Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Week of May 10 & 17, 2009

This is the last full week of the session, and the major budget bills and omnibus policy bills are coming forward. Here's a quick summary.

Tax or Borrow: The major sticking block in our budget negotiations with the Governor is about $1 billion. Our bill that the Governor vetoed on Saturday would raise $1 billion in taxes (see entry from last week) and his proposal since January is to borrow $1 billion, then to spend the next 20 years paying it off along with $600 million in interest. We have made major cuts to our hospitals, people with disabilities, nursing homes, economic assistance to needy families, as well as curbed spending in other areas like education. We are also looking at deferring some of our state payments (a "shift") to schools. That still leaves us with big gap that the $1 billion will help fill.

DNR Game & Fish Bill (HF1132): This always has some interesting sounding provisions like "free either-sex deer permit for recently discharged service members" and "elimination of slot limits for spearing northern pike." But they are important to many folks. This is also the first bill I've seen since my first election that deals with firearms, and that is always controversial. The bill contains a provision that would allow uncased firearms in your vehicle. The idea is that if you are hunting and you are going from one area to another close by, it takes a long time to case up your gun or bow. The Public Safety Policy Committee chair had the bill amended to maintain current law in the seven county metro area. There are various conditions under which you can have an uncased gun or bow that make this more palatable to me. The bill also has an amendment that would require gun show vendors to do a background check on their customers just like gun dealers at a store. I support this provision--I don't think requiring a 10-minute check is particularly burdensome and this is the law in 18 other states.

Manufacturing Housing Legislation Passes Again: HF2088 is an omnibus economic development and housing bill that the Governor signed recently to replace a previous bill that he vetoed. It included my legislation from HF356 to maintain the solvency of the manufactured housing relocation trust fund. The bill is now Chapter 78 of 2009 Session Laws, Article 8, Sections 1 to 3. (The Governor made some line-item vetoes in the bill but not my legislation.)

State Government Finance Bill: The Governor signed SF2082 on May 16th. In that bill there was the text of my HF167, which extends the life of the Legislative Coordinating Commission Working Group on Ethnic Heritage & New Americans. I'm the House DFLer on the working group, which brings together business, labor, and advocates on the issue of immigration to help find pragmatic solutions. The bill is now Chapter 101 of 2009 Session Laws, Article 2, section 1. The final bill did not include my HF625 that would require the state to use an Application Program Interface (API) that would allow third parties to analyze exported state budget information. It was in the House file but not the Senate file and it was not accepted in the final conference committee.

Technical Tax Bill: The Governor signed HF1298, a non-controversial bill with various tax compliance and other tax provisions. My bill HF1333 that authorizes bonding for Met Council transit facilities was included. The bill is now in Chapter 88 of 2009 Session Laws in Article 6, Section 20.

Transportation for the Disabled: My legislation to promote greater coordination of transit for the disabled and others who cannot drive has passed. It's actually in two parts. The legislation creates the Minnesota Council on Transportation Access, where state and regional agencies that serve the disabled come together to figure out how to make a very fragmented and inefficient network of transit services more efficient and cost-effective. HF1373 was the original bill and the funding ended up in HF1309 and the enabling legislation ended up in the omnibus transportation policy bill in HF928. HF928 passed the House on May 17th and is now Chapter 151 of 2009 Session Laws, Section 28, awaiting action by the Governor.

Homeowner warranty bills pass: For two years, several of us from the suburbs have worked to assist homeowners who have been hassled by their builders or remodelers over breaches of warranty. Some Shoreview residents I know have spent $100,000 out of pocket in legal fees while the builders delay a settlement, hoping that the homeowner will give up. Others in the state have had to spend thousands of dollars in hotel or rental housing costs when their house is uninhabitable. My bill, HF239, would allow homeowners to be reimbursed for short-term housing if they have to be out of their house as a result of warranty work. It passed the House and was presented to the Governor on May 15th. He has three days to sign it, which would be May 18th, the last day of session. The bill is now part of Chapter 103, 2009 Session Laws.

Public Safety Finance Bill: coming soon

Health & Human Services Finance Bill: coming soon

Capital Investment Bill: coming soon

E-12 Education Finance Bill: coming soon

Higher Education Finance Bill: coming soon

Agriculture & Veterans Affairs Finance Bill: coming soon