By Don Davis and Danielle Killey
It looks like the Minnesota Legislature will not ban assault weapons or large-capacity ammunition clips this year.
Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, Thursday unveiled a bill wrapping together a series of gun initiatives he said he thinks can pass. Absent were controversial proposals to forbid ownership of so-called assault weapons and bullet magazines that hold large quantities.
The bill, written after five committee sessions of hearing testimony on gun issues, centers on requiring all gun owners to undergo background checks.
Paymar said he would fight any attempts to amend the bill to include the bans.
Since bills dealing with the two bans were not heard in a Senate committee, it is doubtful they would be in the final gun bill.
However, dropping those two provisions does not assure smooth sailing.
“I think there are some rural Democrats who are struggling with this issue,” Paymar admitted.
He said he tried to craft legislation acceptable to rural lawmakers who support guns. The National Rifle Association opposes his bill and Paymar said he is not sure rural lawmakers can cross the NRA on this issue.
When Paymar released his bill, he was surrounded by police officers, but no sheriffs.
Police chief representatives said they support the universal background check that is required for anyone who wants to obtain a pistol or semi-automatic weapon. The only exception would be a weapon transfer within a family.
Police officials said background checks are needed.
“To effectively keep guns out of the wrong hands, we need a background check law that covers all sales of pistols and assault weapons,” Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsey said. “Right now, we can’t deny gun permits to people who are dangerous and people who can’t pass a background check can just buy a gun at a gun show, on the Internet or at a flea market.”
The bill would outlaw “straw purchases,” when someone not allowed to possess a gun gets someone else to buy one for them.
The bill would require a police chief or sheriff to deny a gun permit to anyone who is a danger to himself or others.
Paymar did not know when the public safety committee he leads will consider his bill, but he said he did not plan extensive public testimony as was heard last month.
Minimum wage advances
Increasing the Minnesota minimum wage to as much as $10.55 an hour passed its first committee test Thursday.
It passed 8-6 after Republicans said the measure would hurt business.
“We have to look at this in the total picture of the states around us,” said Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Buffalo, adding that surrounding states like North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin have lower minimum wages and businesses would consider moving.
Businesses would reduce worker hours and lay off people, she said. “We are not going to invest in Minnesota any more.”
But bill sponsor Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said that the state should require businesses to pay workers “enough to support themselves.” He said the increase also would lead to more spending.
The bill, which faces several more committee votes in both the House and Senate, would gradually raise minimum wages large employers must pay to $10.55 over two years. Small employers would need to pay $9 by 2015.
After 2015, the minimum wage would automatically increase, based on inflation.
E-pull tabs struggle
Electronic pull tabs expected to fund Vikings stadium construction still are not making as much money as expected.
“Certainly that’s an area where we need to do better,” Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget said during a state budget forecast Thursday.
So far, the state has raised $1.8 million from the games and expects to make about $23 million next year and $28 million in 2015.
That is a $46 million drop from earlier estimates.
“It’s not an insurmountable problem, but it is a problem,” Gov. Mark Dayton said.
Dayton said there are fallback funding options, but “we are not there yet.”
“Plan A still works,” Schowalter agreed.
Part of the issue is that the electronic pull-tab games are not in as many locations as anticipated, Schowalter said.
Allied Charities of Minnesota director Allen Lund said the state approves game manufacturers and distributors and blamed a slow process for some of the sluggish start.
“This is a regulatory and review crisis, not a long-term financial disaster,” he said.
Only two of the five game manufacturers and three of 10 distributors that want to be in the Minnesota e-pull tab business are approved, Lund said.
“The state could catch up to revenue projections in a matter of months” if it makes vendor and distributor licensing a priority, he said.
Public projects considered
Gov. Mark Dayton said there are a number of projects he thinks could benefit from a state public works borrowing bill.
“Now we can turn our attention to a bonding bill,” he said after the state budget forecast Thursday.
Dayton said priority projects include civic centers, such as in Mankato and Rochester, and renovations to the state Capitol building.
“This is the time to make those investments,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said some kind of bonding bill likely will be needed to keep Capitol renovations going.
“I’d like to get back to a bonding-year cycle,” Bakk said. Such funding bills typically are handled opposite years dedicated to the budget, such as this session.
Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget said the state could handle up to $1.3 billion in borrowing.