Monday, April 28, 2008

Week of April 27, 2008

Property Tax Refund Calculator: The House Tax Committee has unveiled a property tax bill that will allow for greater property tax refunds for many Minnesotans. It is revenue-neutral, which means that it will not require a tax increase. You can figure out your own property tax refund on-line at the House web site. Click on "Calculate property tax relief proposed in HF3149, omnibus tax bill."

Mall of America: The media has been reporting on a bill that would subsidize the cost of a parking ramp at the Mall of America II project as part of building the new mall. Part of the proposed subsidy would be funded from a pool of money called the "fiscal disparities" program which is 40% of the commercial and industrial property taxes collected in the metro area. My constituents in Anoka County have lower property taxes because of this program, so this mall bill is problematic or me and I find it unacceptable in its current form. I am also not supportive of subsidizing a private business in this way.

Bills pass: The conference committee report on HF3477 passed on the House floor on Monday afternoon. A discussion of this bill dealing with predatory lending protections for manufactured housing owners is in the previous blog entry. It passed 126-3.

One of my other bills, SF2996/HF2903, also passed on the floor on Monday. It would count wastewater effluent as a source of renewable energy in order to promote the use of research of algae for biofuels. Wastewater treatment effluent has a lot of phosphorus in it and that can be used to increase growth in algae that can be used to make biodiesel. Renewable energy status allows producers of this energy to qualify for grants and the like. This bill passed 130-0. Senator Rummel has the Senate version and they are now identical.

Blog article: Several daily newspapers in Greater MN published by Forum Communications carried an article about political blogs and blogs of elected officials this week, and I had a bit quote in it. You can read it on-line.

Burn barrel bill: My bill (HF2802) that would curb open burning of household garbage--the largest source of dioxin pollution in the United States--made some waves in Greater Minnesota this week. The weekly Agri News carried two articles on the bill and about ten farmers have called to share their views. (See "Proposed Ban on Barrel-Burning is Controversial," "Shoreview DFLer Wants Comments on Proposed Burning Ban".)

Health care attitudes: One of the things I really wanted to do in this job is get a better idea from constituents about what kind of change in our health care system that they want, with the end result being health coverage for all, lower costs per capita, and improved quality. It has been frustrating because health care policy is so complicated. MPR did a story on how consumers want change but people are conflicted about what that change should be.

Schedule: On Monday we had a lengthy floor session from about 1:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. The major bill was the E-12 education policy bill. We spent a few hours on an amendment on sex education. I've been on record supporting comprehensive sex education as long as there is an opt-out provision should parents and students want an alternative curriculum, and I supported the amendment. Before session I attended a rally by Minnesota film industry workers who were supporting the reinstatement of a rebate for their industry to help attract feature films to MN. A constituent from Blaine asked me to attend and I spoke to a few people at the rally.

On Tuesday, after taking my son to the doctor, I attended a caucus meeting at the Capitol. On Wednesday, we had a floor session from 10:30 a.m. to about 5:45 p.m. covering a lot of smaller bills, including some miscellaneous energy bills. On Thursday, we had a floor session and a caucus meeting. Major bills include the minimum wage bill (I voted in support) and a resolution to Congress supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (I voted in support). We also discussed a bill that would ban the use of decabromodiphenylether (DBPE), a flame retardant that is a persistent bio-accumulative toxin.

Visitors: three people from MN Catholic Conference asking for support of an increase in the minimum wage; grassroots organizers from AFL-CIO presenting letters of support from constituents in support of an increase in the minimum wage; Lino Lakes constituent, labor organizer, and lobbyist together to promote subsidy for Mall of America parking ramp

Constituent contacts: nine constituents sending form letters supporting the Taxpayers' League Tax Cut Petition; Shoreview constituent against "left-wing" agenda of advocates for combatting climate change; Lino Lakes resident against a bill in Congress on immigration; district resident reporting on graduated drivers license issue for Mounds View High School student newspaper; Lino Lakes resident supporting state subsidy for parking ramp at Mall of America II project; Shoreview resident with question about deductibility of federal stimulus checks from state taxes (they are exempt from taxation); Lino Lakes resident against No Child Left Behind; Lino Lakes resident supporting Judge Roy Moore of Alabama; Circle Pines resident against biofuel subsidies and subsidy for Mall of America II project; Shoreview resident supporting private school vouchers; Lino Lakes resident supporting HF4178 for comprehensive school funding; Shoreview resident and Lino Lakes resident against reduced payments to safety net hospitals; Shoreview resident supporting funding for Minnesota Principals' Academy; two Shoreview residents, Blaine resident, and North Oaks resident against subsidy for Mall of America II project; Lino Lakes resident supporting algae-to-biofuels research; Shoreview resident supporting funding for a Minneapolis veterans' home and a Lake Vermillion State Park; Shoreview resident against Central Corridor; Shoreview resident against property tax bill; Shoreview resident against Mall of America II project and supporting enforcing agreements that the state has with Northwest Airlines; Shoreview resident supporting of Staffing for Patient Safety bill for nurses; Shoreview resident supporting Employee Free Choice resolution; Shoreview resident supporting MN Taxpayers League platform; Shoreview resident supporting Rule of 90 pension proposal for teachers; North Oaks resident asking about property tax bill and its affect on seasonal recreation property; Shoreview resident supporting a photo ID to vote; three Lino Lakes residents, Circle Pines resident supporting a citizens council for proposed outdoor funding sales tax revenue allocation; Shoreview resident against current route of the Central Corridor; Shoreview business owner supporting Early Stage Capital Access bill (HF3538); Shoreview resident supporting minimum wage; Circle Pines resident supporting approval of medical marijuana; North Oaks resident, two Circle Pines residents, Lino Lakes resident, two Shoreview residents supporting comprehensive sex education; two Lino Lakes residents and Circle Pines resident against comprehensive sex education; five Lino Lakes residents and Shoreview resident on a teacher pension issue

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Week of April 20, 2008

Lobbyist Spending Data Published: You can see how much lobbyists spent in 2007 at the State Capitol on the Campaign Finance & Public Disclosure Board website. Associations that hire lobbyists have to report how much they spent to the nearest increment of $20,000. You can also link to my 2006 and 2007 campaign finance reports (on the link on the right of the screen) to confirm what lobbyists and PACs contributed to my campaign--which was ZERO.

Property Tax Unveiled (with my bill in it):
The Property Tax Division of the House Tax Committee unveiled its bill on Monday night. I haven't talked about some legislation in it that I authored yet because I didn't know if it would get put in the bigger bill. My bill (HF4188) is designed to increase the maximum property tax refund (PTR) you can get from the state, and it would take the worst "bite" out of property taxes for those on the bottom of the income scale like retirees, the disabled, and those on fixed incomes. It would also help most people with a refund on their property taxes. My suburban co-authors signed on to the bill with me since the Senate was only considering increasing local government aid (LGA) to cities as its property tax cut proposal this year. Since a lot of suburban cities don't receive LGA, I was looking for a way to help with property taxes in our district. The bigger bill (HF1222) includes some LGA and the property tax refund program. It is funded mostly by taking the market value homestead credit (MVC) and putting it into the PTR program. More later!

Kerry Lake Constituents Speak Out Against New DNR Rules: This month I've heard from quite a few Shoreview residents about Kerry Lake. This is actually a small stormwater runoff pond in a residential development that has evolved into a recreational lake of sorts. There are new DNR rules going into effect that would restrict what lakeshore homeowners would be able to do to the shoreline and the water directly adjacent to it. You can find the rule proposals at the DNR web site. The homeowners would like to continue treating the water for aquatic plants but the DNR rules would likely preclude this options.

On Tuesday morning the Environment & Natural Resources Committee in the House had an informational hearing on a bill that would legislatively change the new rules. I'm on the committee and did pose a question about how the proposed bill or the DNR rules would affect man-made bodies of water like Kerry Lake. (No one had an answer at the time.) Although I had to leave early to chair a conference committee, I did speak to the DNR's deputy commissioner later and he will see how the proposed DNR rules would affect Kerry Lake specifically.

The committee meeting was taped and is available on-line. At the moment it is at top of the page, but if you view this later look for April 22, House Environment & Natural Resources Committee, Informational Hearing on HF1457. An Arden Hills resident testified about the rules and how it would affect Lake Johanna. The meeting lasted 1 hour and 42 minutes.

Governor Outlines Differences on Budget Fix
: A lot of tension seems to have lifted at the Capitol after leadership from both parties from the House and Senate met with the Governor last week. Everyone wants to find an acceptable fix to the $900+ million budget deficit by May 19th. Our leadership asked for, and received, a written list of concerns that the Governor has with both the House and Senate versions of our budget balancing bills. (The House version is HF1812.) These bills are now in conference committee. This is a good thing. Last year we proceeded in sending bills to the Governor that some said he would veto because the Governor was not specific about what he objected to in the bills. This time the Governor has given us a clear idea of issues he has with the bills, and they fill eight pages. It looks like he has a bigger problem with the Senate than the House at this point. I agree with a few of his points, including the forgiveness of $35 million in debt for RiverCentre that St. Paul owes the state. He also did not take issue with any of the legislation I have authored that is now in HF1812 on a conservation rate structure for public water suppliers and three solid waste and recycling reports.

Governor Signs Credit Freeze Report Bill: On Monday I received notification that the Governor signed my bill (HF1665). For more information on this bill see last week's entry.

Conference Committee on HF3477: My bill on predatory lending protections for owners of manufactured housing (aka mobile homes) went to conference committee on Tuesday. Senator Marty is the Senate author and there are three conferees from each body that met to work out the differences between the two bills. Since it is a House file, I wielded the gavel for the meeting. We got everything worked out just fine in about 30 minutes and we took testimony from All Parks Alliance for Change and the Manufactured Home Park Owners Association. Not that it is the most fascinating viewing, but you can watch it on-line at the Senate media's web page. Look for April 22nd, Conference Committee on HF3477, and the file will use Real Player.

Minnesota's incarceration rate more like Sweden than Texas: Right across the street from my district is the Lino Lakes Correctional Facility. I've had the chance to visit the facility last year, and quite a few employees live in my district. That's why I found interesting a recent New York Times article that shows how low our incarceration rate is. The United States incarcerates 751 people for every 100,000 people in the country; Minnesota is at about 300 while Texas is at about 1,000 and Sweden is at 80.

So it was a little bit more discouraging to see that we also have one of the highest levels of drunken driving in the U.S. We also have the highest number of teen driver crashes in the U.S.

"Burn Barrel" bill gets a hearing. One of my bills this year is HF2802 that would effectively ban the open burning of household garbage. This practice is the single biggest source of dioxin pollution in the United States. The MPCA has been working hard to educate counties, law enforcement, and rural residents about the public health hazards of burning household garbage outdoors. It was identified as a major priority by a group of stakeholders in the MPCA's 2007 Solid Waste Policy Report. I knew that the Agriculture, Rural Economies & Veterans Affairs Committee would not likely pass the bill, but the chair did commit to have an informational hearing on Wednesday of this week. The hearing was of great help, since this committee has members that represent rural communities around the state that would have to comply with any law on burning. Having an informational hearing is a great way to see where resistance and support might come from on a bill. What I heard was support for banning the burning of household garbage but resistance to banning the burning of true "farm waste" such as feed bags and twine because of concern over the cost of garbage collection in many rural areas. Later I did an interview with Agri News on the issue.

Schedule: On Monday morning, I met with Senator Marty and staff about the conference committee on HF3477. Afterwards I met with Senator Rummel on district issues. Then there was a caucus meeting and a floor session. On Tuesday morning, I attended part of an informational hearing on HF1457 mentioned above. Afterwards I convened the conference committee on HF3477, also mentioned above. In the afternoon I filmed a cable TV interview. On Wednesday morning, I presented my bill on garbage burning, mentioned above. From about 9:00 a.m. to about 5:00 p.m. we had a floor session with a focus on energy legislation including the cap-and-trade bill. Afterwards I was in a caucus meeting. On Thursday we had an all-day floor session with a focus on the agriculture and veterans' affairs policy bill and the 2008 transportation policy bill.

Visitors: two North Oaks residents visiting the Capitol; two Shoreview residents visiting the Capitol; lobbyist and staff from Best Buy about a recycling issue; lobbyist and staff from Eureka Recycling about a composting amendment; North Metro 15 camera crew interviewing me on legislative issues; Circle Pines resident for Parkinson's Disease day on the hill

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes resident, Lexington resident, and three Shoreview resident s supporting clear car emissions bill; Shoreview resident supporting Green Solutions Act; Lino Lakes resident favoring lower business taxes; Shoreview resident supporting health care reform (but not single-payer) and against tax increases to balance the budget; Blaine resident promoting rebate for filmmakers to come to Minnesota; Shoreview resident supporting minimum wage increase; Lino Lakes pharmacist against continued cuts to pharmacy reimbursement rates; Shoreview resident against subsidies for biofuels; Shoreview resident supporting legalization of medical marijuana; Lino Lakes resident against comprehensive sex education; North Oaks resident against subsidy for Mall of America; Lino Lakes resident and Shoreview resident against the "left-wing" global warming agenda; Shoreview resident, Lexington resident, Lino Lakes resident supporting bill against animal fighting gear; Shoreview? resident against storage of newborn DNA samples; Lino Lakes resident against relaxing graduation testing standards for K-12 education; Shoreview resident supporting bonding for Central Corridor and Asian-Pacific Cultural Center; Shoreview resident supporting mercury-free option for vaccines; North Oaks resident and Lino Lakes resident against illegal immigration; Shoreview resident against clean cars bill

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Week of April 13, 2008

This week included three lengthy floor sessions where we took up "calendar bills." These bills have made it through committees and now reside on the House floor in what is called the General Register. House staff pick bills off of the General Register for debate and a vote by placing those bills on the Calendar for the Day. Most bills are noncontroversial ("vehicle window glazing restriction exemptions" and "authorizing local government interstate assistance") and pass in a few minutes. Others have some controversy and attract amendments designed to change the bill. We track bills and amendments on our laptops. (A few dozen of us have a card on our desk to ask the pages not to give us the paper amendments at our desks.)

Here are a few comments about some notable bills.

Northwest Airlines merger: The Governor and the House and Senate leadership are meeting to see what action the state might take to address the merger of Northwest and Delta Airlines. It's pretty complicated and there are old agreements with NWA in place that have financial implications for the state. However, some House Republicans chose to have a press conference on Wednesday saying that they have a plan to attract Delta to move its headquarters to Minnesota. Turns out it was an amendment placed on a bill on staggering the terms for members of the Metropolitan Council. The Speaker ruled that the amendment was out of order because it was not "germane" or relevant to the bill. (I'm told the Governor didn't know of this amendment either.) The amendment was actually a proposal to eliminate the entire corporate franchise tax for all businesses in the state. There was no fiscal note to show how badly this would affect the state budget, so my view is that my House Republican colleagues were just trying to make some hay knowing that the amendment would be ruled out of order.

My credit freeze report payment bill passed: HF1665/SF1578 passed this week after I presented the bill on the House floor on Monday. This bill allows consumers to pay by means other then credit card for one's $5 credit freeze report when your account has been compromised. A constituent brought this to me because when he tried to pay for his report, one credit bureau said he could only pay by credit card. Seems kind of dumb if your credit card has been stolen. The bill passed 131-0 and the Senate accepted the House version 61-0, and it was presented to the Governor on April 17th.

Newborn DNA testing: Rep. Thissen had a bill that would provide more notification to parents about the state's newborn DNA testing program. His son had a genetic disorder that was discovered by this testing program, and the program probably saved his son's life. This bill led to a lengthy discussion about data privacy, and I was in agreement for the most part with those representatives who wanted parents to give informed consent for this testing. In the hospital, staff take a blood sample which then goes into a database that is owned by the state, and researchers can perform research on the DNA. Most parents (including me!) did not know that for the last ten years no one really needed to notify parents of this procedure. Thissen's bill would require notification that tells you that you have the option to have the blood sample destroyed, but to find the form you need to do this is pretty hard. So I voted for amendments that required a Tennessen warning for this procedure. A Tennessen warning is when you actually get a form that you have to sign to show that you consent to the testing. There was an another amendment that would require that all blood samples collected before the notification became law be destroyed. But since this conflicted with federal law that requires holding the data for at least 24 months I didn't vote for this amendment. Ultimately just about everyone voted for the final bill since it was better than existing law.

Nuclear power revisited: There was a joint hearing this week on new developments and thinking about nuclear power. I missed it because of a conflict, but you can link to a story about it at the House web site.

Schedule: On Monday, I attended a caucus meeting and a floor session. (See comments above about notable bills this week.) On Tuesday, I presented a bill on Anoka County Library levy limits to the House Tax Committee, attended a caucus meeting, and spoke to the Roseville League of Women Voters meeting about drinking water and recycling. On Wednesday, I attended a lengthy floor session, a meeting of legislators from Anoka County about the Mall of America expansion proposal, and a caucus meeting. On Thursday, I was on the floor for the better part of the day. I handled a lot of constituent mail and e-mail on Friday.

Visitors: Lino Lakes resident and lobbyist about K-12 education funding; board member and staff of recycling nonprofit organization about composting legislation; Anoka County about Circle Pines library bill; lobbyist for Municipal Legislative Commission on my property tax cut bill (HF4188); North Oaks resident about health care reform; district resident in support of Out Front Minnesota's GLBT legislative agenda

Constituent contacts: two Shoreview residents against California Clean Car standards; 18 district residents supporting HF3935 for a citizens' council for allocating funding for outdoor purposes; Shoreview resident against storage of genetic testing data for newborns; Shoreview resident supporting bill against puppy mills; four Shoreview residents supporting HF893 negating new DNR rules about lakeshore management; Shoreview resident supporting health care reform bill; North Oaks resident concerned about payment reform measure in HF3391; Lino Lakes resident supporting resolution favoring an end to the embargo on Cuba; Shoreview resident against concessions to Northwest Airlines; Shoreview resident supporting Taxpayers' League Tax Cut Petition; Shoreview couple against wetland bank credit proposal (HF2737); Lino Lakes resident supporting House position of adding $51 per pupil in budget; Shoreview resident supporting comprehensive sex education; Circle Pines resident agreeing with my vote on an amendment to phase out ethanol subsidies; Lino Lakes resident supporting health care reform (HF3391); Shoreview resident asking about lack of college tuition credit on state income taxes (the Governor vetoed it in 2007); Lino Lakes resident against breed-specific dangerous dog bill, supporting increased penalties for animal fighting, supporting HF2906 on dangerous dogs; Lino Lakes resident against public funding of abortion

Monday, April 7, 2008

Week of April 6, 2008

Governor makes line-item veto of Rice Creek Trail: The Governor signed the bonding bill on Monday afternoon while making line item vetoes for quite a few projects. One of the vetoes was for the Rice Creek Regional Trail through Circle Pines and Lino Lakes. This is disappointing, since there were federal matching funds of about $1 million left on the table on this project. Another veto was for the Rush Line Corridor funding that would have built park-and-ride lots along the Highway 61/35E corridor up to Hinckley, which would take traffic off of 35E through our district.

I did notice something interesting in the veto process. The Springbrook Nature Center in Fridley got cut by the Governor. The Tamarack Nature Center in White Bear Lake was approved. The only difference is that a Democrat represents Fridley and a Republican represents White Bear Lake.

Governor signs conflict of interest bill: Some time since Thursday, the Governor signed SF2653, which clarifies state statutes related to conflict of interest for school boards. Senator Betzold and I worked on this bill to make sure that someone can serve on a school board when their spouse also works for the school district. This should resolve an issue related to the Mounds View School District where a new member married to a custodian was told that she might not be able to serve.

Students Speak Out: The Citizens' League is asking students to submit videos that answer the question, "What kind of state do you want to live in when you're an adult?" Check out the rules and guidelines. The deadline is April 21st.

Remembering Larry Morrisette: Long-time Shoreview City Council member passed away last week. I knew Larry from working on the Shoreview Environmental Quality Committee. He always had a quick wit and an easygoing manner. The city's web site has a nice tribute.

I-694 Now on Calendar! One of my pet peeves has been the continued delay in the widening of I-694 between I-35E and I-35W. Bottlenecks have become intolerable, especially since the 35W bridge collapse as people find alternate routes. As of just a few months ago, MnDOT did not even have the project on its calendar, which means it had no funds to put it on their schedule until about 2023 or after. Now, after the passage of the transportation bill, I see on the MnDOT web site that the project is anticipated to begin in 2012. That is good news. (Note: On Monday, April 14th, the MnDOT project manager responded back to me that this is not a "lock" on 2012 and that the agency has firm plans only through 2010.)

Tax revenues slightly up: The MN Department of Finance (click on April 2008 Economic Update) reports that state revenues are above projections for February and March 2008 by about 4.5%. This is good news that helps to shrink the deficit slightly.

Schedule: On Sunday, I attended an ISAIAH community meeting at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Brighton on the issue of health care. On Monday I attended an afternoon floor session. We came back at 7:00 p.m. to the floor to finish up several bills on elections. Elections bill always bring up lots of amendments from the minority. Got home around 10:00 p.m. On Tuesday morning I spoke to a class of high school seniors at Centennial High School about the state legislature. They asked lots of good questions, such as, "How do you make decisions?" "How much money do you make?" "How influential are lobbyists?" "What's the best way for someone like us to make a difference?" In the afternoon, I visited a Microsoft/HP "truck" outside the capitol to see the latest technology, filmed an interview for cable TV, and then attended Larry Morrissette's visitation (see above). On Wednesday, I met with several teachers from the Centennial School District about their legislative agenda. After that a St. John's/St. Benedict's student from the district met with me about the state grant program for college students at private colleges. In the afternoon, I attended a House DFL Caucus meeting. On Thursday, I attended a lengthy floor session (10:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.) where we voted on a study for mesothelioma (a type of lung cancer that miners often get) and HF3391, the health care reform bill. On Friday, I spoke to a meeting at the Pollution Control Agency to solid and hazardous waste managers about product stewardship. This is a process by which manufacturers of certain products (like electronics) share in the responsibility for managing the waste at the end of its life.

Visitors: lobbyist for one of the four credit bureaus about HF1665

Constituent contacts: Shoreview couple supporting regulation of puppy mills; two Shoreview residents and two Lino Lakes residents supporting responsible sex education; two Shoreview residents and Lino Lakes resident against House health care reform bill; seven district residents sending form letters from Taxpayers League of MN website about a tax cut petition; Shoreview resident supporting notification to parents about mercury-free vaccines; Lino Lakes resident supporting immigration enforcement; Shoreview couple supporting Central Corridor rail line; Shoreview couple against the Governor's line items vetoes on the bonding bill on rail to Duluth and the Central Corridor; Shoreview resident, Lexington resident, Circle Pines resident, and Lino Lakes resident supporting HF3935 to create a citizen council to oversee funds generated by proposed dedicated sales tax for the outdoors; Circle Pines resident supporting Mall of America expansion; Shoreview? resident against "Hanna Montana" bill to regulate ticket-buying software; Circle Pines resident against radical steps to combat climate change and ethanol subsidies; Lino Lakes resident asking about pension eligibility; Blaine resident, two Shoreview residents, two Lino Lakes residents and additional district resident upset about Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy; three Lino Lakes residents and Shoreview resident against merger of teacher pension funds; Lino Lakes resident supporting additional K-12 funding; Lino Lakes resident against cutting outpatient reimbursements; Lino Lakes resident supporting HF2779 (college savings deduction plan); Shoreview resident supporting private school vouchers; Lino Lakes resident supporting dangerous dog bill; Lino Lakes resident supporting health care reform bill (HF3391); two Shoreview residents supporting Governor's request for bonding on a veterans' home and Lake Vermillion State Park; two Shoreview residents against line item veto of Central Corridor; two Shoreview residents, Blaine resident against "Department of Revenue data match proposal" in the budget balancing bill; Shoreview resident and dentist against advanced hygienist practitioner bill; Shoreview resident, Lexington resident, two Lino Lakes residents supporting my vote on an amendment to HF1812 that may create a large loophole in the smoking ban; Shoreview? resident supporting tax cuts; three Shoreview residents and Lino Lakes resident against bonding bill (one enjoyable comment: "Pull your head out of your backsides..."); Shoreview resident against progressive taxation; Shoreview resident asking about corporate tax loopholes; Lino Lakes resident supporting free trade agreement with Columbia; Shoreview resident against cuts to nursing homes; Shoreview vet against animal chiropractic proposal; Lino Lakes resident concerned about lawsuits and cost of health care; Shoreview resident requesting member directory; Lino Lakes resident against HF3937; four Shoreview residents, Lino Lakes resident, three Circle Pines residents pleased with bonding support for U of M; two Shoreview residents against new DNR rules about aquatic plant management and for HF893

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Week of March 30, 2008

Schedule: On Monday I attended a caucus meeting and a floor session, followed by a hearing in Rep. Sailer's Solid Waste, Recycling & Resource Conservation Working Group on a solid waste provision related to an ash landfill in Washington County. The floor debate included a lot of "calendar bills." These are bills on the Calendar for the Day, which is a compilation of bills that have gone through the committee process and gone to the House floor. Most calendar bills are pretty small in scope and have little controversy. The one bill that was controversial on Monday was related to enforcement of statutes for independent contractors in the parcel delivery business. The Legislative Auditor identified mis-classification of employees as independent contractors as a major problem last year. Some courier companies were upset about the change.

On Tuesday, two of my bills were debated on the House floor and they passed! These were the first of my free-standing bills to be voted on on the floor. (My other stuff last year ended up in bigger bills.) The first bill was on the conflict of interest issue for school boards (HF2785/SF2653). It passed 129-0 after about forty minutes of debate. Two Republicans offered three amendments about collective bargaining and the Speaker ruled that they were out of order because they were not "germane," or relevant to the bill. My father-in-law watched on the web later and said, "Is that all they do on these bills? Introduce amendments so they can catch people making certain votes and send out negative campaign mail at election time?" (Or words to that effect.) The answer is yes!

The second bill (HF3477) provides the same predatory lending protections to owners of manufactured housing (AKA mobile homes) as for other homes. It passed 127-2 but not before I got quizzed by several Republicans about some details for about a half-hour. (I think it was more hazing than anything else.) The bill was negotiated by advocates for manufactured housing and for the manufactured housing park owners. It was also endorsed by the MN Bankers Association and other financial institutions. Our legislative district includes about 600 of these homes in Lino Lakes, Lexington, and Blaine.

Later in the afternoon, my bill (HF3789) on retail signage for phosphorus fertilizer passed the Commerce & Labor Committee on a voice vote and went back to the floor. I also attended two caucus meetings.

On Wednesday, we passed the conference committee report for the capital investment bill (AKA the bonding bill). The bill has received a lot of press in that the Governor says he would not support a bonding bill that is higher than $825 million, and the conference committee report is $925. The reason for a limit is that it has been an accepted practice to have the debt service on the bonding bill not exceed 3% of unrestricted general fund revenues. If we issue all the bonds this year the limit would have to be $825 million but we are proposing to let the bonds over the course of three years which would keep us under the limit.

Items in the bonding bill that have a connection to our district or region include the following:

* Funding to match federal funds for the Urban Partnership Agreement for park-and-rides along the 35W corridor--that means the park-and-ride in Lino Lakes at 35W and Lake Drive that takes traffic off of 35W through and near our district
* Funding for park-and-ride lots and park-and-pool lots along the Rush Line Corridor (35E/Highway 61) which helps take traffic off of 35E through and near our district
* Replacement of the Rice Street Bridge over Highway 36 in order to assist St. Jude Medical in expanding its operations on both sides of Highway 36

Parks, Trails, Water
* Funding for the completion of the Rice Creek North Regional Trail in Lino Lakes, which matches $1 million+ in federal funds* Groundwater monitoring and observation wells (my HF3005 bill) for aquifers under the Twin Cities metro area
* Funding for the Met Council to upgrade infrastructure of metro parks, including the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes park in Lino Lakes
* Beneficial reuse of wastewater pilot project (mostly to help make ethanol production more efficient in terms of water use)

* Century College (White Bear Lake): classroom and student support space renovation
* Anoka-Ramsey Community College (Coon Rapids): initiatives for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)

Other Local Stuff
* Asset preservation (fixing the roof) at the National Sports Center, which is a major local economic driver in Blaine
* Forensic crime lab in Anoka County to deal with a large backlog for processing evidence for criminal cases

On Thursday we took up HF1812, the budget balancing bill. We are cutting 3% from state agencies and using some of the budget reserve to balance the budget, which has a deficit of $935 million or so. We also cut more than the Governor in the next biennium (2010-2011). But we did re-prioritize some spending so that we can send $51 per pupil to our school districts through next year. Unfortunately this bill incorporated budget changes from all budget divisions/committees--everything from education to human services to environment--so there was a bunch of other stuff in the bill. A few committee chairs allowed items in the bill that were more policy than finance, which means that members could propose amendments on a wide variety of policy issues, from abortion to the smoking ban to firearms because they might be considered "germane" to the bill. So we were on the floor for about 16 hours dealing with various amendments and I got home at 3:15 a.m. on Friday morning. At the end of of the night there was an amendment that would have phased out ethanol subsidies in the state (about $15 million a year) and I voted for that. Unfortunately I found myself among only 35 or so legislators on the vote.

Legislative Auditor topics for 2008: The Legislative Auditor is a non-partisan office that evaluates government programs. This year they will be covering the following issues: MnSCU occupational programs; personal care attendant program; Q-Comp; ethanol subsidies; MINNCOR (corrections industries); E-Verify (immigration documentation program for employers); and capitol complex security. You can see some of the other reports they have done on their web site.

Visitors: Conservation Minnesota about paint product stewardship bill; lobbyist for Municipal Legislative Commission about property tax proposals; volunteer lobbyist for MN Senior Federation about property tax proposals; Anoka County lobbyist about bonding bill and tax bill; two teachers from the White Bear Lake School District; lobbyist for Manufactured Home Park Association; lobbyist for Legal Aid about manufactured housing bill; doctor from the district about a bill on Lyme Disease; two lobbyists in support of a tax break for the Mall of America

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident supporting PE requirement for K-12 schools; Lino Lakes resident about Circle Pines/Lino Lakes library; Lino Lakes resident against bonding bill; Shoreview resident for private school vouchers and against the bonding bill; two North Oaks residents supporting comprehensive sex education; Shoreview resident supporting putting HF1812 back in the Finance Committee; Lino Lakes resident supporting HF0219-the Caregivers Sick Leave Bill; two Shoreview residents against collection of newborn DNA; Lino Lakes resident supporting funding for nursing homes and long-term care; North Oaks and Shoreview resident supporting HF2906 on dangerous dogs; Shoreview? resident supporting creation of oral health practitioner licensing; Shoreview? resident against government spending; Lino Lakes resident for animal chiropractic legislation; Lino Lakes resident against light rail funding; Lino Lakes resident against health care reform bill; Shoreview? resident against comprehensive sex education; Shoreview resident supporting "Power of You" program to help certain at-risk high school students get into college; Circle Pines resident against the bonding bill; Shoreview resident supporting HF893 on lake shoreline management; Shoreview? resident against transit