Monday, October 5, 2009

September 2009 update

Here's an update of my September 2009 activities and other information.

District happenings

Domestic violence: I was very troubled to hear of the second case of fatal domestic violence in district 53A in as many months. The murder-suicide was covered in two articles in the Star Tribune here and here. I'm talking to a few legislators to see if any changes in legislation would help avoid this situation in the future. Alexandra House, the only women's shelter of its kind in Anoka County, was mentioned several times.

Constituent suffering from PTSD: Minnesota Public Radio recently covered the case of a Circle Pines Marine who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his service in Iraq. I've spoken to a few people involved and it is clear that we have a big job ahead of us in treating the large number of returning servicemen and women with PTSD. Some officials at Fort Snelling are doing their best to avoid the worst case scenario of suicide among veterans. [10/11/09 update: The Pioneer Press reported on 10/08/09 that the Marines are calling into question the story of the Circle Pines Marine. It's a little hard to tell what the truth is on this case but I would still point out that PTSD is a major problem.]

Scrap tires on Highway 14: Anoka County rebuilt Highway 14 through Centerville and Lino Lakes recently. Because the section that crosses the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes does not have a very stable base underneath, the county used 2.6 million shredded scrap tires to shore up the road. I know the tire recycling folks and the U.S. produces about one scrap tire per person per year, which means that this project used about half of all scrap tires collected in MN in one year.

Energy savings in Mounds Views SD: Congratulations to the Mounds View School District for the first year of results from its Schools for Energy Efficiency (SEE) program. The district saved $400,000 by reducing energy use by 12%! Well done.

Mounds View SD requests lottery funding: The Mounds View School District, which owns the Laurentian Environmental Learning Center (ELC) in Britt, MN, and several other ELCs have proposed a project to the commission recommending uses for lottery proceeds. The Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) is hearing proposals this fall for possible recommendations next session. The ELC proposal would request funding for energy efficiency upgrades as well as educational programs on energy.

Centennial levy: The Centennial School District is putting a levy referendum on the ballot this fall. There will be two questions. The first will be asking to renew the existing five-year levy and the second questions would ask for some additional funding. There is more info at the Vote Yes site for the referendum.

Anoka County inmates going to Sherburne: Part of Anoka County's budget cutting includes transferring some inmates from Lino Lakes to Sherburne County in Elk River.

Local business and Gopher Stadium: The new Gopher football stadium includes a novel stormwater treatment system developed by a local company. Rehbein Environmental Solutions in Blaine created a system that can store 132,000 gallons of water at a time instead of releasing it immediately into the stormwater runoff system. WCCO did a story on the stadium's green components.

Sewer charges and Blaine interceptor: The Met Council is considering changes to sewer rates. Revenue for sewage capacity from new development in the outer suburbs has slowed because of the lack of new construction, so the MC may charge people in developed areas (that's us) more.

Health care

Insurance for those rejected from other plans: The Health Care & Human Services Policy Committee that I serve on had a recent hearing on several topics including MCHA--the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association. MCHA (pronounced EM-cha) is a program run by the insurance industry to offer coverage to people who, among other things, have been rejected by health insurers because of a pre-existing condition. It's not a state government program but it was created by the legislature. Premiums make up about half the revenue of the program and the rest comes from the insurers through an assessment on their regular customers' policies of about three percent. However, self-insured plans (like those created through large employers) do not get charged the assessment, leaving the cost to small businesses and individual policy holders.

Hidden health care tax: A group called Families USA has updated information about how much consumers with private insurance are paying as a "hidden tax" to cover the cost of the uninsured. In Minnesota we have almost half the number of uninsured as the national average so hospitals and clinics have to write off fewer losses, but the average family policy pays $650 more a year in this state in the "hidden tax."


Bike commuting: During the first few weeks of September I've been commuting on my bike to the Capitol and using the bus as part of that once in a while. I'm not the first in our area to do this by any means but it's been a good way to get in shape. The Met Council has a Bike2Benefits program on-line where you can log in your miles and see how many gallons of gas you are not using and how much in greenhouse gas emissions you are not creating. You can also track the location and arrival times of your buses in real-time using a PDA on the Metro Transit web site.

694 & 35W: MnDOT plans to update one of the exit ramps at 694 and 35W.

Transit: One of the most used forms of transit in the northern suburbs is paratransit or dial-a-ride. Seniors and the disabled use this service regularly. I'm following the work of the Interagency Committee on Transportation Coordination (ICTC, or "Ick-tick") to find out how to encourage more coordination among our state and local agencies so that we can maximize the use of all our transportation assets. The Met Council is also consolidating its dial-a-ride program in a way that will bring this service to Shoreview for the first time.


New technology for treating garbage: I visited a company's R&D facility in Blaine recently that can pre-treat garbage in what is called a thermal vessel. The garbage is heated up to 280 degrees or so and the resulting organic material can be put in an anerobic digester to create energy, and recyclables can be separated out also. The company is Visiam and its main office is in White Bear Township. Their web site has a video of the process. I also had the chance in September to visit a new landfill site in Lynd, Minnesota in Lyon County where I met with county commissioners from seven southwestern MN counties.

My bills

Scrap law working: In 2007, I got legislation passed that required scrap metal recyclers to keep records on the people selling them scrap because of a rampant metal theft problem. This recent article highlights one scrap yard that is successfully working with police on the issue.

Product stewardship: Several of my bills for 2009-2010 relate to a concept of product stewardship (PS). PS would assist taxpayers by asking for industries that create products that are difficult to dispose of safely to take some financial responsibility for the waste material. Senator Doll, Rep. McNamara, and I recently spoke to a gathering of local government officials about legislative ideas on PS. I also attended a recent panel discussion at the MPCA on sustainable packaging. Presenters included NatureWorks LLC, Aveda (based in Blaine), and General Mills. Aveda has a very successful plastic bottle cap program that you can get involved with at local schools.

Compostable bag legislation media: WCCO recently gave some coverage about my legislation requiring compostable plastic yard waste bags if you use a plastic bag.

Pharmaceuticals in our water: Blog readers may be familiar with my bill that would create a secure "take-back" system for unused medications that are often flushed. Many of these medications end up in our rivers and streams because wastewater treatment cannot remove certain endocrine-disrupting compounds. The U.S. Geological Survey has just reported that of nine rivers tested nationwide, Lake Pepin on the Mississippi has the highest number of fish that have both male and female sex characteristics! During October and November, I'm meeting with various stakeholders to get their input on my bill, HF1217, for next year to work out technical issues.


Cuts to county program aid: One of the least-known programs at the state level to help reduce your property taxes is county program aid. This MinnPost article (albeit with a partisan bent) describes the effects of the Governor's recent unallotment to county program aid. Non-partisan House Research also has this info on the program.

Cuts to market value homestead credit (MVHC): One of the way that the state lowers your property taxes is to give you a market value homestead credit via your city. Lino Lakes along with Shoreview lost all its MVHC from the Governor's unallotment. Due to the loss of MVHC and declining property values, Lino Lakes is making some significant budget cuts.

Meetings: I had the chance to visit Second Harvest Heartland in Maplewood, which has a very sophisticated operation in supplying our community food shelves. Senator Rummel and I hosted a meeting with Shoreview residents who live around Kerry Pond to hear from the DNR about changes in aquatic plant management permits. I also visited Lifetrack Resources in St. Paul, which provides child care and other services for children who are under court protection. I enjoyed greeting 4th graders from Rice Lake Elementary School in Lino Lakes at the Capitol.