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