Monday, February 19, 2007

Week of February 18, 2007

Senator Sandy Rummel and I had a town hall meeting on Saturday, February 24th at Lino Lakes City Hall. Four constituents came--the snow was really coming down so I think that was a factor. Some legislators use "robo-calls" to notify local residents of upcoming meetings. I think Sen. Rummel and I are in agreement that automated calls are sometimes helpful but more often annoying, so I have not done that.

We have our next town hall meeting on Saturday, March 3rd from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Circle Pines City Hall, followed by a Shoreview meeting on Saturday, March 17th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

One gentleman discussed the issue of a homeowner association denying his right to have a flagpole in his yard. Other visitors included two high school seniors from Centennial High School. They said that this blog was a subject of discussion in one of their classes. Part of the purpose of my blog was to reach out to younger constituents (as in under 30) so that they know that their voice counts, and they said it helps!

There was a letter in the Quad Communities Press and the Hugo Citizen this week that mischaracterized my bill that would regulate scrap metal dealers (HF457). I should have a response letter in next week's edition that clarifies the bill's intent and effect. The St. Paul Legal Ledger and Finance & Commerce included an article about the bill that demonstrated its need to MN businesses due to their growing economic losses!

My assistant is getting quite a few calls about legislative per diem. Just to repeat, the House Rules Committee decided to increase the per diem to $77 per day. I would prefer it if both the House and Senate would vote on per diem on the floor. I chose to accept $35 per day and only on weekdays. Since we do have events to attend where the organizers cannot usually give us food for free, etc., and since we have parking, mileage, etc. when visiting the district or other places on official duty, I think the idea of a per diem is OK, especially for rural legislators who have to live temporarily in the Twin Cities and travel a lot. But I only need $35 to meet my needs. In fact, assuming we adjourn on time, the total per diem I will accept in 2007 will be a lot less than what my predecessor accepted and my rate should be near the bottom of the entire legislature. Legislators can also be reimbursed for communications expenses up to $125 per month. I submitted reimbursements for January for $88.15, which included the costs of a second phone line at home and for my Blackberry service, which allows me to communicate from just about anywhere with constituents.

On Monday, I met with Senator Rummel on issues of mutual interest. We also met with the MPCA Commissioner on the issue of the Highway 96 landfill.

I attended the Energy Policy & Finance Committee where we voted on several bills. Attended two DFL caucus meetings. I ended up chairing the Heritage Finance Committee again due to the illness of the chair. (Since last week, I boned up on procedure and rules so I thought it went well.) One bill in particular (creating a council on indigenous languages) took a while due to the complexities it faces in budget committees. It would get funding from a variety of committees.

On Monday evening the House met in session to vote on the Renewable Energy Standard (SF4). It passed easily 123 to 10. Rep. Aaron Peterson, the bill's author, received a standing ovation. This standard will require that 25% of our electricity come from renewable sources by 2525. There were about eight to ten amendments that were voted down.

On Tuesday, I attended the Environmental Finance Committee (DNR budget presentations), the Environment & Natural Resources Committee (bill on lakeshore development restrictions for resorts and shoreland development regulations), a meeting of first-term DFL House members, and finally an evening meeting of the Environmental Finance Committee (wrap-up of DNR budget presentation). Congressman Oberstar spoke to a joint House-Senate transportation meeting. There was no room for many of us, so I watched and listened to the presentation on my computer in my office!

On Wednesday, I met with the revisor's office about HF457 for a potential amendment; attended two caucus meetings; attended the Energy Policy & Finance Committee (Department of Commerce budget presentation)

On Thursday, I attended committees including Environmental Finance and Environment & Natural Resources. (The former is a finance committee and the latter is a policy committee. If a bill has something to do with a budget, it goes to the finance committee.) The MPCA gave the start of its budget presentation at the finance committee, and we spent a lot of time asking questions about the leaking landfill chemicals in the east metro. We may dedicate a whole hearing to this later. We had a short session at 10:00 a.m. on the House floor. We were supposed to discuss the new House rules today but the Governor scheduled a bill signing for the renewable energy standard at 10:45. Just before the session I attended a press conference for environmental legislators on recent developments. It was also History Matters day at the Capitol, so I visited some displays by the MN Historical Society in the Capitol Rotunda.

In the afternoon, the Environment & Natural Resources Committee passed HF854, which is the electronic waste recycling bill. This bill passed the committee on a voice vote, with only two no votes. This bill is a big deal--consumers who have been stashing their old TVs and computers in the basement will be able to get these recycled for free soon instead of pay $20-$30 a unit. I am the third author on the bill and worked with my colleagues to help educate them about the bill.

On Thursday, I also co-authored a bill (Marsha Swails is the chief author) that would allow homeowners to recoup their legal fees when they successfully sue builders to fulfill new home warranties.

On Friday, I attended a roundtable discussion with Rep. Melissa Hortman on "away from home" recycling of beverage containers with cities and haulers in Coon Rapids. Usually this is a pretty contentious discussion because the beverage and grocery industries don't want to see anything that results in container deposit legislation, but the MN Beverage Association and the Recycling Association of Minnesota are putting together a pilot program that looks promising in recovering more bottles and cans at places like gas stations and convenience stores.

I also attended a meeting of the I-35W Coalition, which is a group of cities in Ramsey and Anoka Counties that are on or near I-35W. The discussion was about transportation issues and funding. I-35W between 694 and Highway 10 is getting really bunched up, and the group had a proposal into the federal government to help.

Constitutent contacts: Shoreview doctor against SF 691 related to denials of independent medical examinations; Shoreview couple supporting a smoking ban; Lino Lakes resident supporting community mediation programs; North Oaks resident about Highway 96 landfill; Lino Lakes resident supporting Wine with Dinner; Shoreview resident supporting increased funding for school counselors; Shoreview resident wanting tough penalties for distracted drivers and a ban on use of cell phones while driving; Lino Lakes resident supporting a rebate for the state's budget surplus; Shoreview or North Oaks physical therapist supporting HF1189; North Oaks resident asking for continued support of the Q-Comp teacher compensation program; Shoreview resident in support of a gas tax increase for transportation funding; two Lino Lakes residents and Circle Pines resident in support of increased K-12 funding; unidentified constituent against a mileage tax that would use a GPS receiver in private cards; leader of Mounds View Neighbors United group about new group; Shoreview resident supporting the smoking ban; Shoreview resident for English as the official language, for banning cell phone use in cars, for dedicated sales tax revenue for the DNR but not the arts, and for more light rail; North Oaks resident supporting nuclear power as part of MN's energy mix; Circle Pines resident against the "puppy mill" bill; Circle Pines resident against Wine with Dinner; North Oaks resident supporting elimination of mercury from vaccines; Lino Lakes resident against an increase in the deed tax; North Oaks resident supporting funding for affordable housing; two Shoreview residents supporting HF1205, a bill to require relocation compensation for displaced residents of manufactured homes (formerly known as trailers); Lino Lakes City Adminstration about a possible meeting, transportation funding, and levy authority for the local water management organization; Shoreview resident about forestry issues; North Oaks resident in favor of increased education funding and more school counselors; Circle Pines or Lino Lakes resident opposed to mandatory HPV vaccinations; Lino Lakes resident and Shoreview resident against an increase in the gas tax (these were form letters); Circle Pines Iraq vet in support of veterans' issues; Shoreview resident against a legalization of ticket scalping; Shoreview resident against having the legislature expand into a new building near the Capitol and supporting a smoking ban without exemptions

Non-constituent contacts: Blaine business inviting me to visit (it is actually just outside 53A); an unidentified resident of MN concerned about the Real ID Act at the federal level that would require an RFID chip in MN drivers' licenses; unidentified Minnesotan promoting medical use of marijuana; MN Beer Wholesalers Association about theft of beer kegs ending up in scrap yards; environmental staffer from Panasonic; interview with the Shoreview Bulletin about my blog; former Shoreview resident about funding for MN Historical Society; Allina Hospitals & Clinics for a smoking ban; anonymous letter from someone who is against the smoking ban; Minnetonka resident supporting the MN Historical Society budget request; composting company in Dakota County about HF347; Department of Public Safety official about HF457; Eagan resident about the judiciary and campaign finance; two Granite Falls residents supporting budget for MN Historical Society; AAA Minnesota asking for support of a booster seat law; Salvation Army in Minneapolis asking for help in getting rid of e-waste that is being dumped on their property

Visitors: Clean Water Action about renewable energy standard and electronic waste recycling; Tinklenberg Group (a consulting firm) on transit issues in the northern suburbs; director of the MN Conservation Corps; MN Beer Wholesalers representatives (including a constituent from Lino Lakes) about my scrap metal bill (kegs are getting stolen) and their legislative platform; Lexington resident about climate change and sustainability issues; representatives from the MN Literacy Council (including a constituent from Shoreview); tribal chairman from Bois Fort Reservation and lobbyists on a woody biomass feasibility study proposal; a Circle Pines constituent about the legislative platform for construction engineers; sizable number of advocates for K-12 education from the Centennial School District; Shoreview constituent with platform of the MN Environmental Partnership; three mortgage bankers (including one from Circle Pines and two from Lino Lakes) about the platform of the Mortage Bankers Association; Outland Renewable Energy and their lobbyist (who is also a constituent) about community energy development projects; Mayor of North Oaks and Sen. Rummel about the Highway 96 landfill; two constituent physical therapists (one from Lino Lakes and the other from Circle Pines) about their industry's legislative platform; DFL Party officials dropping off the party's official platform; lobbyist for Qwest about HF457 and telecommunications competitiveness issues

Invitations: meeting on homeowner protection legislation; benefit for victim of car accident in West. St. Paul; MN Indian Affairs Council Legislative Forum; Mounds View High School Physics Fair; Liquid Renewable Fuels, Inc. for an event on biofuels; Centennial Area Education Foundation; International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 about event on prevailing wage; Industrial Union Council of MN; Attorney General Lori Swanson; MN Agri-Growth Council; Bicycling Travel & Fitness Expo; Christ Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill; MN Historial Society; U of M Center for Transportation Studies; Animal Humane Society supporting the puppy mill bill; MN Council of Nonprofits/MN Budget Project; Early Childhood Caucus; Sen. Murphy about east metro transit meeting; North Hennepin Community College; Sheila Wellstone Institute

Information sent: MN Environmental Partnership; Ramsey County League of Local Governments; Policy Today magazine; Lavender magazine; MN Private Colleges; Center for Victims of Torture; MN Academy of Ophthamology; Citizens' Equal Rights Alliance (anti-federal Indian policy group); NAMI-MN (mental health organization); Twin Cities North Chamber; Linden Hills Power & Light; MN House Research on new publications; Clean Energy MN; Mounds View School Superintendent; MN Displaced Homemaker Pre-Employment Program; St. Paul Police Federation; MN Community Action Partnership promoting a legislative commission to end poverty; Citizens for a Safer MN against the Stand Your Ground proposal (HF498); Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Catholic Aid Association promoting fraternal benefit societies; MN Medical Association supporting a smoking ban; League of MN Cities; U of MN Academic Health Center; Farm Bureau; American Lung Association of MN promoting E85; Governor Pawlenty's office with his public events schedule; Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance in support of the having the Wiccan pentacle approved for use on veterans' grave markers (I'm not kidding); MN Legislative Auditor about release of report on State Board of Investment; MN Taxpayer Association; MCCL for their legislative dinner; Mall of America; MN School Boards Association; MN Women's Press (fact I learned: there are more women in the Legislature--40%--than ever before); School Reform News (from the Heartland Institute); MN Independent School Forum; letter from Sen. Chaudhary about a firewood ban to avoid transfer of invasive species; introductory letter from the new House Chaplain; NAMI MN about the need for discharge planning on mental health in our jails; MN Coalition for Battered Women; Council of State Governments; American Jewish World