Legislative Update

This week we heard bonding overviews in the Transportation Committee, had bills signed by Governor Dayton, and were given our new redistricting maps.

TRANSPORTATION – This week in the Transportation Committee we held informational hearings on a host of bills dealing with requests for state bonding dollars to fund transportation projects. Among the bills we heard were requests for projects dealing with local road and bridge improvements, ports, railroad crossings, airports, transit centers, storm tunnels and sound walls. All of these requests have sound merits that could possibly be heard before the Capital Investment Committee later this session. This is the committee that has final say in which projects are authorized by the Senate. Next week in the Transportation Committee, we will hear bills that address the establishment of an online motor vehicle insurance inspection system, the benefits of conducting a study on the positive impacts of Minnesota’s freight rail system, and the review of vehicle title issuance requirements.

FIRST NEW LAW: TEACHER BASIC SKILLS – A bill to require teachers to successfully complete a basic skills examination in math, reading, and writing prior to receiving a license as a classroom teacher was signed into law by Governor Dayton on Wednesday. Out-of-state applicants for Minnesota teacher licenses will also have to pass the test. The Senate approved the bill on Monday with a 60-1 vote, and the House unanimously endorsed it last week.

SEX OFFENDERS – The Senate unanimously passed a bill, which was ultimately signed by the Governor on Thursday, that amends the state law on public notification for sex offenders. This bill changes current law to require community notification prior to a provisional discharge, and allows full community notification upon the transfer of the sex offender from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program to a residential treatment facility, such as a halfway house. Under the provisions of this bill, all levels of community notification would occur, including notifying law enforcement, former victims, daycares, schools, other groups that may fit a victim profile, and general community meetings in the neighborhood. It is effective immediately.

REDISTRICTING – Maps redrawing legislative and congressional district lines for this fall’s elections were released Tuesday. The redistricting exercise is done every 10 years after the census. The number of districts remains the same, but district borders are changed to make sure each district has approximately the same number of people in it, currently 80,000 per Senate district. To see how the change will affect you for the upcoming election, go to the state Geographic Information Services website at www.gis.leg.mn/html/redistricting.html, click on the interactive map, and enter your address.

PERSONAL PROTECTION (House File 1467/Senate File 1357) – Yesterday the Senate passed the Defense of Dwelling and Person Act which makes four changes to existing self-defense laws. It removes the “duty to retreat” provision, creates a presumption of reasonableness that protects the victim if they defend themselves, allows victims to use force against violent felonies, and protects victims who use justified force in self defense from facing criminal prosecution. The measure also addresses state government weapon seizure during state of emergencies, and recognizes permits to carry or licenses from another state. The bill passed with bipartisan support.

I continue to work on your behalf and welcome your questions and comments on legislative issues.

This Week’s Legislative Update

Below are some of this week’s highlights.

STATE OF THE STATE – One of the focuses of attention at the Capitol this week was the Governor’s State of the State address and reactions to it. Minnesota is better today than it was a year ago because the Minnesota Legislature prioritized Minnesota’s needs. Our state’s economy is on the mend and our citizens are not burdened with new taxes. This allows consumers the confidence to begin spending again, small businesses to consider expansion, and larger companies to hire. In addition, we appreciated the Governor’s comments of wanting to work in a bi-partisan manner on important government reform initiatives.

Transportation – This week we heard a bill I recently introduced that will provide contingent funding for road construction, operations, and maintenance in the event of a government shutdown. This past summer the state experienced a shutdown that halted all road construction projects across the state. I did everything in my power to convince the Governor to sign the Transportation Finance bill that the legislature passed which would have prevented the shutdown of the highway construction season, but it was to no avail. If the State of Minnesota is ever faced with this issue again, I believe this legislation will help to prevent such a thing from ever happening due to contingent funds being put in place.

Other bills that were heard in committee addressed the creation of a motorcycle road guard certificate and traffic regulations that related to speed limits. Also, the Omnibus Transportation Policy bill, which I authored, passed the Finance Committee and is scheduled to be heard on the Senate Floor sometime in the coming weeks.

– The Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee passed two bills that will increase employment opportunities for veterans in both the private and public sector. One bill strengthens re-employment protections for veterans returning from service and better enables them to get their old jobs back. The second bill will give Minnesota companies the option to put in place their own veterans hiring programs.

ENVIRONMENTAL PERMITTING EFFICIENCY – Accelerating Minnesota business permits is one area where lawmakers have worked well in a bi-partisan manner. Last year, the Legislature and Administration moved forward to decrease the time and costs of the environmental review and permitting process. Now, 99 percent of priority permit applications are being completed by pollution control and natural resource regulators within 150 days.

To follow up that success, the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee approved Senate File 1567, a permitting efficiency bill supported by Minnesota businesses. As companies look to expand in this international economy, one of the areas they review, besides taxes, energy costs, and workforce, is how long it will take to obtain a permit for their expansion or building of their new facility.

NEXT WEEK – The Transportation Policy & Finance Committee will start the process of hearing bonding recommendations from the Governor and Legislature as they relate to transportation projects. These include projects for roads, bridges, airports, railroads and transit. I look forward to learning about the merits of these projects and if they will ultimately be included in an overall bonding bill later this session.

Session Update: Transportation, Lawsuit Reform, etc…

TRANSPORTATION – This week in the Senate Transportation Committee, our committee met on Thursday to hear bills that dealt with state aid formulas for transportation funding, the bidding process for highway construction projects, and motor carrier/shipper contracts. Next week, we will be hearing a bill I recently introduced that will provide contingent funding for road construction, operations, and maintenance in the event of a government shutdown.

WEST CENTRAL MN INNOVATION & RENEWABLES SHOWCASE – The West Central MN Innovation & Renewables Showcase is being held at the Minnesota State Capitol Great Hall on Tuesday, February 14th from 9:00AM to 3:00PM. The MinnWest Technology Campus, the former government owned regional treatment center, is being featured at this event. If you are in the area, please stop by! Event Flyer

PRECINCT CAUCUSES – I want to thank everyone who attended their precinct caucus. Your participation is what makes our political process responsible to its citizens. Thank you!

LAWSUIT REFORM – This week, the House and Senate passed four lawsuit reform bills designed to improve Minnesota’s legal system, save taxpayers money, and encourage businesses to stay and grow in Minnesota. The bills received bipartisan support. Lawmakers and business owners urged Governor Dayton to give these initiatives strong consideration and sign them into law. Regretfully, the Governor vetoed all four.

LIMITING GOVERNMENT RULEMAKING TO ENCOURAGE JOBS – This week, the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee approved a bill that would stop executive branch rule making for two years in order to ease regulatory burdens on businesses. This bill sends a message to our job creators that we are serious about making our state the best place to do business.

LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA – Senator Michelle Fischbach and I co-wrote a letter to President Obama about his recent announcement to enforce a portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (PPACA) requiring employer-based health insurance plans to cover contraceptives, even if the employer has a religious objection to contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing prescriptions. The PPACA would also require an employer to provide contraception coverage and force the employee to purchase insurance that includes coverage they may find to be morally reprehensible. We implored President Obama to show respect for our conscientious objection to contraceptive coverage and requested that he reevaluate this unprecedented measure and insure that those who participate in the health care system are given the right to provide and purchase health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions.

As a former Constitutional law professor, President Obama should understand the implications the PPACA imposes on our freedoms. I am outraged that President Obama is taking the liberty to trample on our constitutional rights.

COMING UP – On Wednesday, February 15th, at 7:00PM, a Joint Convention of the House and Senate will receive Governor Mark Dayton’s State of the State address.

Week Two: Transportation, Confirmations, & Tax Relief

TRANSPORTATION – This week in the Senate Transportation Committee, we heard a host of bills including the Omnibus Transportation Policy bill. An omnibus bill is one that is comprised of many other bills heard throughout the course of a legislative session and built into one large bill. The Senate was poised to pass the bill last session, but unfortunately time expired on the 2011 Legislative Session before we were able to take action on the bill and send it to the Governor for his signature. One of my top legislative goals going into the 2012 Session was to pass this bill early so that we could continue collaborating with our partners at the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Public Safety on implementing the reform minded provisions included in the legislation.

Among the items is one that streamlines the state’s permitting process for businesses seeking an oversize or overweight vehicle permit. Another provision dealing with oversize or overweight vehicles would allow for an annual permit as opposed to current law which requires the need for a new permit for every movement or haul. In addition, the bill includes a proposal that will provide more transparency by the Department of Transportation on the costs of various major highway projects throughout the state. One last item of note would allow for the alternative financing of a construction project by governmental and non-governmental entities. With limited funding available for much needed road and bridge projects, this is yet another way that the state can leverage additional dollars to fund our critical transportation system.

I am happy to report that we are off to a good start as the bill was overwhelmingly passed by the Transportation Committee yesterday. It now awaits action by the Finance Committee and will then be sent to the Senate floor for a vote by the full body. In the upcoming weeks, we will hold hearings on legislation that will compliment and build on the reform based measures that are included in the Omnibus Transportation Policy bill.

COMMISSIONER CONFIRMATIONS – On Monday, the Senate took up confirmations for Governor Dayton’s commissioner appointees. Three appointees were confirmed: Public Safety Commissioner Ramona Dohman, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, and Mn/DOT Commissioner Thomas K. Sorel. The Senate is authorized to give its advice and consent on executive appointments under state law, and the candidates are reviewed in the appropriate Senate committee before full Senate consideration.

Public Safety Commissioner Dohman has nearly 30 years of experience in law enforcement, and has served in police departments in both the metro area and greater Minnesota. She is the first female Public Safety Commissioner.

Transportation Commission Sorel has over 30 years of experience, served under both Dayton and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and has federal government experience. He turned the morale at MnDOT around after it had been very low.

DNR Commissioner Landwehr is the former Assistant State Director for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and now oversees a DNR staff of about 2,700 located in St. Paul and around the state.

TAX RELIEF FOR JOB GROWTH – This week, the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee passed one of several tax relief bills – a top priority this year. This measure is a phase out of the business property tax to make Minnesota a better place to start or grow a business.

Minnesota taxes employers twice on their business property. They pay local property taxes as well as statewide general property tax paid to the state. As Minnesota’s economy begins to recover, reducing and phasing out the business property tax is a way to make Minnesota the most attractive state to do business and sends a strong signal to job creators that they can feel confident to invest and expand.

REGULATORY RELIEF FOR SMALL BUSINESSES – A bill passed in committee this week that would create a review board to examine government rules to determine their impact on small business. The board would also have the power to revisit existing requirements and recommend changes to those laws to make them less burdensome for job creation.

ENVIRONMENTAL PERMITTING EFFICIENCY – As another part of an overall jobs initiative, Senate Republicans believe that overhauling the environmental permitting regulations by streamlining the process will help investors, entrepreneurs, and job creators. We took a good step in the right direction last year when Governor Dayton signed a similar bill, but there is more work to be done. A permitting efficiency bill began to move through the committee process this week which will bring government regulations up to speed with 21st century commerce.

PRECINCT CAUCUSES – February 7th is when the state precinct caucuses are being held. Precinct caucuses are public meetings of eligible voters from each area. Minnesota’s major political parties (Republican, DFL, and Independence) each have separate caucuses. Caucuses begin the process the parties use for choosing their candidates and issues they will support in the upcoming elections. The Minnesota Secretary of State will help you find your precinct by entering your address into their Polling Place Finder (http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us). You can also call state political parties for more detailed partisan information.