Monday, May 12, 2008

Week of May 11, 2008

Session wrapping up: We experienced long days and nights on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The final loose ends are being tied up on most bills on the floor of the House and Senate. As of the evening of Sunday, May 18th, we have now passed the last four big bills remaining: the big budget-balancing bill (HF1812), the omnibus tax bill, the health care reform bill (vetoed once already), and a bonding bill that deals with Central Corridor, a veterans facility, and the Lake Vermillion Park. All four of these bills are linked together as part of the budget negotiations among the Governor, House, and Senate. I will do a separate blog entry in a day or two summing up the session.

K-12 education funding bill: On Tuesday, the House and Senate passed HF6 that would provide an additional $51 per pupil to our school districts in the next year. This would not be added to the traditional funding formula that distributes dollars according a complex set of variables--it's $51 per pupil no matter what district you're in. Rep. Garafalo (see photo) asked me a question on the floor about how this bill would affect Centennial School District, implying that the bill would hurt the district because of bill language about debt levy equalization. Since this is a common "gotcha" technique by the House Republicans, I kind of told him to stick it in a nice way, indicating that my constituents heard for 16 years why their previous representative offered excuses for why he couldn't support education funding bills, and that this argument sounded like one more excuse. In addition, the Governor already threatened to veto previous legislation that we had in 2007 would have "fixed" the debt levy equalization issue. Centennial advocates also e-mailed me indicating their support for the bill. Apparently my words hit home with some folks on our side of the aisle, and about 20-30 people thanked me for my comments!

Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed HF6 at 11:45 p.m. on Friday night. However, after day and night negotiations, this funding was restored in HF1812 as part of the deal among the Governor, House, and Senate on Sunday.

We grill the DNR over use of state resource on a conference: Readers may be familiar with the recent story about how the DNR used state resources to raise money for a game warden conference. The MN Conservation Officers Association was the host organization for the North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association in July 2007, and 304 employees from the DNR were required to attend the conference. On Friday (May 9), I was on the House Environmental Finance Committee that held an informational hearing on just what the DNR was doing on this conference. The Star Tribune had a follow-up article on Saturday in which I was quoted. Having hosted a national recycling conference in 2005, I know what is involved to organize these things, so I was outraged to see that the DNR was soliciting sponsorship on state time. This is illegal. But the DNR is going to hire an outside firm to investigate the situation, even though the Legislative Auditor is doing one anyway. The head of the enforcement division and his wife, who is also a DNR employee, have been put on paid administrative leave.

Legislature gets rid of major subsidies in Mall of America proposal: Due to major pressure from legislators in the House (including me), House leadership put together a new proposal to help finance a parking ramp for the Mall of America II project. Instead of filching money from taxpayers like us in the northern suburbs by tapping the "fiscal disparities" pool, the House and Senate have proposed having mall patrons pay an additional sales tax at the mall complex (since a parking fee was not acceptable to the mall) and a tax on lodging for hotels around the mall complex. The proposal also includes a requirement that employees at the new mall be paid a "living wage." This kind of puts the onus on the City of Bloomington, which has been seeking state funding for the mall and now would be the responsible party for raising these taxes. I'm not a big fan of subsidies for private businesses, but this is about the best result because it gets better wages for workers and avoids having the rest of us subsidize this business.

Bonding bill supports Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Campground/Visitor Center: Readers will know that the Governor used a line-item veto for completing the Rice Creek North Regional Trail in Lino Lakes in the bonding bill. However, one item that stayed in the bonding bill was funding for the Metropolitan Council for parks. This funding will result in the construction of a new visitor center at Rice Creek Chain of Lakes that will combine with the campground building, which some will know is kind of shack. A short trail will connect the campground with Centerville Beach on Centerville Lake.

Rice Creek Trail funding options: Anoka County is working hard to find additional funds to complete the Rice Creek Trail after the Governor's veto. One source is about $525,000 that it has available from the Legislative Citizens' Commission on MN Resources (LCCMR--or money provided from lottery proceeds) that it has not expended yet. That provision is in SF2492, which passed both houses on Saturday.

Hill Family Papers go to MHS: The most recent newsletter of the MN Historical Society reports that the MHS is taking possession of Hill family papers. Readers may know that North Oaks was a community that was originally owned as the experimental farm of James J. Hill, the founder of the Great Northern Railroad. (A picture from 1900 from the James J. Hill Reference Library web site--#569--to the right shows the barn on the farm that is still standing.) Some of his descendants live there today. In March 2008, "the Society accepted transfer of the James J. Hill, Louis W. Hill and Maud Van Cortlandt Taylor Hill Papers, 1200 cubic feet of records, from the James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul." Hill family foundations are supporting the digitization of the records among other tasks.

Article on manufactured home bill: The Quad Press printed a good article about HF3477, a bill to assist owners of manufactured homes (aka mobile homes). They interviewed the folks at Legal Aid who worked with me on the bill.

Semi-Sesquicentennial: Minnesota turned 150 on Sunday, May 11th, and therefore we are celebrating the state's sesquicentennial. My dad's birthday was the same day and he turned 75. Since he is half as old as the state, that means that we celebrated his semi-sesquicentennial!

Schedule: Say, I forgot to mention last week that on Friday night (the 9th) my kids and I went to visit the original copy of the Declaration of Independence at the MN History Center. I wanted my nine-year old at least to be able to remember that she saw it. The turnout, unfortunately, for this "showing" to public officials and those policy wonk-types was pretty low. I think I was the only legislator there. (There was a reception earlier in the week for legislators and some others.)

On Sunday, my wife and two children walked in the 5K Race for the Cure at the Mall of America. My seven-year old walked the whole way without even whining! There were 50,000 people who participated. They need to work on their event recycling though. :) I wished that those 50,000 people could have written a letter to the Governor asking him to sign the bill that will ban the use in Minnesota of toxic flame retardants like decabromodiphenylether (DBPE), which is present in breast milk worldwide. (The Governor vetoed it this week.)

On Monday the 12th, we started a lengthy floor session on a variety of issues. We got through a bunch of conference committee reports, including bills on regulating dangerous dogs, an omnibus pensions bill, a bill for a constitutional amendment asking voters to allow the creation of a citizen council that would determine legislative pay and per diem, the gestational carrier bill (aka surrogate mother legal issues), adoption records, and some others. The final bill was our major health reform bill--HF3391.

On Tuesday we had a lengthy floor session with lots of stops and starts. We came back Thursday for the same kind of stop-and-start procedure. On Friday, I spoke to a volunteer recognition breakfast at Island Lake Elementary in Shoreview. Then it was off to the floor for a series of bills and caucus meetings until about 10:30 p.m. On Saturday morning we returned at 10:00 a.m. for a session expected to go late into the night and early morning. We ended up recessing at about 11:30 a.m. and I went home to sleep for a few hours, then got called back about 3:30 a.m. on Sunday. We voted on two things and I turned around and went home, got some more sleep, and was back on the floor Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. A deal was struck early Sunday afternoon and we spent the remainder of the day processing the final bills.

Visitors: lobbyist for Waste Management and National Solid Waste Management Association about conference committee report for HF3506; lobbyist for MN Retailers Association about HF3789 and compact fluorescent bulb education legislation

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident and Lexington resident supporting medical marijuana legislation; Blaine resident against increase in the minimum wage; Shoreview resident supporting local government health bill; Shoreview resident against gay marriage; Lexington resident against levy limits; three Shoreview residents and Circle Pines resident for HF1875-the statewide health insurance plan for teachers; two district residents and Shoreview resident against newborn DNA testing bill; Circle Pines resident against the Welcoming Schools curriculum that "is indoctrination on gay rights"; Shoreview resident supporting naturopathic doctor registration bill; three Lino Lakes residents supporting HF6, the education finance bill; Lino Lakes resident against using the health care access fund to balance the budget, against state subsidies for the Mall of America, and against public subsidies for a Vikings stadium; two Shoreview residents, Lino Lakes resident, three Circle Pines residents, and Blaine resident supporting health care reform bill; Shoreview resident against income-based property tax relief; district resident supporting tough enforcement of immigration laws