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