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