Legislative notebook: TV commercial blasts Dayton medical marijuana stand

A group supporting medical marijuana is buying television commercial time to attack Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s opposition to a bill stalled in the Legislature.

The spot features a St. Paul mother and her 5-year-old son who suffers from seizures that medical marijuana advocates say could be eased if the plant were allowed to be used.

The commercial by Minnesotans for Compassionate Care was scheduled to air during Wednesday’s “Tonight Show” and “Late Show,” then to be on some Thursday morning shows.

The organization on Thursday plans to deliver a petition to Dayton’s office signed by more than 4,900 Minnesotans calling for him to allow the medical marijuana bill to advance.

The bill by Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, stalled in a legislative committee after Dayton said he would not sign a bill allowing plant marijuana to be used to treat seizures and extreme pain, two things advocates say marijuana could ease.

Dayton said he cannot support Melin’s bill until law enforcement and medical organizations back it.

Law enforcement groups oppose the bill because it would allow the marijuana plant to be used. They say they could back the bill if it were changed only to use chemicals from the plant as medicine.

Medical groups oppose the measure because marijuana has not undergone extensive scientific tests as required by other medicines. Dayton proposed that Mayo Clinic conduct such an extensive study to see how a marijuana extract affect 200 children with seizures.

The commercial can be seen at http://youtu.be/vdn5NO2s0Nk.

 

Bill passes to protect data

Minnesota senators unanimously passed a bill to crack down on public employees who improperly use individuals’ private data, such as driver’s licenses.

“It does provide some accountability,” Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, said, before the 66-0 vote.

The Senate-passed bill is slightly different than one the House passed 132-0 last year, so the House must reconsider the bill before it heads to the governor for his signature.

Dibble’s bill follows reports about various public employees with access to driver’s licenses looked at information when with no official reason. Many of those accused of improperly calling up the data were men who looked at private information of well-known women such as television news reporters.

While the Dibble bill would increase penalties for improper access, he added that “more work is going to have to be done at some point in the future.”

The measure requires that private data only is available who need it for their jobs, and they can only access it while on duty.

 

Retirement funds would get aid

Minnesota legislators are looking into ways to help two teacher retirement funds.

An overall pension bill that nears a full House vote would provide $15 million a year to ensure a successful merger of the financially troubled Duluth Teachers Retirement Fund Association and the Teachers Retirement Association, an organization serving teachers across the state. The bill also would provide $7 million annually to keep the St. Paul Teachers Retirement Fund Association fiscally sound.

The money involved with the Duluth fund would continue for 24 years. Leaders of that fund have told lawmakers that a better financial picture is doubtful because more retirees are getting benefits than there are current teachers to fund the system.

 

Disability aid part of big bill

Rep. Rod Hamilton lost a Wednesday effort to allow Minnesota representatives to vote on raising state aid to people who care for the disabled.

On a 68-59 vote, the House rejected the Mountain Lake Republican’s proposal to immediately debate and vote on the plan to increase funding 5 percent for home health care providers. That means the provision will be voted on Thursday as part of a budget bill that updates a $39 billion, two-year budget lawmakers passed a year ago.

The Thursday bill includes all budget changes, such as increasing funding for transportation, education and other programs.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul, said that the usual way to alter an already-passed budget, including when Republicans controlled the House, is to lump all budget changes in one big bill.

“Let’s have a clean vote,” Hamilton responded.

Republicans generally support the 5 percent increase, but could be tempted to vote against the budget bill because they oppose much of the new spending it contains.

“We are being forced to choose whether or not we can support every word in a 600-page bill simply because we support people with disabilities,” Hamilton said.

Lawmaker seeks more Minnesota railroad oil safety oversight

Hamilton

By Don Davis

Western North Dakota’s oil boom puts Minnesota in a dangerous position, a key Minnesota lawmaker says, and the state should increase its rail oil safety oversight.

Most of the highly volatile oil moves from the Bakken oilfields through Minnesota.

“We are at the geographic epicenter of this,” said Chairman Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, of the House Transportation Finance Committee.

Dave Christianson of the Minnesota Department of Transportation told Hornstein’s committee Wednesday that nine or 10 trains a day haul crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields. Seven or eight trains of those trains go through Minnesota, most through the heart of the Twin Cities.

“That places us right on the route for problems,” Christianson said.

In the second of two meeting on the oil situation, nearly everyone talked about crude oil disasters that occurred in 2013 Quebec and North Dakota derailments.

Railroad officials say they are taking actions on their own to improve crude oil transportation safety. Hornstein said more state rail inspectors are needed and local emergency officials need the state’s financial help for training and equipment to deal with oil accidents.

After hearing from state regulators, union leaders and railroad executives Wednesday, Hornstein said that he plans to release a bill next week to improve Minnesota’s ability to prepare for and fight oil disasters. However, he said, no decision has been made about how to fund those actions.

Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to release a plan Thursday to make some budget changes and he could include funding for oil disasters from a budget surplus. Hornstein originally wanted to tax oil shipments through Minnesota to get the funds, but House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said he opposes the tax.

“It seems to me there is a significant need for legislation,” Hornstein said.

With Bakken constantly expanding its output, on its way to 1 million barrels a day, Minnesota needs to prepare, the chairman said.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, wondered how good Minnesota railroad tracks are.

Christianson said they are better than ever, but highly volatile Bakken crude oil changes things.

“We cannot afford to have a single incident…” Christianson said. “This is a different game that we are playing and the stakes are higher.”

It may be an inconvenience if a railcar of corn spills, but an explosion or spill of an oil car’s contents could be disastrous, he said.

David Brown of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers told the committee that greed by railroads and other businesses involved in the oil industry endangers the public and railroad employees because they do not spend enough on safety.

Railroad officials said they have a good safety record and work to improve it.

Vice President Brian Sweeney of BNSF Railway Co. said his railroad is spending more money on better equipment and tracks than it is paying out in profits.

He said testing cars are used to check track three or four times a year, with more tests where oil trains travel. He also said track sensors every 30 to 40 miles can detect problems early.

After a deadly oil train derailment in Quebec last year, the railroad industry began to take actions on its own to increase safety, Sweeney said. Among those actions was to lower train speeds, down to 40 miles an hour in some urban areas.

At the same time, new tank cars are being built to higher standards.

BNSF is in the process of buying 5,000 newly designed and safer tank cars, Sweeney said. Most railroads do not own tank cars.

Sweeney said that BNSF trained 830 Minnesota emergency responders in the last five years. The railroad also has emergency responders on it staff as well as equipment such as some that dispenses foam to douse fires.

While railroad officials said they do their own extensive rail inspections, three federal inspectors cover all of Minnesota and western Wisconsin. One state rail inspector is on staff.

“Without a doubt, we need more (rail) inspectors,” Hornstein said.

Bill Gandner of MnDOT said 1,138 track safety defects were found last year, with 141 of them considered serious.

House defeats bonding bill … for now

Reps. Tom Hackbarth, left, and Rod Hamilton

By Don Davis

The Minnesota House defeated a public works funding bill this afternoon, but even with a Monday adjournment deadline looming it still could come back up.

Bill author Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said today’s vote would be the only chance representatives would have to pass her $800 million bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds. In past legislative sessions, major bills such as the bonding bill have been defeated in the final days, but have come back before the midnight Monday constitutional deadline.

The House vote was 76-56, with 81 votes needed for the state to sell bonds.

Southwestern Minnesota Republicans said they were upset because aid to their area affected by storms last month was in the bonding bill, which was less likely to pass than if the bill were a stand-alone measure.

“I truly hope the Democrats aren’t going to play politics with an act of God…” Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, said. “With four days left in session, there is absolutely no excuse to not hear this (disaster relief) bill, approve it and send it to the Senate.”

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, also worried that the disaster relief could be in danger.

“Democrats are holding this funding hostage because we did not support $800 million in additional state borrowing,” Hamilton said. “We have always helped our disaster victims during their time of crisis, and I can only hope the Democrats will do the right thing and bring this bill forward in the next few days.”

The overall bonding bill would fund projects such as state Capitol renovation work, repairs at state facilities ranging from colleges to state parks and providing funds for communities to improve sewer treatment plants. The $109 million Capitol provision is the largest in the bill.

Many Republicans said they could not support the bonding bill until the state budget is finished. Various budget bills have begun to be heard by the House and Senate, but no major spending bills have been debated.

Hausman told reporters after the vote that the bonding bill is finished, but Gov Mark Dayton and leaders of the Democratic-controlled House and Senate could order the bill to be debated again.

There has been talk this year that Republicans could accept a bonding bill that includes Capitol work and any disaster funding needed, but not other projects.

Divide remains between rural Republicans, House leaders

Murphy, Marquart

By Danielle Killey

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy and Rep. Paul Marquart stood side-by-side Tuesday introducing House Democrats’ education funding plan.

Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, praised Marquart’s work as education finance chairman: “He has done such a fantastic job.”

Indeed, politics can make unexpected allies.

Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, had challenged Murphy to lead the House Democratic-Farmer-Labor caucus after last November’s elections. Rep. Paul Thissen of Minneapolis was elected House speaker, and Marquart said he wanted to make sure rural Minnesota was represented in leadership.

Marquart lost the leadership contest, but said he was pleased to land the job as education finance chairman. His committee decides the budget for the state’s largest spending area.

Marquart said he was relieved when he saw many other rural members named to committee leadership spots as well, allaying some concerns about a lack of input from greater Minnesota that many members outside the Twin Cities metropolitan area raised as the legislative session began.

“I thought, ‘here’s where the balance is,’” Marquart said.

Some rural lawmakers still are not convinced.

“I think we’re left behind, definitely,” Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, said of rural Minnesotans under Democratic budget plans.

She said the proposals do not address real needs outside the Twin Cities area and could hurt small businesses and farmers.

“I think they need to re-examine their priorities,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said of Democrats. “I definitely have concerns.”

Many rural Republican lawmakers cited recent approval of the environment and agriculture finance bill, which included water usage fee increases, an example of plans they say will disproportionately impact greater Minnesota.

Before the legislative session began, Republican lawmakers said agriculture funding would be overshadowed by other issues when it was joined with environment and natural resources for finance talks, and they were not happy with the result.

The bill passed without any Republican votes.

“I think this is one of the first times we have had a lack of bipartisan support there,” Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said. “I just don’t think this is a common-sense approach to how things work in rural Minnesota.”

Murphy said Democrats intentionally aimed for significant rural committee leadership overall to ensure those voices would be heard and said the budget plan reflects that.

“I think Minnesota as a whole will experience the benefits,” Murphy said. “We pay a lot of attention to different areas of the state.”

“We said we’re not going to play games with the budget anymore,” Marquart said. “That leads to balancing it on the backs of rural Minnesota often.”

Marquart said those Republicans concerned about rural Minnesota should look at the difference from the past two years, when the GOP controlled the Legislature.

“Rural Minnesota took a hit,” Marquart said. “We reversed some of those things.”

“I think the overall budget is excellent for rural Minnesota,” he added, citing his education finance bill, property tax relief and a 3 percent increase in funding for nursing homes. “I would say, look at the results.”

Thissen said a possible public works borrowing bill also would include funding toward important projects in rural Minnesota.

Kiel acknowledged some rural cities might see more state funds from changes to Local Government Aid and property tax relief plans. But she said proposed alcohol and cigarette taxes, the water fee increases, education requirements and other policies would cost more than any benefit those communities might see.

“Even if we raise LGA, we’re going to turn around and spend it and charge more money,” she said.

Kiel said other Democratic proposals such as raising the minimum wage will hit rural Minnesota harder than the metro as well. “That’s going to be detrimental to businesses.”

Leaders “truly think they’re trying” to keep rural Minnesota in mind, Kiel said.

Murphy grew up around agriculture and said she has farmers in her family. She said she understands the ag industry’s strength is essential to the state’s success.

But top concerns are different from rural to metro areas, Kiel said, and it is hard to advocate for both.

“If everything’s a priority, nothing’s a priority,” Hamilton said.

Marquart said he thinks Thissen and other leaders have “made a concerted effort to make sure the results are beneficial for rural Minnesota.”

“We know if greater Minnesota succeeds, we’ll all succeed,” Thissen said.

Hamilton said the final results of the session remain to be seen in the last few weeks, and Democratic leaders still will be in place next year, the second of a two-year legislative session.

More policy issues likely will come up then, Anderson said, and the impacts on the state outside the metro area might be clearer.

“There could be a lot more issues that are near and dear to rural Minnesota,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of a two-year trial here.”

 Reporter Don Davis contributed to this story.

House OKs health funding amid hospital payment questions

Hamilton

By Don Davis

Minnesota state representatives approved 70-64 a health-care spending bill late Monday without knowing how it would affect hospitals around the state.

Most Democrats favored the bill while most Republicans opposed it.

Highlighting debate was an amendment by Rep. Will Morgan, DFL-Burnsville, that the Democrat-controlled House put on the overall bill to change how funding would be distributed to hospitals.

Time after time when Republican lawmakers asked Morgan how his amendment would affect hospitals. His common reply was simple: “I don’t know.” He also said he only had a “rudimentary understanding” of the amendment.

“It is irresponsible to ask members to vote” without knowing an amendment’s impact, an emotional Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, said.

His voice rising, he told Democrats: “This is the wrong process that you are using, and you know it.”

The Morgan amendment, approved on a voice vote, took more than three hours of debate, starting a discussion lasting more than nine hours on a health-care funding bill costing $13 billion over the next two years.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said at least 600,000 more Minnesotans would receive subsidized health care under his bill.

Huntley and Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said no individual should feel a cut in state-funded health care, but some hospitals would take a hit.

A few amendments were added to the bill, including one on a 71-62 vote that would require abortion clinics to receive licenses. Supporters said it was needed to keep patients safe.

To make up for much of a $150 million cut House leaders ordered in his bill, Huntley added to an existing surcharge on hospitals.

The surcharge on non-government hospitals would rise from 1.56 percent of patient revenues to 2.68 percent. The $105 million in new state revenue would be used to leverage federal money, Huntley said.

Surcharge revenue would be returned to hospitals, but not in the same amounts collected from each institution.

“Unfortunately, there are winners and losers,” Huntley said, but did not have a list of how much each hospital would receive.

Republicans used the lengthy Morgan amendment debate to contact hospital administrators in their areas and generally said the hospitals would be hurt by the bill and amendment or said hospital officials did not know the impact.

“If we are so unclear on the impact, I don’t think we should even vote on this legislation,” Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said.

Huntley said the Morgan amendment would not affect how much the surcharge would bring in, just how funds would be divided among hospitals. Morgan said his amendment would divide the money more fairly than the original Huntley language, but Morgan could not say why it would be better.

Nearly 90 percent of funds in Huntley’s overall bill would go to health care for the elderly and those with severe disabilities, Huntley said.

A highlight of the Huntley bill is raising nursing home payments 3 percent and other long-term care program payments 2 percent, with 75 percent of the money going to worker raises.

Rural Minnesota Republicans called on Democrats to boost funding, especially for nursing homes.

Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said there are some funding increases in the House bill, but “they’re crumbs, frankly.”

“We all need to pull together and properly fund this area,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake, got an amendment included to gradually reduce the $2,800 per-resident surcharge nursing homes pay. The first reduction would be $440 next year.

Some of the new funding Huntley included in his bill would be used to put mental health experts in schools.

“They don’t have to be hauled away to a clinic or hospital,” Huntley said. “They can get their mental health treatment just down the hall from their classroom.”

The state-subsidized MinnesotaCare health insurance program would expand to include Minnesotans with incomes 138 percent to 200 percent of the federally assigned poverty rate next year, before its clients join a federal program.

 

Reporter Danielle Killey contributed to this story.

 

House expects long health debate

Huntley

By Don Davis and Danielle Killey

At least 600,000 more Minnesotans would get subsidized health care under a bill House Democrats expect to pass late tonight or early Tuesday.

Republicans complain that even with increased spending for nursing homes and other long-term care programs, more money is needed.

The House health and human services bill spends nearly $11 billion in the next two years, the second most in state government, only behind public school education. Most of the spending would go to fund health programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.

DFL Reps. Tom Huntley of Duluth and Tina Liebling of Rochester said no individual should see a cut in state-funded health care, but Huntley said some hospitals would take a hit.

To make up for a $150 million cut House leaders ordered in his health bill, Huntley added a surcharge on hospitals to cover much of the cut.

The surcharge would be used to match federal funds that would go to some hospitals. However, Huntley said, the federal money would not cover the surcharge at all hospitals.

“Unfortunately, there are winners and losers,” Huntley said.

Democrats said that their bill adds coverage to many Minnesotans.

“We also improved MinnesotaCare,” Huntley said.

The state-subsidized health insurance program would expand to include Minnesotans with incomes 138 percent to 200 percent of the federally assigned poverty rate.

The poor who earn more than twice the poverty rate could be eligible for federal assistance under new federal health laws.

A highlight of the Huntley bill is raising nursing home and other long-term care program payments 3 percent, allowing them to give wage increases to workers for the first time in four years. Given his budget limitations, Huntley said, that was the most he could fit in, but added that he personally would like to give workers 10 percent raises.

Rural Minnesota Republicans called on Democrats to up funding in the health and human services budget plan, especially for nursing homes.

“It’s very, very difficult to stomach what it’s going to do to the nursing home industry,” Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said of the proposal. “We have a crisis out there in rural Minnesota.”

Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said nursing home advocates say current law would be better for them than the proposed budget bill.

Torkelson said there are some funding increases in the House bill, but “they’re crumbs, frankly.”

“Every area in the (state) budget got an increase except health and human services,” Torkelson said, adding Democrats need to evaluate their funding priorities.

“We all need to pull together and properly fund this area,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

The rural lawmakers said they will push for a bigger pay increase for caregivers.

Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said many facilities might have to close or could lose good employees if they face cuts or do not get more funding from the state.

“That is simply just not acceptable,” he said.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said that Republicans had the chance to increase health spending two years ago when they controlled the House and Senate.

Fee increases bother GOP in ag-outdoors bill

Corrects DNR and PCA budget figures from earlier version of story

—-

By Danielle Killey

Republican lawmakers said an environment and agriculture budget bill the House approved 69-61 Thursday is loaded with too-high fees and wasteful spending.

“This agriculture and environment finance proposal is loaded with staggering fee increases that will impact hardworking taxpayers in every income bracket,” said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings.

Bill author Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said the money will help manage water issues throughout the state, stem the spread of invasive species and fund agriculture programs.

“These fees are not nearly as damaging as has been indicated, and in fact are needed and they’re necessary to protect our air and water and the health and safety of the people,” said Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township.

A major concern among many lawmakers was water usage fee increases. They would add up to between about 75 cents and $4 a year for a household and about $2 to $6 per acre for the average farmer, said Wagenius, the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee chairwoman. That would raise about $6.1 million a year.

“Farmers are facing substantial increases in this bill when it comes to water and fees,” said Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake.

Democrats argued that the money is needed to protect water in the state and that funding and resources have lagged in the past.

“We’ve all assumed the water in our state is an infinite resource,” Wagenius said, “but our water, particularly our water underground, has its limits, and we’re seeing those limits right now.”

Those who opposed the overall bill said it would negatively affect homeowners, businesses and especially farmers. They pointed to permitting, mining and other fee increases, saying they would add up and negatively affect Minnesotans.

“This bill really increases fees on a lot of people, a lot of businesses,” said Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck.

Some said the budget plan could push companies out of Minnesota.

“The fees in this bill give small businesses just one more reason to relocate to North Dakota,” said Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston.

Democrats said the bill should show they understand the importance of rural Minnesota.

“It confirms the priorities of the DFL majority to make strong investments in agriculture that will benefit our farmers and our entire state,” said House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul.

The bill would allot $67 million for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, about $478 million for the Department of Natural Resources and about $171 million for the Pollution Control Agency, among other departments.

The proposal also would create a silica sand technical assistance team to help local governments dealing with the issue.

Republicans said some proposed spending is unnecessary. For example, $300,000 is set aside for bee habitats, many noted, including $50,000 earmarked for signs and public awareness. Some acknowledged the bee population is suffering but said there are better ways to spend the money.

After brief discussion, Sen. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, withdrew an amendment putting a five-year moratorium on wolf trapping — from when the animal came off the endangered species list last year — and a four-year moratorium on taking wolves in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

A Senate committee approved a wolf hunting and trapping ban earlier in the session, but it has not moved forward since then. The state’s first wolf hunting season ended in January.

State senators are slated to discuss their version of the budget bill today.

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.

Political notebook: $30 million in business loans on track

Commissioner Sieben

By Don Davis

Legislative leaders say the governor has a good chance of getting $30 million he wants included in the next two-year budget to help businesses move to Minnesota or expand.

The Minnesota Investment Fund provided more than 600 loans, some of which do not need to be repaid, since 1985. Rural businesses received $85 million while those in the Twin Cities were given $24 million.

“It’s a major priority,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who leads a key economic development committee.

Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben of the Minnesota Employment and Economic Development Department said many other states provide financial incentives for expanding and relocating businesses, but Minnesota has only had $7 million available for 53 businesses since 2005. Some states spend several times that amount every year.

Tomassoni said it is tough to compete against the $200 million Texas can use as bait and $50 million that Michigan has available.

“We are willing to do anything we can do” to bolster economic development, Tomassoni said.

Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, agreed. He said he has heard a lot about the need to offer businesses incentives.

Sieben said the $30 million her boss, Gov. Mark Dayton, wants would help businesses create 7,000 to 10,000 jobs.

Sieben invited two businessmen to talk to reporters. They said that the state loans influenced their decisions to expand in Minnesota.

“Other states do have opportunities…” Rick Burton of Aspen Research in Maple Grove said. “It’s something that we considered.”

Gun bill chances

Gun control supporters could fire a blank in their attempt to require all buyers of handguns and semi-automatic weapons to undergo background checks.

“It’s going to be tough to get the votes to pass that,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said.

Many rural Democrats are expected to join Republicans in opposing the gun legislation.

While Bakk said he can see requiring people to undergo background checks when they make gun show purchases, he questioned requiring private sales to do the same.

Bakk, who has said his gun cabinet is full, said he did not know how he would vote.

Even if background checks do not pass, other gun-related issued have a chance.

Gun permits up

The number of Minnesotans with permits to carry guns is rising.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension reports that 31,657 permits were issued last year, bringing the total to 125,339 people with permits.

Last year’s numbers compare to 20,772 a year earlier and 17,240 in 2010.

Sheriffs reported that last year they suspended nine permits, revoked two, voided six and denied 285 applications.

The BCA said that in 2012, people with permits committed 296 crimes, almost half being traffic offenses.

State gun permits were first required in a 2003 law and last five years before they must be renewed.

A spirited exchange

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, predicts a spirited exchange Monday when representatives debate whether to establish a health care exchange.

The exchange is on a fast track to give state officials time to set up the mostly online health insurance sales operation. Either the state will establish the exchange or federal officials say they will do it to meet new federal health care law requirements.

Murphy said representatives have heard 43 hours of testimony and considered 63 amendments as the bill was considered by nine committees in the first two months of the legislative session.

The bill’s Senate version also had made its way through nine committees. Senators expect to debate the bill Thursday.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that unless the bill is changed, he would only expect a single GOP vote for it Monday. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he could see no “yes” votes from his caucus.

Republican leaders complained that Democrats who control the Legislature accepted no GOP amendments.

Look to tax ‘Plan C’

Most businesses do not like Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal to expand the sales tax to goods and services businesses buy and sale.

Most fellow Democrats have refused to embrace the plan and long lines of business representatives have lined up to testify in front of tax committees against the Dayton plan.

“I’m waiting to see how this shakes out,” Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said.

Tomassoni and other Democratic-Farmer-Laborite leaders say Dayton is willing to make changes in his tax proposal.

“He is open to Plan C,” Tomassoni said.

So far, Democrats have brought up no options to replace Dayton proposals that attracted the most criticism.

DFL legislative leaders plan to meet with a key business group in coming days as they look into the Dayton plan.

Seifert apologizes

Minnesota Public Radio recently reported that former GOP House leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, admitted he made a mistake in 2008 in disciplining six Republicans who voted to overturn a governor’s veto of a gasoline tax increase.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, recalled to Forum News Service the day last year when Seifert called to apologize.

The idea to apologize, Seifert said, came when a student in a class he was teaching asked his biggest regret. When he replied that it was the post-override vote action, a student suggested that he call and apologize.

Seifert said it was “dumb” to levy the discipline.

Legislative notebook: Long-term care funding boost suggested

Eken

By Don Davis

A proposal to increase Minnesota long-term care funding could help elder care as baby boomers prepare to retire, supporters say, but overall state budget questions threaten its future.

House and Senate legislators from both parties on Tuesday released a bill to increase how much money the state sends to nursing homes and the elderly who live at home. It would increase funding $56 million, which is 5 percent, each of the next two years.

Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, called the bill “a significant step toward addressing the chronic underfunding of senior care services.”

However, he said later, the results of a Thursday state budget report and the impact of the expected Friday federal budget cuts will affect the bill’s chances because both will influence the size of the state budget.

Some of the increase would go to worker recruitment and training. Overall, 73 percent would be used for worker wages.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said some nursing homes are in debt and need an “infusion” of money to remain open. She said 112,000 people work in the Minnesota long-term care industry, which includes nursing homes, assisted living facilities and home care for elderly.

“An investment in senior care is an investment in a growth sector of Minnesota’s economy,” she said.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, pointed out the broad background of lawmakers backing the bill. “Aging probably is the one thing we all have in common.”

Louise Duffy, a St. Louis Park nursing home worker, said that without the added state money, many workers will leave their jobs forever.

Gay marriage bill set

A much-discussed bill to allow gay marriages in Minnesota will be unveiled today.

Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Karen Clark, both gay lawmakers from Minneapolis, plan to announce legislation this morning that would remove a ban on same-sex marriage from state law.

The move comes after voters last November defeated an attempt to put a gay-marriage ban in the state Constitution.

Republican Sen. Branden Petersen of Andover is a bill co-sponsor. That attracted a threat from a national anti-gay marriage organization that it would help finance campaigns against Republicans who favor the move.

A better teacher bill

The StudentsFirst Minnesota organization praises a bill that would prevent schools from placing students for consecutive years with teachers who have been determined as ineffective.

Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, and Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, introduced the bills.

“We know that an ineffective teacher generates 50 percent less learning over the course of a year than an average teacher, and that difference can have a profound, life-long impact on a student and his or her achievement,” said Kathy Saltzman, Minnesota State director for StudentsFirst and former state senator.

Saltzman said that because Minnesota’s children of color do worse than in other states compared to their white peers, “we cannot afford to accept the status quo any longer.”

Dayton pushes his budget as way to improve Minnesota

Dayton (More photos on Facebook)

By Don Davis and Danielle Killey

Minnesota’s financial picture is improving, Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed in his Wednesday night State of the State address, but policies in the last decade have hampered progress.

His solution? Approve the $38 billion two-year budget he proposed two weeks ago that includes more than $3 billion in higher taxes on the rich and a reworked sales tax.

“My proposals have already aroused considerable controversy,” Dayton said. “Such debate is healthy in our democracy. The genius of our system of governance is that no one gets to have it all her or his way. Starting with the governor.”

Dayton blamed tax cuts starting in the Jesse Ventura administration for slowing the state’s growth, and called for lawmakers to enact his budget. Republicans oppose it and fellow Democrats gave Dayton only mild applause Wednesday night when he discussed his budget plan.

“In the decade after Minnesota’s income tax reductions, our economy fared worse than the nation and most other states,” Dayton said.

Even with the past tax decisions, the governor said that Minnesota is doing better than most neighboring states.

“Minnesota’s job growth in 2012 was the 12th best among all 50 states and we outperformed three of our four neighbors,” Dayton said during a 48-minute speech. “Iowa ranked 30th best; South Dakota was 44th.”

He continued a rivalry with Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, saying the Badger state “helped bring up the rear at 42nd.”

Dayton added that only North Dakota led Minnesota in the region, with an oil-fueled job growth that led the country.

The first-term governor touched on what has become a major Minnesota and national issue, gun control, but said little more than there is a need to do “everything possible to stop the terrible acts of violence.”

Dayton also urged businesses to sponsor after-school programs to keep youths busy at a time when teenage pregnancies occur and there is higher crime.

Another non-money matter he brought up was what he sees as a need to allow gays to marry.

“I want Minnesota to be a state which affirms that freedom for one means freedom for everyone, and where no one is told that it is illegal to marry the person you love,” he said.

The governor praised the state’s agriculture efforts, saying ag commodity exports rose 13 percent last year. He also singled out education achievements, touting higher math and reading scores.

Republicans found pieces of agreement with the governor, but Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said the substance of Dayton’s budget proposal still is missing.

“Where were the details?” Hamilton asked after the speech.

Republicans said they think Dayton’s plan would end up costing families more.

“Gov. Dayton is asking every Minnesotan to pay more, and they’re getting less from his proposed budget,” said Senate Republican Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.

The governor suggested next year be an “un-session” where lawmakers focus on streamlining government rules, and it was a proposal that found some common support between Republicans and Democrats.

“I think that streamlining the process is something we can agree on,” Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said.

Dayton said previous state leaders have not acted on many Minnesota problems.

“We can choose, as others in our positions have before us, to ignore these growing problems, avoid fixing them and hope they don’t crash down upon us while we’re in office,” Dayton said. “Or we can lead. That is what the people of Minnesota elected us to do.”

The governor promoted his hope to raise taxes on the rich, charge sales taxes on services and some goods that have not been taxed and to lower the sales tax rate.

His budget plan would plug a $1.1 billion deficit, but the state still would owe schools that amount.

“My budget … would lift us out of this miserable deficit-to-deficit cycle,” he said.

Republicans have different state view from the governor

Lien, Dayton

By Danielle Killey

Republicans said Gov. Mark Dayton focused on a budget plan that costs too much and does not help create jobs during his third State of the State speech Wednesday night.

“Minnesota families are going to pay more, regardless of what he says,” Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said.

The Democratic governor promoted his plan to raise taxes on the richest Minnesotans and to lower the sales tax rate while broadening what is taxed. He has said only the top 2 percent highest earning Minnesotans would pay more, but Republicans think his plan would impact the middle class.

“This prescription of new taxes, taxes on everybody, is not warranted,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said. “We need to hold our spending in line with revenues.”

Many Republicans said they were concerned Dayton is taking up policy issues instead of focusing on the economy.

“The governor made it clear he wants to talk about same-sex marriage and about gun control,” Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said. “I’m afraid those issues will rise to the top and take away the focus from the budget.”

Republican leaders agreed with some of Dayton’s general priorities and that things are getting better in Minnesota.

“The governor mentioned the good things about Minnesota … and what he believes in, and I think those are things everyone wants,” Hamilton said. “The devil is in the details.”

He said the governor should give credit for the improvement to policies Republicans enacted when they controlled the Legislature for the last two years and not change course.

Democrats disagreed.

“We share the governor’s desire to set aside the status quo and take action to put our state on a path to long-term economic prosperity,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

Democrats said they like Dayton’s mix of new revenues and cuts to balance the budget, but no Democratic leader gave full support to the Dayton plan.

“Trying to cut our way to prosperity is a failed experiment,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said, agreeing with the governor.

Bakk said the governor’s budget puts the Legislature on the right path to long-term stability.

“We need to be concerned about the state of Minnesota in five or 10 years, not just the next election,” Rep. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, said.

The governor once again said he is open to different proposals for the state’s budget and handed out his phone number during his speech.

Weber said while the governor has said he is flexible, Republicans have not seen as much willingness from Democrats in committees to accept changes.

“If bipartisanship means we have to travel all the way to the other side, that isn’t going to happen,” Weber said, though he said he thinks the two parties can find common ground.

Even Democrats do not fully back Dayton’s plan.

“I don’t agree with every detail of the governor’s budget, but I think the general direction is a good one,” Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said.

“I still have my concerns about items in the budget, such as his call for an expansion of the sales tax,” Lien said. “But he has laid out a road map for lawmakers to follow, even if we choose to diverge from it on some issues.”

Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, predicted that the Legislature’s budget would have more cuts and a more narrow approach to tax reform in the end.

“I think there’s a lot to rally behind,” he said. “It’s a starting point … and now we’re going to really start peeling the onion.”

Lawmakers noted an updated economic forecast later this month likely will change the plan and influence discussions going forward.

“The February (state budget) forecast will provide us with more clarity,” Schmit said.

“There will be revisions,” Eken said. “This is just a proposal and not the final product. But I think he put forth a good first proposal.”

Some rural Republicans were happy to hear Dayton list agriculture among his priorities, including funding for the Agriculture Growth, Research and Innovation Program.

“The governor said agriculture was a strong priority and I think the lawmakers from greater Minnesota do appreciate that,” Weber said.

“The last decade of cuts, gimmicks and no revenue has squeezed our middle class and has hurt our state’s changes for long-term prosperity,” Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, said.

“We know the status quo of deep cuts to the middle class and borrowing from our schools isn’t working, and we need to work together to set Minnesota up for a better future,” Rep. Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, said.

“For years, Minnesota has had budget deficit after budget deficit, and it’s going to take big changes to our tax system to fix those,” Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said.

 Don Davis contributed to this story.