Legislative notebook: Senate votes against teacher seniority

Seiben

The Republican-controlled Legislature is about ready to send Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton a bill that reduces the importance of seniority when school districts consider laying off teachers.

Senators Monday favored the proposal 36-26, with just one Democrat voting “yes.” The House earlier passed a similar measure.

The bill allows school districts to decide whether to lay off a teacher largely based on performance.

“Who stays and who goes should not be determined on who signed the contract first,” said bill sponsor Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park. “Who stays and who goes should be determined on who does the best job in the classroom.”

The state teacher union, Education Minnesota, strongly opposes the move, urging the current seniority-based system to remain. Most Democrats agree with the union.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said Wolf’s bill is “the latest attack on teachers and unions.”

But Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, said the important factor is how teachers teach.

“Teachers that are performing effectively, I don’t care how long they have been there, don’t have anything to worry about,” Olson said.

Forty percent of the state’s school districts already have policies in place that allow issues other than just seniority to be part of layoffs, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said.

Abortion bills OK’d

Abortion clinics would need regular health inspections and doctors would be required to be in a room where abortions are given under bills the Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved Monday.

Both bills, which passed on split voice votes, need to go through other committees before reaching the full Senate.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, said he brought a bill to require a physician to be present for an abortion because doing the job via a Web camera could endanger the mother’s health.

Jordan Harris of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life said the common abortion-producing drug RU-486 “carries significant risks” and should not be administered without a doctor on site.

Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said that as a nurse she was uncomfortable with administering medicine when a doctor was miles away. “You are putting a lot of responsibility on me.”

However, retired University of Minnesota Dr. James House said that telemedicine is the future of rural medicine and it “is the equivalent of a face-to-face visit.”

The other abortion-related bill, by Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, would establish an inspection program for facilities that perform at least 10 abortions a year.

“It is incumbent upon us to assure the cleanliness and property procedures,” Robling said, adding that without inspections abortions could be as dangerous as they were years ago when they frequently were performed in back alleys.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, however, insisted that clinics already are inspected and said Robling’s bill does nothing more than hinder abortions.

‘Pay back kids’

Legislative Democrats say they would eliminate what they call “corporate tax loopholes” so the state can repay money borrowed from Minnesota schools.

“Politicians always say that education is their priority; here’s a chance to prove it,” said Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove.

The state owes school districts $2.2 billion, including $770 million in payments that lawmakers delayed last year.

Surrounded by children and parents on Monday, Sieben and Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said the school payment delays hurt education in schools around the state.

The lawmakers propose closing “loopholes,” such as tax provisions that allow corporations to get tax breaks for earnings from outside of the United States. Republicans who control the Legislature oppose such a move.

“Closing tax loopholes on corporations hiding money overseas is just common sense,” Sieben said.

The DFL lawmakers said the schools would be repaid within six years if the tax changes were enacted.

Schools have borrowed more than $600 million since 2010 to cover state fund shortages, Sieben said.

St. Paul parent and teacher Rainbow Espinosa said that if the state keeps up with its payments, schools can afford more teachers to lower class sizes.

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