Thursday, March 26, 2009

Week of March 22, 2009

This is the week of policy committee deadlines, so policy bills must pass all necessary policy committees in one of the two houses by March 27th or they are dead for the year. So we met late into the night most of the week to hear a long list of bills. I've often thought that we ought to consider a unicameral legislature but I think that having our current system in both houses tends to weed out bad ideas that don't make it through deadlines.

Fetal alchohol issues: We heard a bill in the health committee about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. According to advocates, "FASD affects more live births than autism. Autism affects 2-6 babies per 1,000 live births a year, while FASD affects 10 babies per 1,000 live births a year. "

Nursing homes: One of the bigger expenditures for the state in health and human services relates to nursing homes. Rep. Gunther from SW MN presented a bill in committee that would try to free up more dollars for rural nursing homes. Not many people know this, but Minnesota and North Dakota are the only states that require that the same rate be charged to both publicly and privately funded nursing home patients. Rep. Gunther's bill would eliminate equalization so that private pay patients pay more. AARP and others oppose this because it would likely have private pay patients exhaust their savings quicker and then they would end up on public assistance anyway. There is no nursing home in my district but in rural Minnesota this is an extremely big deal because of the rapid aging of the population in many areas.

Tax Reform: The House Tax Chair, Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) and the House Property Tax Division Chair, Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) came out last week with some big tax reform proposals. Rep. Lenczewski proposes in HF1782 to get rid of a lot of individual and corporate tax breaks in order to lower taxes overall in a revenue-neutral way. Revenue-neutral means that the state would receive the same amount of tax revenue despite the changes. I received a letter from a group of medical device manufacturers who are opposed to getting rid of the R&D tax credit. One of the companies was Advanced Molding Technologies in Blaine in my district.

Legislative Audit Commission findings: The Office of the Legislative Auditor continues to be an important resources for finding waste and inefficiency in state government. Three reports came out this week that are alarming. Here's the summary.

"The reports included three material weaknesses:

The Department of Human Services did not adequately communicate to its subrecipients of federal funds the compliance requirements related to those funds. As a result, we estimate that more than $100 million was not included in subrecipients’ single audit coverage. Additionally, this issue resulted in our qualification of the audit opinion about the state’s compliance with federal requirements for several major federal programs, including the Medical Assistance Program.The Department of Human Services did not have sufficient controls to prevent or detect a fraud within the Medical Assistance Program. The Department of Finance did not ensure that state agencies fulfilled their responsibilities when passing federal funds through to subrecipients.

"In addition, six of the reports note that the agencies did not have a comprehensive internal control structure to ensure compliance with federal program requirements. (Education, Employment and Economic Development, Health, Human Services, Natural Resources, and Public Safety)"

Centennial bill hearing: At the behest of Centennial Area Advocates for Responsible Education (CAARE), I introduced HF1643 and got a hearing on it in the K-12 Education Finance Committee this week. The bill would in effect leverage more state dollars for Centennnial and other similar school districts for the local property tax levy dollars that Centennial residents pay. CAARE works closely with Schools for Equity in Education (SEE) on legislative issues. The SEE director testified with me and he has a blog that explains the bill in more detail.

: Monday included a bill hearing for HF1333 on bonding authority for metro transit facilities; a caucus meeting, a short floor session, and a meeting of the Taxes Committee. I ended up chairing the committee while Chair Lenczewski presented her bill that would reform many tax credits and loopholes. In the evening, I attended a potluck at Summer House in Shoreview. This senior housing complex worked with a nonprofit group to find ways to reduce energy consumption and the nonprofit gave a presentation and some awards to the best energy savers! On Tuesday, I attended a committee caucus meeting, a short floor session, and the Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee and the Health Care & Human Services Policy (HCHS) Committee. On Wednesday, there was a Taxes Committee meeting, a short floor session, a visit to the eye doctor, an HCHS Committee meeting in the afternoon and evening, and a meeting of the House DFL Caucus. Another late night. On Thursday, we had a caucus meeting, a short floor session, two committee caucuses, an HCHS Committee meeting in the afternoon and evening, and an Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee meeting that went late. At this time of year, legislators end up shuttling between different rooms since a lot of committees go late. Also on Thursday, I presented my bill HF1643 that would change how the state administers levy equalization for K-12 that would help the Centennial School District. On Friday, I chaired a meeting of the House DFL Suburban Caucus and met with the Speaker on suburban issues.

: Lino Lakes college student supporting private college grant program; electronics company representative (by phone) regarding proposed changes to e-waste recycling law; Senator about HF356; constituent services staff about a constituent's family law issue; two North Oaks residents for MN Utility Investors day on the hill; Ramsey County library staff and board members for library day on the hill; three constituent beer distributors for MN Beer Wholesalers day on the hill; Department of Administration staff about "green"
government purchasing; staff from U of M about pharmaceutical waste issues; industry lobbyist about HF1338

Constitutent contacts
coming soon!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Week of March 15, 2009

Budget update: As soon as I can post the info on our House budget targets I will do that. I've been out sick for a few days so I am behind!

Peer pressure for energy conservaton: WCCO recently did a report on a Connexus program on promoting energy conservation. Utilities are using some software that lets consumers know if they are using more energy on average than their neighbors. I've spoken to the head of the software company, and they integrate publicly available assessor data on square footage with the utility usage data and then they calculate the average energy use for similar types of homes in the same area. No consumer would know the consumption for their neighbors, which is not the impression you get from the title of the story. In California, this type of program led to a 2% reduction in energy usage. At first the utility out there used a "frowny face" for people who were above average in their energy use but it got some negative feedback on that!

Government Information: I just found this cool web site about government information in Minnesota. It is aptly named the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information. (I'm sure they spent many late nights working on the name.) The Coalition is "a network of individuals and organizations committed to open access to public information in print, electronic and digital forms." There are lots of tools for figuring out how to access public information. We rank dead last, by the way, in public disclosure of state contracts. My colleague, Rep. Ryan Winkler, is trying to remedy this with legislation.

Growth and Justice accountability report: Growth & Justiced has just released a report called Government with Accountability.

"The report outlines six essential principles that capture the essence of accountability in government and actions that can be taken to achieve better results from the vital public investments made through state and local governments. The principles, which were developed after study and consultation with some of the state’s leading authorities on public-sector management, are:

  • Establish leadership commitment. Dedication to accountability must come from the top.
  • Set long-term goals and priorities. Outcomes must be in clear and measurable terms and specify the indicators for making progress toward the goals.
  • Strive for transparency, straight talk and open books. Government should open its books and provide the information in a way that citizens can understand.
  • Maintain fiscal responsibly and fairness. Leaders should aim for revenue sufficiency required to provide stable, reliable services and programs.
  • Focus on efficiency and effectiveness. Leaders must recognize the difference between the two and that efficiency is doing things right and effectiveness is doing the right things.
  • Demand accountability for results. Consequences for meeting or failing to meet goals should be considered for government and public service providers and consideration should be given to transformational overhauls of public systems."
Stimulus money helping to weatherize local housing: The Community Action Partnership (CAP) of Ramsey & Washington Counties notified me of how federal stimulus money will help create jobs and save energy in our area. They have already weatherized 13,000 homes in the past 30 years, but the new federal dollars will allow them to create 50 new jobs for work that will weatherize between 1,800 and 2,000 homes, and which will infuse $1.5 million in spending for supplies. Payback for fuel savings is expected in 10 years or less. There are 3,500 homes on their weatherization waiting list.

: Monday included a floor session, a caucus meeting, and a meeting of the Taxes Committee. (I had to miss the Taxes Committee due to a sick child.) Tuesday included a committee caucus meeting, a cable TV and podcast interview on paratransit, a Health Care & Human Services Policy (HCHS) Committee meeting, a public hearing about Green Acres legislation, and Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee meeting. I also presented my bill about sharps disposal (e.g., used syringes), HF1372, in the Environment Committee and it passed to the floor without any big issues. I presented my two transportation bills for transit bonding and a transit council (HF1333 and HF1373) in the transportation committee about the same time and they passed to the Finance Committee. The environment and transportation meetings were at the same time so I was shuttling back and forth. This happens a lot in March as we approach policy committee deadlines. On Wednesday, I presented two bills in the Civil Justice Committee, including HF239 about homeowner warranties and HF403 about compost and bioplastics. They passed and HF239 goes to the floor and HF403 goes to Finance and then Environmental Finance. After that, I presented my bill on the manufactured housing relocation trust fund (HF356) to the Housing Committee that has been a product of much negotiation between the homeowners and the mobile home park owners. It was "held over" while we await a fiscal note. We then had a short floor session, a committee caucus meeting, a meeting of three of us from the suburbs with the Speaker, a meeting of the House DFL Caucus, and Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee and HCHS Committee meetings that were meeting at the same time. On Thursday, I had two caucus meetings, a floor session where we considered four non-controversial bills, a committee caucus meeting, an HCHS Committee meeting, and an Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee meeting. With the late meetings for the last three days I was at the Capitol for an average of 13 hours a day. Which would explain why on Friday I came down with some kind of virus and was at home sick all day.

Visitors: Revisor staff about HF356; lobbyists for Manufactured Housing Association of MN about HF356; staff from All Parks Alliance for Change about HF356; lobbyist for Met Council about HF1333; several constituent chiropractors for their day on the hill; lobbyist and staff for Project 515 regarding bills on same-sex partner benefits and other rights; citizen lobbyist for SAFPlan on family planning; four Centennial school district teachers about Education MN legislative agenda; several business owners with businesses in 53A for MN Business Day on the Hill; constituent citizen lobbyist for AARP; about four constituents from SEIU about its legislative agenda

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident about recycling policy; more coming soon

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Week of March 8, 2009

PCA mercury study: The MPCA has just reported that mercury levels in walleye and northern pike have not been decreasing. In fact, mercury concentrations have been increasing.

Ramsey County groundwater study: The Ramsey Conservation District (formerly the Ramsey County Soil & Water Conservation District) has published its draft Ramsey County Groundwater Protection Plan. I attended a public meeting this week where staff presented its findings and recommendations. You can take a look at the link above. There are quite a few pretty cool maps in there.

Mental Health Ombudsman: The state has an ombudsman who provides oversight on mental health and developmental disabilities. We hear testimony from the head of this office when our Health Care & Human Services Policy & Oversight (HCHS) Committee has hearings on wrongful death or some other grievance issues. They have a web site with much helpful information. Most recently, we heard about how some mental health patients were given medication as part of clinical trials even though their families indicated that the medication was creating adverse effects, including one suicide. The ombudsman also told us about a useful federal web site that has a registry of current private and public clinical trials.

Is Your Doctor's Prescribing Information Private? We voted on a bill in the HCHS Committee this week that would prohibit the use of doctor's prescription data for marketing purposes. A nonprofit called The Prescription Project has been promoting legislation like this because it believes that the relationship between doctors and drug companies is too cozy. The Atlantic magazine had a good article on this issue in 2006. In effect, drug companies get data (although not patient data) from data-mining companies that compile information about what drugs doctors are prescribing. If a doctor is putting people on a competitor's drug, a company can start pushing their product with the doctor.

What are the fastest growing expenditures in the state budget? The legislature requires that the Department of Finance (now Minnesota Management and Budget) report on any programs that increase in size by more than 15% from one budget to another. The most recent report has just come out.

MN still pretty low in Medicare reimbursement costs: Minnesota has been pretty low on the national scale for Medicare spending per capita. In committee, I recently came across this very cool interactive map from the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care.

Bills pulled: I was to have bill hearings on HF457 on anatomical bequests and HF500 about recycled water standards on Tuesday but I pulled the bills because they were really not ready yet. There was a lot of technical stuff that has to be worked out and we need to focus more on the budget, so I can work on these next year.

Tax Incidence Study: The Department of Revenue issued its annual report showing who pays how much taxes in Minnesota. This data gets used by both parties to prove their points in subsequent floor debates.

Schedule: On Monday, I attended a caucus meeting, a short floor session, and a meeting of the House Taxes Committee. Tuesday included the Taxes Committee (revenue forecast presentation by the state economist), two committee caucus meetings, an HCHS Committee meeting (the big bill was on prescription issues as mentioned above), and an Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee (used paint product stewardship program, greenhouse gas registry, and oversight of new dedicated outdoor and arts funding). On Wednesday, I was part of a small group meeting about mental health budget issues, the House Taxes Committee meeting (the 2009 Tax Incidence Study), a committee caucus meeting, an HCHS Committee meeting (about eight different bills), and a House DFL Caucus meeting. Thursday included a short floor session, a committee caucus meeting, an HCHS Committee meeting (about "welfare reform"), the Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee (mostly a DNR technical bill and I chaired part of the meeting), and a public meeting of the Ramsey Conservation District about their new groundwater study (mentioned above). I also presented my homeowner warranty bill (HF239) to the Commerce Committee, and it passed quickly. Friday included a short Telecommunications Division meeting on three bills, and a House DFL Suburban Caucus meeting. I was supposed to present a bill about veterans and fishing licenses (HF1286) but I offered to be bumped off the agenda until next week since one bill took up most of the meeting. The bill was about granting veterans benefits for Hmong veterans who fought with U.S. troops in Laos. It was a very interesting but tense discussion.

Visitors: lobbyist and staff from Minnehaha Creek Watershed District about HF500 on recycled water standards; staff from MN Department of Health about HF500; Shoreview resident for mental health day on the hill; staff from NAMI-MN about mental health issues; organizer for Corporate Accountability International about their anti-bottled water campaign; staff from Anoka Conservation District about their programs; Sierra Club staff about sulfide mining bill; lobbyist and staff from Science Care about HF457 on whole body and tissue donations; staff from Richardson, Richter about Green Jobs Task Force; new President of Century College; Education Minnesota and Teachers Retirement Association lobbyists about teacher pension and health insurance issues; lobbyists for Manufactured Homes Association about HF356; staff from All Parks Alliance for Change about HF356; staff from Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR--they administer the lottery money for the outdoors) about their programs and the 2009 bill for project funding; lobbyist for Mdewankanton Sioux Community about gaming issues

Constituent contacts: Shoreview resident about workers compensation initiatives; four district residents against Senate idea to tax legal services; four district residents against HF417 dealing with an insurance issue; two Shoreview residents about charitable gambling tax rates; Shoreview resident supporting closing the gun-show loophole; two district residents against decriminalization of medical marijuana; Shoreview resident urging that K-12 education be the state's top priority; Lino Lakes resident concerned about Senate proposal to cut K-12 education; Shoreview resident inquiring about property tax issue; Shoreview resident supporting HF1396 on domestic violence issues; about six district residents against "welfare reform" bills proposed by the GOP; Shoreview resident concerned about SF10 on bidding for school services; Shoreview resident about a green technology; about 25 postcards from district residents generated by a payday lending company in opposition to regulation of the payday lending industry; Shoreview resident supporting tough regulations on sulfide mining; Lexington resident supporting racino legislation; district resident and social worker against harsh health & human services cuts; Lexington resident about scope of practice legislation for athletic trainers; Shoreview resident against taxpayer money for a Vikings stadium, casinos or racinos, and puppy mills; three district residents sending identical e-mails generated by MN Rural Electrical Co-ops opposed to climate change legislation; Blaine resident about math standards in K-12; Lino Lakes resident against moratorium on cancer radiation facilities

Friday, March 6, 2009

Week of March 1, 2009

Stimulus follow-up: Our fiscal analysts have posted a summary of stimulus money coming from the feds to Minnesota. The pdf document is a summary of the various programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the federal stimulus bill). The items in this summary were prepared by state agencies and assembled in Minnesota Management and Budget. This is sort of a first draft, more and better information will likely be added.

Budget: Contrary to the hype out there, we are all working furiously on budget options. Just can't divulge much yet! I'm working on several health and human services items as we speak to find efficiencies and savings.

Schedule: Monday included a two caucus meetings and a short floor session and a presentation to students from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs with other alumni who work at the capitol. Tuesday included a meeting of the Taxes Committee (Department of Revenue technical bill), two committee caucus meetings, a cable TV interview, a meeting of the Health Care & Human Services Policy Committe-HCHS (bills on blood lead monitoring and bisphenol-A), and a meeting of the Environmental Policy Committee (Minnesota Clean Cars Act), and a meeting at my Senate DFL district in the evening. Wednesday included a meeting of the Taxes Committee (five bills including one controversial bill that would likely allow collection of taxes from on-line vendors who currently are exempt from sales taxes), an HCHS meeting (presentations on effects of childhood trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, and an oversight hearing about improper use of restraints at an intermediate care facility in Cambridge), and a meeting of the House DFL Caucus. The testimony of the HCHS committee was particularly compelling when an Iraq vet working on PTSD issues told his story. We hung on every word! On Thursday morning, I attended a meeting of stakeholders and other legislators on our homeowner protection legislation and a floor session that considered two bills. In the afternoon, I attended an HCHS committee meeting where we considered two bills--one on access to acupuncture and one on preventative coverage for health savings accounts. I was excused from the Thursday afternoon Environmental Policy Committee meeting due to parent-teacher conferences. On Friday morning, Rep. Knuth, Sen. Marty, and I spoke to a rally in the Rotunda for All Parks Alliance for Change (APAC), an advocacy group for residents of manufactured homes--their slogan is "Mobile Justice." In the afternoon, my intern and I visited a business in Afton that uses sustainable onsite water recycling and wastewater treatment systems.

Visitors: lobbyist for Qwest on telecommunications issues; staff and lobbyist for Kennecott Exploration regarding non-ferrous mining in Minnesota; staff for All Parks Alliance for Change on HF356; three constituent members of MN Association of Public Employees (MAPE) with MAPE's legislative agenda; constituent and lobbyist for MN Insurance & Financial Services Council; staff and lobbyist for Western Lake Superior Sanitary District on wastewater and solid waste issues; representative of 1,000 Friends of Minnesota about HF898 that would link transportation and climate change policy; staff from North Oaks Golf Club with legislative agenda of MN Landscape and Nursery Association; staff and lobbyist for Metro Cities about local government aid and other tax issues; citizen lobbyist for container deposit legislation

Constituent contacts: Shoreview constituent concerned about health data privacy, DNA newborn screening, gun control legislation, and taxation in general; Blaine resident and two Shoreview residents against proposed cuts to rehabilitation services for adults; Shoreview resident against HF989 that would eliminate exemption on religious grounds for full head driver's license photo; Shoreview resident supporting HF1077 that would require licensing for respiratory therapists; Circle Pines resident supporting HF1071 that would require the issuing of only one license plate instead of two per vehicle; Lexington resident concerned about taxes on the middle class; Circle Pines resident supporting HF797 that would define horses as livestock; Lexington resident against sending prisoners from one state-run prison to a private prison in western MN; Shoreview resident supporting creation of an oral hygienist practitioner license and training; Shoreview resident against a provision of a bill that would prohibit the creation of a new charter school within one mile of an existing public school; Shoreview resident supporting progressive taxation; Circle Pines resident against new Obama administration; Shoreview resident supporting funds for family planning; Lino Lakes resident supporting get tough approach to illegal immigration; three Shoreview residents supporting platform of MN Association of Professional Employees; Shoreview resident against HF953, a bill to create gun registration; Shoreview resident against HF417 related to insurance; Shoreview resident supporting reform of taxation of charitable gambling operations; Shoreview resident supporting HF1249 that would license clinical laboratory technicians; Shoreview resident and North Oaks resident against proposed cuts to health care safety net; Shoreview resident against HF772 and HF803 that would limit medical examinations by physicans paid by insurance companies; Blaine resident inquiring about the purpose and cost of Governor Pawlenty's foreign trips; Blaine resident seeking changes to high school graduation tests for math; two Circle Pines residents supporting bill that would eliminate or change mandates for homeschooling; Shoreview resident against Governor's proposed cuts to housing; Circle Pines resident against HF797 about horses defined as livestock; Lino Lakes resident supporting inclusion of all possible therapies for autism in HF359; Circle Pines resident against gay marriage, expansion of gambling, medical marijuana, comprehensive sex education, and abortion; Shoreview resident sending me quotes from Thomas Jefferson, inferring that a conservative philosophy of today is in line with TJ's thinking; Blaine resident against expanding the sales tax to clothing and against public financing of a Vikings stadium