Sunday, March 30, 2008

Week of March 23, 2008

There was a letter in the Shoreview and Quad Communities Press this week disagreeing with my vote for the transportation bill. There was one point raised about the difference between bonding/borrowing for roads vs. bonding in the capital investment bill (the "bonding bill"), so I want to clarify this issue.

Every two years, the legislature puts together a bonding bill that borrows money for things like colleges, universities, state buildings, regional projects, and so on. According to a thirty-year old custom (arbitrarily set by Gov. Perpich), the legislature has a guideline to not incur debt service greater than three percent of general fund revenues in a bonding bill. This is not a law but it has served us well so far so that we don't get in over our heads. The idea is that we have a plan for paying back the bonds.

Borrowing for roads is not a bad thing UNLESS the legislature has no plan for paying back the bonds, and this was exactly what the legislature did in 2003 and 2005. The amount of interest we are paying for road borrowing went up by more than 500% since 2003. However, in this year's transportation bill, the legislature is still borrowing quite a bit for roads, but we have a plan to pay off the bonds--a 3.5 cent per gallon surcharge that will not kick in completely for several years.

Schedule: We had Easter Break through Tuesday. On Monday, I visited a Fridley beer wholesaler owned and operated by a constituent (Capitol Beverage Sales Ltd.) to hear about legislative issues related to that industry. On Tuesday, we had a floor session and two caucus meetings. I also attended short meetings of the Environment & Natural Resources Committee and the Heritage Finance Committee. In the evening from about 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. the Environmental Finance Committee met to mark up its omnibus finance bill (HF4201) and to pass out about ten bills to the floor.

My drinking water bill (HF3238) and solid waste bill (HF3540) were partially included in the omnibus bill. The parts of HF3238 included was the conservation rate structure for public water suppliers. (I made a few oral amendments to my language during the meeting and had a written amendment about consolidating reports on drinking water from state agencies.)

The included parts of HF3540 were three reports requested of the MPCA to tell the legislature how the state can reach 60% recycling and 15% composting goals by 2020; how to set up a comprehensive product stewardship for selected waste products; and how to reach a 40% recycling rate for construction and demolition debris in the seven-county metro by 2012. The reports will come back by the next legislative session.

On Wednesday, I attended a caucus meeting in the afternoon. Unfortunately I missed a few meetings because my drains were all backed up and I was waiting for a drain guy to show up! (Water was all over the kitchen floor and leaking in the basement.)

On Thursday we had a lengthy floor session dealing with "good faith legislation" which has been the focus of a lot of lobbying by the insurance industry.

On Friday, my bill on retail signage about phosphorus in fertilizer (HF3789) went to the Rules Committee. Another member felt that this bill should have gone to the Commerce Committee instead of right to the floor from the Agriculture Policy Committee. That was fine with me but since policy committee deadlines have passed the bill needed to go to Rules first.

Visitors: lobbyist and staff from Rock-Tenn Company about my drinking water bill; several members of the Farm Bureau from Watonwan County about their legislative agenda as part of their "Adopt-a-Legislator" program; several parents from Anoka-Washington County Head Start promoting early childhood programs; several students and staff from Oak Grove High School in North Oaks; Xcel lobbyists regarding an ash landfill in Washington County

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes resident against ethanol, transit; five Lino Lakes residents supporting additional K-12 funding; Lino Lakes resident supporting PE requirements for K-12 education; Shoreview resident against health care reform proposals; Shoreview resident against ethanol subsidies; two Blaine residents, Lino Lakes resident, Shoreview resident supporting bill for animal chiropractic professionals; Shoreview resident supporting comprehensive sex education; Circle Pines resident against Q-Comp; Lino Lakes resident against HF3296 on independent contractors in the courier business; Lino Lakes resident against taxes generally; Circle Pines resident supporting cuts to state patrol who are handing out too many tickets; Blaine? resident against transportation bill; Shoreview resident against good faith bill; Shoreview resident against taxes; two Shoreview residents supporting Clean Cars legislation; two Centennial High School students writing on the death penalty--one for, one against; 15 constituents sending postcards in favor of Sportsmen for Change agenda; Shoreview resident and Circle Pines resident against sanctuary cities; Shoreview resident against comprehensive sex education; Shoreview resident against taxes; Circle Pines resident supporting "car repair for poverty" program (HF3113); four Shoreview residents supporting comprehensive sex education; Shoreview senior couple concerned about property taxes; Shoreview vet against animal chiropractic legislation; Shoreview? resident against taxes; Shoreview resident supporting "pedalpub" legislation (HF3849); two Circle Pines residents against new school report card legislation; Lino Lakes and North Oaks resident supporting delay in health care payment reform legislation; North Oaks resident against Governor's proposal to raid the Health Care Access Fund; Lino Lakes resident against removing funding for ATVs from gas tax revenues; about 20 callers about the transportation bill--half for, half against; Shoreview resident supporting transportation bill; two Shoreview residents against "good faith" legislation; Shoreview resident supporting transportation bill; Shoreview resident supporting E85; Circle Pines resident, Lino Lakes resident against health care reform proposal; two North Oaks resident and Shoreview resident against raiding the Health Care Access Fund to balance the budget; Shoreview resident asking that a specific nonprofit be included in legislation on a proposed statewide crisis phone network

Friday, March 21, 2008

Week of March 16, 2008

Getting postcards in the mail? The DFL Party sent out a postcard this week to district mailboxes supporting me but I was not aware that it was coming out. This is what is called an "independent expenditure." Candidates are not permitted to coordinate with the party or other organizations on these kinds of expenditures, even though it has my name all over it.

The Republican Party also sent out a postcard this week that attacks me for supporting the transportation bill. It apparently tells people to contact me to express dissatisfaction with the taxes in the bill. What is interesting is that more people are contacting me to express support for my position!

Schedule: On Monday I attended two caucus meetings and a short floor session. In the afternoon, we heard a compelling presentation by someone from the Canadian Geological Survey on the issue of peak oil. After about an hour it was pretty clear that we might see a swift global drop-off in crude oil supply in the mid 20th century. Later I presented my solid waste bill HF3540 to the Environmental Finance Committee. The bill will be "laid over for possible inclusion" into the committee's omnibus finance bill. I had quite a spat with the Yellow Pages Association's lobbyist about language in the bill that would allow consumers to opt-out of getting a phone book if they don't want one. (They didn't like it.) The committee chair gave the lobbyist a hard time in the hearing because the recycling rate for phone books is so poor. In the evening in the Energy Policy & Finance Committee we voted on Rep. Knuth's bill on a cap-and-trade mechanism for addressing global warming.

My six year old son was pretty sick this week so I was at home with him on Tuesday until someone came over to watch him in the mid-afternoon. At four, the Environmental Finance Committee heard my drinking water bill, HF3238, and it was also laid over for possible inclusion in the committee's omnibus bill.

What does "laid over for possible inclusion" mean?" That's when a bill is held in a committee, and the committee chair and members can include that bill into a larger one. It tends to be applied for bills that have a fiscal impact and therefore can be wrapped into a larger finance bill. That helps make it easier to process the bills instead of having a ton of individual bills on the floor and trying to figure out how they fit into the entire state budget.

On Wednesday, I attended a caucus meeting and a short floor session dealing with several small bills. In the afternoon, my bill (HF3477) on reducing predatory lending for manufacturing housing received a hearing in the Commerce Committee and moved to the floor. Finally, the Energy Policy & Finance Committee met to hear four bills.

On Thursday, Friday, and next Monday we are off for the Easter Break.

Visitors: Centennial Legislative Action Committee about levy equalization in the K-12 funding formula; several lobbyists on solid waste issues

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident against taxpayer funding of abortions; Circle Pines resident against "good faith" bill; Blaine resident supporting private college grant program; Shoreview resident supporting staggered terms for members of the Met Council; Circle Pines resident and Shoreview resident asking for support of efforts to protest Chinese repression in Tibet; Circle Pines resident against so-called sanctuary cities; Shoreview resident against cuts to pharmacy reimbursement rates in Governor's budget proposal; Shoreview resident reacting to recent Star Tribune article about the TIZA school; Lino Lakes resident with questions about bridge collapse claims and health care; Shoreview resident against "gestational carrier arrangements" bill; Lino Lakes resident with questions about transportation bill; about 15 district residents supporting a citizens' council that would decide on funding distribution if the dedicated sales tax passes for the outdoors; Lino Lakes resident against a consumer protection bill for wireless customers; Lino Lakes dentist against advanced hygienist practitioner proposal; Blaine resident supporting film industry incentives; Lino Lakes resident against comprehensive sex education; three Shoreview residents, two Circle Pines residents, and Lino Lakes resident supporting bonding proposal for U of M; six Shoreview residents, Lino Lakes resident, four North Oaks residents disagreeing with Republican Party postcard criticizing the transportation bill and expressing support for my vote; five Lino Lakes residents, three Circle Pines residents, Lexington resident, three Shoreview residents against my vote on the transportation bill; five Shoreview residents and Lino Lakes resident against health care reform bill; five North Oaks physicians, Shoreview physician against the Governor's proposal to raid the Health Care Access Fund to balance the budget

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Week of March 9, 2008

Fertilizer bill: Some regional papers published by ECM carried this article this week about a bill I am carrying in the House. A Republican Senator asked me if I would carry this bill on the House side. Several years ago the legislature passed a law that banned the use of phosphorus in lawn fertilizer to improve water quality in our lakes, rivers, and streams. There were several reasonable exceptions to the law, so retailers can still sell the stuff. Senator Robling and I have a bill that would require wholesalers and retailers to post a sign (which the Department of Agriculture is making into a pdf file that stores can download and print) that simply lists the law along with the exceptions, so that conscientious consumers can be sure to purchase the non-phosphorus alternative if applicable. However, some legislators from both parties on the Agriculture Committee felt that the sign should just be posted in the metro area and not the rest of the state. This stance highlights the divisions that often occur on regional lines at the Capitol. Some legislators suspect that the bill could become a vehicle for amendments on the floor that would ban phosphorus on agricultural fertilizer. Another wanted to change the original law that made the ban statewide and just limit it to the metro area.

So just when you think that something is really simple--putting up a sign--it gets really complicated! The committee ended up amending the bill so that the sign applies only to the metro area. (Apparently people in Greater MN don't need to know what the law is?)

Drinking water bill: My drinking water bill, HF3238, has now passed three committees as of Thursday and is going to the floor. This bill would require public water suppliers to use a conservation rate structure for water prices if you are on city water. Residents of Blaine, Shoreview, and Lino Lakes currently have such a rate structure where the rate goes up if you are using an excessive amount of water at home. Cities would have the flexibility to use either an increasing rate structure OR a price structure that discourages "peak use" during certain times of day or times of the year. Senator Rummel is an author in the Senate she is awaiting a hearing before committee deadlines on the 19th.

Immigration: There is a very good article in Minnpost called "Minnesota's Foreign Born Population: Then and Now" that puts the immigration debate into a different context. As one of the two House members on the Ethnic Heritage & New Americans working group mentioned in the article, I found this presentation by the state demographer to be very compelling.

Schedule: On Monday morning, I presented HF3755 to the Labor & Consumer Affairs Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee that would require bags claiming to be compostable, degradable, or biodegradable to meet a certain ASTM standard. (Some bags are sold saying they are biodegradable but they are not.) It passed unanimously on a voice vote. Later that morning I attended a caucus meeting and a short floor session. Well, it was supposed to be short but we had a few Republican amendments to some simple bills that took a long time. In the afternoon, my solid waste bill HF3540 was heard in the Energy Policy & Finance Committee because it would allow some new recycling activities to be financed by the conservation improvement program (CIP) by utilities. However, I chose to delete that section of the bill because the committee chair would like to review all of the CIP laws after session this year to see what is actually working to conserve energy and what is not. There was some opposition by one member on the construction waste recycling portion of the bill and the Yellow Pages Association testified against one section of the bill that would allow consumers to opt out of receiving a phone book if they choose. The bill now goes to Environmental Finance next week.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Finance committee heard how the DNR is proposing to balance their budget. They propose to cut maintenance for state walking and biking trails but increase funding for trails for ATVs. After that I attended a committee caucus meeting and the Environment & Natural Resources Committee later in the afternoon. We spent a lot of time--probably 90 minutes--hearing a bill where septic system designers were squaring off against professional engineers as to who was allowed to design septic systems up to 10,000 gallons in capacity. We end up having to figure out a lot of "market share" issues in the legislature and it gets kind of frustrating when opposing sides cannot settle these issues and then they ask us to sort it out. We had a short session at 5:30 p.m. and then returned to the Environment Committee for more bills.

On Wednesday, my bill HF3789 on fertilizer signage was before the Agriculture, Rural Economies, and Veterans Affairs Committee. See the blurb at the top of this entry for details. I attended a committee caucus meeting, a meeting of the Energy Policy & Finance Committee, and then a meeting of the House DFL Caucus.

Thursday brought a bill hearing on HF3238, my drinking water bill, in Government Operations. We had a snag because the committee did not have the latest draft (or engrossment) of the bill. So I ran up to the Revisor's Office (the people who draft and process all the bills) to get the right engrossment and make copies. When I presented the bill the page had not passed out the amendment and we couldn't find him so there was a lot of confusion! Finally everyone got the right version and it passed in about two minutes. Now it's off to the floor. Just after that I made it to the Environmental Finance Committee for several bill hearings. We had a short floor session in the morning. In the afternoon, the Environment Committee met to hear about 15 bills in time for policy committee deadlines. We went right up to 10:00 p.m. Bleah. We spent a lot of time debating the merits of the proposed Lake Vermillion State Park.

On Friday, I attended a committee caucus meeting and the Energy Policy & Finance Committee. Spent a lot of time making sure that my bills have been processed correctly and checked on their status in the Senate.

On Saturday, my son's cub scout den visited the Capitol. The MN Historical Society has a great tour. When asked of an example of a law by the guide, the first graders said, "No running a stop sign or red light" and "no shooting bald eagles." My son said, "No smoking in local bars." Can you tell he listens to me when I tell him what I do at the capitol?

Visitors: Senator Rummel on bill coordination; lobbyist for Yellow Pages Association on HF3540; lobbyist for MN Grocers Association on Rep. Lesch's plastic bag recycling bill; SEIU members from the district on their legislative agenda; New Prague high school student about rules for extracurricular activities for charter school students; IBEW members from the district on their legislative agenda; two constituent students from Hamline University about private college grant program; several constituents with developmental disabilities for disability day at the capitol; Olmsted County Commissioner and staff for Rochester Day at the Hill; three constituent members of the MN Beer Wholesalers; Shoreview resident for U of M Extension day at the capitol; Shoreview resident about the legislative process; Lino Lakes resident about stadium issue

Constituent contacts: About a dozen district dentists contacted me this week against a proposal to permit advanced hygienist practitioners to perform certain types of dental work; one dentist was in favor of the proposal; Blaine resident supporting state incentives to draw film companies to MN; Lino Lakes resident against removing state law prohibiting car sales on Sunday; Shoreview resident about "photo-cop" and cell phones while driving; Circle Pines resident and two North Oaks residents supporting legislation combatting puppy mills; Shoreview resident against state cuts to pharmacy reimbursement rates; Shoreview resident supporting bonding bill funds for Camp Ojiketa in Chisago County; Shoreview resident against proposal to collect DNA samples for newborns; Shoreview resident and two Circle Pines residents against consumer protection bill for wireless customers; Shoreview resident against HF3828 that would create a board of residential construction; Lino Lakes doctor and North Oaks doctor against Governor's proposal to use Health Care Access Fund dollars to balance the budget; North Oaks resident against Governor's proposal to cut the budget of the judiciary; Lino Lakes resident against HF3833 that would change regulations on household goods movers (aka moving companies); Shoreview resident against possible funding of an Asian-Pacific Heritage Center in St. Paul and for "kick[ing] you morons out of Legislature"; Circle Pines resident supporting free market approaches to health care; Shoreview resident against liberal private foundations supporting climate change research; Shoreview resident supporting compromise legislation on physical therapy access bill; Shoreview resident supporting creation of citizen oversight board on dedicated funding for the outdoors (SF3488); Shoreview resident supporting presidential primary; Lino Lakes resident and nurse supporting HF3042 requiring minimum staffing for nurses; Lino Lakes resident supporting emergency school funding in HF2978/SF2815

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Week of March 2, 2008

Follow-up on Transportation Bill: The Pioneer Press ran a front-page article about how the transportation bill will channel more money to the suburbs. This will help keep the lid of property taxes because cities and counties will have to levy less for local roads and bridges.

Capital Investment/Bonding bill: This week we passed the House's bonding bill. Every two years the legislature puts together a bill for capital investment, or bonding. What goes in the bonding bill? Usually top priorities include infrastructure for the University of MN and the MnSCU campus system--leaky roofs, elevator replacement, bringing buildings up to code, etc. or what we call "asset preservation." There is usually funding for other university items like reconfiguring buildings to accommodate changes in technology or in the case of this year, a biomedical campus to attract the best talent for biomedical researchers to help build a stronger industry in the state. There is transportation stuff there too, like replacing the Rice Street bridge over Hwy 36 in Roseville in order to accommodate growth by St. Jude Medical on the other side of the highway, and money for the Central Corridor in St. Paul. This year there is funding for three items in our district. One is the Rice Creek Trail that would complete the final link in a larger north regional trail network. The second is money for Metro Parks that would upgrade some facilities in the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Reserve in Lino Lakes. The third is money for a park and ride in Lino Lakes at Lake Drive and 35W. (I had mistakenly said that this money was in the transportation bill before but it is in the bonding bill.) Now a conference committee will meet to reconcile the House and Senate version.

You might ask about why bonding for roads was not OK but it's just fine to have a $900+ million bonding bill. There's a difference. First, our bonding/borrowing for roads took place even though there was a dedicated funding source for roads and bridges--the gas tax and license tab fees. In addition, the legislature and Governor did ALL bonding in 2003 and 2005 with no new cash to pay off the interest. This led to a 650% increase in interest payments for our state roads in less than five years.

The bonding bill has a guideline that we should not borrow more than 3% of the state's uncommitted general fund. That means we have a plan for paying off the bonds. The difference is a little like using a VISA card and not paying more than the minimum every month while interest builds up vs. an American Express card or a fixed rate house mortgage, where you have to have a plan to pay your bill every month.

Schedule: On Monday I attended a caucus meeting and a lengthy floor session on a tax conformity bill. We had to recess so that committees could meet and we came back at 9:30 p.m. and went until 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday. Argh. On Monday afternoon I attended the Energy Policy & Finance Committee and the MN Heritage Finance Committee. In Energy, the committee passed my bill HF2903 that would allow wastewater effluent to count as renewable energy (except if you incinerate wastewater sludge). On Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. (after I got home at 1:30 a.m.) the Environmental Finance Committee heard a presentation about the use of water for energy production and the LCCMR funding bill which takes proceeds from the lottery and spends it on environmental purposes. I also attended a caucus meeting. In the afternoon, I chaired a meeting of the Drinking Water Source Protection Subcommittee to hear from four cities about how they interacted with the state to deal with well contamination. The Mayor of North Oaks and a constituent testified and they did a good job talking about the stress of dealing with the Highway 96 landfill situation in that city. In the afternoon, we had a short floor session and then in the Environment & Natural Resources Committee I presented two of my bills, HF2777 and HF3540. The first deals with dedicating the Solid Waste Management Tax (SWMT) to the PCA's environmental fund. Thirty percent of it now goes to the general fund and never comes out. It doesn't have a chance of passage in a deficit year but I want to point out the problem. The second bill is my big solid waste bill that would promote more recycling and composting. It was well received and passed on a voice vote at about 7:30 p.m. to the energy committee on Monday. On Wednesday, I filmed a cable TV interview and attended two caucus meetings. We had a short floor session. In the afternoon, my drinking water bill HF3238 passed the Local Government & Metropolitan Affairs Committee in about two minutes. (The Realtors and the Health Department were huddling around me later about some suggested language changes on the well disclosure issue.) Finally, in the afternoon and then later in the early evening we had the Energy Policy & Finance Committee where we voted on several small bills. On Thursday morning, we passed the LCCMR funding bill out of Environmental Finance and considered a bill related to the governance of school trust fund lands in northern MN. We had a lengthy floor session on the bonding bill. (See info about the bonding bill above.) On Saturday I attended our senate district DFL convention where I was re-nominated for the House seat.

Visitors: Lobbyists from MN Realtors about the seller's disclosure component of HF3238; lobbyist for Manufactured Housing Association (owners of mobile home parks) about HF3477; lobbyist from MetroCities about HF3238; constituent who was a high school page this week; two constituent physical therapists for their day on the hill; pro-choice constituent for pro-choice day on the hill; lobbyists in favor of medical use of marijuana; lobbyist of MN Inter-County Association concerned about a provision in HF3540; constituent owner of liquor store against Wine with Dinner bill; Lino Lakes resident for MN Chamber of Commerce day on hill with interest in insurance issues; Shoreview resident for AARP day on the ill; lobbyist for SKB Environmental on my solid waste bill HF3540; lobbyist for Yellow Pages Association on HF3540; Blaine college student constituent for MN Private Colleges day on the hill; constituent for American Cancer Society and American Heart Association; staff from Department of Administration about HF3540; Senator Olseen about HF3540; lobbyist and staff from a construction waste recycling company about a solid waste bill; lobbyist for Rock-Tenn Company on HF3238

Constituent contacts: Not enough time this week to complete this part!