Legislative Notebook: Gun Bill Surfaces Without Stronger Background Checks

Cornish, Fabian, Hilstrom

By Don Davis and Danielle Killey

The author of a new gun bill says she wrote it as a compromise, but those who already have related bills are not buying it.

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, on Wednesday announced a bill that falls short of what the Legislature’s judiciary chairmen plan to discuss in committees next week. Hilstrom said she has no promise that her bill will be discussed in a committee.

The Hilstrom bill does not require all buyers of handguns or semi-automatic rifles to undergo background checks, as the chairmen’s bills do.

Hilstrom supporters say her bill would close loopholes in existing law that allow Minnesotans, such as dangerous mentally ill people, to get guns even if they are not supposed to.

Surrounded by a mostly Republican cadre of legislators, the suburban Democratic representative said her plan has 73 co-sponsors in the 134-member House.

House and Senate judiciary committee chairman who plan to bring their own gun plans up for committee votes by the end of next week said they do not plan to change their bills.

No bill moving ahead includes the most controversial gun-control provisions: banning so-called assault rifles and large-capacity bullet magazines.

“This is the only bill that protects Second Amendment rights” to own guns, Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said in support of the Hilstrom proposal.

The National Rifle Association supports the Hilstrom measure.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said senators are discussing a similar bill.

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said he thinks the Hilstrom bill should receive support from his northwestern Minnesota constituents.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he is disappointed background checks for all gun sales were not included in the proposal.

More Minnesota movies?

Minnesota lawmakers say the state could make money from the next “Fargo” or “Grumpy Old Men.”

Reps. Phyllis Kahn and Dean Urdahl introduced a plan Wednesday to invest state funds in Minnesota-made movies.

They said the state will earn some of the profits from the films and the filmmaking process will help the local economy.

“This is about jobs in Minnesota,” Urdahl, R-Grove City, said.

The money would come from the state’s legacy fund, sales tax dollars pooled and used for projects in the arts and environment.

Urdahl said the state benefits even if the films do not do well.

“Worse-case scenario, it’s like a grant,” he said, adding the state still would see money from the filmmaking process.

Films not only provide jobs in the movie-making industry, Urdahl said, but also funnel money into areas such as hotels, catering and car rentals.

The lawmakers and film producers who joined them to announce the proposal said other countries, including Canada, invest in filmmaking and can draw projects away.

The plan will “provide us with a critically needed competitive edge,” Minneapolis Democrat Kahn said.

There needs to be a relatively significant investment for the film-funding proposal to move forward, Urdahl said. “We need an amount that’s going to make a difference.”

Kahn said ideally the concept would have about $30 million to spend every two years, but said that number likely is high.

Ag bill stalls

The normally noncontroversial agriculture funding bill came to a screeching halt Wednesday in a House committee.

Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, joined Republicans on the House Agriculture Policy Committee in an 8-8 vote, which stalled the bill.

The action came after committee members raise a couple of questions.

Rep. Roger Erickson, DFL-Baudette, questioned if $2.3 million in bovine tuberculosis funding needs to continue even though the state has been declared TB free.

Greta Gauthier of the Agriculture Department said the funding would be used for Board of Animal Health’s general needs.

Faust was uncomfortable with that lack of specificity: “I guess my opinion is, that’s about a 40, maybe a 45 percent, increase in funding then that they get to just decide what they want to. And I think that’s a pretty significant increase for the dollars that we’re talking about, for us not to at least have an idea where it’s going.”

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake,  asked if the committee would guarantee that money in an agriculture fund continue to be used for farm programs.

Hamilton said his attempt was declared out of order by Chairwoman Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin.

A series of 8-8 votes ended with the bill’s defeat. However, it could be resurrected as a stand-alone bill or be amended onto another bill.

“That surprised me,” Hamilton said about the funding bill’s defeat.

Agriculture funding traditionally has been nonpartisan and two years ago it was the only budget bill that passed before a Democrat-Republican standoff caused a state government shutdown.

‘Buy U.S. steel’

Legislation that would require contractors to use American-made steel for all government construction projects in Minnesota passed its first committee Wednesday.

The bill, which cleared the House Government Operations Committee on a voice vote, would require all steel used in construction projects funded with any taxpayer dollars to be made in the United States, whether the projects are initiated by the state or local governments.

The requirement would apply to virtually all types of steel in nearly all public works projects, such as bridges, buildings, roads, airports, rail and waterways.

“Eighty percent of the first-pour steel made in the U.S. comes from iron ore from Minnesota’s Iron Range,’’ President Craig Pagel of the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota said. “More steel means more iron ore and more jobs.”

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, with most Iron Range lawmakers as co-sponsors.

“This levels the playing field for steel and iron ore here at home, where we have labor laws and environmental laws and pay a living wage,’’ Melin said.


John Meyers of the Duluth News Tribune and the Minnesota House Public Information Office contributed to this report.