Legislative Notebook: Senate Debates Childcare, PCA Unions


By Don Davis

The Minnesota Senate Tuesday night was en route to approving legislation allowing child care workers and personal care attendants to join unions.

Supporters say such action would allow them to negotiate better payments from the state.

The House already passed its version of the bill and Gov. Mark Dayton supports it.

“We want to prepare children so they are successful in life,” Benton County child care provider Karla Scapanski said. “Collective bargaining is a partnership for that success.”

But opponents, mostly Republicans, say personal care attendants and child care providers are private businesses and should not be part of unions.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said unions that support the bills “are hiding behind children” in an effort to make money.

Franson said state subsidies that are supposed to help poor families afford child care would be diverted to required payments to unions.

If the bill becomes law, it likely will be challenged in court.

The bill would affect 11,000 child care workers who provide care in their own homes. It also would affect personal care attendants who provide care for the elderly and disabled, sometimes their own families.

“Providers want a union because they have seen the benefits unions have given providers in other states,” St. Paul child care provider Lisa Thompson said.

Supporters say they would be able to negotiate more money with union representation than they receive from the state now.

Debate continued late Tuesday.

Sex offender change

A federal judge says Minnesota must change how it deals with sex offenders who have completed their sentences, so the Senate Tuesday voted 44-21 to tweak the process.

Under the bill by Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, sex offenders would have a better chance of being released from a state treatment program. Just one man has graduated from the program.

A federal judge says the state cannot hold sex offenders indefinitely. If they are committed after finishing their prison sentences, the judge said, they must have a chance to be released from the prison-like treatment center.

The Sheran bill would establish a process where, like now, a judge would be able to commit a sex offender to the treatment program. But the offender would receive two hearings a year to see if he should remain in treatment.

“Once a person has completed their time for crime, they have the right to move forward,” Sheran said.

But Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, a former sheriff, said the public is concerned that sex offenders could be let loose.

“We must move very cautiously here,” the Alexandria Republican said.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he might support keeping sex offenders in prison longer. A prison costs about $100 a day per prisoner, while treatment costs more than $300 a day.

If the state does not change its ways, the federal judge can order changes that state officials say may be far more expensive or result in releasing more sex offenders.

No pay say

Legislators would give up decisions about how much they get paid under a proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia.

His bill received a committee approval and heads to the House Rules Committee.

A similar bill sponsored by Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, awaits Senate committee action.

The plan would establish a 16-member commission appointed by the governor and Supreme Court chief justice to set legislators’ salaries.

Currently, a committee recommends legislators’ and other state officials’ salaries, but the full Legislature makes the decision. Under the constitutional amendment proposal, the committee would continue to recommend other salaries, but the new commission would deal only with lawmakers’ pay.

Legislative pay of $31,140 a year has not been raised in 14 years.

“In order to attract the kind of people from the private sector or even the public sector we have to have some expectation that at some point they can be compensated,” Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said.

If the proposal passes legislative committees this year or next year, it would appear on the November 2014 ballot.