Friday, February 29, 2008

Week of February 24, 2008

Transportation bill: The big news was that the House and Senate overrode the Governor's veto of the transportation bill. We needed 90 votes to override in the House and we got 91 votes, including six Republicans. All of us at the legislature have received a lot of calls, letters, e-mails, and personal visits on this issue this week. Legislators and others involved in transportation have been working on this for years, but obviously because gas prices have been high and because there is a lot of uncertainty in the economy the vote didn't come at a very good time. However, the $6.6 billion in new revenue will be spread out over ten years rather than just during this year, so this was one of those deals where we had to do something that looked out for the long term.

Our transportation infrastructure has been in trouble. MnDOT has said they are over $2.4 billion a year behind on road and bridge maintenance needs. The question has been how to find the necessary dollars (about $4.8 billion for each two-year budget cycle) to catch up. Without any legislative action, this problem would only get worse. That left us with three choices: cut the state budget somewhere else; borrow money; or to raise new revenue.

In 2003, when the state’s budget deficit was $4.5 billion, the state cut so much from the budget that K-12 education was cut, higher education tuition went up by double digits, social services to children, seniors, and those with disabilities were cut, and property taxes skyrocketed due to reduced aid from the state. Going down that road again was not a very attractive option.

The other option was to borrow more money for roads and bridges, which is what the legislature did in 2003 and 2005. In just the last five years, the debt on our state highway bonds has increased by 650% with no dedicated source of revenue to pay it off. (That's right, 650%.)

To use the gas tax and license tab fees that must be dedicated to roads and bridges according to the highest law in the land—the state constitution—ended up being part of the option we settled on this week.

Our plan will be funded by a phased-in 5 cent per gallon gas tax increase, the first increase in 20 years. In 2006, Minnesota's 20 cent per gallon gas tax (it's not a percentage of your purchase price) was ranked 40th in the country. We also are borrowing a large sum, but an additional 3.5 cent per gallon surcharge will pay off the bonds. Other borrowing proposals did not have a plan for paying off the bonds. A ¼ cent metro wide sales tax increase will go towards transit options like park and rides (including one in Lino Lakes), buses, and rail. I voted for an amendment to the bill that would have had a referendum on the sales tax. The plan also sends road funding to our cities to help keep a lid on property taxes. Overall, the plan infuses $6 billion over ten years to our infrastructure, including fixing all 13 of the “fracture-critical” state bridges.

The final bill was a compromise with six House Republicans and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce to ensure we finally got something done after many years of gridlock. All of us understand that this was not the most popular thing to do, but the price of doing nothing is far greater.

I did some math this week and calculated the added cost of the gas tax to me personally would be $34 a year after the gas tax is fully phased in. That's 12,000 miles a year x 30 mpg = 400 gallons/yr x $0.085 in extra gas tax = $34.00 a year. I pay no additional license tab fee unless I buy a new car.

Earlier this month I sent out an electronic survey to the 700+ constituents who have contacted me by e-mail in the last year. While the survey was not statistically valid because the respondents were not selected at random, the people who are on that list are from all points of the political spectrum. A total of 245 people responded to the survey.

When asked about the gas tax, 57% supported an increase, 17% said "maybe", and 26% did not support an increase. In another question about how to raise the revenue for roads, bridges and transit, 46% said raise the gas tax by TEN cents so that we don't have to issue any bonds for borrowing (this was a big surprise), 17% said raise it by five cents plus 2.5 cents to pay off bonds, 9% said borrow the money and pay off the bonds from somewhere else in the budget, and 28% said don't borrow, don't tax, and just get the money from elsewhere in the budget.

There is also a lot of misunderstanding about where the money goes. I thought Rick Kupchella on KARE-11 did a nice job this week in a news story about this. You can watch it on-line. My three-minute You Tube video also summarizes the issue.

The Star Tribune just did a fact-check on claims about the gas tax.

In other news, the Senate did not confirm Carol Molnau as MnDOT Commissioner. I think that this was justified so that MnDOT can have a fresh start.

35W Bridge Survivors Bill: We also passed the 35W bridge survivors bill this week in the House. Four people from our district were on the bridge on August 1st, including one who was killed. Her husband was in the gallery when we took the vote. This bill will hopefully allow for some reconciliation between the state and the people who were on the bridge. There is a fiscal impact to this bill, but it does two things: avoid the potential for more expensive lawsuits later and asks the state to take some responsibility if not necessarily the legal liability. One of the most frustrating things for the survivors and victims' families has been that the executive branch has been passing the buck on this issue.

Budget Forecast: We did receive the February budget forecast on Thursday in which our state budget will have a deficit of $935 million. The Governor will send to us a budget supplement where he will recommend how to balance the budget, and then the legislature will work from that to set "budget targets" for different committees. There will be cuts but I suspect we will set some priorities where we don't want to go back on some of the gains that we made in 2007.

North Oaks meeting: The MN Pollution Control Agency held a public meeting on the Highway 96 landfill cleanup situation on Tuesday night, and Senator Rummel, Rep. McFarlane and I attended. This was when the public was to comment on the proposed amendment to the "Minnesota Decision Document" for the project. The public comments were mostly negative because the new MDD for how to deal with wells contaminated with vinyl chloride still is not that clear about what action the agency will take if new wells are contaminated. Residents were looking for more clarity and decisiveness.

Schedule: On Monday I attended a caucus meeting and a lengthy floor session on the override of the transportation bill as well as a meeting of the Energy Policy & Finance Committee on some relatively minor bills. On Tuesday, I attended the Environmental Finance Committee where we had an informational hearing on Rep. Bunn's bill to bond state dollars for cleaning up the Washington County landfill; attended a committee caucus meeting; attended the Environment & Natural Resources Committee to deliberate Rep. Knuth's cap & trade bill; and attended a public meeting in North Oaks hosted by the MPCA about the Highway 96 landfill situation. On Wednesday, I attended a caucus meeting and the Energy Policy & Finance Committee where we heard several bills, including quite a bit of time in hearing a bill that would promote green building standards in state buildings. On Thursday, we had a floor session where we voted on the 35W bridge survivors bill (I voted in support) and it passed by something like 120 to 10. In the afternoon, Rep. Sailer, Rep. Ozment, and I spoke at the MPCA Air, Water & Waste Conference in Bloomington about pending legislation. We made it back for the Environment & Natural Resources Committee, where my bill HF3238 on drinking water passed as amended and went to the next committee (local government & metropolitan affairs). On Friday I cleaned up my desk and met with staff about upcoming bill hearings and committee meetings.

Visitors: Reporter for the St. Paul Legal Ledger; staff and volunteer from the Oliver Kelley Farm in Elk River as part of MN Historical Society Day on the Hill; lobbyists for Missouri Valley Energy about the cap & trade bill; lobbyist for Great River Energy about the cap & trade bill; another member and staff and lobbyist for Anoka County regarding the Rice Creek Trail in Lino Lakes; three constituent nurses for MN Nurses Day on the Hill; lobbyist for MN Builders Association about HF3540 and HF3091; staff from Hospice MN about my HF3185 bill; constituent banker for Bankers' Day a the Capitol; lobbyist for Xcel Energy on cap & trade bill; constituent dentist for MN Dentists' Day with legislative platform (against greater reliance on hygienists); three representatives of the Mounds View Education Association with Education MN platform; three landscaper constituents with platform of MN Nursery & Landscape Association; Hugo resident with platform of MN Bikers (motorcyclists); two Bethel College students for MN Private Colleges Day on the Hill; DNR staff about HF3238; lobbyist for MN League of Cities for HF3238; Circle Pines constituent about carpet recycling; staff from Alexandra House in Anoka County (the only women's shelter in Anoka County); MN Department of Health staff about HF3238; lobbyist for MN Multi Housing Association (apartment building owners) about HF3238; U of M dentistry students against promoting independent hygienist program; lobbyist for Western Lake Superior Sanitary District

Constituent contacts: Will update soon! Lots of contacts this week.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Week of February 17, 2007

You Tube Video on Transportation: This week I released a three-minute You Tube video that outlines the case in support of the legislature's comprehensive transportation package.

Transportation summary: Obviously most of the political buzz this week was on the transportation bill. The video above sums it up in about three minutes, but here are the facts if the bill becomes law:

* During the next ten years, new revenue will invest about $7.7 into our roads and bridges, including $650 million for bridges--including the 13 "fracture-critical" bridges like the Hastings bridge that are in danger of collapsing if there is just one fracture.
* The revenue comes from a five-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, an increase in license tab fees ONLY on new vehicles, and a 1/4 percent increase in the sales tax dedicated to transit in the seven-county metro area (down from a 1/2 percent increase).
* Minnesotans in the lowest income bracket will qualify for a tax credit to help defray the increased gas tax.
* The new gas tax revenue will be distributed in a way that will benefit the metro area more than Greater MN, which is a change from the existing allocation formula (the so-called "CSAH formula" or County State Aid Highway--pronounced ka-SAH).
* The new investment is estimated to create 33,000 jobs, most of them within the next few months, in the construction industry which has been particularly hard hit.
* Cities in our district will receive funding for local roads from the bill due to the constitution's allocation of revenues from the gas tax and license tab fees. For example, Lino Lakes would see $2.275 million in additional funding for roads over the next ten years; Shoreview would see $2.493 million; and Circle Pines would see $438,000. That's money that won't have to come from property taxes to fix your city streets.

The politics of the bill:
* Early on Thursday, the MN Chamber of Commerce announced its public support for the plan. This was a major step, since the Chamber has been concerned that its members are losing a lot of money each year from congestion and unsafe roads around the states. The Chamber and Speaker Kelliher had been negotiating a deal so that we get something done this year. This was also interesting, because the Chamber seemed to abandon negotiations with their usual allies--the Governor and the House Republicans--in order to get the deal done. I commend the Speaker and the Chamber for taking this gutsy move.
* As I have stated publicly and as I did last year on the previous bill, I supported an amendment for a referendum on the metro sales tax increase. I did not want my desire for the referendum to break the deal and so I supported the final bill despite the lack of a referendum.
* There is a lot of e-mail and phone calling going on to my office and my colleagues. The conservative callers and e-mails say that we should sit down with the Governor and negotiate. Unfortunately, that is what our leadership did for several months in 2007 without any results. It became clear that the Governor would never sign a bill that had a gas tax increase in it. The House Republicans also suggested an idea for alternative funding at the last minute but it would result in a $1.5 billion cut to other programs and there was no plan for what would be cut. Our plan will be in effect separate from the rest of the state budget because the gas tax and license tab revenue is dedicated by Article XIV of the state constitution to roads and bridges.
* There is no other viable bill on the table.

The Governor vetoed the bill on Friday morning and we will likely vote to override on Monday.

Schedule: On Monday at 8:00 a.m., I outlined three solid waste bills I'm working on to the Solid Waste, Recycling & Resource Conservation Working Group in the House. I'm still waiting for some feedback from stakeholders on some details before I put the bill in the "hopper" to get a bill number and a formal hearing in a committee. There were about 30 people in the room--the other members were surprised that there were that many people interested in the subject! In the afternoon, I attended a caucus meeting and attended our short floor session. Afterwards, I attended the Energy Policy & Finance Committee where we voted on our bonding recommendations to send to the Capital Investment Committee. We also heard an update on recent activities from the Deputy Commissioner of Commerce who is heading up the Energy Security Office at the Department. I left a little early to meet a den of Cub Scouts from Shoreview visiting on the holiday. We took a short tour of the Capitol. At 4:00 p.m., I attended the Heritage Finance Committee where we heard bonding proposals from about 20 different bill authors. I'm the Vice Chair and so when the Chair was out of the room for about 30 minutes I chaired the meeting. At 6:00 p.m. I joined the Environmental Finance Committee to hear all the trail bonding requests. I testified with Anoka County Parks staff on our proposal for the completion of the Rice Creek North Regional Trail in Lino Lakes. Got home at 9:00 p.m. or so.

On Tuesday, we started with Environmental Finance for more bonding proposals at 8:00 a.m. In the middle of that I visited the E-12 Education Committee to present HF2785, a bill to resolve the conflict of interest issue related to the Mounds View School District. I asked for a revision to the original bill to reflect comments from the Mounds View attorney, the MN School Boards Association, and the League of Minnesota Cities. The changes are not yet on the legislative web site as of Wednesday night. The bill passed unanimously and now goes to the floor. Later I visited the office of a Senator about HF1665 that I carried last week, hoping to get Senate action. I then attended a short floor session. By 1:30 I filmed an interview for cable TV on the latest legislative developments. At 2:15, I chaired my Subcommittee on Drinking Water Source Protection, where we heard three bills related to bonding requests and two bonding proposals by the MN Pollution Control Agency. They included cleanup of the Washington County Landfill in Lake Elmo, cleanup of the Albert Lea landfill, the construction of a combustor at a waste-to-energy facility in Alexandria, drilling of drinking water monitoring wells, and bonding for industrial re-use of wastewater. At 4:00 p.m. it was off to the Environment & Natural Resource Committee, where Rep. Lanning had a bill on creating a basin-oriented water management structure. For example, Rep. Lanning is from Moorhead, and the cities and counties in the Red River Valley have banded together to organize their river-related issues, and he wants to see this duplicated statewide based on river basins. At 6:00 p.m. I reported the actions of the Drinking Water subcommittee to the full Environmental Finance Committee and dashed to my kids' school to pick up my son and daughter in time for my daughter's science fair!

On Wednesday, I attended three caucus meetings, a short floor session, the Energy Policy & Finance Committee, and the Environmental Finance Committee. We heard from other Commerce Department staff in the energy committee about banking regulation. (This committee also has jurisdiction over some regulated industries.) Department staff told us that there are 300 state banks in Minnesota, and 10% of them are facing severe financial difficulties due to the sub-prime mortgage loan crisis. They told us that several banks are likely to fail in the coming year as a result. Yikes! Depositors who have more than $100,000 in those banks will not have their deposits over that amount insured by the FDIC. In the Environmental Finance Committee our bonding recommendations were laid out, including funding for the Rice Creek trail!

On Thursday morning we passed our bonding recommendations in the Environmental Finance Committee. We said no to a lot of spending and focused on a couple of key areas, including trails like the Rice Creek trail in Lino Lakes and Circle Pines! The recommendations now go to the Capital Investment Committee. In the Heritage Finance Committee, we also passed our bonding bill and sent it to Capitol Investment Committee. The committee did not pare down the list, however, like in Environmental Finance. Afterwards, I attended our pre-session caucus meeting and then a floor session, where we passed our comprehensive transportation bill. After session (about 7 p.m. or so) I met with several other suburban DFL legislators working on homeowner protection bills.

On Friday morning about seven or eight of us from the burbs held a press conference on homeowners protection bills. I am carrying the bill (HF3091) that would allow people who cannot live in their homes while they are being repaired under warranty to recover short-term housing costs. Just after that the group of us presented our bills to the Labor & Consumer Protection Division of the Commerce & Labor Committee. I made an amendment and then some oral amendments (where we change the bill without having a written amendment), and then the committee passed it unanimously on a voice vote. Next stop is the Commerce & Labor Committee. Later in the morning, the Solid Waste, Recycling, and Resource Conservation Working Group (I'm Vice-Chair) heard several recycling bills, including Rep. Lesch's bill on plastic bag recycling and Rep. Hortman's compact fluorescent bulb recycling proposal. MPCA staff gave recommendations on how the House can reduce energy, paper usage, and SAVE MONEY for taxpayers at the same time. Several of us had requested this work. I attended a caucus meeting in the afternoon.

Visitors: Shoreview resident about nonprofit organization issues; staff from Department of Administration about my solid waste bill; operator of a construction and demolition waste landfill and recycling center about my solid waste bill; committee chair and staff about the drinking water subcommittee agenda; Lino Lakes resident and high school page from Centennial High School; staff and volunteer from Northwest YMCA about the Y's legislative platform; staff from Clean Water Action about their legislative platform; Lino Lakes residents about health care; directors of both the Minneapolis and St. Paul water utilities about proposed interconnection between the two cities' water supply and its potential effect on water table levels in North Oaks; two Circle Pines residents and Shoreview resident presenting legislative platform of consulting engineers; Lino Lakes resident visiting on U of M day at the Capitol; two Shoreview residents and a Lino Lakes resident visiting on credit union day at the Capitol; Circle Pines resident presenting legislative platform of National Federation of the Blind; reporter from Shoreview Bulletin about HF2785; lobbyist for Xcel Energy about my solid waste bill; lobbyist for Anoka County on Rice Creek trail bill; lobbyist for Ramsey County about buckthorn bill; lobbyist for Met Council on HF2903 on wastewater; two chiropractors from the district with the legislative platform for MN's chiropractors; Sierra Club lobbyist updating on staff changes

Constituent contacts: WAY too many automated e-mails and phone calls this week due to the transportation vote--will be a few days before I can update this.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Week of February 10, 2008

Schedule: On Monday, I attended the Environmental Finance Committee where the topic was about chemical contamination that is showing up in umbilical cord blood of newborn babies. The same group that presented, the Environmental Working Group, also has an on-database of people who receive farm subsidies. Another presenter from the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy presented on green chemistry. In the afternoon, I attended a House DFL Caucus fundraiser at Pipefitters local 455. (I have a lot of pipefitters in my district!) In the evening, Senator Rummel, Rep. McFarlane, and I attended a meeting sponsored by ARC Twin Cities at someone's home with parents of children with disabilities.

On Tuesday, I attended two committee caucus meetings; and had a conference call with telephone directory publishers about my solid waste bill; attended a House DFL Caucus meeting; and attended the floor session that was mostly procedural in nature.

On Wednesday, I met with representatives of the MPCA and the Environmental Finance Chair about upcoming MPCA bonding requests before my drinking water subcommittee. In the afternoon, I attended the Energy Policy & Finance Committee where we considered bonding requests for three energy-related projects and attended a House DFL Caucus meeting.

On Thursday morning, I heard DNR bonding requests in the Environmental Finance Committee. Later in the morning on the floor, we passed the bill to put a question on the ballot about raising the sales tax by 3/8 of a percent for the outdoors, clean water, and the arts. In the afternoon I met with the Sergeant at Arms about a security matter and attended the Environment & Natural Resources Committee. We passed Rep. Hortman's Clean Cars bill. I also presented my bill (HF1665) to the Commerce Committee that would allow consumers to use any method of payment to pay for their $5 credit freeze report. A constituent brought this issue to my attention when he tried to pay for his mother's report and one of the credit bureaus would only accept a credit card. If you are trying to freeze your credit report on a credit card because maybe your card was compromised or stolen, it's kind of hard to use it to pay for the credit report! The bill passed quickly and will go to the floor. Now I need the Senate author to proceed with the companion bill.

On Friday, I worked with DFL media staff on a video project outside (more next week on this). It was cold! Later I attended the first meeting of the Ethnic Heritage & New Americans Working Group. I was one of two House members appointed to the working group by the Speaker. (The other is Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake.) The group has ten total members, with several appointments made by the Governor. According to statute, the working group "must undertake activities it determines are necessary to assist state government to foster an understanding and appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity in Minnesota, identify underutilized resources within the immigrant community, and to facilitate the full participation of immigrants in social, cultural, and political life in this state." It looks like I will be on a subcommittee on the ethnic heritage part of the group's responsibility. I have already received an e-mail deriding the goals of the working group and suggesting we make sure we celebrate Irish, German, and Norwegian heritage. (In case anyone is interested, my ethnic heritage is English, Scottish, and Scots-Irish.) Around noon, I attended a press conference outlining several of our proposals for meeting climate change objectives for the 2008 session. After that, I was in the Environmental Finance Committee for the rest of the afternoon hearing bonding requests, mostly for local park projects around the state as well as wastewater treatment requests.

State of the state address: Because I couldn't make the bus in time to go (I get the kids off to school in the morning), I was unable to attend the Governor's State of the State address in St. Cloud, but I listened in on the radio. Obviously there will be conflicts with the Governor this year in the Legislature, but I think there will be some things where we will be in general agreement or at least not gridlocked. Transportation will be the major impediment, but we will likely agree on some major health care reform, environmental initiatives, and energy legislation. There were other ideas he mentioned that most people would agree on--address property taxes, attract good people to be new teachers, create a business-friendly environment, and so on. But how he would address them and the way that I might address them would be different. One thing that I wish the Governor and newer legislators like me could do is sit down for more "out-of-the-box" ideas on the future of the state. The Governor has been pretty good at talking about the use of technology and thinking globally, and I would love to get going on those ideas. He talked about downloadable curriculum for Minnesota students, for example. Great! Let's go! But I was also surprised that he did not talk about education reform in the areas that legislators are working on, like testing, accountability measures, and high schools. There was also no discussion about how to tackle the deficit.

Biomonitoring: The Health Department is working on an initiative that might apply to residents of North Oaks concerned about the health effects of vinyl chloride from the leaking Highway 96 landfill.

My colleagues in the east metro who are dealing with perfluorochemicals (PFCs) in drinking water passed legislation last year for biomonitoring of residents in those areas. The purpose of the resulting biomonitoring pilot program was to see what the long-term health effects were of these chemicals. The Health Department is carrying out the program along with an advisory panel. The program is to look at the effects of four chemicals in different parts of the state--PFCs, arsenic, mercury, and a chemical yet to be named.

They have not decided on the fourth chemical, so I have asked the Health Department if they have considered vinyl chloride. The staff member heading up the effort will pass on this idea to the 13 member advisory panel in March. If there is interest, they will make a decision at a future meeting.

The fourth project would have to be at a smaller scale than with PFCs because of budget constraints, so I thought we might have a chance with North Oaks. The PFC project includes taking blood serum from selected residents and testing it for contaminants.

Visitors: Senator on solid waste issues; lobbyist for the MN Builders Association about construction and demolition debris recycling components of my draft bill; lobbyist for MN Sheriffs Association and the County Sheriffs of Wright, Sherburne, and Anoka Counties supporting the proposed regional forensic lab in Anoka County that would handle evidence collected in those counties (there is a proposal for the bonding bill for this lab since the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has a lab that has a huge backlog); four county solid waste officers giving comments on solid waste legislation; lobbyist and staff for Hennepin County with comments on my solid waste bill regarding composting promotion; lobbyist for the Department of Administration on my solid waste bill; lobbyist for the Met Council about my bill to allow wastewater effluent to be a renewable energy source; lobbyist for a wind and solar energy company about pending legislation; lobbyists for Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board on my solid waste bill; Circle Pines resident and U of M-Morris student who lobbied in favor of that campus's bonding requests

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident supporting Clean Car emission standards bill; two Shoreview residents supporting early childhood education; Shoreview resident supporting an increase in the minimum wage (she was accompanying the Archbishop of the Twin Cities--who testified in support of the bill) at the Commerce Committee hearing I attended on Thursday; two Circle Pines residents thanking me for vote on the dedicated funding bill; Circle Pines resident about recycling; Circle Pines resident, Shoreview resident against Rep. Kahn's stem cell research bill; Shoreview resident with suggestions for administering elections; three Circle Pines residents, five Lino Lakes residents, four Shoreview residents supporting "rule of 90" retirement benefit for teachers; Lino Lakes resident promoting single-payer health care; Shoreview resident promoting taxes on gas and alcohol; two Shoreview residents supporting Castle Doctrine ("stand your ground") bill; North Oaks resident against excessive health care premium increases; North Oaks resident about proposed payment reform in health care; Shoreview resident against ethanol subsidies; Shoreview resident supporting a citizen stakeholder council for the proposed dedicated outdoor funding bill; North Oaks resident commenting on biomonitoring ideas for Highway 96 landfill contamination issue; Shoreview resident against transportation, outdoor, and arts taxes; Lino Lakes resident supporting early passage of a public employee contract; Circle Pines resident against transportation taxes; North Oaks business owner against minimum wage increase; Shoreview resident against taxes; Shoreview resident supporting legislation banning use of cell phones while driving; Shoreview resident supporting more competition for cable service; Blaine resident against taxes; Shoreview resident supporting legislation on homeowner warranty enforcement; Shoreview resident about animal viruses in hog feedlots; Shoreview resident about employment issue

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Week of February 3, 2008

Toxic plastics and children: Senator Rummel is the chief author of a bill to ban the use of several toxic ingredients in children's plastic toys and containers. These plasticizers, bisphenol A and phthalates, would be banned for children under three years old. Recent test show that many baby bottles, when heated, will leach bisphenol A into the bottle's contents. For more information, check out the Healthy Legacy web site.

Scrap metal thefts down and arrests up: Cities around the state have been using the new law that I worked on in 2007 to combat the theft of copper and other metals. The Minneapolis police just contacted me with some statistics that show that since the law went into effect, the number of reported thefts has declined significantly. Several people are being prosecuted under the new law as well.

Schedule: On Monday afternoon, I attended a joint House-Senate energy hearing on peak oil. Peak oil is the concept that our global petroleum output has peaked at roughly 80 million barrels a day and is going to decline. The speaker was Matthew R. Simmons of Simmons & Company International in Houston. There is a blog on peak oil at The Oil Drum. At best, we would see tight supply worldwide leading to oil prices that creep higher. At worst, we could see a rapid production drop-off that would lead to significant economic, social, and political chaos. This presentation certainly could get you worked up into a frenzy so I tried to ask questions that would focus on what the real risk is.

Late Tuesday afternoon, I stopped briefly at an event for the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce. The event was at Tria in North Oaks. Nice place. I noticed artwork by Jerome Hill, grandson of James J. Hill, and by another Hill descendant, Mari Hill Harpur. Jerome Hill was the brother of Louis W. Hill, Jr., who ran the North Oaks Company for many years. Louis W. Hill, Jr. was a St. Paul legislator for our area from 1937 to 1952.

Then it was off to the precinct caucuses. Holy cow! Our precinct caucuses were at Chippewa Middle School and Centennial High School. Altogether there were 1,900 people who came. There are several legislative proposals moving forward that would address the issue of whether we have caucuses or a presidential primary or both. It was a long night!

On Wednesday morning, I attended a meeting of local government officials and legislators about the Rush Line transit corridor that would run up Highway 61 and 35W from St. Paul to roughly Hinckley. There is a request for operating dollars for a bus line to run down this corridor in the next year or two, as well as some bonding money for facilities. In reviewing this line during the last few months, I don't know that a huge number of constituents will take the line--we are more likely to use park-and-rides in Lino Lakes and Blaine--but it would take people off of 35E and 35W so that we have fewer cars on the road, which therefore benefits our district. In the afternoon, I attended a meeting of legislators working on climate change issues. (I have some recycling and composting legislation moving forward that will help to reduce carbon emissions.)

On Thursday, I attended a meeting of the Solid Waste Association of North America, and heard a presentation on the metropolitan wastewater treatment plant. We then took a tour of the plant. All cities in district 53A send their wastewater (other than those homes on septic systems) to this plant. You can take an on-line tour here. The average person creates 48 gallons per day of wastewater in their home. (At my house we were down to 54 gallons for four people last quarter.) In the evening, I attended a Blaine City Council meeting with Senator Betzold to update the council on the upcoming legislative session.

On Friday, I attended the Senate committee responsible for hearing environmental bonding projects for the capital investment bill. One of the bills is the $2.3 million bonding bill for completing the Rice Creek North regional trail in Lino Lakes. I had to leave early but they did hear the bill after 3 and a half hours of other bills! In the afternoon, I attended a meeting of Rep. Bunn's working group on Health Department initiatives related to east metro pollution by 3M chemicals like PFCs. (There is some relevance of this group's work to the contaminated well situation in North Oaks.)

In between all of these meetings, I and other legislators were scrambling to get our bills ready for the first day of session. Committee chairs have requested that we introduce our bills as early as possible and complete a request for a hearing in their committees so that they can schedule bills. There will only be about five weeks available to hear bills before our committee deadlines hit on March 14. I've got about 15 bills in the works.

Visitors: House researcher about my drinking water bill; lobbyist from Minnesota Association of Auto Dealers against proposed "clean car" legislation that would require new cars in MN comply with California's emission standards; staff and lobbyists for SKB Environmental, a company that owns construction debris and industrial waste landfills about my solid waste bill; lobbyists for the League of Greater Minnesota Cities about annexation issues; lobbyist for Waste Management and the MN Chamber of Commerce on my solid waste bill (I am also getting e-mail comments from government and nonprofit organizations about the bill too); committee administrator for the drinking water subcommittee; lobbyist for Qwest about statewide cable franchising bill; lobbyists for MN Beverage Association and Midwest Coca-Cola Corp. about my solid waste bill

(One of my bills deals with solid waste, recycling, and composting. In an experiment to avoid time-consuming hang-ups in committee later, I sent out a draft of my bill to stakeholders in the field to get their comments about technical aspects and interpretations of the intent of the bill so I can make corrections ahead of time. So that's why a bunch of them are visiting with me.)

Constituent contacts: Circle Pines resident supporting dedicated funding for the outdoors; Shoreview resident supporting a gas tax increase and better striping on the highways; Shoreview resident supporting ban on using cell phones while driving; two Shoreview residents, four Lino Lakes residents supporting Rule of 90; Shoreview resident supporting Rep. Winkler's bill for a compensation fund for survivors of the 35W bridge collapse; Shoreview resident about a local land issue in Pine County; Shoreview resident about large hog feedlots and a virus that is being spread from these operations to humans; Lino Lakes resident against banning the hunting of mourning doves; Circle Pines resident supporting greater enforcement of immigration laws; North Oaks resident about health care issues; Shoreview resident about bike trail funding; Lino Lakes resident supporting a bill about athletic trainer qualifications; also a lot of opposition at precinct caucuses by Circle Pines residents about the possible closure of the Circle Pines library