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Lawmakers passed legislation this year appropriating an additional $540,000 for agriculture. The total agriculture budget for the 2014-2015 biennium is $78.1 million.
Agriculture Growth, Research and Innovation Program (AGRI)
$20.47 million is allocated to the AGRI Program for the next biennium. These funds will be used to strengthen the agriculture economy. Investments include: expanding farmer participation in the Farm-to-School program; funding Value Added Ag projects statewide; and, expanding livestock operations especially for young and beginning farmers. The AGRI program will also strengthen the state’s biofuels/biochemicals industries through NextGen Energy grants. Specifically, $2 million of the total appropriation goes directly to County Ag societies.
Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification
Included in the agriculture omnibus bill is a voluntary pilot program in select watersheds exempting farmers who were certified from any new water-quality rules issued by state agencies for up to 10 years. For certification, farmers would need to demonstrate compliance with applicable environmental rules and statutes, and score well on a new assessment tool developed by the Department of Agriculture.
$300,000 is appropriated from the Agriculture Fund to provide additional habitat for pollinators such as bees, moths, butterflies and flies. Additionally, the department will develop best management practices for pollinator habitat protection and will incorporate these practices into the licensure training for pesticide applicators and county agriculture inspectors.
“Buy the Farm” Changes
This bill clarifies the original “Buy the Farm” legislation that originally passed in the 1970s to help landowners who face the prospect of eminent domain proceedings and relocation when high-voltage power lines are routed across their property. The legislation passed this year does not include provisions regarding how much land the utility must purchase.
Farm Lender Mediation Act
Under the Farm-lender Mediation Act, “…creditors with a secured debt of more than $5,000 against an agricultural property must offer farmer-lender mediation before proceeding with foreclosure, repossession, cancellation of contract or collection of judgment” (University of Minnesota Extension Office). A bill prolonging this act until 2017 stalled this session. According to a House publication, “Although the law was enacted 27 years ago during the farm crisis of the mid-1980s, nearly 3,000 mediation notices, involving 1,087 farms, were received in fiscal year 2012, the fourthhighest total in the last 10 years.” BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS
Genetically Modified Organisms
Legislation to require Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) food products to be labeled informing consumers that the contents are “produced with genetic engineering” was introduced. Proponents of the legislation argue consumers should be able to make an informed decision about the foods they are consuming. Additionally, they question the safety of GMOs for the environment, as well as human consumption. Opponents argue labeling may increase the price of food and result in unnecessary worrying by consumers. According to the grocery manufacturing association, 70% of items on food shelves contain GMOs.
Cat and Dog Breeder Regulation
Legislation to protect dogs and cats from poor breeders has been discussed in the legislature for the last five years. Advocates argue this legislation is necessary because the current protections are inadequate. The American Humane Society of Minnesota stated, “Without legislation, our ability to rescue animals from inhumane breeding situations is very limited.” Advocates acknowledge most breeders do a good job. Opponents have been hesitant to support the bill because of broader concerns related to agricultural issues, the scope of the bill being too broad and general opposition to increased government oversight. Opponents do not believe all breeders should suffer as a result of a few bad breeders.
The first year of the two year biennium is traditionally focused on the budget and funding all state services. The second year typically focuses on bonding and policy issues as well as making budget adjustments. This year, Gov. Dayton proposed a $750 million bonding bill and House Democrats introduced an $800 million borrowing package for public construction. The Senate heard a number of prospective public works projects in budget committees to provide building improvements at college campuses, regional civic centers, wastewater infrastructure, flood mitigation projects, roads and bridges. One of the most important provisions in the bonding bill was funding to continue renovations of the state capitol building. The House of Representatives took up the bonding bill first but it failed on a vote of 76-56, five votes short of the 81 needed to pass. A second and smaller $176 million bonding bill was put together to address capitol renovations and a few other projects including flood mitigation efforts and the next stage of a major expansion for the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis. The final bill includes $109 million for the Capitol renovation and $22 million for the new parking garage. Capitol administrators had warned that if repair funding fell through this year, the project would have been set back two years, at a cost of millions more to the state. This summer and fall, the Senate bonding committee will be conducting a bonding tour—going out to communities around the state to view perspective bonding proposals. The bonding committee will use this information to put together a more comprehensive bonding package in 2014.
Total budget: $56.3 million. Noteworthy programs receiving funding in the FY14-15 biennium:
$2 million for the Weatherization Assistance Program $300,000 for low income weatherization grants
The Omnibus Liquor Bill
The omnibus liquor bill signed into law includes provisions to allow micro-distilleries to provide samples of distilled spirits and licensed wine or beer educators to purchase and serve wine or beer for educational purposes. Other provisions allow certain small brewers with a production over 3,500 barrels to sell off-sale growlers, municipal liquor stores to issue brewer taproom licenses, Shakopee to issue liquor licenses for a fair and St. Paul to issue a liquor license for the proposed new St. Paul Saints ballpark. In addition, the bill allows St. Paul and Minneapolis restaurant owners to have more than 40% of their revenue generated from alcohol sales, which is currently illegal.
A bill to help prevent Minnesotans —especially the elderly—from being scammed through emails or phone calls asking them to send money transfers because a family member is in trouble passed this session. This legislation’s intent is to prevent wire transfer theft by notifying the sender if someone else attempts to pick up the money or the money is sent to a different location. A “No Transmit List” is created to allow money transmitters to match names on a list of individuals seeking to use money transmitter’s services.
Mortgage Foreclosure Mitigation
This law strengthens homeowner protections by asking financial institutions to institute a loss mitigation plan to review each loan and consider loan modifications rather than foreclosing on properties. In addition, homeowner redemption rights must be delivered with a notice of foreclosure and with each subsequent written communication regarding the foreclosure up to the day the redemption period expires.
Federal Affordable Care Act Conformity
The Senate passed legislation to align Minnesota state law with the Federal Affordable Care Act and preserve the state’s authority to oversee its health coverage market. The legislation makes changes to market rules to protect consumers while promoting health, minimize carrier risk by addressing adverse selection and encourage insurers to compete on quality and value instead of competing on risk selection and underwriting. This bill passed on a strong, bi-partisan vote.
BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS
Public Employee Insurance Pool
A proposal to increase teacher enrollment into the Public Employee Insurance Program (PEIP) did not pass this session. PEIP is a statewide health insurance program administered by the state Department of Management and Budget (MMB) for teachers, school districts, local governments and public employees. The legislation’s intent was to drive down health care costs for school districts and increase enrollment in the program.
Sunday Liquor Sales
Legislation was introduced again this year to legalize off-site liquor sales on Sundays as well as on the currently prohibited holidays. Since 1858, Minnesota has prohibited Sunday liquor sales. Our state is one of only 12 across the country still forbidding the sale of liquor and wine on Sundays. Current law also prohibits sales before 8 a.m. or after 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday as well as on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and after 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
Event Ticket Disclosure
People buying tickets to attend concerts or sporting event often report tickets sell out within minutes of going on sale. The legislation tried to prevent this problem by forcing ticket sellers to tell consumers how many tickets are actually available to the public and how many are held back.
Omnibus Education Bill
The Senate passed $485 million in new spending for education, investing in Minnesota’s future. The legislation is about the future of Minnesota and ensuring we have a workforce ready to meet the jobs of tomorrow. All-day kindergarten is the biggest investment of the E-12 omnibus bill. Additionally, the bill includes a basic funding formula increase, early childhood scholarships and investments in special education. The bill also includes targeted investments to address the opportunity and achievement gap. It contains funding for additional career and technical programs, improves student safety through additional safe school aid and expands adult learning opportunities.
Legislation was passed to provide funding for statewide implementation of all-day kindergarten at all public schools. The legislation does not mandate student enrollment—parents would still able to decide what is right for their children. In addition districts have the flexibility to use funds for 3 and 4 year old programming.
Early Education Scholarships
A bill was passed to put $40 million into early learning scholarships. These scholarships are targeted for low income families. Parents must use scholarships for early childhood education at quality rated programs.
School Shift Repayment
The shift is being paid back as money is available and is already close to the standard level of 90/10.
Student Achievement Levy
The Student Achievement Levy, similar to the general education levy that was eliminated in 2003, follows the recommendations of the Education Finance Working Group. It is a reinstatement of a statewide education levy with a goal of providing more stable, adequate, and equitable education funding. In the education finance bill the state bought down $150 million of current levies. This means property tax owners will see a property tax reduction as state aid dollars are substituted. In addition, there is a new levy imposed upon property tax owners of $20 million. This new levy is applied on a “uniform and equitable” basis. What this means to our community, because we are property rich, is that we pay more to receive the same value. It is because of this that I have opposed this levy. As you can read below, we were also able to include the LEI, which will be a tremendous gain for our communities.
Location Equity Index
This Establishes a new component of general education revenue called location equity revenue. Sets the revenue amount equal to $424 per adjusted pupil unit for any district located wholly or partially in the metropolitan area and $212 per adjusted pupil unit for any other district that serves at least 2,000 students. Provides the location equity revenue through an equalized aid and levy with an equalizing factor of $510,000. Calculates and spreads the levy on referendum market value. Also allows districts the option to opt out of the location equity revenue program.
Safe School Levy
In order to further address children’s mental health, the Senate passed a provision that authorizes schools to pay the cost of collaborating with mental health professionals who are not district employees or contractors. School districts have the ability to expand their levy to provide additional funding to keep schools safe.
Mental Health Reforms
Another provision includes mental health training as a component of teacher re-licensure, which will help teachers further understand and target students with mental health needs. These initiatives seek to provide additional support to students and keep every child safe in the classroom.
Increase in School Lunch Aid
Multiple bills to increase state aid for lunches were introduced this session. Research has shown a positive link between nutrition and student achievement: well-nourished students tend to perform better. In addition the federal standards for healthy lunches has put a new mandate on our schools. The proposal that was signed into law raised the state contribution from 12 to 12.5 cents on all school lunches. This will assist school lunch officials in providing nutritious meals for all students. One proposal I pushed very hard for was making sure no reduced price student was turned away because they did not have money for their meal. This included language that said a “substitute meal” was also not allowed. There is a strong correlation between student hunger and student behavior. Being turned down at the lunch counter is a traumatizing experience and often times pushes the kids toward acting out or even leaving school altogether. The same holds true when a student gets a substitute lunch in a brown bag. It’s as if the student is labeled, “Poor”. I am appalled that we were not able to make this change in policy this year.
Assessment Reform for College and Career Readiness
The Senate took a new approach to helping students become college and career ready. By implementing recommendations from the bipartisan 2012 Assessment and Accountability Working Group, students will take a new suite of assessments that provide actionable, diagnostic feedback to students and teachers. The new diagnostic examinations will enhance learning by identifying learning gaps and providing targeted remediation for those who need it. Counselors, teachers and principals have expressed their support and gratitude for moving toward this more effective measure of testing. College and career readiness will now require students, beginning in grade eight, to be prepared for postsecondary opportunities that will include analyzing student performance and targeted interventions through curriculum or instruction adjustments. Career interests will be identified and a transition plan will be implemented for postsecondary education or employment to avoid remediation. There were many of us, myself included, who felt that some multiple measure approach should be enacted to identify competency. There was an amendment offered, supported strongly by myself, that would have asked the Chancellor of MnScu and the Commissioner of Education to come back with a recommendation around what the Competency measures should be. This proposal was rejected.
Keeping Qualified Teachers in the Classroom
To become licensed as a teacher in Minnesota, applicants must pass the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Exam (MTLE) which includes a basic skills exam, a pedagogy exam on how to teach and a subject-specific exam. The basic skills portion has been onerous for many teacher applicants and re-licensing teachers to pass, especially for those whose subject is unrelated to the basic skills and for those with learning disabilities that do not affect their teaching. There is currently a waiver in place that will expire at the end of June for teachers unable to pass the basic skills portion of the MTLE, which will cause qualified teachers in good standing with their school districts to lose their jobs. A compromise was reached to extend the waiver period for two years while a taskforce investigates the problems with the current test and searches for a long-term solution. This solution also holds true for our language immersion teachers. This was something that was very important to our community and while I would have preferred a complete exemption for Native Speakers I was relieved we have a short term fix.
Career and Technical Education Aid
Career and technical programs provide students with training that leads to rewarding career pathways. The legislature is investing $10 million into these important programs. By investing in career and technical education, Minnesota is renewing our commitment to addressing the skills gap and assisting unemployed and under-skilled Minnesotans.
Starbase is a rigorous science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program. Students in grades 4-6 think design, test and conduct experiments in an aerospace environment using state of the art technology.
Reading and Math Corps
Funding for Math Corps was part of the education bill and will help at-risk students in a critical area of learning. Math and reading are two of the most basic skills everyone needs and are the foundation for the rest of learning.
The Senate addressed two of the most critical skills our students need to be successful in school and in their career. The legislation maintains the current levels for the Reading Corps programs which consist of 2,100 AmeriCorps members tutoring about 60,000 students.
The Senate incorporated significant integration aid reforms in the education bill. The Achievement and Integration for Minnesota (AIM) is based on recommendations of the Integration Revenue Replacement Task Force. The reforms provide accountability and research-based results for integration aid. Closing the achievement and opportunity gap is a top priority and this change provides districts with financial and policy resources to ensure that solutions are found to address and correct this problem.
Minnesota Prosperity Act
The Minnesota Prosperity Act (sometimes referred to as the Dream Act) to allow immigrant students to pay instate tuition, receive state financial aid, college scholarships and state grants was signed into law. Under current law, if an undocumented student receives admittance into a postsecondary school, they have to pay out-of-state tuition. Some schools deny undocumented students entrance completely. In order to qualify for state aid, students must attend a Minnesota high school for three or more years and graduate or have received a high school degree equivalent. Students would also have to file an affidavit with their college or university saying they will apply to change their immigration status as soon as they are eligible. High tuition costs are often an insurmountable barrier for students to earn a college degree. The Prosperity Act will help these kids earn a college degree so they can contribute to strengthening Minnesota’s economic future. We heard loud and clear form these students that they dream of having a ladder up rather than a hand out. They believe College is their ladder.
Education Bills that did not Pass
Vision Therapy Pilot Program
A vision therapy pilot project was heard in the education finance committee this session. This bill would establish a vision therapy pilot project to test the vision of elementary school students. In the first year of the program, all second and third graders in the pilot school must be provided a comprehensive eye exam. However, parents are allowed to opt out their children from the examination. Organizations eligible for these grants include school districts, charter schools, consortiums of school districts, and tribal schools. An evaluation of the visual efficiency of beginning readers in a public school found that visual factors were the primary cause of reading failure and that most current school screenings are inadequate to detect these problems. The bill was not included in the omnibus bill and will need action taken on it next session.
Safe and Supportive Schools
The Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act requires schools to implement programs aimed at preventing bullying. Minnesota has the weakest set of bullying laws in the country. Our children should have a safe learning environment. Schools need to be a secure, welcoming environment for every single student. This bill is comprehensive in detailing the definitions of bullying, harassment and intimidation as prohibited conduct than current law. It emphasizes data collection on bullying and remediation as the preferred response to incidents of bullying. Reporting on incidents of school bullying is added to school performance report cards required from school districts. This bill was reported to have a significant local cost which was not funded in the overall budget. There was great resistance to enacting a comprehensive approach without making sure the resources followed.
Omnibus Elections Bill
The 2013 omnibus elections bill contains many provisions aimed at delivering cost-savings to the administration of elections in townships, cities and counties, including the expansion of mail balloting, and a pilot project which will pave the way for statewide use of electronic poll books. These measures, along with other administrative items brought forward by local election officials from across the state, will serve all voters and help ensure that Minnesota continues as the national leader in election administration.
No Excuse Absentee Voting
This bill provides an opportunity for citizens to vote through mail by choice and without an excuse. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 27 states plus Washington, D.C. allow for no-excuse absentee balloting by mail and seven states plus Washington, D.C. allow permanent absentee voting.
Electronic Poll Book
One of the issues I spent the most time on this Session was the development of an electronic poll book pilot is created to test electronic poll books in Dilworth, Minnetonka, Moorhead, Saint Anthony and St. Paul. This pilot project was developed in response for more voter verification measures. The goal was to create a system that ensures verification, while not disenfranchising large groups of voters. The electronic poll books would replace the current paper books used to sign-in voters before they receive a ballot. Electronic poll books are not used to count votes, but rather to look up and verify information on voters to ensure citizens vote in the right location with the right ballot, which is especially helpful in cases of recent address and name changes.
Elections Procedure Modifications
Provisions include restricting the Governor’s ability to hold elections within four days of a holiday, clarifying that a candidate can only file for one office per general election, eliminates the requirement that votes cast for U.S. Senator and U.S. House have a post-election review as well as allowing a reduction in the number of
election judges for elections other than general elections, and ensure the county auditor does not mail notices to those who have their right to vote challenged due to felony conviction, lack of citizenship, legal incompetence or court-ordered revocation of voting rights
The legislation allows the Secretary of State to make sure their poll books are updated with the Department of Corrections data regarding a felon’s voting status. It does not include felon notification.
This legislation would permit a town of any size to conduct elections by mail. The limit on cities that have a population of 400 or more would continue. A municipality can designate a specific precinct for mail balloting as long as there are fewer than 100 voters (current law is 50) within the precinct. The senate language allowed a town of any size, so this did not change, but it allowed cities with 1,000 or fewer registered voters. So, the change was to allow cities with fewer than 400 registered voters. (Note that it is not based on population, but on the number of registered voters on June 1 of an election year.) This applies only to towns and cities not in the seven county metro area.
Campaign Finance Disclosure and Reform
Lawmakers passed legislation to allow Minnesota candidates permission to raise and spend more on their campaigns. Because campaign materials paid for by an organization other than the candidate (independent expenditures) have become prevalent and displaced the voice of the candidate, the campaign finance board thought it was appropriate to recommend an increase in contribution limits to help amplify the candidate’s message. The measure would allow Senate members to raise and spend up to $30,000 for the first two years of their term and $90,000 for the last two years on their own election. The campaign finance board’s ability to investigate violations is expanded so that the Board may bring legal action to recover contributions raised and expended in an illegal manner. The bill also imposes a $3,000 fine on any person who does not meet the record keeping requirements and an additional $3,000 that may be levied to associate entities. A fine of $3,000 can also be extended to an individual who tells the treasurer false or incomplete data on which they will rely on up from $13,620 and $68,100 respectively. It would also allow donors to give candidates larger campaign contribution—up to $500 a year for Senate candidates, up from $100. The measure also creates a new exception to the ban on lawmakers receiving gifts. Now, if a group invites the entire Legislature to an event, lawmakers can eat and drink at the event without worrying they are receiving a prohibited gift.
ELECTIONS BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS
Primary elections in Minnesota would be moved to June instead of in August. Those supporting June primaries believe voter turnout will increase, and will give candidates more time to campaign. Opponents argue campaigns will become more expensive and incumbents will be at a disadvantage.
Early Voting Authorization
This bill allows voters to cast their ballot early and in person for a primary, general, or special election for federal, state, or county offices. Early voting will start 15 days before the election and would end three days before the election. During this 15 day period, in-person absentee voting is prohibited.
Polling Place Training
This bill requires election challengers to undergo a one-hour training course certified by the Secretary of State every two-year elections cycle. Upon completion of the course, the election challengers receive a certificate which they must furnish to serve as a challenger at a polling place. In addition, when an individual is acting as a challenger, they must sign a document at the polling place saying they understand the statutes relating to their conduct.
Ranked Choice Voting
A bill to make it easier for local governments to implement ranked choice voting (RCV), otherwise known as instant runoff voting did not pass this session. Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference, first, second, third and so on. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and the ballots get reallocated based on the voters’ next choices. This continues until a candidate receives a majority of the votes. The legislation does not require local governments to institute RCV, but it makes it easier for them to switch to RCV if they choose.
Environment & Energy
Omnibus Environment, Natural Resources and Energy
Lawmakers passed legislation this year appropriating $235 million for environment and natural resources. The total budget increase is $24.5 million over the base budget. Noteworthy programs receiving funding in the FY14-15 biennium: • • • • • • $10.1 million for forest management. Investments include forest inventory, timber harvest, reforestation and road maintenance. $624,000 for revitalization of the Environment Quality Board. Revitalizing this board was a top priority for Gov. Dayton. $6.2 million for management, awareness, research and monitoring of aquatic invasive species. $4.5 million is appropriated for parks and trails operations and customer service. $111,000 for an architectural paint recycling program that will improve recycling rates, and help take the recycling cost burden off county taxpayers. Base funding is restored for the Minnesota Conservation Corps at $455,000/year. This program engages youth and builds skills while doing environmentally-related community service projects.
New Silica Sand Policy
Lawmakers agreed this session on policies that start addressing silica sand mining in areas of Minnesota. One of the new provisions creates a new Department of Natural Resources (DNR) permit for companies that plan to mine silica sand in certain sensitive areas of southeastern Minnesota. Proposed restrictions on mining within one mile of a trout stream or spring were also changed to instead require a hydrological study and DNR permit for any mine within a mile of a trout stream but not springs. $1 million is appropriated for a technical advisory team that would create model ordinances for local governments overseeing mining proposals. Furthermore, protections for drinking water sources and the covering of sand piles are included. Not included in the final bill is a one-year statewide moratorium on silica sand mining while its possible impacts were studied more thoroughly and House proposed silica sand mining fees.
$7.6 million is allocated this year for addressing Minnesota’s water supply problems in the northeast metro suburbs and in other parts of the state. These funds go to observation wells across the state and to help collect much-needed information about how our water systems function. Omnibus Energy Bill: See Jobs, Economic Development, and Housing
Clean Water Accountability Act
New legislation aimed at making sure state agencies target their efforts to clean up the state’s water in a more effective matter passed this year as part of the omnibus legacy bill. Currently, 40% of the state’s lakes and rivers are polluted and do not meet federal “swimmable and fishable” standards. This new approach will allow cleanup efforts to proceed more efficiently and with a greater level of accountability.
Organized Solid Waste Collection
Legislation was signed this year that makes it easier for cities to implement solid waste collection. Current state policy allows cities to do so, but it is often difficult and expensive. “Organized collection” refers to situations in which local units of government decide there is a public interest served by limiting the number of solid waste and recycling services that are available in a given area. Included in the bill is a 60-day negotiation period allowing licensed collectors to develop a proposal that meets community goals while preserving the market share of each waste hauler.
Omnibus Game and Fish bill
This is a collection of policy (many technical) changes proposed by the DNR. Multiple new provisions included are aimed at involving more people in Minnesota’s hunting and fishing activities, while also protecting state waters. Under this bill, the DNR can issue once-in-a-lifetime licenses in a lottery drawing to people who are critically ill. Additionally, veterans with a 100 percent service-connected disability have the option of obtaining an annual or permanent deer license. The Take a Kid Fishing program is expanded to include spearing and encourage more youth involvement. Provisions in this bill also address aquatic invasive species issues. These include expanding the definition of “service providers,” and a new training requirement for those convicted of violating invasive species laws with water-related equipment. License fees are also decreased for super sports licenses, a license covering fishing, small game, waterfowl, and a deer tag. Furthermore, certain game and fish license issuing fees are reduced to $1.
Buy the Farm Bill: See Agriculture
Omnibus Legacy Bill
The Legislature approved the omnibus Legacy Bill appropriating more than $496 million during the next two years in accordance with the 2008 Legacy Amendment. These funds will pay for different projects across Minnesota, including arts and cultural heritage, parks and trails, clean water protection, and outdoor heritage enhancement.
Outdoor Heritage Fund
The Outdoor Heritage Fund receives more than $100 million for FY 2014. The DNR receives a $3 million boost from the last Legacy bill. Also included in the Outdoor Heritage section is a study for looking at moving to a biennial recommendation system rather than the current annual. Parks and Trails Fund receive more than $85 million over the next biennium. Of this appropriation, 80% goes towards “near home parks and trails opportunities” which is then split between the seven-county metro area and greater Minnesota. The other 20% goes to destination parks and trails opportunities, supporting the Minnesota DNR parks and trails systems.
Clean Water Council’s spending recommendations for the 2014-2015 biennium include monitoring and assessment, watershed restoration and protection strategies, drinking water protection, nonpoint and point source implementation activities, and applied research and tool development. In total, the Clean Water fund receives more than $194 million. Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund receives more than $115 million over the next biennium. Projects receiving funding boosts this year include: the MN Humanities Center with an increase of $750,000 over the biennium, and a $200,000 increase to the Indian Affairs Council. Both the Como Zoo and Minnesota Zoo maintain their previous appropriation totals. Finally, a provision easing the issuance of a wine and beer license to the Capitol cafeteria or the Rathskeller was added to this year’s Legacy omnibus bill. There was general agreement in the conference committee that this was to be for special events.
Lawmakers passed recommendations from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources this year appropriating money from the natural resources trust fund for multiple environment-related projects around the state. Projects receiving funds this year include a Minnesota Biological Survey, Metropolitan Conservation Corridors as well as a new University of Minnesota Invasive Species Research Center. Furthermore, the dollars allocated in this bill sets up rules for land restorations made with funds from this bill. Throughout the committee process, this bill received strong bi-partisan support. Measures addressing aquatic invasive species, (AIS) were especially well-received. AS THIS IS WRITTEN WE HAVE LEARNED THAT THE GOVERNOR VETOED THE MONEY SET ASIDE FOR AIS PREVENTION AND METRO PARKS. HE DID SO BECAUSE THESE PROJECTS WERE NOT RECOMMENDED BY THE CITIZEN PANEL. OUR LAKES, PARTICULARLY LAKE
MINNETONKA WAS GOING TO BE A GRANT RECIPIENT OF THESE FUNDS SO IT IS A SIGNIFICANT LOSS FOR THIS COMMUNITY.
ENVIRONMENT BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS Triclosan ban
A recent University of Minnesota study found increasing amounts of triclosan, a common ingredient in antibacterial soap, in eight Minnesota lakes. In response to this study, lawmakers proposed a bill prohibiting the sale of products containing triclosan and similar compounds in Minnesota. Although it is not clear how much triclosan and its byproducts are enough to cause harm, there is concern around potential health problems resulting from exposure. Earlier this session Gov. Dayton signed an executive order directing state agencies to stop purchasing cleaning supplies containing triclosan by June of this year.
Wolf Hunting Moratorium
Legislation to put a five year moratorium on wolf hunting in Minnesota, beginning June 20, 2013 stalled this session. Supporters of this legislation argued that the last study of Minnesota’s wolf population was more than five years ago, and the moratorium would allow time for a thoughtful discussion of this issue, with citizen input. Opponents argued that the bill passed last year is a good plan; Minnesota is committed to the long-term survival of the wolf, and wolf hunting would only take place when doing so would not harm their survival.
Product Stewardship– Carpet and Batteries
Legislation asking for new product stewardship programs for the disposal and recycling of old batteries and used carpet stalled this session. These items are considered “problem materials” because they create difficulties in the solid waste system due to toxicity and bulkiness. Product stewardship programs help take the cost burden from county taxpayers for the disposal of “problem materials.” Toxic Kids Act: See Health and Human Services
Health and Human Services
Health and Human Services Budget
Many were unhappy that the Health and Human Services budget included a $50 million reduction in forecasted growth, but it did invest in much-needed state programs. The plan placed Minnesota’s most vulnerable population, our seniors, at the top of the legislature’s priority list. The legislature’s plan will provide nursing homes with their first increase in four years and their largest in the last decade. With a 5% nursing home rate increase, elimination of the 1.67% rate cut, 1% rate increase in elderly waiver program and the Home and Community Based Services rate increase, the Health and Human Services budget provides funding for the long-term care industry that serves Minnesota’s elderly population. The budget also invests in dental care for Minnesotans. A 5% increase in dental Medical Assistance reimbursement rates will increase access for Minnesotans who are in most need of these services. Additionally, changes in the Critical Access Dental Program and the increased reimbursement rate allow dentists, especially in the rural area, to serve public program patients. The legislature provided support to dental providers who serve our low-income Minnesotans.
The Health and Human Services budget also placed an additional $10 million in the mental health system. This investment will make the services more accessible to the families caring for children with mental illness. In addition, the budget provides Medical Assistance (MA) coverage for services that allow a lower level of care to be utilized to make treatment accessible to patients and to prepare their families for living with their mental illness.
MnSURE: Minnesota’s Health Care Exchange
One of the main topics of the 2013 legislative session in the Health and Human Services Committee surrounded the state’s Health Care Exchange. The federal Affordable Care Act directed states to create a health care exchange accessible to individuals, families and small businesses. If the state failed to create an exchange, a federal exchange would be created and all Minnesotans wishing to purchase insurance through an exchange would have to go through the federal government. A Minnesota exchange could cost less than participation in the federal alternative for all parties involved. After several months of work with insurance providers, health care providers, state departments and the general public, the legislature passed the new exchange which is now known as MnSURE. The goal of MnSURE is to provide consumers with an apples-to-apples comparison of available health plans in an online marketplace. The exchange is an online tool for individuals and businesses to find comparisons of health care coverage options. The idea is that by allowing people to see what alternatives they have, they will be able to leverage insurance companies to find the best option and price for their family. It is estimated that 160,000 small business employees will obtain insurance through the exchange. The state will be playing a role to ensure working Minnesotans have access to quality health care. This is a benefit Minnesota will be offering that the federal exchanges are not able to implement.
Medical Assistance Expansion
The first bill signed into law this session expanded health coverage for 35,000 Minnesotans. The Medical Assistance (MA) eligibility expansion legislation passed through the legislature with bipartisan support and was quickly signed into law by Gov. Dayton. The bill takes advantage of key components in the Affordable Care Act, and combined with the “early expansion” implemented in 2011 by Gov. Dayton’s executive order, the expanded MA eligibility will save the state approximately $1 billion by 2015. Proponents of the legislation believe the increase of insured Minnesotans will benefit everyone in the state. A lack of coverage increases uncompensated care costs, which are passed onto consumers and taxpayers. As the legislation made its way through the legislative process it was endorsed by several groups, including; the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Business Partnership, Minnesota Hospital Association and Minnesota Medical Association.
Hospital Staffing Plan Disclosure and Study
Over the past couple of sessions there has been an effort to establish consistent standards and requirements for nurse staffing in hospital settings. These efforts have been met with concerns about the ability to meet mandated staffing levels, and the wisdom of placing this rigid approach on our hospitals. In an attempt to consider this approach with objectivity, the legislature passed and Gov. Dayton signed legislation that calls for a staffing plan report from hospitals and a study by the Commissioner of Health.
The legislation requires hospitals to develop staffing plans and publish them online. Prior to the submission of the plan, hospitals will be required to consult with staff in the plan’s development. At the same time, the Commissioner of Health will be conducting a study that looks at the correlation between nursing staff levels and patient outcomes.
Radiation Therapy Facility Construction Moratorium Extension
The legislature extended the deadline for a moratorium on construction of radiation therapy facilities from August 1, 2014 to December 31, 2020. Even after 2020, the bill expands the limited area for new facilities which will have to be outside of a 15-mile radius of any existing radiation facility instead of the seven miles currently in law. Without action in 2013, the current moratorium would have ended in August 1, 2014. The moratorium now limits the expansion of radiation therapy facilities within a 15-mile radius of an existing facility in Benton, Sherburne and St. Louis counties and the 11 county metro area. I may put forward legislation next session to have the new West Health facility be an exemption to this moratorium. I will do so only at their request.
Children’s Toxic Chemicals
Two bills passed this session to improve the safety of children’s products. The first bill requires personal care products intended for children under eight years old to be formaldehyde-free. Products include baby shampoos, bubble bath and other lotions or gels applied to children. Studies indicate that formaldehyde threatens children’s health and that safer alternatives are available. Children exposed to formaldehyde can experience short-term health effects like irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and skin. Furthermore, long-term exposure to this chemical is linked to an increased risk of cancer, including leukemia and nose and throat cancer. The second bill prohibits children’s food containers containing Bisphenol A (BPA) from being sold in Minnesota. These bills are supported by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. I personally favor a broader Federal approach to these issues and advocated to adopt our Minnestoa standards to the EU standards. These are proven to be comprehensive and manufacturers already comply with these standards. I think State by State standards are unworkable from a commercial perspective.
HHS BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS MSOP changes
In March of 2012, a number of individuals civilly committed to Minnesota Sex Offender Program sued the program and the Commissioner of Human Services in U.S. District Court for violations of various constitutional, statutory and common law rights. This led to a court order calling on the commissioner to create an advisory task force. The Sex Offender Civil Commitment Advisory Task Force was asked to look at the civil commitment process and the creation of possible alternatives to Minnesota’s process. The Senate passed legislation this session that continued the state’s discussion on MSOP. The Senate’s bill is a direct response to the court order and reflects work done by the task force. Proponents of the legislation highlighted the need to discuss changes to the program, but admitted that there is still work to be done. If the state does not act, the court has the ability to impose any number of conditions on the state including, ordering closure of the entire program or taking over the program at the state’s expense.
Spinal Cord and Traumatic Brain Injury Grant Program
The Senate discussed legislation to invest in a program that awards grants to publicly funded institutions for research into spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries this session. The creation of the Jablonski/Rodreick Spinal Cord and Traumatic Brain Injury Grant Program is being championed by the families the program is named after. Both of these families have children suffering from spinal cord injuries. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, more than 10,000 Minnesotans sustain traumatic brain injuries each year, and on average 300 Minnesotans suffer from spinal cord injuries. The legislation passed through two Senate committees, but it was not included in the final budget agreement. Proponents of the bill could have another shot at procuring the funding when the Legislature returns in 2014.
Healthy Housing Minnesota
The Healthy Homes initiative works to empower all Minnesotans to live in homes that are dry, clean, safe, well ventilated, pest-free, contaminant-free, and well maintained. It has been demonstrated there is a strong connection between housing and the health of the community. An unhealthy home creates many health issues with its occupants, some that they do not even realize. Through this initiative, proponents believe it will be exponentially less expensive to deal with health factors by dealing with health issues on the front end rather than at the back end. This program would provide the means to monitor and develop a plan to ensure every Minnesotan’s home is safe and also lead to savings in our human services budget from fewer emergency room visits.
Toxic Kids Act
Legislation that would require manufacturers of children’s products to disclose the existence of a statedesignated “priority chemical” in a product that is being sold in Minnesota stalled this session. The bill also requires the phase-out of products that are determined to jeopardize the health of children. Designated “priority chemicals” are: Bisphenol A, cadmium and lead, formaldehyde, phthalates (BBP, DBP, DEHP), and brominated flame-retardants (deca-BDE and HBCD).
Omnibus Higher Education Bill
On a 44-22 vote, the Senate achieved a bipartisan agreement that will invest an additional $250 million into Minnesota Colleges and Universities and the State’s Student Grant Program. Specifically, the legislation: • Invests $42.6 million and $95 million, respectively, to freeze tuition at the University of Minnesota (UMN) and Minnesota State Colleges & Universities (MnSCU) for the next two years. • Invests in research and new equipment, laying the foundation for economic growth and building a 21st century workforce. • Appropriates $46.7 million to fund college student aid through the State Grant Program. Increases the dollar amount and the number of state grants available to Minnesotans, and extends student aid opportunities to a growing demographic due to the recent recession, part-time students.
Greater Accountability & Oversight
Justifiably, there has been a significant amount of public concern regarding the stewardship of our state’s higher education institutions. In response, legislators demanded more accountability and created oversight mechanisms to steer our systems in a new direction. Performance funding metrics were created to ensure that public universities and colleges are providing relevant post-secondary degrees in an effective and efficient manner. The performance metrics included higher graduation rates, more degrees conferred and reductions in administrative costs. If either MnSCU or UMN fails to reach three of the five metrics identified, they stand to lose 5% of their FY2015 appropriation. Working closely with the Office of the Legislative Auditor, new reporting criteria was determined to increase accountability of our public institutions throughout the budgeting process. Legislation was passed requiring detailed biennial reports on system-wide expenditures, total revenues by funding source, on how the state’s appropriations were allocated and extensive information related to tuition and fees.
Greater Minnesota Internship Program
The greater Minnesota internship program addresses a growing skills gap developing in greater Minnesota. Businesses have expressed concerns about the difficulty of retaining and attracting young workers, especially compared to the Twin Cities metro area. This bill would offer a tax credit of up to $4,000 per intern for a qualified employer or taxpayer, for up to five interns. The proposal would encourage students and businesses to develop internships. The students would learn about possible career opportunities in their fields in greater Minnesota. With the bill’s current funding amounts, the program could provide 2,400 internships lasting 24 weeks. If these students do well with their internships, they could be hired by some of these greater Minnesota companies. This could help economic development efforts across the state.
Education Opportunity Income Tax Credit
The Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee heard the Education Opportunity Income Tax Credit bill. This bill allows eligible individuals and businesses with eligible loans to be able to deduct up to $4,000 off of their taxes due for a given year. This bill is meant to make higher education more affordable and accessible to all students in Minnesota. The tax deduction would relieve student debt for Minnesota residents who have graduated from a Minnesota higher education institution and continue to work in the state following graduation. The state’s average debt load is the third highest in the country at $29,058. Proponents believe Minnesota needs to get a handle on the cost of a college education because our students are graduating with such a large and unsustainable amount of debt.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are online courses aimed at large-scale participation and open access. They are similar to college courses, but typically do not offer academic credit. Previously, under Minnesota Statutes, a university could not offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university had received authorization from the state of Minnesota to do so. In response, a bill was passed this session that exempts schools offering free training or instructional programs. This bill is an important and symbolic step toward reforming our higher education system and bringing down the cost of higher education in Minnesota. Legislators look forward to coming back next year to continue to work on this issue as well as other issues concerning distance learning.
Minnesota Prosperity Act
The Minnesota Prosperity Act (sometimes referred to as the Dream Act) to allow immigrant students to pay instate tuition, receive state financial aid, college scholarships and state grants was signed into law. Under current law, if an undocumented student receives admittance into a postsecondary school, they have to pay out-of state tuition. Some schools deny undocumented students entrance completely. To qualify, students must attend a Minnesota high school for three or more years and graduate or have received a high school degree equivalent. Students would also have to file an affidavit with their college or university saying they will apply to change
their immigration status as soon as they are eligible. High tuition costs are often an insurmountable barrier for students to earn a college degree. The Prosperity Act will help these kids earn a college degree so they can contribute to strengthening Minnesota’s economic future.
We know we need to do a better job of getting our military veterans acclimated back to civilian life. One way to do this is through postsecondary education, via the GI Bill, and gaining entry into the workforce. UMN & MnSCU have been asked to develop and adopt policies recognizing veterans’ status as a positive factor in their admissions process. In addition, the Senate passed legislation that will allow our women and men returning from military service to receive course recognition at UMN & MnSCU for skills which they developed as a part of their military training or service course curriculum. The goal of this legislation is to help reduce inefficiencies in the classroom and costs to students, while prioritizing and streamlining the courses in which they need for degree obtainment.
Mental Health Summit
This bill was written in response to a shortage in mental health workers around the state. The shortage is more than just a matter of getting bodies in the room—there is substantial training required to meet the needs of children and adults with mental illnesses. The lack of mental health workers leads to two consequences: inability for the mentally ill to access treatment and increased caseloads for mental healthcare professionals. This bipartisan legislation brings Minnesota colleges and mental health professionals together to improve the state’s mental health services. The legislation outlines three goals for the group. They will be asked to develop a comprehensive workforce development plan to increase the number of mental health professionals and practitioners working in the field of children’s mental health, ensure appropriate coursework and training experience and increase the number of culturally diverse mental health professionals and practitioners.
Jobs, Labor and Economic Development
Omnibus Budget Bill
The omnibus Jobs Budget bill makes new investments to spur job creation, calling for more job training, workforce development and small business strategies that are proven job-creating engines to strengthen our economy and workforce. The total budget is $461.8 million with an increase of $89 million Noteworthy programs receiving funding in the FY14-15 biennium: • • • $24 million to the Minnesota Job Creation Fund: This provision is meant to create jobs and leverage significant dollars of private investment. The program replaces JOBZ. $30 million increase to the Minnesota Investment Fund: The investments made through this budget will bring in an estimated $450 million in private investment to Minnesota Global Competitiveness Initiative $1.5 million: This provision creates three new offices to act as conduits for small businesses to sell their products to other markets through increased participation in trade activities. Housing/Job Growth Initiative $10 million: This investment will help job growth by creating housing to support workers. Minnesota Film and TV Board $10 million: This provision will create new jobs by giving film production companies an incentive to produce their work in all areas of the state.
Office of Broadband Development $500,000: This investment will improve broadband service in Minnesota to drive job creation, serve the ongoing needs of the state’s education system and improve accessibility for underserved communities and populations. Unemployment Insurance Tax Rate Reduction saves employers more than $346 million: This is the first time the legislature has cut Unemployment Insurance taxes for all taxpaying employers. This was done due to a surplus in this fund. Converting Layoffs Into Minnesota Businesses (CLIMB): This new program will help dislocated workers establish the skills necessary to start their own business. As long as a person is part of the program and meets certain conditions, they are able to collect unemployment.
The omnibus bill includes new solar energy provisions and standards as well as job and business growth initiatives. Under this change, investor-owned utilities must have 1.5% of their total retail energy come from solar by 2020 (this is a change from 1% by 2025 as approved by the Senate and from 4% by 2025 as proposed by the House). Furthermore, this bill authorizes production incentives that can be paid for “Made in Minnesota” solar modules.
Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council
Employees who experience a tragic event at work that results in post-traumatic stress disorder are now able to apply for workers’ compensation under a bill passed this session. Another major change increases the maximum compensation rate for those with injuries causing temporary total disability. The rate increases from the current law level of $850/week to 102% of the statewide average weekly wage and includes an annual adjustment.
Child Care and Personal Care Assistant Unions
A bill to allow certain in-home child care workers and personal care assistants the first step to forming a union passed this session. The bill would allow union votes among two groups: in home family child care providers, both licensed and unlicensed, who care for children receiving a state subsidy and Personal Care Assistants, or PCAs, who are employed by the person they care for, generally a relative, and who also work in the home. Currently, these providers are not able to unionize because they are not included in the definition of public employees under the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA) and as a result, need special authority to be recognized by the state and ask providers if they want to form a union. Under the bill, the unions would have to obtain support from 500 providers to obtain a list of the entire unit. If they can obtain support from 30% of the unit, an election would be called. A majority plus one of those participating would be needed to form the union. If the union is formed, members of the unit would be subject to dues and fees. The unions would then have the ability to negotiate with the state, with any agreements to be ratified by the legislature. Language in the bill specifies that it will not interfere with parents’ rights to select providers or the ability of child-care providers to set their own fees. This bill garnered much opposition. To many, including myself, the idea that these categories of working people would negotiate for benefits from the State is inappropriate and without merit. Given the strong opposition, I expect their will be strong resistance to moving in this direction.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND ENERGY BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS
Minimum Wage Increase
Legislation to boost Minnesota’s minimum wage failed this session. The House proposed an increase to $9.50/hour by 2015 and the Senate recommended an increase to $7.75 by 2015. Currently, the state’s minimum wage is $6.15 an hour; however, many businesses fall under the federal minimum wage of $7.25 set for employers with gross receipts above $500,000 or those engaging in interstate commerce. The proposed increases applied to large employers with $625,000 or more in receipts. Those employers with less than $625,000 in receipts but still fall within federal minimum wage standards would conform to the national minimum wage rate of $7.25 an hour. The bill did not pass because the two bodies were so far apart and those responsible for negotiating an agreement failed to agree.
Judiciary and Public Safety
Judiciary and Public Safety Budget
The Judiciary and Public Safety budget invest in critical components of government to ensure that the public safety and justice systems are accessible and fair to all Minnesotans. The funding will provide for new hires that are necessary to cut down on case loads for current employees and improve on current inefficiencies in the public defense system, invest in methods proven to reduce recidivism and improve dated database systems. 100 Treatment Beds Added: The budget invests $3 million to the Department of Corrections to pay for an additional 100 chemical dependency and sex offender beds. Increased Funding for Background Checks for Firearm Purchases: The budget appropriates $1 million to go through old records. This funding will help fill the gaps in background checks, particularly to include the mental health civil commitment data. Caseload Reduction: The budget invests $3.8 million over the biennium for new hires (and retention) within the Public Defense Board in order to cut down on the inefficiencies in the judicial system. These individuals will help reduce the caseload for current employees and speed up the process for the public. Youth Intervention Program Grants: $2 million will be invested in Youth Intervention Program Grants. Youth who participate in intervention programs do better in school, have better life skills and 90% do not commit a new offense while in a program. Grants for Sex Traffic Victim Training: The legislation invests $700,000 over the biennium to train local law enforcement in their attempt to help identify sex trafficking victims. Coupled with changes to Minnesota’s Safe Harbor laws, the state is taking large steps this session to help human trafficking victims. School Safety Center: $860,000 will be invested in the Minnesota School Safety Center to help law enforcement and communities provide emergency preparedness, response and recovery efforts within Minnesota’s school system.
Same Sex Marriage
All Minnesota couples have the freedom to marry under legislation passed this session. The legislation changes state law to allow for marriage between two persons, regardless of gender. The bill also includes strict legal protections for churches, non-profits and private businesses who are opposed to same-sex marriage. An amendment was also introduced in the House which added further clarification that this legislation only affects civil marriages. The bill sparked large, vocal and vigorous debate at the capitol. The two major campaign groups, Minnesotans for Marriage and Minnesotans United for All Families, became major lobbying forces during the Session. Several rallies were held during the session, with thousands on both sides attending. In the end, the marriage equality bill passed the House 75-59 and the Senate 37-30, both votes receiving bipartisan support. Gov. Dayton, an outspoken proponent of the bill officially signed it into law on May 14 in front of an estimated 7,000 people on the steps of the capitol. The law will go into effect on August 1.
Child Victims Act
Legislation passed this session to allow Minnesotans who were sexually abused as children to bring civil lawsuits against their abuser or the institution that facilitated the abuse. Under current law, someone that had been abused as a child has until the age of 24 to come forward and file a lawsuit against the abuser. Once they turn 24, the statute of limitation ends and they no longer have the ability to seek justice. The new law maintains the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse allegations against a person under the age of 18. The legislation also lifts the statute of limitation (for those over 24) for a three year window. If a case is filed against an institution, the accuser must prove that the institution knew about the abuse and covered it up or turned a blind eye. This would be extremely difficult to prove, but adults that are now able to talk about their past abuse will now have the option of seeking justice. The legislation was supported by numerous child abuse victim advocate organizations, including the National Center for Victims of Crime, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Minnesota Alliance on Crime, Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, National Child Protection Training Center, Stop Abuse Campaign and 1 in 6. In addition to advocate organizations, the Minnesota Child Victims Act is supported by local law enforcement officials, including Kanabec County Attorney Amy Brosnahan, Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom, Carver County Attorney Mark Metz and Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelson. Kathleen Blatz, former Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, also support the legislation.
Safe Harbor Law
Legislation passed this session that strengthens Minnesota’s child sex-trafficking laws. The bill expands the Minnesota’s Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Law (Safe Harbor) law by creating a safety net of housing and support services for child sex-trafficking victims. Two years ago, the legislature made the decision to no longer prosecute trafficked children; this bill protects them as well. The bill’s key provisions include:
Construction, renovation and operation of safe harbor shelters and housing for sex-trafficked youth. Creation of a Safe Harbor training fund to ensure that law enforcement and other front-line personnel have the training they need to identify child sex trafficking victims and to aggressively investigate and prosecute traffickers. This legislation will advance the vision of a victim-centered response to sex trafficking, which not only enables protection and healing for the victims but also leads to prosecution and conviction of the traffickers.
Medical Amnesty Legislation
The Legislature passed a bipartisan bill this session to provide legal immunity for underage drinkers seeking medical care. The legislation will provide amnesty for someone voluntarily seeking or accompanying another person who is seeking assistance at a health facility or detoxification program for treatment or observation for any immediate health concern. The legislation also applies if the person initiates contact with a peace officer, emergency medical services personnel or 911 operators to report that another person is in need of medical assistance for an immediate health or safety concern. The person would also need to provide a name and contact information, remain on the scene until assistance arrives, and cooperate with the authorities at the scene. Proponents of the legislation believe that young adults should not be prohibited from calling for help when they or a friend are in a dangerous situation because of the fear of receiving an underage citation.
Active Military Service Member Legislation
Language passed in the omnibus state departments bill to allow active duty service members to take the peace officer reciprocity examination. Under current law, military members have to wait until they are honorably discharged from the military to take the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Test if they wish to become law enforcement officers in a non-military agency. The language passed this session will allow military police to take the test while on active duty which could potentially remove a road block for military members looking to get back into the workforce. The bill is supported by the POST Board.
JUDICIARY BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS
Gun Control Legislation
The Senate held several committee hearings this session discussing ways to address gun violence in Minnesota. Instead of banning weapons, the legislation largely focused on keeping guns out of the hands of people that should not be allowed to own them. Most of the discussed language looked at ways to bolster existing laws to help police and prosecutors enforce them. This included closing loopholes that allow felons that committed a violent crime to own a gun, addressing the “gun show” loophole, enforcing background checks and several other changes. The Senate created a package of bills that passed through the committee process but the bill was not discussed on the Senate floor. The House claimed they did not have the votes and the support to pass these laws therefore
there was no action that could have been taken although the Senate did have the support. The Senate was able to pass some language in the Judiciary Finance Bill that improves the current Criminal History and Criminal Reporting systems (see the Judiciary Finance Bill section for more information). Minnesota Sex Offender Program Changes: See Health and Human Services.
State and Local Government and Pensions
This bill provides less in real dollars than the approved state government budget in 2004-2005. ($924.4 million vs. $1.2 billion in 04-05) The Senate’s state budget contains several million dollars through the repeal of the Sunset Commission, business efficiencies at the Secretary of State, IT consolidation through MN.IT, and tax system savings at the Department of Revenue. This bill provides the framework for additional government efficiencies and dissemination of best practices, including the consolidation of IT, accounting improvements, and streamlining business operations.
Constitution Amendment on Salaries
Legislation passed to place a constitutional amendment on the 2016 statewide general election ballot to authorize the Compensation Council to set the salary for legislators. The Compensation Council would consist of 16 members, but legislators would be removed from the council. In May of each odd-numbered year, the Compensation Council would be required to prescribe the salaries of legislators to take effect in January of the next odd-numbered year. All other salary recommendations under the purview of the Compensation Council would still require legislative approval before enactment as current law stipulates.
Sunset Commission Repeal
Most of the reviews completed by the Sunset Commission related to small commissions and councils, but much larger and clearly necessary agencies are now scheduled for review after the 2013 session. The Sunset Commission was repealed because the function of oversight , if properly executed should be done by each committee with jurisdiction over the policy area. If it were to be done by one commission the staffing needs would be tremendous. Eliminating the Sunset Commission this year saves $278,000. The final legislation directs the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy to compile a list of executive branch advisory groups, and authorizes the commission to review these agencies and make recommendations on the continuing need for the groups and any changes in law that would improve their efficiency and effectiveness.
Vets Pay While on Military Duty
Permits employees to choose when during a calendar year to take their paid 15-day military leave and allows employees to take it all at one time or to divide it at their discretion. Authorized leave may be taken without loss of pay, seniority status, efficiency rating, vacation, sick leave, or other benefits when engaged in training or active service.
Public Employee Contract Negotiations Ratified
Over the past two sessions, the legislature has not ratified public employee contracts negotiated between Minnesota Management and Budget and labor organizations. These contracts apply to the final portion of fiscal year 2013, which ends in July. Two agreements were ratified by the legislature. All contracts provide a 2% across-the-board wage increases for public employees retroactively to January 2, 2013 and includes employees of AFSCME Council 5, MAPE, and AFSCME Correctional Officers, AFSCME Council 5 Radio Operators, AFSCME Unit 225 (Radio Operators), the Inter-Faculty Organization, Minnesota Nurses Association, Office of Higher Education Compensation Plan, MN Government Engineering Council, and MN State University Association of Administrative and Service Faculty. Higher health insurance deductibles, co-pays and dependent costs are included in this agreement, resulting in a total savings of $7.9 million to the State Employee Group Insurance Plan (SEGIP). All increases in employee compensation for fiscal year 2013 do not constitute new spending; the costs must be absorbed by state agency budgets. Public employees have not had a cost of living adjustment since 2009.
The 2013 pension’s bill included language for volunteer firefighters, State Patrol, Police, Firefighters and Teachers. The Duluth and St. Paul Teachers have their own pension plans. For different reasons both of these plans were underfunded. The Pension Commission recommended changes as stated below for the Police and State Patrol. The proposed changes for the Teachers was rejected by Governor Dayton. As I first heard the proposal, the State was going to spend a significant amount for many years. The Governor, rightly so, rejected this approach. Instead the agreement puts in approximately $4 million over the next two years and then states that these plans must study how to become part of the statewide plan. We should not be having these separate plans. Overall, Minnesota’s retirement funds are in decent shape; pension management works toward a moving target and requires diligent monitoring of an unpredictable system. Another substantial change in the bill was the Teacher Retirement Association (TRA) early retirement phase-in. The language was designed to lessen the affects of previously approved early retirement reductions and instead phases in reductions over five years. Other changes include: Volunteer Firefighter Retirement: Allows the White Bear Lake Volunteer Relief Association to provide a $2,000 death benefit to the estates of firefighters with at least 20 years of service. State Patrol and Police Retirement Plan Solvency: Employer contributions are increased by 3% and employee contributions are increased by 2%, both in two installments. Vesting period of service is increased to 10 years. The maximum retirement annuity is limited to 33 years, with an exception for active members with 28 years of service prior to July 1, 2013. PERA Plans Salary Definition: Employee contributions are increased from 9.6% to 10.8% and employer contributions is increased from 14.4% to 16.2%. A maximum retirement annuity is imposed at a 33 year limit and excess member contributions will be refunded at retirement.
BILLS THAT DID NOT PASS
Compensation Council Salary Recommendations
The nonpartisan Compensation Council recommended salary increases for the Governor, constitutional officers, legislators, judges and agency heads. The council recommended a 3% increase in the Governor’s salary. Agency heads in Group 1 would be allowed to make 133% of the governor’s salary, Group 2 would be allowed to make 120%, and Group 3 would remain at 25% with all of these salaries adjusted for inflation based on the CPI.
The omnibus Tax Bill approved this year raises $2.12 billion in new revenue to fund the comprehensive budget, and provides $441 million for property tax relief and job-creation incentives.
This tax bill raises $2.12 billion in revenue to cover the deficit and make substantial investments. • • • Income tax rate increased on wealthiest 2% of earners. New rate moves from 7.85% to 9.85% Tobacco tax increase of $1.60/pack on cigarettes and other tobacco products. Corporate tax loopholes closed
Minnesota’s sales tax system is added to three specific non-consumer items.The sales tax base is broadened to non-consumer warehousing services, electric and commercial repair and maintenance, and telecommunications equipment. Additionally, there are base-broadening reforms that aim to equalize the way certain, similar products sold by different methods are taxed. These products include some digital goods, direct satellite services, motor vehicle paint and the “Amazon tax” to protect Main Street Minnesota businesses competing with online retailers. Reforms made in this bill do not include a lower sales and corporate tax rate, or a broadened tax base to clothing, haircuts/personal services, auto repair, and several other services and products. There is strong opposition to the new areas listed above. Our Tax Chairs, Skoe and Rest actually tried to remove these areas from the bill in the final hours but the House chair was unwilling to make the change. They have pledged to come back and take action next session as they learned their actions would have negative unintended consequences.
Property Tax Relief
Property taxes in Minnesota have doubled since 2003. This bill delivers $441 million in property tax relief through refund increases, state aid and sales tax savings.
This property tax relief is supplied by increases and reform to Local Government Aid and a local government sales tax exemption for cities and counties, saving local governments $172 million in the first year. The bill establishes a one-year, three percent levy limit to ensure local government savings from sales tax exemptions and state aid increases translate into real property tax relief for Minnesotans. Other provisions affecting property tax relief are an $86 million increase to the Homestead Credit Refund program, a $15.5 million increase to the Renter’s Property Tax Refund program, and a $38 million K-12 levy reduction across Minnesota.
Economic Development and Business Tax Incentives
The tax bill establishes strong state-local partnerships to help some of the state’s biggest employer’s move forward. Tax incentives to help small, local start-up businesses succeed are also included.
Rochester Destination Medical Center
Earlier this session, the city of Rochester and the Mayo Clinic requested $585 million from the state to build public infrastructure to support the expansion of Mayo Clinic over the next 20 years. This proposal is now moving forward as one of five major economic development projects in the omnibus tax bill. The approved project requires at least $250 million in private investment before the state chips in. Furthermore, the city must contribute $128 million to the project. The state will also provide a $14 million sales tax exemption on construction materials. In total, the project is expected to create at least 35,000–40,000 jobs over the next 20 years.
Sales Tax Exemptions
Included is a sales tax exemption on construction materials for this bill’s major economic development projects: 3M, Baxter Pharmaceutical (Brooklyn Park), Rochester DMC, Emerson Process Management (Shakopee). This sales tax exemption also extends to other economic development initiatives including: aircraft parts and labor; data centers construction; Greater Minnesota Expansion Credit; and durable medical equipment.
Business Tax Incentives
This year’s tax bill includes an upfront sales tax exemption on capital equipment, which will encourage more businesses to take advantage of the tax credit, thereby allowing them to save money and ultimately further invest in their businesses. Additionally, a new Greater Minnesota Internship Program provides income tax credits to incent businesses hiring Minnesota college students.
Veterans Tax Credit
The omnibus tax bill invests in Minnesota’s military and veterans. The current military retirement credit, up to $750, is extended to any veteran receiving a pension or retirement pay for service in the military. Current law only allows those with 20 years of service or more, or those who were separated due to disability, to be eligible. Additionally, the property tax due dates for active-duty, deployed service members are extended for four months while they are on military leave.
E-pulltabs and bingo approved last year are still the primary funding source for the Vikings Stadium. To ensure enough revenue is available for the project to get off the ground, revenue from a one-time cigarette floor stocks
tax will be collected to fill immediate funding needs for the Vikings Stadium. A corporate tax loophole is also closed to generate revenue for ongoing funding, if it’s needed.
Political Contribution Refund Program
Under this bill, the PCR that keeps small, local donors involved in the election process is allowed to start up again beginning July 1, 2013, as stated in current law.
The Tax bill includes $3 million and policy permitting the planning and pre-design of a new Legislative Office Building to house Senator and staff offices after the Capitol restoration is complete. On top of this $3 million, the tax bill authorizes construction of the new legislative office building by using lease-purchase financing. An additional $1.86 million in 2014-2015 is appropriated to cover construction-related moving costs.
Gov. Dayton signed legislation in late February updating Minnesota’s tax code for Tax Year 2012 to conform to most provisions of the federal 2012 tax code. This legislation extends important tax benefits for 250,000 teachers, college students, homeowners, businesses, senior citizens, and other Minnesotans. The bill also eliminates time-consuming and confusing paperwork. Both the House and Senate passed the bill with bipartisan support. For many families across Minnesota, these federal deductions mean hundreds of more dollars in returns. Minnesotans have come to rely on these benefits each year, making the passage of this bill early in the session even more important.
TAX PROVISIONS THAT DID NOT PASS • No income tax surcharge to pay back schools (House) • No alcohol taxes (House) • No changes to charitable deductions (House) • No sports memorabilia tax (Senate) • No Snowbird tax (Governor’s budget) • No sales tax on haircuts, auto repairs and other consumer services (Senate) • No sales tax on clothing (Senate) • No sales tax or corporate tax rate reductions (Senate) • No tax haven language (House– Take Action has been contacting members in support) • No agricultural homestead changes (Senate) • No silica sand-related taxes (House) • No street improvement districts (House)
• No change to the statewide business tax
Transportation and Public Safety
This bill helps Minnesota’s transportation funding system catch up with the increasing demands for service, from critical road repairs to modernizing our transit system. Transportation is a core function of Minnesota’s government and this bill is a reflection of that tenant. The bill keeps Minnesota on track to receiving the matching federal funding necessary to complete the Southwest Light Rail Corridor. Furthermore, it ensures current MnDOT projects will be completed on schedule and will continue to connect Minnesotans with their jobs and surrounding communities.
Regional Growth Centers—“Corridors of Commerce” Program
The Senate transportation budget bill invests $300 million in a “corridors of commerce” program to support economic growth in greater Minnesota. The program will reduce barriers to commerce, support the movement of freight, and improve connections between trunk highway interchanges. The money allocated will go straight toward getting projects started on the ground.
Department of Transportation
Free Veterans’ Transit: Appropriates $156,000 from the general fund for disabled veterans to receive free transit in Greater Minnesota. In addition, it reimburses the transit providers for the expenses incurred providing the free transit services. Safe Routes to Schools: Allows metro transit tax funds to be spent on safe routes to school. The Safe Routes to Schools program is designed to decrease traffic and pollution and increase the health of children and the community. Safe Routes to Schools promotes walking and biking to school, and using education and incentives. The program addresses parents’ safety concerns by educating children and the public, partnering with traffic law enforcement, and developing plans to create safer streets. This bill allows metro transit tax to funds to be spent on the Safe Routes to School program and appropriates $250,000 annually for this program. Page & Hill Superfund Site: A one-time general fund expenditure of $500,000 to clean up an abandoned railroad property. State Roads: Receives $10 million to cover the increases in costs of commodities. PPP Joint Program Office: Allocates $500,000 for the Commissioner of MnDOT to establish a joint program office to oversee, evaluate, and implement public-private partnerships. eWorkPlace: Appropriates $75,000 to support the second phase of the eWorkPlace Telework Program. This promotes use of telecommuting and is used by many businesses around Minnesota like Hennepin County, Ecolab, Fairview Health Services, Medtronic, SUPERVALU, Carver County, Met Transit, MnDOT, and Aveda. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA): Allocates $2 million to extend the authority to expend existing or new ARRA funds awarded to MnDOT from FY2013 to the end of FY2016. State Road Construction Infrastructure Investments: Appropriates $263 million from the Trunk Highway Fund for road construction projects. This helps complete the funding package for the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).
Americans with Disability Act accommodations and the Better Roads Program: Appropriates $95 million from the Trunk Highway Fund to improve Minnesota’s transportation infrastructure to address its needs. Transportation Economic Development (TED) program: Receives $20 million from the Trunk Highway Fund. This is an economic development and jobs creation program that requires a local or private sector match. Motor Vehicle Lease Sales Tax (MVLS): Is changed so that $9 million will go to county state-aid highways and the remainder will go to greater Minnesota transit. Greater Minnesota Transit: Makes a one-time $10.8 million appropriation for greater Minnesota transit.
Minnesota Transportation Access Council: Repeals the sunset set to expire in 2014 and allocates $100,000 from the general fund. Southwest Light Rail Line: Includes $37 million in a one-time appropriation to cover part of the costs the state’s contribution of funding needed. Hiawatha Line and the Central Corridor Light Rail lines: Appropriates $18 million for funding the transportation deficit. This will be an ongoing appropriation of $11.7 million per year.
Department of Public Safety
Soft Body Armor: Appropriates $384,000 for the reimbursement program. Under current law, state troopers have to buy their own soft body armor. The state reimburses a portion of their cost. The current budget is insufficient to cover all reimbursement requests. State Patrol’s fuel budget: Increases by $2 million to cover the rising fuel costs. Capitol Security: The supplemental budget increases the budget amount to $2.5 million over the coming biennium. Vehicle title issuance: Appropriates $1.3 million to hire more than seven full-time employees to increase customer service and reduce turnaround time associated with title issuance. DVS Phone System upgrade: Receives a one-time appropriation of $800,000 to replace and automate some phone services from the vehicle services and driver services account. Facial Recognition Software: Receives $71,000 which would go to hiring one additional full-time employee to run the software used by DVS. Driver’s Education Modifications: Allows behind-the-wheel training and classroom instruction to be taught concurrently. Also creates a Novice Driver Education Improvement Task Force. The taskforce is appropriated $70,000 for a half-time position from the driver’s services account. Wheelage Tax: Allows all counties across the state to impose a wheelage tax of up to $10 and then increases it to $20 in 2017.
Local option transit sales tax: Repeals the requirement for a local referendum on the local option transit sales tax and caps the amount of sales tax that could be imposed to one half of 1%. Vehicle Titling Fee Increase: Increases the fee for issuance of an original title from $6.25 to $8.25 in 2017 and deletes the transfer title fees. Registrar’s Fee: Increases the filing fee a filing agent may charge per application from $5 to $8. Counties are losing money providing this service, so increasing the fee is a way to ensure they continue to provide this service. High Value Vehicles: Changes the definition of a high value vehicle from $5,000 to $9,000 on vehicles weighing over 26,000 pounds. Met Council: Instructs the Met Council, when they are the lead agency, to work with community-based organizations to promote community engagement.
Ignition Interlock System Changes Under current law, courts may order a person who has been convicted of Driving Under the Influence to install an ignition interlock system in their vehicle. In order for that person to be able to start their vehicle they have to first blow into the interlock system, which measures the blood alcohol content of their breath. This bill creates an exception so that a person who has been ordered to use an ignition interlock system can drive a vehicle owned by their employer for the purposes for performing their normal work-related duties. The employee needs to have their employer’s written consent to be able to do this. I-35W Bridge Remnant Steel Disposition Authorization The lawsuits and investigations are over and MnDOT has all of the materials from the bridge in storage. The agency has received request for pieces of the bridge from family member of victims, the University of Minnesota, St. Thomas, and others. The problem MnDOT is running into is they have no authority to give away state property for free. They could auction it, but the agency does not feel this is appropriate. This bill would give them the authority to give away the pieces for free. If there are materials left over after this process, they will enter into a contract and get the materials melted down and recycled.
TRANSPORTATION BILLS OR PROVISIONS THAT DID NOT PASS
Omnibus Transportation Finance Provisions
Seven county metro area transit sales tax: A half-a-cent local sales tax increase in the seven county metro area that would be phased in over two years was not adopted. The dedicated sales tax would preserve current transit services and capital infrastructure, expand bus services by 1% per year and reduce the reliance on state general fund appropriations for transit operations. Gas Tax: A five cent gas tax to be phased in over two years was not included. Pavement Life Design: MnDOT will use materials with a 20 year life cycle.
Red Light Bill
The bill would have allowed cities to install cameras at high-traffic intersections to catch red-light runners. Proponents for the bill argued that the use of the cameras is optional for cities. The cameras would take four pictures and a video to send to local police officers, who are the only responsible party for making decisions on issuing tickets. Supporters urged that “photocops,” as they are sometimes called, would make up for the limited resources of the city police station. Similar systems are active in 25 states and 543 cities, in which studies have shown impressive statistics for reductions in accidents. Opponents of the bill claim it creates “ill-will” toward officers. Furthermore, regular speeding violations allow trained officers to check for drunk driving and other violations. Opponents claim that the “photocops” are not popular and that the cameras are revenue-driven and can create more rear-end accidents from sudden stops.
Dan Patch Corridor
The Senate considered legislation to study the Dan Patch Corridor as a possible location for a commuter rail line running from Minneapolis to Northfield. The legislation was introduced to repeal a 2002 law the Minnesota Legislature enacted to not allow any level of government to prepare studies or even discuss building a rail line along the Dan Patch Corridor. The law went as far as ordering the Met Council to remove any references to Dan Patch from its regional transit master plan. The bill was not adopted as part of the transportation policy omnibus conference committee report and the issue will need to be taken up again another session.
All-day Headlight Bill
Currently, drivers only need to have a vehicle’s headlights on between sunrise and sunset, any time it is raining, snowing, sleeting or hailing, any time visibility is impaired due by weather, smoke, fog or other conditions or if there is not sufficient light to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of 500 feet ahead. The legislation requires headlights to be on all day and was amended to make it a secondary offense to not have the vehicle’s headlights on.
Driver’s License for All Bill
Legislation did not pass to ease restrictions on driver’s licenses for non-U.S. citizens passed the Senate but did not pass in the House. This legislation would ensure that more drivers take the state’s driving test, and more drivers carry auto insurance.
Party Bus Bill
This bill would compel motor carriers to require the chartering party to provide a designee if riding in a bus or limousine serving alcoholic beverages, or if a rider is 18 or under. The proposal requires a designee to make reasonable attempts to ensure compliance of those 18 years and younger comply with underage alcohol laws. If alcohol or controlled substances are found or in use, the trip is terminated and passengers are returned to the place where the trip commenced.
Proponents say when young people are on the buses, police have often received reports of alcohol and other controlled substance use. This bill would clarify this is illegal and the trip may terminated if alcohol or other controlled substances are found.
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