Horse racing bill goes to Dayton

The House again passed a bill that would make changes to the horse racing industry in Minnesota, this time with significant changes to the original language. The latest version would seek to increase the purses offered to winners at Running Aces Harness Park and Canterbury Park by increasing the number of gambling tables at these race tracks and casinos throughout the state.Sponsored by Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska) and Sen. Claire Robling (R-Jordan), HF2795/ SF1727* would expand the number of tables from 50 to 80 and allow banked and unbanked games at the establishments.“This will help both the non-horse track casinos and the horse track casinos,” said Hoppe.The House adopted amendments made by the Senate and re-passed the bill. Following the 97-34 vote, the bill now goes to the governor.The bill also includes its earlier language that would remove statutory restrictions on the concentrations of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs administered to horses, instead allowing the Minnesota Racing Commission to set those standards.The bill faced resistance from some lawmakers, who expressed frustration that this added language did not pass through House committees before it was heard on the floor.“It matters to me that the public has not had any opportunity to weigh in on this. Do I know whether people in my district want this change? No, I don’t. Continue Reading

Education pilot program clears Legislature

A proposed pilot program would allow districts to pool resources, with increased student achievement in mind.Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) and Sen. Al DeKruif (R-Madison Lake) sponsor HF755/ SF946*, which would establish a five-year pilot project managed by the Education Department. Groups of schools would apply for the program, with three to six selected to participate. The department would then monitor the project for successful results and recommend whether it should be continued.The bill, which was sent to conference committee due to amendments in the House, is different from the version previously supplied by the Senate. The revised text allocates money for the department to review applicants, manage the program and evaluate its effectiveness when it is complete.The House passed the committee report 128-1; the Senate 66-0. It awaits action by the governor.The lone vote in opposition came from Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown), who questioned why the bill did not contain language allowing schools in the program to alter their start and end dates for the school year. Continue Reading

Waiting for the governor’s final grade

Changes related to veteran’s military pay, postsecondary enrollment options and payment to teachers charged with a felony are awaiting gubernatorial approval.Sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) and Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), the bill would require school districts to pay employee salary differential to those who have been deployed in the National Guard or other reserves. Funds remaining at the end of the year could be used to pay for substitutes for the deployed employees. Current law often results in partial payment to service members.HF2949*/ SF2482 also seeks to expand postsecondary enrollment options, as well. Currently, high school juniors and seniors may take classes at certain colleges while still completing high school. The bill would extend PSEO to 10th grade students. Continue Reading

House passes omnibus education bill

An omnibus bill that would, in part, expand opportunities to take college courses through the Postsecondary Enrollment Options program was approved by the full House .Sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), the bill provides for a variety of changes to statewide education.Besides expanding postsecondary options, the bill would ban public school employees from using school resources to engage in political activities. It also addresses early graduation achievement scholarships for high school students and establishes a task force that would examine methods of incorporating career and technical education into high school curriculums.Passed 78-54, HF2949 goes to the Senate where Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) is the sponsor.Members heard a series of amendments, including one unsuccessfully offered by Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood), that sought to strike a controversial portion of the bill that would set aside $250,000 of a $4 million early childhood education scholarship fund created by the Legislature last session. The money would create need-based grants for a parent-child home program, which critics say only serves to defund similar programs that also help low-income children.Slawik said that she hoped to strike that language because the grants may be paid to a variety of child care providers, regardless of quality standards. She also spoke against the requirement that the grants be divided evenly between Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities metropolitan area.Garofalo called on members to vote against Slawik’s proposal, which he called an “anti-rural amendment.”The amendment divided members along party lines, as did the larger bill.“It’s full of mandates, it cuts education funding and it does so in a way that particularly destabilizes our schools and opportunities for our children,” said Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls).Garofalo refuted this claim, saying that “if there was ever a white flag of surrender from the Democratic Party, I think we just saw it.” Continue Reading

School annexation requirements could be eased

Residents of a northeast Edina neighborhood live within the Hopkins school district, which means their children must ride the bus further than if they were able to attend school in Edina. Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) sponsors HF2939, which would ease the process for residents like these to become part of their hometown school districts.The House passed the bill 73-57 and sent it to the Senate where Sen. Geoff Michel (R-Edina) is the sponsor.Currently, for the neighborhood to be annexed into the Edina district, it would have to receive approval from both the Hopkins and Edina school boards. Under the bill, neighborhoods that want to change districts would only need approval from the annexing district. This proposed change would only apply to those who live in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area.Republicans spoke in support of the bill, saying that it would allow increased local control for families whose property taxes fund schools their children are unable to attend.“This is a bill that smells a heck of a lot like freedom. It allows parents to petition their government to find the right place for their kids to go to school,” said Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-Belle Plaine).DFLers voiced opposition, saying that the bill would bypass the jurisdiction of local school boards. Continue Reading

Last in, first out … out or in?

At the age of 10, Rep. Pam Myhra (R-Burnsville) had no reading skills. Her Bloomington fourth-grade teacher had instructed her, a native Spanish speaker, to get homework answers from other students.In fifth grade, everything changed for Myhra. Her teacher, who was new to the district, helped her work her way up to grade-level reading. Myhra said that while this teacher was effective and had experience in other districts, this did not make her immune to layoffs.“My teacher who changed my life, gave me a future, was no longer going to teach in our school. She moved back to New York. Continue Reading

Prone restraints bill advances

School staff with specific training may physically restrain out-of-control students with special needs. The technique, called “prone restraints,” involves holding a student face-down until the situation becomes manageable.The House passed HF2293/ SF1917* March 28, which would extend the authorization to do so through the next school year. Sponsored by Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls) and Sen. Pam Wolf (R-Spring Lake Park), it would also require that the Department of Education gather data on prone restraints, with the intent of eventually replacing the practice with a safe alternative.Following the 116-16 vote, the bill now awaits action by Gov. Mark Dayton. The Senate passed it 65-0 March 15.In Minnesota, prone restraints may only be used with the minimum amount of time and the force it takes to ensure the student or another person will not be injured. Davnie said that intermediate schools in the Twin Cities metropolitan area brought the issue to his attention because they feel some students may pose a danger if the restraint authorization is allowed to expire.Without prone restraints, Davnie cautioned that some special needs students could instead be confined to their homes, costing them opportunities they have in school. Continue Reading

School staff could not engage in politics under bill passed by House

Public school employees may be banned from using district resources to promote any political candidate or cause.The House passed HF329, which seeks to prohibit staff from using technology, time, equipment and materials owned by the school for political activity. Rep. Kurt Bills (R-Rosemount) sponsors the measure, which would still allow teachers to disseminate factual information to students.Following the 73-60 vote, the bill next goes to the Senate, where Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville) is the sponsor.Bills said the bill is necessary because teachers in some Minnesota districts had incorporated their personal opinions into the classroom, with the intent to influence students. He added that the bill would not completely prohibit teachers from expressing their political views, but it would not allow them to do so in an “official capacity.”House Republicans voiced approval for the bill, calling it an appropriate step in ensuring proper use of resources funded by taxpayers.“It doesn’t throttle the ability of teachers to discuss issues in their classrooms. They just can’t advocate for one position or another,” said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville).DFLers spoke out in opposition to the bill. Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would extend the ban to corporations, who would be unable to make independent political expenditures. The speaker ruled his amendment out of order.Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) worried that the bill would create a chilling effect on schools. Continue Reading

House passes banking bill

The House passed a bill that would require Minnesota banks to follow the same guidelines as federal ones, permitting derivative transactions for state charter banks. It would also clarify holiday closures for financial institutions.Sponsored by Rep. Diane Anderson (R-Eagan) and Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin), HF2227/ SF1735* now goes to the governor’s desk. It was passed 65-0 by the Senate March 19.On the House floor, DFLers unsuccessfully offered a series of amendments, including several that sought to assist homeowners facing foreclosure. Rep. Joe Mullery (DFL-Mpls), who introduced two of the amendments, said that the changes would provide Minnesotans with increased opportunities to keep their homes.“I wish you would come to north Minneapolis and see the devastation caused by indiscriminate foreclosures. … They’ve happened because banks refuse to do what they’re required to do,” he said.Republicans asserted that such safeguards already exist in Minnesota statute.Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls) also unsuccessfully offered two amendments. Continue Reading