DFL regains control of Legislature

DFLers regained decisive majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate in an election that Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL leaders said will pave the way for “progress” in Minnesota.“The message coming out of this election is that people are interested in progress — in moving the state forward,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) said at a press conference.Thissen and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) promised an end to the kind of partisan gridlock that led to the 2011 state government shutdown.“Last night, Minnesota took a large step forward, and I think the message from Minnesotans was pretty clear,” Bakk said. “They want this rigidity and this unwillingness to compromise to be put on the shelf.”For the first time since 1990, DFLers will control the House, the Senate and the governor’s office at the same time. They are projected to hold a 73-61 majority in the House and a 39-28 majority in the Senate. Recounts are expected in one House and one Senate race (Districts 8B and 20, respectively).Just two years ago, Republicans took control of the House and Senate in their own historic victory. At the time, their 72-62 House and 37-30 Senate majorities marked the first time in 40 years that Republicans controlled both chambers.In spite of yesterday’s losses, Republican leaders said they would remain focused on their agenda of smaller government, lower taxes and business-friendly policies.“It wasn’t quite the election we’d hoped for last night,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove). Continue Reading

House approves disaster relief package in special session

Lawmakers ended a one-day special session by overwhelmingly approving a $167.5 million disaster relief package for northeastern Minnesota and other areas affected by severe flooding and storm damage.Passed 125-3 by the House and 60-7 by the Senate, Special Session HF1*/SF1 will aid communities and individuals affected by a series of storms in June and July that caused significant floods in and around Duluth and wind damage in other parts of the state.“I’m proud to stand here in front of this body, because we get to do what we should be doing … taking care of those people affected in these floods,” saidRep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing), who sponsors the bill with Sen. Joe Gimse (R-Willmar).The bill now awaits action by Gov. Mark Dayton, who is expected to sign it. Earlier this week, Dayton and the leaders of all four legislative caucuses signed an agreement limiting the special session to one legislative day and to disaster relief only.The bill will pay the 25 percent local match for federal disaster aid. It will also provide individual relief for homeowners and businesses that were denied federal assistance. (See the spreadsheet.)Funding will come from the state’s budget reserve and surplus funds left over from the last budget year. A number of transportation-related funds will also be tapped, and some of the spending will be reimbursed by the federal government.House members representing the affected communities praised the bill and thanked their colleagues for taking quick action. Rep. John Ward (DFL-Baxter) spoke of a pair of his constituents — an elderly World War II veteran and his wife — who were living with a flooded basement, no power and no hot water.“Today you are providing hope and help to people like that couple,” Ward said.Some members expressed concern that the bill was being passed in an expedited manner. Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Savage) said lawmakers were abdicating their responsibility by allowing Dayton and the legislative leaders to negotiate the bill’s provisions in private, and by not discussing them in the appropriate House committees. Continue Reading

Open season with new omnibus game and fish law

Minnesotans will have to pay more for virtually every game and fish license they acquire in the state, but they will also have the opportunity to hunt and trap wolves.The omnibus game and fish law raises dozens of license fees charged to anglers and hunters in the state. The fee increases, most of which take effect March 1, 2013, were requested by the Department of Natural Resources and many private hunting and fishing groups with the goal of improving the state’s conservation and wildlife management programs. As examples, a resident fishing license will increase from $17 to $22, and a resident deer hunting license will increase from $26 to $30. Fees for snowmobile registrations are also increased.The law establishes a wolf-hunting license and specifies that revenue from the licenses is to be deposited into a special account that will be used for “wolf management, research, damage control, enforcement, and education.” Wolf licenses will cost $30 for residents and $250 for nonresidents. The law also includes various requirements and restrictions for wolf hunters.A “walk-in access” program is established to provide hunters with access to wildlife habitat on private land. The DNR will be allowed to enter into agreements with landowners and local units of government for this purpose, and the law specifies how and when hunters may use lands enrolled in the program. Continue Reading

New stadium proposal put forth by Republicans

Republican leaders unveiled an alternative financing plan for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium, but DFLers and Gov. Mark Dayton said it puts the prospects for a stadium deal in jeopardy.The new plan proposed by House and Senate Republicans would include stadium funding in this year’s bonding bill, thereby combining two of the session’s three major pieces of legislation. It would reduce the state’s contribution to a yet-unspecified amount and would call for an open-air, “roof-ready” facility.House Majority Leader Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) said the new plan would remove any concerns about expanding gambling and rely instead on general obligation bonds. He said there is broad consensus among Republicans that this new plan represents “the path forward” for the stadium.“We’re not looking to negotiate at this point,” he said.Their announcement came shortly after the House passed an omnibus tax bill that Dayton has said would increase the state’s long-term deficit, and that House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) said will likely be met with a veto.At a press conference, Dayton said Republicans are turning their back on eight months’ worth of stadium negotiations in favor of a plan that was “formulated in secret” and that he said is likely intended to fail.“It’s hard to take this seriously when we haven’t been told anything about it,” Dayton said.Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) said the Republicans’ new plan reneges on agreements that were made early on in negotiations, including it shouldn’t rely on General Fund money and would have a roof so it could be a year-round, multi-use facility.Lester Bagley, the team’s vice president of public affairs and stadium development, said he prefers the plan negotiated with state and local leaders. Continue Reading

Legislators, governor seek deal on taxes, bonding, stadium

Legislative leaders are attempting to negotiate a session-ending deal with Gov. Mark Dayton, but a two-hour meeting in the governor’s office yielded few signs of progress.Lawmakers are poised to miss their self-imposed April 30 adjournment deadline as they try to resolve the three major pieces of legislation left in the session: an omnibus tax bill, a bonding bill and money for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.Dayton said today’s meeting focused mainly on the “significant differences” that remain between himself and Republican leaders on the issue of taxes. Republicans support a tax relief package that would borrow from the state’s cash reserves. They argue their plan will boost private-sector jobs, but Dayton calls their approach “fiscally irresponsible.”House Speaker Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) said the tax bill and the bonding bill are the Republicans’ top priorities, and suggested that a vote on the proposed Vikings stadium might have to wait until those other two issues are resolved. Asked how long it might take for the Legislature to conclude its business, Zellers replied, “an extra day or two.”“I’m going to quit guessing on dates,” he said.House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) said Republicans are “holding the Vikings stadium hostage.” He said all three of the remaining major bills should stand or fall on their own merit, and said the Republicans’ tax bill would add to next year’s projected budget deficit.Dayton and legislative leaders were scheduled to meet again later tonight, but no further details were given. Continue Reading

Minnesota legislative session drawing to an uncertain close

With perhaps only a few days left before lawmakers adjourn for the biennium, the most closely watched bills this year — the bonding bill and the stadium to house the Vikings — remain in limbo at Session Weekly press time.Legislative leaders have been meeting privately with Gov. Mark Dayton to try to hash out an agreement on key legislation, but with little sign of progress. In a departure from the usual end-of-session proceedings, House Speaker Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) told Capitol reporters April 25 that this year’s negotiations are unlikely to yield a “global agreement” — a catch-all deal that wraps up the session. Instead, Zellers suggested that the stadium package, the bonding bill, an omnibus tax package and other significant bills will simply have to sink or swim on their own merits.“I don’t think this year is one of those years where you’ll see that here we all are standing in front of a microphone saying, ‘It’s done and we’re moving on,’” Zellers said.The House and Senate have been meeting in session on an almost daily basis during the past couple of weeks, passing dozens of bills to reform state government, protect vulnerable adults, boost veterans programs and improve health care and education. More controversial measures to loosen restrictions on fireworks and tighten restrictions on abortions have also passed the House floor.Some of these measures have been signed into law; others have been met with the governor’s veto pen. But the fate of the biggest bills is still in doubt. Continue Reading

House approves tighter legislative oversight of rulemaking

Lawmakers might soon be taking a closer, more critical look at the administrative rules promulgated by state agencies.Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) sponsors HF2169/ SF1922* that would provide for greater legislative oversight of administrative rules, which have the full force and effect of law but which are created by state agencies rather than elected legislators. Sen. John Pederson (R-St. Cloud) is the Senate sponsor.The bill proposes several measures to increase legislative oversight, including:requiring agencies to assess the cumulative effect of proposed rules with existing state and federal regulations;requiring a number of state agencies to issue reports describing the rationale behind their existing rules and any recommended changes;requiring agencies to notify the Legislative Coordinating Commission of their intent to adopt any proposed rules; andrequiring agencies to submit their rulemaking docket for the year and the previous year’s rulemaking record to the relevant legislative committees.The bill in its current form has been scaled down from its original version, which proposed much tighter legislative oversight of rulemaking. Beard said he narrowed the bill’s scope in the hopes of getting it signed by Gov. Mark Dayton. He said he hopes the bill “re-engages the Legislature in the whole process of rulemaking.”The House passed it 88-40. Continue Reading