school, they get tracked into one of three systems to prepare them for life. At the lowest level, they get tracked for vocational education and at the highest they are tracked for the university. Depending on your viewpoint, this is either an important way to create job security or a very constraining system that limits your choices.

Taxes: All Germans have to pay a “church tax.” You can pick which church you want it to go to, but this is something that takes many Americans aback.

Booster seats: All kids up to age 10 have to sit in booster seats in a car. One cab we rode in had seat cushions that popped up.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Funding Disparities on K-12 Education

A received a question from a constituent about the K-12 education funding formula. If you look at the total amount per pupil received for all school districts in the state, you'll see that districts like Minneapolis and St. Paul receive significantly more than districts like Mounds View, White Bear Lake, and Centennial. Why the difference? I posed this question to our research staff and I'd like to present what I got back. (I could explain it in my own words but not so precisely as he did.) You'll see that all districts start with the same dollar amount per pupil at $5,734.

"One key difference relates to the amount of compensatory aid that, say Minneapolis, receives as compared with a suburb in your district (e.g. Centennial, district #12). For example, for FY 2008, under the base, Minneapolis would receive $12,353 in revenue per AADM (average adjusted daily membership, or pupil). As with other districts throughout the state, the basic formula provides the biggest chunk of that amount: $5,734 per pupil (or 46.4% of the total for Minneapolis).

"For Minneapolis, the second biggest revenue contributor is compensatory aid, at $1,586 per pupil (or 12.8% of the total). Compensatory revenue is based on each school building's count of students that are eligible for a free or reduced price meals. Because Mpls/St. Paul have a higher proportion of students meeting this criterion (which is basically measures levels of students living in poverty) — those two school districts receive more compensatory revenue to help address the additional needs of these students.Special education revenue is the third biggest revenue source for Minneapolis. For FY 08, under the base, special education revenue contributed $1,503 per pupil (or 12.2% of the total).

"In contrast, for Centennial, compensatory aid only comprises $39 per pupil (of the $8,213 in revenue per pupil). This is significantly lower than the amount of compensatory aid that Minneapolis receives. This is because Centennial has few students eligible for free and reduced price meals.Another potential source explaining the revenue per pupil discrepancy between Mpls/St. Paul and the suburbs stems from special education. While Centennial still receives a considerable amount of special education revenue ($900 per pupil under the base FY 08, or 10.96% of its total) — Minneapolis receives 67% more special education revenue per pupil than Centennial (or $1,503 per pupil).

"Evidently, Minneapolis incurs more special education expenses to address the needs of its students receiving special education — accordingly, Minneapolis receives more special education funding to help pay for the costs of providing special education related services.While the following source of revenue is relatively small compared with the basic formula and special education — another difference between the suburbs and Mpls/St. Paul may also stem from the higher amounts of LEP revenue (limited English proficiency) that Mpls/St. Paul receive as compared with the suburbs. (For instance, under FY 08 base, Minneapolis would receive $155 per pupil in LEP revenue while Centennial only receives $7 per pupil.). Obviously, this is because Minneapolis has more students eligible to receive LEP revenue.

"In case you are interested, the following link to a look-up table allows one to enter in the number of a particular school district and you can see the particular revenue sources that make up that district's revenue — when you compare Minneapolis or St. Paul with the suburbs — you can see where the discrepancies stem from. HTTP://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/fiscal/files/k12distrev.xls."

What next?

A new organization in Minnesota called P.S. Minnesota has suggested that the state needs to create a new funding framework that reflects actual needs in Minnesota' school districts and simplifies the process. You can link to their five-page white paper on the web. Next year a study will come out on just what this formula might look like. The Governor made a line-item veto of the funding for the consultant to complete this study, however.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Weeks of May 27 & June 3, 2007

After putting a lot of other things on hold until after the session ended on May 21, I found myself overwhelmed with family and other stuff for the last two weeks.

Here are some of my activities during this two-week period. On Friday, June 1, I met with a researcher at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the U of M for an interview/survey on the legislature session. In the afternoon, I met with staff at the MN Geological Survey about ground water issues. This is one of my objectives for the break--to build some expertise on what we know and don't know about our ground water resources. This became something of interest because of the leaking Highway 96 landfill in North Oaks.

On Monday, June 4th, I met with Met Council staff about suburban transit issues, including bus service in Shoreview. I also met with staff from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) about follow-up to my metal theft legislation. The BCA has a theft alert system that my bill requires scrap metal dealers to sign up for, and I want to make sure that the dealers know how the BCA's system works during the next few months. It's one thing to pass a law, but it's another to make it work, so I am committed to working with the dealers, law enforcement, utilities, contractors, and others who have been victims of aluminum and copper theft. In the afternoon, I attended a meeting of the "Waste Streams Policy Committee" of the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board (SWMCB) at the MN Pollution Control Agency. The MPCA and the SWMCB are working on ways to recycle more construction and demolition debris instead of landfilling, and I wanted to get up to speed.

On Tuesday, June 5th, I attended a celebration of the passage of the electronic waste recycling bill at the Association of MN Counties and a picnic for DFL Senate District 53.

On Wednesday, June 6th, I met with a representative of the MN Historical Society about site visits by legislators before the next session. This was in my capacity as Vice-Chair of the Heritage Finance Committee. I don't usually list a lot of family stuff here but I thought I would mention that in the evening, six year old Ben pulled off an unorthodox version of the hidden ball trick while playing catcher up in Lexington. In "coach's-pitch" league, the coach pitches about four or five balls to the hitter before the catcher or umpire returns the balls in order to speed up the game. (The kids swing and miss a lot.) With a runner on third, a hitter hit a grounder to short but there was no throw. Ben stands on the plate, tags the runner from third, and pulls out one of the balls from a previous pitch and yells, "You're out!" I told him later that it didn't count :)

On Thursday, June 7th, Senator Rummel and I met with the Lexington City Council to discuss the results of the legislative session.

On Friday, June 8th, I attended the quarterly Shoreview Business Exchange at the Community Center.

On Saturday, June 9th, my supporters and I marched in the North Oaks Community Fair parade, but not before my wife called to say that I had left home with my son's baseball glove and bat in my trunk and he had a game!

Smoking ban article: The Shoreview Press published a story this week about the effects of the statewide smoking ban. Several bar owners are quoted as being opposed to the ban. I thought readers would be interested to hear that I was never contacted by any business in the district about the ban during the legislative session. According to my records, 32 constituents contacted me in favor of a smoking ban and eight contacted me against the ban or parts of it.

Constituent contacts: Blaine resident about Sen. Metzen's DWI; North Oaks resident supporting special session to re-pass tax bill; Lino Lakes resident pleased with environmental votes; North Oaks resident pleased with environmental votes; Circle Pines resident pleased with environmental votes; Shoreview resident pleased with environmental votes; Lino Lakes resident pleased with environmental votes; Shoreview resident asking about incorporating inflation into budget projections; Lino Lakes resident asking about K-12 education funding formula; Shoreview resident happy about salary supplement for state employees; Shoreview resident concerned about data privacy of Record Locator Service included in health and human services bill; Shoreview resident asking whether House tried to override veto on property tax relief bill; North Oaks resident pleased about smoking ban vote; North Oaks resident supporting higher weight limits for trucks; Shoreview resident supporting legislation for developmentally disabled adults; two Shoreview residents supporting restored bus service in Shoreview; Lino Lakes resident pleased with salary supplement for state employees; Lexington resident seeking help on a special education matter; Shoreview resident against increased truck weight limits and asking if I received contributions from the trucking industry (see link to my campaign finance report to see that the answer is no); Lino Lakes resident about a proposed Vikings stadium in Minneapolis; Circle Pines resident pleased with salary supplement for state employees; Lino Lakes resident pleased with salary supplement for state employees; Shoreview resident against taxes generally; Shoreview resident pleased with vote on dedicated funding for the outdoors; Circle Pines resident pleased with education funding vote; Lino Lakes resident upset about rising rents in low-income senior rental complex; several North Oaks residents about Highway 96 landfill and potential effects on private wells by new high capacity drinking water wells for St. Paul; Lino Lakes pleased with vote on dedicated outdoor funding for the outdoors; Lino Lakes resident asking about K-12 education funding formula