Winding Towards Adjournment
In my first Capitol Update of this legislative session I wrote about the opening remarks by Majority Leader, Senator Senjem. I was energized and inspired by his proclamation of the need for cooperation and a focus on jobs and economic growth after the tumultuous session and government shutdown in 2011. Yet, as is often the case, the legislative process takes on a life of its own and this one has been filled with twists and turns.
Today is the 72nd day of the 2012 legislative session and we are, apparently, gliding toward adjournment. Yet, we have not had the opportunity to debate the bonding bill on the Senate floor, several bills have been vetoed, and there is much work left to be done. One of the complicating factors is that the bonding bill must originate in the House. In order to pass there must be 60% of the members voting yes. Currently, the House bonding bill is significantly smaller than the Senate version because they have done the bill in two parts; $221,000,000 for the Capitol Restoration and $279,000,000 for general projects. Therefore many projects that have strong support are omitted from this bill and lose member support as a result of the omission.
The Governor vetoed the Education bill that allowed us to replace the monies borrowed last year by tapping the reserves. We have sent the “LIFO” bill to the Governor and he intends to veto that.
Therefore, as we head into the Passover Easter break we have much work to do and could use a breakthrough in learning to reach consensus.
I have been particularly pleased with the tremendous success I have had this session passing the legislation I have offered by working in partnership across the aisle. I am thankful for the generosity of members like Sen. Gen Olson, who works in partnership with me as we represent shared communities.
The remainder of this week’s update will address the issues that are important and relevant in light of the impending adjournment.
Omnibus Bills Coming Through
Due to the aggressive timeframe imposed by the Senate majority, many of the bills that would be addressed individually have been combined into omnibus bills. These pose difficult decisions as there are often both good and bad provisions within the bills. I do all I can to remove the bad and keep the good so that I can confidently vote to pass the bills.
If there is one bright spot in the impending adjournment, it is the Education Omnibus Bill. I am pleased to announce that this bill was passed this afternoon with overwhelming bi-partisan support!
I had three provisions included in the omnibus bill:
- The Parent Child Home Program
The bill takes some of the investment we made last session in early childhood scholarships for ages 3 and 4 year olds and moves it to an investment in a research based home visiting program for children ages 18 months to four years old.
- Wayzata Lease Levy
This provision will expand the scope of the Wayzata School District lease levy authority to allow it to levy for a portion of the lease costs associated with leasing spaces for administrative purposes. Leasing administrative space is often the most cost effective and educationally preferred option.
Wayzata public schools will be able to convert existing lease levy authority that has already been approved for instructional space and storage to be used for administrative space, if deemed more cost effective.
1. Shift Modification for Schools serving 90% Special Education Students
The current payment shift of 64%-36% does not work for small Charter Schools serving a special needs population. This provision restores full funding to these schools so they can continue to serve this underserved population. A special shout out to Lionsgate Academy, which only serves students with Autism for the outstanding results they are achieving.
In addition, please know that the bill we passed in the Education Committee to address the Immersion Teacher problem has been added to the House companion of this bill. It was not added to this Omnibus Bill because I have been assured it would be included in conference. Many were concerned that if it was brought up today, provisions would have been added that would have made it impossible to pass. I pledge to follow this issue with fidelity and to do everything possible to pass this short term fix.
Lastly, the Education Omnibus bill included an expansion of the PSEO program so that 10th graders can now participate and we expanded the career and technical program opportunities for all students. This was worked on over many hearings and the final result is very strong.
I joined a bill signing today - as I was a co-author of a bill supporting Adult Basic Education.
Outpouring of concern on wolf provision
I have heard from many of you regarding the legislation to create an open season (firearms, bow and trapping) on wolves. I can’t stress enough the difference that your communications with my office make. It is encouraging to know that so many people are engaged in the legislative process. In regards to this particular issue, I am opposed to traps and will do what I can to stop this.
I addressed the problem of getting the bonding bill passed in the above comments but also wanted to reiterate that the version of the bonding bill released by the Senate majority ignores the Southwest Light Rail proposal and many other projects important to our community and Minnesotans all around the State.
The bonding bill could be a huge catalyst for job creation. The current proposal and lack of legislative action is letting low bond interest rates, job-creation opportunities and strong citizen support for capital investment slip away as the legislative session wanes.
Voter ID Passed
Both the House and Senate approved legislation this week to amend the state’s constitution to require voters to present photo identification prior to voting. With passage of this bill, a question will placed on the general election ballot this November asking voters if they support amending the constitution to require photo IDs to vote.
The lack of detail in the Voter ID Constitutional Amendment proposal is concerning. The question that was approved to place on the ballot does not reflect what is actually being proposed to write into the Constitution. The actual document language creates a new “Provisional Balloting” process that means if someone is without the proper ID, still undetermined as to what that is, their ballot would be set aside provisionally. There is no detail as to what this process will actually look like.
I did speak out against this amendment and the misleading nature of the question. I continue to speak in favor of designing a strong voter verification system and believe the bill lacks clarity on what types of IDs will be valid to vote and how the voter ID requirement will affect absentee voting and same-day registration. The voters of Minnesota deserve to know the details of this proposal and how it will affect them before they vote on it. I expressed disappointment that we were not able to actually have proper hearings for the modern and high tech approach to voter verification that is much less costly and can be implemented with less burden to local units of government.
Capitol Conversation with Senator Senjem
I was invited to join Majority Leader, Senator Senjem, on the “Minnesota Capitol Conversations” program. We discussed the pending adjournment, the work we have done, and the work that I had hoped would be accomplished. It was a pleasure being on the show. Click here to watch and let me know your thoughts!
Healthcare Omnibus Bill
Governor Dayton announced this week that the state will receive $73 million in health care cost savings to state and federal taxpayers. These funds are a result of a voluntary 1% cap on profits that was agreed to in 2011 between Minnesota’s Commissioner of Human Services Lucinda Jesson, and the state’s health plans: HealthPartners, Medica, UCare and BlueCross BlueShield. These savings are part of a larger reform effort to provide better value to Minnesotans, at a better price.
According to the Governor, the payments were calculated based on 2011 financial reports submitted to the Minnesota Department of Health by health insurance companies. In accordance with Gov. Dayton’s Executive Order 11-06 issued on March 23, 2011, the reports will be independently audited and verified by vendors contracted by the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Repayments from the health plans will be credited towards this biennium’s budget.
The good news is timely, as we are working hard on a supplemental budget that will help ease some of the drastic budget reductions made in the health and human services area last year. I am most pleased to report that in the bill we are voting on today we have temporarily restored the cuts made to the PCA program last year. In addition we are partially restoring the cuts to the Emergency Medical Assistance program. We are grateful for the ability to restore these cuts.
Sunset Commission Bill
As you have heard in previous updates, I have been working on moving the Sunset Commission Bill through the various Committees so that it can be heard on the floor. This has been a challenge, to say the least. I will be meeting with the Committee on Rules and Administration this afternoon to seek approval to add Legislators to the Combative Sports Commission. Following this, the bill will come to the Senate floor. The most notable work in this bill addresses the many concerns that have been raised with regard to the Medical Health Licensing Boards. We have requested the Legislative Auditor to do a Special Investigation of the board and are pleased to report the Office of the Legislative Auditor has expressed intention to do just that.
I wish all those who celebrate both Easter and Passover a very happy holiday. We will not be submitting a Session Update next week as we will be on break.
Senator Terri Bonoff