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