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.