Capitol Notebook: GOP Proposes More Constitutional Amendments

Legislative Republicans continue to add to a list of ways they want to amend the state Constitution.

On Tuesday, Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen and others introduced a proposal to limit state spending to 98 percent of available revenues. Lawmakers also are considering a plan by Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa to require 60 percent of each legislative chamber’s members to agree before taxes are raised.

Those proposed constitutional amendments are on top of others making their way through the legislative process to require voters to show photographic identification before casting ballots and one to ban gay marriages.

For the Constitution to be amended, the House and Senate must vote for the proposal, which would send it to voters in the November 2012 election. The Legislature does not need to pass proposed amendments until next year, but supporters say they would like to deal with them before the 2011 Legislature adjourns May 23.

Democrats oppose what they call social-issue amendments, calling them distraction from Republicans’ inability to balance the state budget.

Ortman’s proposal would limit state spending.

“This amendment establishes spending limits based on current-law revenue sources,” Ortman said. “The proposed amendment also ensures steady and reliable budget reserves by directing excess dollars into the reserve, which cannot be spent except in emergencies involving health, safety or welfare of citizens of Minnesota.”

The Drazkowski proposal would make it harder to raise taxes.

In his first committee hearing for the proposed amendment, he said that voters clearly have said the state needs to control spending. And, he said, it is important to begin discussion now.

“We want people to be talking about the issues over the summer,” Drazkowski said.

Now, taxes can be raised with a simple majority House and Senate vote, with approval of the governor.

Mental health concerns

Cuts proposed to the Minnesota Health and Human Services budget would significantly impact mental health care programs for children and adolescents, an advocacy group said Tuesday.

In Minnesota, an estimated 91,000 children need treatment for serious mental illnesses, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota. Yet many already go untreated, and potential cuts would limit resources even more, said alliance Executive Director Sue Abderholden.

“Children and adolescents with unaddressed mental health needs struggle in school … and often wind up in the juvenile justice system,” she said. “We can and must do better in Minnesota.”

The proposed budget would cut nearly $29 million in funding for children’s mental health services for the biennium, the alliance said. It would affect programs, including grants for school-linked mental health care, children’s mental health screening and culturally specific mental health programs.

“We would all lose so much if (care) were not available to us in the school building,” said Janet Bessette, a paraprofessional in Aitkin whose daughter has cognitive disabilities.

 ID ‘too restrictive’

A group of organizations says a plan to require Minnesotans to produce a photo identification before voting is too restrictive.

The groups range from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits to League of Women Voters.

Susie Brown of the nonprofits group said many Minnesotans already are struggling to be heard and forcing them to show photo IDs would hurt them.

 Danielle Nordine of the Red Wing Republican Eagle contributed to this report.