Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My Legislation for 2010

Every year I post the results of my legislation with links to where you can find the actual bill language. These are my bills that passed. When the House and Senate each pass a similar bill but with different numbers, eventually only one bill number is used (or “substituted”) for conference committees, final passage, and action by the Governor. The bill number that is underlined is the substituted bill. An “omnibus” bill incorporates smaller bills on a similar topic to facilitate passage. Chapter numbers refer to 2010 Session Laws. Session laws are compilations of legislation passed by the legislature and acted upon by the Governor each year. Each chapter is one bill.

Public Safety

HF2864/SF2636: Electronic monitoring of domestic abuse offenders. Inserted into an omnibus domestic violence bill (HF2608) and then substituted by SF2437, Chapter 299, Section 12. Self-initiated with assistance from the MN Coalition for Battered Women. House Public Information Services has a summary of the bill. I authored this bill as a response to the two domestic violence murders in Circle Pines and Lino Lakes in 2009.

HF1217/SF1568: Safe Drug Disposal Act. Chapter 223 and initiated by me. This bill makes it easier for law enforcement and county solid/hazardous waste staff to collect old prescription drugs and destroy them. I initiated the legislation as a way to keep people from flushing old drugs down the toilet, which leads to endocrine disrupting compounds that harm aquatic life getting into our rivers and streams. However, I discovered that law enforcement is very concerned about prescription drug abuse and they were very supportive. This bill didn’t go as far as I would have liked in terms of industry funding for drug collections, but it’s a good step forward.


HF3779/SF3360: Metro transit bonding. Inserted in omnibus tax bill (HF3729), Chapter 389, Article 7, Section 8 and awaiting signature. Initiated by the Metropolitan Council. This bill allows the Met Council to sell bonds for transit and paratransit assets like bus shelters, new buses, park-and-ride facilities, etc. They have been retiring their old debt at about the same rate that they are incurring new debt, and they require statutory authority to borrow.

HF1373/SF1226: Transportation access council. Inserted into Omnibus Transportation Policy Bill (SF2540/HF2807), Chapter 351, Section 51, initiated by Sen. Scott Dibble and me. A previous version of this bill was in the vetoed 2009 Omnibus Transportation Policy Bill. The purpose of the bill is to strengthen the Interagency Committee on Transportation Coordination (ICTC). We stand to save some serious money because we have lots of overlapping paratransit programs at the federal and state level for paratransit. Paratransit includes thing like dial-a-ride and other vans and buses that serve seniors and the disabled. Paratransit is about five times more expensive than mass transit.

Public Health & Health Care

HF1372/SF1323: Safe sharps management. Chapter 286, and initiated by UltiMed, a St. Paul company. Taxpayers, employers, and health care policyholders pay more than a billion dollars a year nationwide to pay for injuries from needle sticks, especially to workers in waste management and the hospitality sector. The legislation requires manufacturers of “sharps” such as syringes, lancets, etc. and the pharmaceutical companies that make injectable medications to post information on safe sharps disposal on their web sites. I ended up brokering this legislation among pharmaceutical companies, sharps manufacturers, waste haulers, and home users of sharps. It was very complicated!

HF2614A108 amendment to HF2614: Pharmaceutical waste reduction, initiated by me. HF2614 was vetoed but this language was adopted in the final budget balancing bill, HF1, 1st 2010 Special Session Chapter 1, Article 19, Section 21, and awaiting signature (search for "prescription drug waste"). Nationwide, it is estimated that we are wasting up to $10 billion a year in taxpayer money on prescription drugs that are paid for but never used in long-term care facilities. This is due to inefficient dispensing and prescription techniques and a lack of appropriate technology. The federal health care reform law includes legislation that will help avoid $5.5 billion of this waste over the next decade. This amendment (as eventually adopted by the conference committee) asks the MN Board of Pharmacy to recommend better techniques and technology to save money in the state’s Medicaid program, prisons, and veterans’ homes.


HF2510/SF2226: Fair Race bill, initiated by Senator Sandy Rummel, Chapter 291, vetoed by the Governor. The bill clarifies our election statutes so that someone who threatens a candidate for public office to make them drop out of the race is committing coercion. The Governor vetoed the bill, arguing that our coercion statute is sufficient. This is technically correct, but local elections officials asked for statutory clarification. House Information Services had this article on the bill.

Housing/Property Taxes

Homestead tax treatment for manufactured housing cooperative. I didn’t author the bill but worked with stakeholders on a technical piece of legislation that avoided a major property tax hike for some residents of Lexington. The Department of Revenue offered a provision in a technical bill that would have altered the homestead status for residents of manufactured home (aka mobile home) park cooperatives. There are a handful of these co-ops in the state, and one of them is in the City of Lexington. The technical change would have vastly increased the property taxes for these residents. I moved to delete the provision several months ago and then asked the Department of Revenue and affordable housing advocates to come up with a compromise. They did so, and Rep. Marquart and I introduced the legislation as HF3760/SF3348. This was inserted into the Omnibus Tax Bill (HF3729), Chapter 389, Article 1, Section 15, and is awaiting signature.


HF2402/SF2152: Changes to battery recycling fee. Chapter 258, initiated by Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of Minnesota. Since 1987, when a consumer buys a new auto battery, they need to bring in the old battery. If they don’t bring in the old one, state law says that the consumer has to pay $5. The retailer then passes the $5 to the battery manufacturer. This system has worked well for 23 years; the recycling rate for auto batteries is 97%! Auto service retailers asked me to carry this bill because battery manufacturers now charge $10 or more when the retailer does not provide the old battery. That means Minnesota retailers get shorted $5. So the bill increases the fee charged by retailers to consumers to at least $10.

HF2655/SF2286: Construction and demolition debris recycling requirement for state bonding projects. Inserted in bonding bill (HF2700), Chapter 189, Section 33, and self-initiated. My old recycling colleagues from Wisconsin showed me data that their state administration agency requires that new state building projects valued over $5 million recycle 50% of their construction waste. The result is that these building projects are saving a lot of money! For every 1,000 square feet of construction, projects there have saved an average of $179 in disposal costs. Recycling also sustains more jobs than disposal. I drafted legislation to mirror the requirement in Wisconsin. We have a robust construction waste recycling industry in Minnesota and they are prepared to handle this material.

HF2667/SF2202: Redwood County Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). Inserted in bonding bill (HF2700), Chapter 189, Section 9, Subdivision 3. Line-item vetoed by the Governor. Initiated by Redwood County. Every two years the MN Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) makes capital assistance requests to the legislature to pay for solid waste facilities. They usually get about $3 million. I authored this bill on behalf of Redwood County staff, who I worked with in my recycling career, because it would do what we all say is necessary: consolidate county functions to reduce costs and increase efficiency. The project would replace the dilapidated Redwood County Recycling Center with a facility that could serve several West Central Minnesota counties and increase the value of the recycled materials. The private haulers in that area do not have an interest in constructing a facility of their own.

HF2949/SF2925: Metropolitan Council Sewer Availability Charge modification. Chapter 212, initiated by Metropolitan Council. Because of the slow pace of new construction on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, the Metropolitan Council is running very slow on cash reserves for expanding sewer capacity. When a new building is built, the owner pays a Sewer Availability Charge (SAC) that is set aside for reserves and some of it goes to pay for operations of the metro sewer system. This bill will temporarily allow more of the SAC to go to the reserve fund and less to the general operations. While this may increase the sewer bill for the current users of the metro sewer system by a slight amount, it will keep the financial system of the entire system from collapsing, which will be more expensive for everyone.

HF2698/SF2630: Aquatic vegetation control fees modified for drainage ponds. Inserted in Omnibus Environment & Natural Resources Finance Bill (SF3275), passed as Chapter 361, Article 4, Section 60. Initiated by Sen. Sandy Rummel. Senator Rummel and I heard from Shoreview residents living around Kerry Pond last year about proposed DNR permit fees for controlling aquatic vegetation. We held a public meeting for the neighborhood last fall. The proposed permit fee increase for Kerry Pond residents would have gone up from about $7 per year to something like $90! We recognized that the DNR was trying to recover costs for issuing permits, but to us it appeared that metro area lakes with a high number of residents were bearing the brunt of the cost. This bill would cut the permit fee in half for residents needing a permit on small drainage ponds, which is what Kerry Pond is, as opposed to a lake.

Bills that received a hearing but were not acted upon or did not reach the House floor.

It’s often helpful to introduce legislation to initiate a broader policy discussion, especially if a legislator thinks the bill might not make it through the process or get signed by the Governor. Once a bill gets introduced and gets a number, lobbyists, the media, and other stakeholders suddenly start appearing out of the woodwork and start discussing the issue.

HF170/SF129: Removing the requirement that telephone directory publishers deliver a white pages. Self-initiated. This idea got more play in the media than it deserved, or perhaps there are a lot of reporters who hate getting phone books! After discovering that yellow pages publishers are developing ways for consumers to opt-out of getting a yellow pages, I found that state rules require the delivery of a white pages, whether you want one or not. Verizon surveys have shown that one in seven people use the white pages. The bill, as amended this year in the telecommunications division, would require the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to expedite rulemaking and delete the requirement but would require the phone company to deliver white pages if you ask for them. Several Democrats didn’t like this idea because they didn’t trust the phone company to get it right. Since I spent a total of about one hour on this bill and it was not worth spending any more time on, I asked that the bill be tabled in the Commerce and Labor Committee.

HF0418/SF1176: Allowing municipalities to require control or eradication of buckthorn. Initiated by a North Oaks resident. This bill actually made it to the House floor this year but didn’t move in the Senate. Buckthorn is a decorative shrub that can block out native trees and plants. Many Minnesotans are working hard to remove the plant but it is an uphill battle. This bill would give authority to a municipality to pass an ordinance requiring the removal of the plant. The legislation was “permissive,” meaning that a city could pass an ordinance if it wanted to but it would not be required. MnDOT raised objections because they might be required to remove buckthorn in their right-of-way in a city that passed an ordinance, and that would keep them from working on roads. The Star Tribune did a nice article on the issue.

HF2407: Creating a product stewardship framework. Self-initiated. This received an informational hearing in the Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee. There are a lot of bills introduced every year that would require some industry responsibility for covering the cost of safely disposing of certain solid and hazardous wastes, like electronics, paints, etc. This type of product stewardship is designed to remove or reduce taxpayer costs for protecting the environment and public health. These bills take up lot of legislative time and legislators often don’t have the expertise necessary to sift through conflicting testimony. This bill would create a framework through which the MN Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) could recommend products for legislative action and provide necessary technical background. The State of Maine enacted legislation this year that passed on a bi-partisan basis with support from their state chamber of commerce, and I hope to learn from their model in 2011. You can listen to the audio of the informational hearing on the Environment & Natural Resources Policy Committee website for the May 5, 2010 meeting starting at 36:39.

HF2182: Rating criteria required for capital project funding requests. Self-initiated. I requested a hearing in the Capital Investment Committee on this bill that would add more transparency to the bonding bill. The bonding bill is often very political because many projects get included based on who represents the area. Projects often look like “earmarks.” My bill would require the Commissioner of Finance to ask for specific information about jobs and other data when public entities submit funding proposals. Then legislators would be able to compare and rank projects based on merit. The media and the public would also have access to this information so that they can hold legislators accountable. I received a polite hearing but there was resistance to the idea from members of both parties, particularly from rural Minnesota where bonding bills are popular.

HF2512: Discouraging state purchasing of bottled water. Self-initiated. The State of Minnesota spends about half a million dollars annually on bottled water. It usually comes in the form of five-gallon jugs. It turns out that using tap water is hundreds to thousands of times cheaper, even with a good tap filter. As a means of saving a modest amount of taxpayer dollars, I introduced the bill. It would be a bit picky to put this in law, but the related media attention got a lot of people talking in their workplaces about the wisdom of buying bottled water during difficult economic times. The Star Tribune did a nice article on the issue.

HF2559/SF2655: Public water suppliers required to recover costs of providing service. Self-iniated. The goal of this legislation was to push some cities (especially in rural Minnesota) to stop subsidizing water rates. Some cities and towns under political pressure will charge less than it actually costs to provide the service, and then when the water infrastructure is in need of upgrades there is no money in reserve to pay for it. Then the city goes to the state for a bailout through the Public Facilities Authority that provides low interest loans. Only after negotiating a loan will a city be required to raise rates to pay for the bonds. My goal was to keep the city from needing a bailout in the first place. The legislation also required that water rates only be used for the water service and infrastructure so that the money is not used to subsidize other city services. I didn’t have a lot of time to work on this, but I did get an informational hearing in the Cultural & Outdoor Resources Finance Division and we had a good discussion.

HF2429/SF2418: Bonding request for an anaerobic digester. Self-initiated. This was a request for $3 million in state bonds to support the construction of an anaerobic digester for municipal solid waste in the Twin Cities metro area. A digester is something like a slow cooker but about the size of a small house. It heats the organic contents and result in creating small pellets that encapsulate methane, which then can be burned to create energy. I introduced the bill to get a lot of stakeholders to start talking about locating a digester in the metro area that can handle a variety of organic wastes. The St. Paul Port Authority and many other stakeholders are interested in this and so I had quite a few good meetings. I did not intend for the bonding bill to include this item in 2010 but I may come back with it in 2012.