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