What’s moving, what’s not in Legislature

/ 15 April 2012 / jennifer

Capitol Chatter, Forum Communications, April 15, 2012 –

Most issues in the Minnesota Legislature remain unresolved, with lawmakers facing the end of the 2012 session.

So far, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has signed 41 bills, mostly making minor changes to state law, sent to him by the Republican-controlled Legislature. He vetoed 11 this year thus far, compared to 23 all of last year. By comparison, GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s top veto year was 2008, when he rejected 32 of the Democratic Legislature’s bills.

There have been 2,998 bills introduced in the House during 2011 and this year with 1,237 new bills this year alone. In the Senate, 2,535 bills have been introduced in two years, 1,299 this year.

While this list shows where some of the most-discussed legislative issues stand, many bills introduced in the past two years remain active and available to receive lawmakers’ attention.

– Bonding: The House, Senate and Dayton offer three contrasting ways to finance public works projects by the state selling bonds, and there has been no indication how the difference could be resolved. Dayton wants to spend $775 million, the Senate nearly $500 million and the House $280 million.

– Budget: After last year’s budget impasse and resulting government shutdown, little work is needed on the budget this year. However, a slightly improved revenue picture has resulted in arguments about whether to use a newly increased budget reserve for tax cuts, paying back debt to schools or other purposes. Dayton wants to leave it alone.

– Capitol building: With most people agreeing there is a need to fix the Capitol, there is little agreement about how to fund the work. The House will consider a $220 million plan, while senators are looking at using $25 million included in their bonding bill. Dayton wants the entire estimated $241 million project.

– Ethics: Senate Republicans have faced one problem after another, including then-Majority Leader Amy Koch resigning after an affair with a Senate employee, a resulting new leadership team, an ethics charge about Sen. Geoff Michel’s handling of the Koch situation and whether former House Speaker Steve Sviggum had a conflict between his Senate GOP communications director job and serving as a University of Minnesota regent (he resigned the unpaid university position).

– Gambling: Legislators have debated several gambling-related issues, mostly to fund a new Vikings football stadium. The favored stadium funding plan would allow electronic pulltabs and bingo. Allowing casinos at horse tracks and a White Earth Twin Cities casino proposal have gained less support for a stadium or other uses.

–Labor: Some Republicans want a constitutional amendment to make union membership voluntary and allow workers in union shops to not be forced to pay union dues. The proposal appears unlikely to pass this year.

– Facebook passwords: A bipartisan group of legislators introduced a bill, relatively late in the session, to ban businesses from asking job applicants for Facebook or other social site passwords. No progress has been reported.

– Fireworks: A plan to allow more powerful fireworks was debated on the House floor, but sent back to a committee for further consideration. It still could receive House and Senate votes.

– Fishing opener: A plan to allow walleye and other fishing a week earlier than normal next month has received considerable support, but its future remains in question.

– Gary Kubly: The long-time lawmaker died earlier in the session, and Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, has been elected to replace him.

– Governing: In a year when the governor and legislative leaders had promised to get along, they have not. Dayton at one point called Senate Republicans “unfit to govern.”

– Guns: Dayton vetoed a bill that would have expanded Minnesotans’ right to use deadly force, such as guns or other weapons, if they felt they were in danger. He signed a law allowing county attorneys and assistants to carry guns. A constitutional amendment affirming the right to bear arms has gone nowhere.

– Jacob’s Law: The governor signed into law a bill named after Jacob Gould, a Clara City youth who was abused but his mother was not notified. The new law requires both parents to be told when a child is victim of neglect, physical abuse or sexual abuse outside of the home.

– Jobs: Dayton and legislative leaders went into the session calling for action to support new jobs. But Republicans reject Dayton’s idea of providing tax credits for hiring the unemployed and Dayton hesitates to back the GOP plan to cut business taxes.

– Permitting: Republicans and Dayton agreed to take a little step beyond last year’s law to speed up state permits for business construction. The new law tweaks when a 150-day goal to issue a permit begins and allows businesses to hire a person to deal with permit-preparation work that used to be done by the state.

– Pregnancy: A Positive Alternatives law expansion provides pregnant women more options for medical attention, nutritional services, housing assistance, adoption services, education and employment assistance.

– Primary election: The House voted to move the primary election to June, and Dayton said he would consider it if the Senate agrees. The primary now is in August, after years of it being in September.

– Outdoors: Many lawmakers and Dayton think that higher hunting and fishing license fees are needed, and the proposal is contained in bills making their way through the process. The House and Senate have passed legislation funding increased efforts to fight invasive species, such as Asian carp, but details remain to be worked out.

– School payments: Everyone says they want to repay Minnesota school districts $2.4 billion the state has borrowed from them by delaying payments, but cannot agree on a plan. Dayton vetoed a GOP proposal to take $430 million from the state budget reserve to begin the repayment.

– Sex offenders: Sex offenders released from a state treatment program will be subject of community notification. Legislators rushed the bill through the Legislature, and Dayton signed it, when they learned that while sex offenders being released to prison are subject to community notification laws, those who get out of a state treatment program are not.

– Shutdown: Several bills are making their way through the Legislature to prevent programs ranging from hunting licenses to transportation projects from being affected by a government shutdown like occurred last year. Their future is uncertain.

– Stadium: Proposals to build a new Vikings football stadium have been in the spotlight, but face numerous hurdles in the session’s waning days. While many lawmakers agree to fund a stadium with increased revenue coming from allowing electronic pulltabs and bingo, there is little agreement on a backup plan in case revenue falls short. And many lawmakers object either to funding a stadium through gambling or the state being involved at all. A Senate bill is stalled in committee, and a House bill is moving ahead slowly.

– Synthetic drugs: The House and Senate approved expanding the list of forbidden synthetic substances that are made to mimic already-illegal drugs. A House-Senate conference committee is working out differences.

– Taxes: With little need to change the state’s two-year budget, there has been little talk about taxes. However, a GOP priority is to lower state business property taxes, and gradually phase them out, in the name of creating jobs. The idea has received little support in the governor’s office.

– Teachers: A House-Senate conference committee is considering a bill that would abandon the long-held practice of deciding teacher lay-offs based on seniority. Dayton is expected to veto it. The governor signed a bill requiring teachers to pass a basic skill tests before entering a classroom.

– Voter ID: The Republican highlight of the session may be passing a measure to require voters to show a photo ID. If the courts do not stop it, the measure will be on Minnesotans’ Nov. 6 ballots.

– Wolf hunting: House and Senate bills would open wolf hunting and trapping seasons, but the proposal has yet to gain final legislative approval.