Suddenly, there was a little less talk and a lot more action

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt points to a leak in a ceiling just outside of his office Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Watching are, from left, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, Rep. Paul Torkenson and House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin. They were preparing for a special session. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt points to a leak in a ceiling just outside of his office Wednesday, June 3, 2015. Watching are, from left, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, Rep. Paul Torkenson and House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin. They were preparing for a special session. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

The leak coming from the Minnesota House speaker’s office suite Wednesday was not the kind reporters wanted.

As two reporters, looking for some information leaks, were sitting in the lobby waiting for Speaker Kurt Daudt to emerge and give details of budget talks, the sound of dripping water began — and grew louder. In a few minutes, water drops began to fall inches away.

Soon, it was a steady stream and the plumbers were called to the Republican speaker’s corner suite.

Daudt came out of his office between private meetings and, as soon as he saw what was happening, jumped into action.

While Bob Meyerson, chief House sergeant at arms, was standing on a side table removing ceiling tiles, Daudt was moving barrels into place to catch the water.

In the meantime, several lawmakers on scene to negotiate the state budget were watching, wearing big smiles.

Within a few minutes, a bevy of state officials, other state workers and plumbers were on scene, allowing Daudt to give up his building fixer role and return to his budget fixer job.

Wednesday’s leak was found quickly enough to avoid much damage, but one on Memorial Day was another matter.

A Democratic staffer on the second floor during the holiday noticed a leak that was traced to the speaker’s suite. It resulted in water flowing onto the floor and a ceiling collapse.


New Minnesota laws include radon information requirement

By Don Davis

A late central Minnesota woman’s wish for safer homes comes true when 2014 begins.

Once Janet Thompson learned she had terminal lung cancer, her health battle joined with a fight to make sure Minnesotans knew about the danger of radon. Thompson, who lived in Glenwood, south of Alexandria, tried to talk people into checking their homes for radon, a colorless, odorless gas that can cause cancer.

Her sister, Lori Thompson-Garry of Eagan, took up the cause and told legislators early in 2013 about the dangers of radon. They passed a law, signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, to require Minnesota homebuyers to receive information about radon dangers.

Other laws also begin Jan. 1, including one that forbids asking many job applicants if they have a criminal history and a provision adding 40,000 people to the state’s Medical Assistance rolls.

The radon discussion began as a measure by Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, to require radon tests. It eventually was watered down to require that new homeowners receive information. The new law also requires a homeowner to reveal if he knows radon is present in a home he is selling.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, opposed the measure, saying that he feared that government would make more home-selling requirements. He worried that lawmakers next might require warnings about bats because they may carry rabies.

Anderson was not surprised that the testing requirement was dropped, but said that issue may return to the Capitol.

At least a third of Minnesota homes have radon levels that put residents at risk, said Rep. Carolyn Laine, D-Columbia Heights.

Thompson-Garry said it is important for people to learn about radon.

“Lung cancer is very silent,” Thompson-Garry said during a March legislative hearing. “She had no symptoms.”

Homes in southern and western Minnesota appear to have the greatest chance of having radon, the state Health Department reported.

Homeowners may buy radon test kits for less than $20, while a certified tester can be hired for $150, Anderson said.

Other new laws include:

— Private employers may not include a check box on job applications asking if applicants have criminal records.

— About 40,000 more Minnesotans will receive government-funded health care under the Medical Assistance program. The bill pushed by Rep. Tom Huntley, D-Duluth, means that some people now on the state-subsidized MinnesotaCare will be able to get free coverage.

— Scrap yards must install video surveillance equipment, and digital still cameras must photograph the face of each seller of a scrap vehicle. Scrap dealers also must photograph a seller’s vehicle, including the license plate.

— A bill by Rep. Dan Schoen, D-St. Paul Park, and Sen. Katie Sieben, D-Cottage Grove, requires state officials to notify the local 911 center when a hazardous substance is spilled. Legislative testimony indicated there have been cases when state officials knew about a spill, but local authorities were not notified.

— Some electronic court files of juveniles charged with felonies will be closed to the public. Paper records will remain available.

Child care providers go to court

Saville, Seaton

By Don Davis

Minnesota child care providers who want nothing to do with a union are taking a new law to federal court.

The law Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton signed Friday allows home-based child care providers who receive state subsidies to care for children to ask for a vote that could lead to joining a union.

“We are not public employees,” St. Michael child care provider Hollee Saville said Wednesday as she and 10 other providers filed the federal case.

Attorney Doug Seaton said the case is based on claims that federal law prohibits the state from allowing business owners to join unions. He also said that federal law requires that all similar businesses are treated the same, but the new state law only allows child care providers that take state subsidies to vote to join a union.

“Federal labor law takes priority,” the attorney said.

Seaton said he hopes a federal judge will at least temporarily end the unionization process in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday’s court case does not deal with personal care attendants, who also would be allowed to join a union under the new law, but Seaton said he expects a similar case to be filed for opponents of that part of the law.

Dayton had issued an executive order to allow the child care provider unionization. However, a state judge ruled that he did not have constitutional authority; only the Legislature could take such action, the judge said.

Jennifer Munt of the AFSCME Council 5 union, which would be the child care workers’ union, said the lawsuit is weak.

“There is nothing more constitutional than the democratic right to vote,” she said.

The first step toward unionization, if the law is upheld, will be for AFSCME to collect 500 signatures from child care providers asking that the state provide a list of home child care providers that receive a state subsidy. Once those are collected, 30 percent of providers on that state list (now 12,700 providers) must ask for an election.

If there is an election, more than half of those voting would need to support allowing providers to join a union.

Union dues and fair share payments made by nonunion members would be decided only after providers ratify their first contract with the state, Munt said.

AFSCME has four years to hold the election.

Unionization was one of the most hotly debated topics at the recently completed legislative session. Democrats basically supported it, while Republicans opposed it.

Becky Swanson of Lakeville, a child care provider who stayed in the Capitol for hours demonstrating against the bill, said Wednesday that “this is really overreach” of legislative power.

Swanson said she fears that if unionization is allowed, “we will have cookie-cutter programs,” with little difference from provider to provider.

Munt disputed that claim, saying that joining unions would allow providers to negotiate for more state money and better rules.

However, regardless of what the union negotiates, it is up to legislators to approve the spending.

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Process leads to Dayton outdoors funding vetoes

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed two provisions of a bill funding outdoors and arts projects, saying a House committee ignored a citizen advisory panel.

The vetoes eliminated $3 million to fight aquatic invasive species that was destined for tribal and local governments and $6.3 million to improve Twin Cities parks.

“This decision is extremely difficult for me,” Dayton wrote to legislative leaders, because he supports the causes but had said he would veto projects the advisory committee did not recommend.

Dayton blamed a House panel led by Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, for the situation

“I believe it is imperative that the leadership of the House Legacy Committee repair its relations with the Lessard-Sams (Outdoor Heritage) Council and the many sportsmen, sportswomen, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, hunters, anglers and everyone else committed to the enhancement of our state’s priceless outdoor heritage,” Dayton said. “Otherwise, I have serious doubts that a legacy bill can be enacted in future legislative sessions.”

Legacy funds come from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008.

The veto follows letters from lawmakers of both parties that asked for the Twin Cities parks veto.

“Gov. Mark Dayton has continually pledged to support the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council,” Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said before the veto. “The language that is in the current bill does not follow those recommendations.  Gov. Dayton knows that the sportsmen of this state rely on this council to provide guidance to their constitutional right secured by the 2008 amendment.”

Ingebrigtsen was one of seven senators to send a letter urging Dayton veto the parks provision. Seventeen rural Republican House members also sent him a letter with the same request.

Dayton said the parks and invasive species protection had other funding from the just-adjourned Legislature.

“In my 13 legislative sessions, I have rarely seen the acrimony and distrust, which this dispute has caused between legislators and concerned citizens,” Dayton said. “The bitterness is not about the merits of the two projects I am vetoing, but rather the way in which they were added and other significant changes were proposed to the House bill.”

Democrats leave session with issues they still want to do

End of session chatter

By Don Davis and Danielle Killey

There is little doubt the 2013 Minnesota Legislature will be remembered for its historic vote to allow gay marriage and a $2 billion tax increase.

Democrats say the session that ended seconds before its midnight Monday adjournment deadline also will be remembered for “investing” in education, jobs and other key state programs. Republicans claim Democrats overreached when they gained control of the House, Senate and governor’s office for the first time in 22 years by hiking taxes too much, handing unions too much power and spending more than the state should.

But even if Democratic-Farmer-Laborites overreached, they did not accomplish everything they wanted.

Take the minimum wage. Democrats wanted to raise it from the current $6.15 an hour. Senators voted to up it to $7.75, and the House and Gov. Mark Dayton preferred something north of $9.

It became too sticky a subject to finish as the legislative session ended. But House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said it would be atop their to-do list when lawmakers return to St. Paul on Feb. 25.

Bakk said he would encourage legislative minimum wage negotiators to spend time before the next session to talk to businesses about what would work.

The speaker also said the 2014 priority list should include more infrastructure funding, especially for transportation and transit projects.

Dayton said he was disappointed an $800 million public works finance bill failed this year, and indicated he would push a big bill next year to help create thousands of jobs.

Next session also may be a time to make changes to provisions lawmakers passed in the past few days.

For instance, DFL leaders have sent strong signals that they will look to provisions in a tax bill that added sales taxes to some business purchases.

“We need to find out what some of the unintended consequences may be,” Bakk said.

Tax bill writers delayed implementation of some of the provisions until April, giving them time to rewrite what is needed.

The bill senators passed was supposed to exempt farm equipment repair from the new tax, Bakk said, but it did not. Also, farmers could be charged tax when buying fertilizer stored in facilities they do not own.

Other industries also could face issues with the new warehouse sales tax.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said companies need to know about their tax future, and firms such as Red Wing Shoes must make decisions and not wait until April to see if the tax changes.

Rural Republican lawmakers have lots of concerns with the sales tax being added to farm purchases and said they are not sure just what might be taxed.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said she hopes a bill designed to prevent school bullying will come back and pass next year.

The 2013 session, which began Jan. 8, wrapped up with almost no time to spare even though Democrats control state government for the first time in 22 years.

Among the final bills lawmakers passed is one to allow some day care providers and personal care attendants to join unions. The House vote ended in shouting, in the most dramatic episode in the House this year.

On Tuesday, Democrats patted themselves on the back for a job well done in 2013. They praised their work on increasing education funding, reforming taxes, lowering property taxes and raising what the top 2 percent of Minnesota earners pay the state.

However, in briefing reporters, the governor and legislative leaders never mentioned two of the most contentious issues that brought thousands of people to the state Capitol: the unionization vote and legalizing same-sex marriage.

Right after the Legislature adjourned, Bakk highlighted funding all-day kindergarten and some tax reforms such as eliminating sales tax counties and cities pay as top achievements of the session.

He said the Democratic budget plan makes important investments and provides stability.

“It’s going to leave Minnesota a better place,” Bakk said.

He also said funding state Capitol renovation work was a priority for him.

“I wasn’t going home without the Capitol renovations,” Bakk said.

Republicans were not happy with the session.

“This budget’s going to be tough on everybody,” said Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls.

He said lawmakers did not need to pass such a large tax increase to fill a $627 million budget deficit.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Democrats went too far: “If I would use one word to describe the session, it would be ‘overreach.’ ”

Thissen said that if Republicans want to call DFL action overreach, he can accept it.

“I think Minnesotans actually want government officials that want to set an ambitious agenda,” Thissen said. “If that is overreaching, being ambitious, that is what it is.”

Legislative notebook: Voters to decide if council should set lawmaker pay


By Don Davis

Minnesota voters will decide in 2016 whether decisions about how much legislators are paid should be handed to an independent group.

The House and Senate passed the proposed constitutional amendment in the closing days of the 2013 session. Gov. Mark Dayton has no say in the issue; it goes directly to voters.

“There is a glaring conflict of interest,” Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said about the current system in which lawmakers set their own pay.

Under the constitutional amendment he and Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, propose, the Legislature still would decide issues such as housing allowances and per diem, a payment for each day legislators work.

Four states have established councils to take salary decisions away from lawmakers.

Most Minnesota lawmakers are paid $31,500 annually, a figure set in 1999. Legislative leaders make slightly more.

In a state government financing bill this year, senators approved a $42,000 paycheck in two years, but that provision dropped out when negotiators merged the House and Senate versions of the overall bill.

Raising pay is such a political liability that it seldom makes much progress when someone suggests it.

Seeking gas answers

Rep. Bud Nornes wants to know why Minnesotans are paying the highest gasoline prices in the country “this side of Hawaii.”

On Tuesday, the Fergus Falls Republican sent Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson a letter asking that she investigate the situation.

“Everybody is upset about it,” he said.

Minnesota prices are well into the mid-$4 range, in some cases $1 a gallon more than a few weeks ago.

The situation is blamed on Illinois refineries shutting down for routine maintenance, and prices are expected to fall in early summer when refineries resume normal operation.

Nornes said he wonders why refineries are not required to stagger their maintenance outages.

Since surveys show that other spending declines when gas prices rise, he said the issue affects Minnesotans’ pocketbooks.

Voting trial program

Voters in five communities likely will be part of a trial project for electronic poll books.

A bill awaiting Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature establishes a pilot project in Dilworth, Minnetonka, Moorhead, St. Anthony and St. Paul to test the poll books.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie is to exchange the current paper books, used to check off voters at elections, for computerized versions. Supporters of the change say it would reduce election fraud.

The project could begin as soon as elections this year. A task force is to check on its progress and report back to the Legislature next year.

The provision is in a bill that also would allow residents to vote absentee without an excuse and a measure requiring the Corrections Department to give the secretary of state’s office a list of people who have lost their right to vote.

More Kirkbride time

A building on the former Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center campus gained a couple of years in a last-minute deal to pass a public works financing bill.

The Kirkbride building has not been used by the state as a mental health facility for years, but since the city took it over it had not sold. Now, however, it appears a sale is in the works, Rep. Bud Nornes said, and the newly passed legislation can help the city close the deal.

An earlier public works bill approved spending $400,000 to either improve the facility or demolish it if no buyers were found. The permission to use the money is expiring, and late Monday the Legislature approved the provision to keep the money available to Fergus Falls until the end of 2016.

Capitol, floods, veterans, disaster bills end 2013 legislative session

Thissen gavels out session

By Don Davis

The Minnesota Legislature ended a historic 2013 session seconds before midnight Monday after voting to renovate the state Capitol building, help communities fight floods, give veterans a new facility and provide disaster assistance.

It was an end to a session that approved gay marriage, increased taxes $2 billion and boosted spending for education and other priorities of Democrats who control the House, Senate and governor’s office.

“We had a tough session,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said, but there were many bills that passed with bipartisan support.

“We can have strong disagreements and still keep the conversation civil,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said.

“Tomorrow everybody’s going to try to put their political spin on it,” Bakk added. “But I’m very proud.”

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said that while Republicans accuse Democrats of overreaching this year, his party did what it could to catch up after 10 years of budget cuts.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said Democrats and Republicans worked together to end the session. Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Republicans brought the two parties together to wrap things up.

After working leisurely much of Monday, the pace kicked into high gear after 9 p.m.

The key to the session-ending deal is a $177 million public works bill, funded by the state selling bonds. Once House and Senate leaders from both parties agreed to the bonding bill, a day-long logjam broke, allowing other bills to pass quickly with little debate.

The House passed the public works bill 121-10 and the Senate 57-6. Last week, the House defeated an $800 million proposal with opponents saying it was too big.

The largest portion of the bonding bill is fixing the state Capitol, a $132 million expenditure. More money will be needed in future years to complete the project.

“Our Capitol is the symbol of Minnesota, let it stand solid and strong to serve generations of Minnesotans long into the future…” Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said. “This building has no lobbyist, it has us, and we must not let it down.”

The 108-year-old building’s walls are crumbling and state officials say mechanical systems need to be replaced.

Also in the bill is $20 million for flood prevention projects, $19 million for a Minneapolis Veterans’ Home building and $8 million for various sewage projects. Some previously approved bonds no longer needed are canceled.

Once the bonding bill passed, the door opened for spending $1.75 million to help southwestern Minnesota recover from an April ice storm.

Federal funds will pay three-fourths of the public property damage repair.

The bill overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate.

Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, told senators there is $6 million in public property damage, but more than $20 million in damage overall.

The bonding bill also looks to prevent future disasters. It spends $20 million for flood prevention work in Ada, Afton, Alvarado, Argyle, Austin, Borup, Breckenridge, Browntown, Climax, Crookston, Delano, Granite Falls, Inver Grove Heights, Maynard, Melrose, Minneota, Minnesota River area, Montevideo, Moorhead, Newport Nielsville, Oakport Township, Oslo, Roseau, Rushford, St. Vincent and Shelley. The bill says Moorhead should get priority for funds needs.

While the Capitol is the headline project in the bonding bill, a $22.7 million parking ramp nearby also is funded.

As time ran out on the session, a 10-hour debate, spread over the last three days, about allowing some child care providers and personal care attendants to join unions ended with conflict.

Thissen announced that the bill won on a 68-66 vote, prompting loud applause and cheers from union supporters in the House gallery. Such demonstrations violate House rules.

Thissen began to gavel down the demonstration, sternly yelling: “Stop, stop.”

Several Republicans began to protest the demonstration and Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, jumped up and shouted into his microphone: “Just let them applaud, they own the place.”

Republicans often said during the unionization debate that Democrats were pushing the bill to reward their union supporters.

In its final days, the Legislature passed bills to:

— Raise taxes $2 billion.

— Fund the state $38 billion, two-year budget.

— Allow same-sex couples to marry.

— Fund arts and outdoors programs from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008.

— Ask Minnesotans to vote to constitutionally establish a council to set legislators’ pay because, as Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said, it is a conflict of interest for lawmakers to raise their own pay.

New income taxes will be placed on the top 2 percent of Minnesota earners, cigarette taxes increased and sales taxes charged on some business purchases.

Lawmakers wrapped up most of Democrats’ priorities as they neared their deadline. But they also left undone other priorities such as a school anti-bullying bill, a minimum wage increase and gun control.

Reporter Danielle Killey contributed to this story.

Legislative notebook: Farmers want clarification


By Don Davis and Danielle Killey

Farmers are not sure how much more they will be taxed after the Democratic-controlled Legislature adopted a $2 billion tax increase.

It appears that farmers will pay sales tax on fertilizer stored in facilities they do not own and on equipment repair, but not parts. Rural legislators said they remain uncertain what else could be taxed.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, arose during late Sunday debate on the legislative tax bill to question the impact on agriculture.

House Tax Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, said she is not a farmer and could not answer all of Hamilton’s questions.

“Our intent is to take another look at this,” Lenczewski said.

The tax provisions do not begin until April, giving lawmakers a chance to change the law after they return to session Feb. 25.

“I think we understand some of the complications here,” Lenczewski said after hearing from Hamilton and other rural Republicans.

Legislators began debate soon after the tax bill was released. Once Hamilton saw the potential agriculture impact, he began contacting farm groups, which expressed their concern.

Democrats, however, said there is enough good in the tax bill for farmers that the added tax should not hurt them.

“I do know what they are going to benefit from in this bill,” Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said, including lower property taxes.

Marquart said the bill boosts county and township assistance, which should lower property taxes.

Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, said farmers are concerned about their overall community and new taxes are helping programs such as in education.

Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, said his community warehouses taconite, wind turbines and other goods that would be taxed under the bill. Even so, he said, he supports the new tax.

Red Wing Shoes could face problems with the new tax, said Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing. The company needs a new warehouse, he said, and it could be built in Missouri.

“If they put that warehouse in Missouri, where do they expand their business?” Kelly asked. “Where do they make more shoes?”

Unions win right

Union supporters celebrated Monday after the House voted 68-66 to allow some child care providers and personal care attendants to join unions.

Five Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the measure: Reps. Tim Faust of Hinckley, Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake, Tina Liebling of Rochester, Kim Norton of Rochester and Gene Pelowski of Winona.

Pro-union child care providers and care attendants were happy, saying they will do better because unions will be able to get more state funds for them, as well as better rules.

“My work helps the state save countless dollars that would be spent on a long-term care institution if I wasn’t there to work with my grandson and keep him living independently,” Vicki Dewald of Detroit Lakes said. “By forming a union we can improve conditions for workers, which will keep good PCAs and improve the quality of care clients receive.”

The bill, expected to be signed into law, will give providers a more stable state funding source, Rep. Carly Melin said, after years of budget cuts.

“We are not forming a union here today, we are authorizing people the right to vote,” the Hibbing Democrat said.

Union opponents say the bill is unconstitutional and expect to challenge it in court, probably within days.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, told about her years as a child care provider, a business she started in part so she could care for her children.

“I ask you to search your hearts today,” she told her colleagues before the vote.

“This bill places unions and government between child care providers and their clients,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.

Legacy spending OK’d

The House approved a bill 77-57 and the Senate 43-21 to fund outdoors and cultural programs.

The so-called legacy bill spends about $496 million on parks and trails, arts and other programs with the money raised from a sales tax voters approved in 2008.

The bill faced some resistance earlier in the session as lawmakers debated rural and urban program funding, and some rural lawmakers continued to complain Monday that parks in their areas were shorted.

The parks funding is split to 40 percent for the Twin Cities area, 40 percent for state parks and 20 percent for greater Minnesota parks.

The bill also creates a greater Minnesota commission to make parks and trails recommendations.

It includes funding for projects such as the Cannon River headwaters, the Lakewalk Trail in Duluth, the Mesabi Trail and parks in Bemidji and Moorhead.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, and other members said sports groups and organizations are opposed to the bill.

“I don’t understand why,” said bill author Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis. “It does exactly everything they asked us to do.”

She said the bill follows recommendations from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and shows a “strong commitment” to arts and cultural programs.

“We provide the resources needed to enrich our communities and keep our land, water, and air clean and healthy throughout Minnesota,” she said.

 Tax levies limited

One of the little-noticed provisions of a tax bill legislators approved near the end of their session limits city and county property tax levies.

One of the last additions to the bill placed a one-year levy limit on cities bigger than 2,500 population and counties 5,000 or larger.

The League of Minnesota Cities reports that the cap “essentially limits revenue growth to 3 percent for taxes levied this fall for collection in 2014.”

Legislators look back at 2013 session

Reps. Fabian, Dill, McNamara

By Danielle Killey

Minnesota Democrats had enough members to pass nearly anything they wanted, but this legislative session remained about as contentious as any other.

It was not necessarily a surprise to many Democrats, who say their party contains a variety of opinions and members from across the state. They can disagree as much with each other as Republicans.

The Democrats proved that even with one party in charge, putting together a state budget is not easy.

Minnesota lawmakers bumped up against their constitutionally set adjournment deadline to pass a $38 billion, two-year state budget and faced troubles and triumphs along the way.

One of the closest-watched issues was taxes.

Many plans were tossed around before lawmakers landed on a $2 billion increase coming from adding a fourth tier income tax bracket up 2 percentage points from the current top rate, increasing cigarette taxes and expanding some sales taxes to services such as warehousing.

Democrats said the bill was the way to pay for top priorities such as education funding.

But Republicans say it will do more harm than good.

“I think the people of the state of Minnesota will find out this is not just a tax on the rich, it’s a tax on everybody,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.

The process was not smooth, and at one point a tax bill failed in the Senate before being revived and narrowly passing when a handful of Democrats switched to voting yes.

Same-sex marriage emerged early as a top issue for constituents after Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

It was unclear whether Democrats would have the votes to pass it, as many rural members opposed the measure. But in the last weeks of the session, the House and Senate approved the bill and Gov. Mark Dayton drew a crowd of thousands to watch him sign it into law.

Lawmakers also passed a plan to set up the state’s health insurance exchange program, now named MNsure, early in the session.

Democrats said this would be the “education session” and made investment in public schools, colleges and universities a priority. They gathered some Republican support for those plans, which included funds to freeze tuition in the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems.

Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office for the first time in two decades, a prospect both exciting and daunting to those lawmakers.

“We’ve certainly taken advantage of it,” Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake, said of Democratic control.

Republicans accused the party of overreach throughout the session, and some Democrats agreed.

“We did not learn the lesson of Republicans two years ago,” said Rep. Roger Erickson, DFL-Baudette. “A lot of people went for as much as they could get.”

It did not always work.

Democrats originally tried to make major changes to gun control policy, but that effort was curbed by Republicans and many rural Democrats.

Others said people will argue that Democrats did not use their control to its fullest.

“Some people will think we haven’t gone far enough,” said Rep. Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar.

Even before the session began, concerns surfaced about rural representation; with three of the four top legislative leaders coming from the Twin Cities.

Democrats said they consciously picked many committee chairmen from rural areas to help balance control, but it did not allay worries from greater Minnesota members, especially Republicans.

“I raised my concerns on Day 1,” said Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, and it remained an issue.

“There’s just been a tension” between the parties, he said.

Republicans said they do not feel they were included in key discussions, such as on the budget.

“I just didn’t see them reaching out to us,” Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said of Democrats. “I’m disappointed with the lack of willingness to work together to solve problems.”

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said while Republicans did not have much control over decisions, they could raise concerns.

“I think we pointed out a lot of counterarguments that wouldn’t otherwise have been heard,” he said.

Sawatzky said Democrats did not accomplish as much as they might have wanted to in this session, but they are laying the groundwork for years to come.

“We’re setting up a comprehensive plan for the future,” she said. “It’s going to take some time to do what we need to do.”

Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said he is happy with how the session went.

“To be honest, it’s been phenomenal,” Huntley said.

Huntley was frustrated when targets originally revealed he would have to cut $150 million from the Health and Human Services budget, which he helps organize. But the final product, approved by lawmakers last week, trimmed only $50 million and gave more money to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

“I wish we could have got a little more for long-term care,” he said. The sector got a 1 percent hike, while nursing homes saw a 5 percent increase.

Huntley said he was glad to help pass the higher education funding bill.

“Tuitions are out of control,” he said.

There were other parts of the session that disappointed Huntley.

“I don’t think we’re doing enough in transportation,” he said.

But overall he was happy.

“Ultimately it was very businesslike and we got the work done,” Huntley said. “I’m pleased with it.”

McNamar said the work has been difficult.

“This is the hardest job I’ve ever had,” he said.

McNamar was happy with the session overall, though he said it was tougher than he anticipated.

“I was not expecting it to be this intense, this hard,” McNamar said.

A particularly difficult vote was on same-sex marriage, he said. He ultimately voted for the proposal Dayton signed this month.

The emotional toll was significant, he said.

“It seems like every bill I’m pulled on both sides,” McNamar said.

McNamar said top priorities were met, including stabilizing Local Government Aid, lowering property taxes and funding education.

“I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to get done,” he said.

Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said Democrats in charge of the Legislature looked to the last 10 years when they raised taxes and increased spending on programs such as education.

“What I believe is happening is just catching up,” Eken said, noting that many areas of the state budget have been cut in the past decade.

While the $2 billion in tax increases get headlines, Eken said that people in his northwestern Minnesota area will remember “the tax relief, not the tax increases.” Democrats say their tax bill will provide $400 million in property tax relief.

Eken said Minnesotans have other good news: “You are not going to see enormous fee increases.”

Taxes likely are headed up in suburbs, Eken said, but not in much of Minnesota.

“In our areas, you are going to see some significant property tax relief,” he said.

Increased Local Government Aid to cities will cut taxes there, Eken added.

Some taxes may not fall, Eken said, but property taxes at least could slow to stop their increases.

Sawatzky said she enjoys her role in the work at the Capitol.

“It’s nice to bring back a message and be a voice for people at home,” she said.

“You realize everybody’s not going to get what they want,” Sawatzky said. “And that’s good.”

Sawatzky said some concerns that social issues such as same-sex marriage were taken up before finishing the budget were not entirely accurate.

“It all takes time and life goes on in between,” she said, noting conference committees were hashing out budget differences while the other bills were before lawmakers.

Sawatzky said she has enjoyed seeing the action firsthand and getting a chance to make a difference.

“In order to change something you can’t just sit at home and hope it will change,” she said.

Sawatzky said people will have different views of whether Democrats tried to do too much with their control this year.

Erickson said he was happy to have his priorities — education funding and stabilizing the budget — fulfilled.

“I think we’ll have a very nice body of work to take back to our districts,” Erickson said.

He said was disappointed in the lack of attention to aquatic invasive species solutions and funding.

“There are not enough people realizing this is a dangerous situation in Minnesota,” Erickson said.

Erickson said a key issue split more along geographic rather than party lines was the gun control debate.

“The outstate people weren’t going to have anything to do with it, and it went away,” Erickson said.

“I have an awful lot of things I agree with with outstate Republicans,” Erickson said. “Oftentimes we do cross party lines” on rural issues.

Fabian said social issues got “wrapped around the axle and mucked things up.”

Fabian said he is concerned the Democratic plans will make Minnesota less competitive and border cities might lose businesses and residents.

Fabian said negotiations with the Senate and governor’s office made many budget bills worse rather than better.

“We went down to the 11th hour trying to put the budget together with one-party control this whole time,” Fabian said.

Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, said she was working to try to stop bad bills.

“There’s no balance of power now in our government,” Kieffer said. “There’s no stops.”

Kieffer said the economy has been recovering.

“My biggest fear is that some of the stuff we’re doing now is going to hurt that recovery,” she said.

Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, said lawmakers aimed to set a good budget for Minnesota.

“We might not always agree, but I think we knew we need to make important investments in the future of our state,” Clausen said.

“I appreciate the opportunity the voters have given me,” Clausen said. “I am mindful every day of that responsibility and try to make good decisions.”

Hamilton said he was frustrated that nursing homes and other areas of the budget will not get the increase in funding they asked for even though the state will raise billions in new money.

“Where are the priorities?” he said.

“There’s a different attitude up here,” Hamilton said. He said the rural-urban split has been more defined this session than in the past.

Hamilton did vote for some pieces of the budget, such as higher education and transportation funding.

Westrom said the budget did not turn out well for rural Minnesota or the state as a whole.

Westrom said the cigarette tax increase alone will be a significant incentive for consumers to travel across the state border.

“I didn’t think they’d want to overreach this far,” Westrom said of Democrats.

Ingebrigtsen said border cities especially will suffer under the Democrats’ plan because businesses and shoppers likely will head across state lines.

“It’s been a real big overreach,” Ingebrigtsen said of Democrats’ work this session.

“Elections have consequences,” he said.

Ingebrigtsen said he thinks Republicans will take back the House in the next election after the way this session played out.

Reporter Don Davis contributed to this story.

Bill mixes paint, bees and farmers … and includes an island, too

Rep. Ben Lien

By Don Davis

Paint will cost more and be recycled. Bees will be protected. Financially troubled farmers will be able to access state aid.

And an island to provide more wildlife habitat could be built in the Mississippi River.

Those are a few of the impacts from a diverse environment, natural resources and agriculture funding bill headed for Gov. Mark Dayton’s expected approval.

The overall bill spends $312 million on programs such as in the Agriculture Department, Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources. Funding for the two years beginning July 1 is $25 million more than in the current budget.

The House voted for the bill 71-60 and the Senate 42-23, sending it to Dayton for his expected signature.

A House-Senate conference committee removed the most controversial aspect of the bill, new fees on people who use large quantities of water, such as farmers who irrigate land.

The House version of the bill tacked on new fees, but the committee accepted the Senate provision that takes money from the state General Fund.

“This bill is a winner for communities in rural Minnesota,” said Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin. “It gives us the tools to address shrinking water supplies without raising water fees, which is a big deal for farmers, ranchers, livestock producers and agri-businesses that depend on reliable supplies of water. This bill recognizes the need to solve that problem before it’s too late.”

Mining fees were rejected that House bill author Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said were needed “so the mining industry was paying its fair share for some of the costs it is imposing on the state. The Senate declined to increase fees whatsoever.”

One of Wagenius’ concerns this year has been a water shortage in parts of Minnesota, including Worthington, parts of Otter Tail County and White Bear Lake.

The bill gives the DNR more authority and $6.6 million more money to monitor groundwater and surface water to the state can address water shortages.

“It is something hard for me to imagine … where we are having shortages of water,” Wagenius said.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, did not agree with the water monitoring. She said it bothers her to see money spent on water monitoring when the Democratic-written budget does not give enough money to nursing homes.

And, Franson added, “we’ve still got that $300,000 restroom in there.” She referred to a northern Minnesota restroom in an area Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said is miles away from any public restroom.

The bill tacks a 75-cent-a-can fee on paint to establish a program to recycle unused paint.

“We are moving to a system of the person who creates the mess pays for it rather than asking for a subsidy from the neighbor,” Wagenius said.

That fee concerned Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau. He said his constituents could buy paint in North Dakota, which does not charge a recycling fee.

“I cannot imagine how this is going to be good for our border hardware stores and paint stores,” Fabian said.

However, he added, he was glad that proposal to require carpet recycling was dropped.

Some Republicans complained that the bill adds too much to government.

“What we have here is government run amuck…” Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said. “We are giving them even more unchecked authority in a number of areas.”

The bill also establishes protections for bees that have been dying off.

“We are an agriculture state and agriculture depends on pollinators,” Wagenius said.

The bill includes a provision that would allow Minneapolis authorities to “recreate” an island in the Mississippi River.

Drazkowski asked Wagenius: “Can you tell me where did the island go?”

Wagenius responded: “No.”

Drazkowski guessed that “the river took the island out.”

“We could end up building an island in the stream and having it washed away,” Drazkowski said.

Wagenius said the island is needed to add wildlife habitat.

Among other provisions in the bill financing environment, natural resources and agriculture programs are:

— The Minnesota Agriculture Department will spend $3 million on a farm-to-school program to provide local produce for schools.

— Agriculture business development will get a $10.5 million boost and renewable fuels $2.5 million more.

— Spending $8.7 million for the University of Minnesota to develop its aquatic invasive species research center to fight invasive species such as Asian carp, but fish barriers were not funded because the federal government has not approved them.

— More fuels will be defined as biofuels beyond just ethanol and biodiesel.

— The state will provide guidance to local governments dealing with silica sand mines and production facilities and local silica sand mining moratorium provisions may be expanded for a year.

— Perfluorochemical (PFC) monitoring is funded for the eastern Twin Cities, where 3M waste has been an issue.

— The farmer-lender mediation act that helps farmers in financial trouble was extended through 2016.

Loud demonstrations join budget debate in Minnesota Capitol

Falk, with Sen. Benson and daughter

By Don Davis

Heather Falk fanned herself Saturday in the hot, muggy Minnesota Capitol building as legislators gradually worked toward finishing the state budget and adjourning for the year.

The Cloquet child care provider joined a few hundred others who exercised their lungs and freedom of speech in the Capitol, awaiting a hot House debate about whether child care providers and personal care attendants should join unions.

The relatively small crowd, compared to 2,800 who turned out for Monday’s Senate gay marriage debate, made enough noise to be heard even in remote areas of the Capitol.

While demonstrators on both sides of the issue chanted, legislators plowed through bills that help make up the state’s $38 billion budget for the next two years.

The Senate on Saturday passed a bill funding state health programs for the elderly and disabled, approved a measure changing some transportation policies and took up a variety of smaller bills.

The House began the weekend passing several routine bills, preparing to take up a natural resources and agriculture spending measure, setting the stage for a public education finance bill and looking forward to the union proposal late Saturday or early today.

With Minnesota legislators facing a Monday night constitutional deadline to adjourn, they planned to work through Saturday night, return at midday today and put in a full Monday.

The $16 billion education funding bill, the biggest single spending area of state government, is a keystone for Democrats who control the House and Senate.

But if education is a key political issue this weekend, noise bouncing off the Capitol’s marble walls came from child care workers.

“I still think my voice should be heard,” Falk said, sweat dripping off her face, even though all in the Capitol knew the Democratic-controlled House most likely would follow the Senate and approve allowing child care workers and personal care attendants to join unions.

Falk is a longtime opponent to the unionization effort and predicted that once it becomes law, she and her colleagues will challenge the issue in court.

Another child care provider, Lynn Barten of Alexandria, was thrilled that representatives appeared poised to approve the unionization proposal.

“It’s kind of a historic day,” she said, standing a few feet from Falk.

Associations that represent child care workers have not been effective at the Legislature, Barten said. Unions are better capable of lobbying lawmakers for more money and better regulations, she said.

She said she understands why some would oppose the idea: “Anything new is scary.”

Also standing just outside the House chamber was child care worker Terrie Boyd of Detroit Lakes, holding a sign asking “what part of unconstitutional didn’t you understand?”

Union opponents say it is not constitutional to let business owners such as child care providers join unions. That is a provision only for employees, she said.

“This is my business,” Boyd added. “I am not an employee.”

Boyd and Falk said most child care workers in their areas oppose unionization.

Democrats back two unions that want to sign up child care workers and personal care attendants. Unions say they can do a better job of negotiating state subsidies and rules that govern the services.

Also on Saturday, a transportation bill passed, but without a provision the House and Senate earlier approved to raise some speed limits from 55 mph to 60.

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, long has worked to raise speed limits and was upset that a House-Senate conference committee dropped the higher speed limit.

Senate Transportation Chairman Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said state transportation officials oppose the higher speed limit because it “would decrease safety.”

Also in the transportation bill is a provision that makes it legal for a bicycle to have a horn or bell, which is not allowed now.

House and Senate members on Saturday approved coming back for the 2014 legislative session Feb. 25.