Minnesotans Will Feel Impact Of 2013 Legislative Session

House chamber near the end of session

By Don Davis

Legislative sessions have consequences, and 2013’s version will be felt by many Minnesotans.

Republicans say Minnesotans of all stripes will pay higher taxes. Democrats claim residents will receive better service.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, spelled out how this year’s session, especially the budget Democrats passed, would produce “real, tangible results.”

“My neighbors won’t pay $2,600 for all-day, everyday kindergarten,” Sieben said. “That is real money being put back in people’s pockets.”

Sieben said her baby sitter “won’t see a tuition hike at the University of Minnesota after she enrolls there as a freshman this fall.”

The senator said her city will benefit from a tax change: “Cottage Grove will save over $200,000 on not having to pay sales tax on their purchases.”

Here is a look at when some of the new laws take effect:

Education

Schools will begin getting more money from the state in time for next school year, but other education provisions may not be seen right away.

The state will pay for all-day kindergarten beginning in the fall of 2014. Each school district will be able to decide whether to offer it.

Parents do not have to enroll their children in all-day programs. In fact, state law does not force parents to send children younger than 7 to school.

Also beginning in the fall of 2014, poor families with 3- and 4-year-olds will be able to apply for scholarships to attend preschool.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature overturned a Republican law that required high school students to pass a test proving they understood several subjects before they could graduate. In its place will be a system beginning in middle school that is supposed to prepare students for careers or college.

However, students who started high school when the so-called graduation test was the law still may pick it instead of the new system. The new system will be phased in during the coming years, with a goal of beginning the phase-in this fall.

For those out of high school, state-run colleges and universities will freeze tuition for the next two years.

Taxes

Cigarette taxes increase $1.60 per pack, making total state taxes $2.52 per pack, on July 1. Other tobacco taxes also go up.

Products called “little cigars” will be taxed like cigarettes beginning July 1.

For taxes payable next year only, most property tax levies may not be increased in counties with populations smaller than 5,000 and cities smaller than 2,500.

Satellite television service and digital downloads also will be taxed starting July 1.

Some tax provisions do not begin until next April, such as ones rural Republicans said they are concerned will affect farmers: sales tax on equipment repairs and on warehouses such as those storing fertilizer.

Income tax returns next year will change for couples earning more than $250,000 in taxable income and individuals receiving at least $150,000. Their taxes will increase to 9.85 percent of their income, 2 percentage points more than under current law.

Construction

Work on the Minnesota Capitol will continue after the Legislature approved selling $109 million in bonds to finance it.

Scaffolding already is around the northeast corner of the building, and it will expand as work progresses on the marble walls. Most of the basement is to be gutted this summer, displacing people who work there, and beginning next year the renovation will move into areas used by the public. While the building will remain open during legislative sessions from January to May, some parts of the Capitol will be closed and access to other parts will be restricted.

Unionization

Some home-based child care providers and personal care attendants won the chance to join unions if certain requirements are met.

The two unions involved must collect signatures from enough providers to call an election, then there will be a vote to see if enough agree to join unions. While all that could happen fairly quickly, opponents of the plan pledge to take the law to court, which could delay its implementation for months or more.

MNSure

Minnesota will launch MNSure, a way to buy health insurance, on Oct. 1.

For the first three months, Minnesotans may compare insurance policies online with the help of people who can navigate the system, with policies to take effect Jan. 1.

Gay marriage

Same-sex couples will be allowed to apply for marriage licenses Aug. 1.

However, unless a judge grants a couple a waiver, couples must wait five days for a wedding.

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Here are how some issues fared at the recently completed 2013 Minnesota Legislature:

Bonding: Gov. Mark Dayton and House Democrats wanted to borrow $750 million to $800 million for public works projects around the state, but Republicans and Senate Democrats favored something smaller. In the end, they agreed to spend $177 million, with $132 million to continue a state Capitol building renovation project. Also getting funds were sewage projects statewide, a Capitol-area parking ramp and a new Minneapolis Veterans’ Home building.

Budget: A $38 billion, two-year budget won approval in the final days of the Legislature, up from $35 billion in the current budget cycle.

Bullying: Efforts to establish an extensive anti-bullying law failed.

Campaigns: Legislators and other candidates will be able to spend more on campaigns.

Capitol renovation: More than $200 million is needed to renovate the state Capitol building; lawmakers approved $132 million, expecting to come back next year and approve the rest. A new office building near the Capitol also received legislative approval.

Care attendants: Home-based child care providers and personal care attendants (who help the elderly and disabled) who receive state payments won the right to join unions. It was the most-debated bill of the session.

Education: Public schools will receive $485 million more from the state in the next two years, including money to fund all-day kindergarten and day care scholarships for 3- and 4-year-olds. General state school aid also is increasing.

Elections: Fairly minor changes were made in the state’s election laws, including allowing Minnesotans to get absentee ballots without giving a reason, expanding mail balloting, setting up a pilot project for electronic poll books and lowering the threshold for taxpayer-funded election recounts.

Gas tax: Efforts were made to increase the gasoline tax to fund transportation needs, but with the governor’s opposition that never passed.

Gay marriage: Minnesota became the 12th state to allow same-sex marriages after a contentious debate and thousands of people packing the Capitol to make their voices heard.

Gun control: School and other shootings fanned a demand for gun control, but from early this legislative session it was apparent that banning so-called assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines would go nowhere. In the end, little was done other than tweak background checks for some gun buyers.

Health care: The first big bill to become law makes Minnesota among a handful of states that operate a mostly Web-based marketplace where its residents can compare and buy health insurance policies. Also, $50 million was cut from state health programs for the poor and disabled.

Higher education: Tuition at state-run colleges and universities will be frozen for two years as $250 million was added to their budgets, the first significant increase in years. State financial aid programs also received more money.

Immigrants: Undocumented immigrants who attend Minnesota high schools at least three years and plan to become U.S. citizens will be allowed to pay in-state tuition at state-run colleges and universities. However, lawmakers did not take action on a proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Local aid: Cities of all sizes and parts of the state agreed to a new Local Government Aid formula that would make state aid more predictable and, supporters say, more fair. Some suburbs that now get no state payments will get aid under the plan. More state money also is on the way to counties and townships.

Mayo Clinic: The Rochester-based Mayo Clinic, with facilities across much of Minnesota, received about $400 million to help its home community improve infrastructure as the health organization undergoes a $3.5 billion expansion.

Medical marijuana: There was discussion, but no action, on allowing Minnesotans to use marijuana to ease pain.

Minimum wage: “Next year” is what supporters of a higher minimum wage say after the House and Senate could not agree on how much to raise the current $6.25-an-hour wage. The House and governor wanted it increased to more than $9, but the Senate approved a $7.75 level.

Nursing homes: Nursing homes will receive a 5 percent state aid increase, but other long-term care organizations will get just a fraction of that.

Pensions: Public pension funds in financial trouble, including those for Duluth and St. Paul teachers, will get more state money.

Recycling: Used paint will need to be recycled, but carpet will not.

Sand mining: The state will provide recommendations to southeastern Minnesota counties about how to deal with silica sand mines, and local governments were given permission to extend mining moratoriums for a year. Efforts to greatly restrict sand mining and processing did not pass, although slightly tighter restrictions for mining near trout streams did pass.

Stadium funding: As the legislative session progressed, concern grew that electronic pulltab and bingo taxes would not raise enough money to pay the state’s portion of a nearly $1 billion Vikings stadium. So lawmakers approved temporarily using money from a cigarette tax increase as a backup.

Standard of care: Nurses wanted a law establishing a quota for how many nurses would be on duty at hospitals. After strong hospital opposition, the quota was changed to a study about how nurse staffing affects patients.

Sunday booze: Bills to allow Sunday sale of alcohol came up dry.

Taxes, alcohol: There was discussion about taxing alcoholic drinks, but it did not pass.

Taxes, income: The governor’s wish to increase taxes on the top 2 percent of earners passed. That means couples with at least $250,000 in taxable income a year and individuals earning $150,000 or more will pay 9.85 percent of their income, 2 percentage points more than they do now.

Taxes, property: The tax bill provides $441 million in property tax relief. It comes in several ways, including providing local governments more state aid, which is supposed to result in lower property taxes. Property tax refunds also received a boost.

Taxes, sales: While the governor withdrew his plan to lower the sales tax rate but apply it to many more goods and services, the Senate succeeded in persuading the governor and House to agree to tax some business goods and services. New money from that tax is supposed to offset money lost by the state allowing local governments to buy items without paying sales tax.

Taxes, snowbirds: The governor wanted to force part-time Minnesota residents, who spend much of the year in the south, to pay Minnesota income taxes. It did not happen.

Wolf hunting: A five-year moratorium on wolf hunting was proposed, but not passed.