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!