Lobbying disclosure requirements could be tightened

The House voted to tighten disclosure requirements for lobbyists, but rejected a measure that would have impacted groups that disseminate “model legislation” to state lawmakers.Sponsored by Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) and Sen. Ray Vandeveer (R-Forest Lake), HF2684/ SF2334* would clarify reporting requirements for public utility companies. It would require that lobbying disclosures be itemized rather than reported as one total number.On the House floor, DFLers successfully offered several amendments to add to the list of types of spending lobbyists in the state must publicly disclose, including:spending related to efforts to influence recommendations of a legislative council or commission;spending on industry conventions, facility tours, travel arrangements, private jets and other hospitality-related expenses; andspending on efforts to promote or defeat a ballot question or a candidate for public office.Peppin said she would accept the DFL amendments as “friendly” because she believed they are already covered by current law.The bill was passed 131-0. It now returns to the Senate, where a different version passed 64-0 on March 27.Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have expanded the definition of lobbying to include groups that disseminate “model legislation” for state legislatures to adopt. It would have forced disclosure of spending on things like hotel or travel accommodations for lawmakers to attend conferences where model legislation is promoted.Supporters said the amendment would bring greater transparency to the activities of groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which many Democrats allege has greatly influenced Republican legislative priorities.“People who want to influence legislation are paying a lot of money to bring legislators to nice locations to influence them, and the public is not being told,” said Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester).Opponents said the amendment could have unintended consequences, such as impacting nonpartisan organizations like the National Conference of State Legislatures. Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) said she regularly attends a variety of conferences around the country to learn from colleagues and discuss new ideas.“I go to those conferences to glean ideas from other states… this is what we’re supposed to do,” she said.The amendment failed on a vote of 60-72. Continue Reading

Heroes for hire

When the 2,700 members of Minnesota National Guard’s 34th “Red Bulls” Infantry Division return home from Kuwait later this month, they will have many things to look forward to. Unfortunately, for approximately 19 percent, a job isn’t one of them.“The job market was bad when they left; a lot of them were 18 to 23 or 24 years old, many of them had been in college or in school,” said Jim Finley, director of veteran employment services for the Department of Employment and Economic Development. “When they left, they were unemployed, and when they come back obviously they’re going to be unemployed.”The Red Bulls aren’t alone. Minnesota’s unemployment rate for post-9/11 military veterans is estimated to be 23 percent — the third-highest in the United States. Throw in older veterans and the picture looks only marginally better: a total of 9.4 percent of the state’s veterans are unemployed, compared to just 5.7 percent for all Minnesotans.It’s not just young soldiers, either. Continue Reading

House votes to move primary to June

The state’s primary elections could move from August to June — a change that supporters say would encourage greater public participation and align Minnesota more closely with other states.Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) successfully offered the provision as an amendment to HF2545/ SF2296*. It passed on a vote of 66-65. Rep. Tim Sanders (R-Blaine) and Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) sponsor the bill.In 2010, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a law moving the state primary from September to August. The September primary date was seen as disadvantageous to military and overseas voters, and the change had overwhelming bipartisan support in the Legislature. As amended, the bill would designate the first Tuesday following the third Monday in June as the date for the state’s primary elections. Currently, primary elections take place on the second Tuesday in August. Supporters include Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Continue Reading

Voter ID bill gets final OK from House

A proposal to let Minnesotans decide on whether to require voters to present government-issued photo identification cleared its final hurdle in the House.A vote on the Senate floor now awaits HF2738*/ SF1577. Sponsored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) and Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), the bill proposes amending the state’s constitution so that voters must prove their identity using an approved form of photo ID.The House and Senate passed different versions of the bill in late March, and members of a conference committee signed off on a compromise version Tuesday morning. On a 72-57 party-line vote, the House re-passed the bill as amended by conference. If the Senate follows suit, the following question will be put to the voters in November:“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”A majority of voters would have to approve the amendment on this fall’s General Election ballot in order for it to take effect. The next Legislature would then be tasked with passing an enabling law spelling out the details of how the photo ID requirement would be implemented.Passing a photo ID requirement has long been a top priority for Republican lawmakers, who say it’s needed to ensure the integrity of the state’s elections. Continue Reading

Conferees reach agreement on voter ID bill

A plan to require voters to show government-issued photo ID might be just a couple of floor votes away from being placed on this November’s ballot.Members of a conference committee reached an agreement on HF2738*/ SF1577. Sponsored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) and Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), the bill proposes amending the state’s constitution so that voters would have to present an approved photo ID card at their polling place on Election Day. If approved by a majority of voters, it would fall on the next Legislature to pass enabling legislation spelling out exactly how the photo ID requirement would be implemented.Conferees voted to adopt a conference report that contains some key differences from the versions passed by the House and Senate. These include:removing language added on the Senate floor that would have allowed for technologies “equivalent” to photo ID to meet the necessary requirements;requiring “substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification” for absentee and mail-in voters (previous versions referred to “eligibility verification” only); anda substantially shorter ballot question than had been proposed by the Senate.The committee allowed a limited amount of public testimony on the bill. Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Continue Reading

House passes scaled-back land use bill

The House passed a dramatically scaled-back version of a bill that addresses land use disputes between local governments and developers.The amended version of HF389*/ SF270, sponsored by Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee), would require local governments to give greater public notice before adopting interim ordinances that can halt developments for one to two years.Earlier versions of the bill proposed much tighter restrictions on adoption of the ordinances, which are also known as “land use moratoria.” Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) successfully amended the bill, with Beard’s support, to remove a number of provisions that were opposed by counties and townships.Under the new language, the local elected body would have to provide a 10-day notice before holding a public hearing at which an interim ordinance could be adopted. Beard said the proposal represents a compromise that he and the bill’s proponents worked out with representatives of local governments. He called it “about as good a consensus as we can find on this bill.”The House passed the bill 76-53. It now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Ray Vandeveer (R-Forest Lake) is the sponsor.Supporters claim interim ordinances can be misused in order to arbitrarily delay development projects and wear the developers down financially. Opponents say they provide local officials with a tool to protect their communities from potentially harmful new kinds of land uses.The issue has recently gained publicity because interim ordinances have been used to halt a number of proposed frac sand mining operations in southeastern Minnesota.The bill would also prohibit municipalities from requiring land dedication or fees in development contracts that are not authorized by statute or mutually agreed upon by all parties to the development. Continue Reading

Labor contracts might not continue after expiration

When union contracts expire in the public sector, the contract terms continue in effect. In practice, this can result in employees getting automatic wage or benefit increases even while their unions and employers are negotiating the terms of the next contract.On a vote of 68-63, the House passed a measure that would preclude this from happening.Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) sponsors  HF1974*/ SF2078 that would provide that public-sector union contracts do not continue in effect after they’ve expired.Supporters include school boards and other local government units, who say the measure would put them in a better position to negotiate with the unions. They argue that unions have little incentive to come to the bargaining table when the terms of the old contract remain in effect, providing the workers with automatic compensation increases.Opponents, however, say that the opposite is true: if the contract terms did not continue in effect, then government entities would have too much leverage over the unions during contract negotiations, creating an unfair playing field.“What we’re doing here is messing in public employee labor law and the negotiations between the state and public employees,” said Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park).The bill now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Mike Parry (R-Waseca) is the sponsor. Continue Reading

Fate uncertain for governor’s veterans proposals

A hearing on Gov. Mark Dayton’s supplemental funding requests for veterans programs turned testy, with committee members accusing one another of political gamesmanship.Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) sponsors HF2934 that contains the governor’s $1.5 million request to boost funding for a number of veterans programs. It focuses mainly on programs that help veterans reintegrate into civilian life and find jobs following an overseas deployment.The House State Government Finance Committee laid the bill over after some heated debate. Committee Chairman Rep. Morrie Lanning (R-Moorhead) said the bill can’t move forward until an acceptable funding source is found. Dayton’s stated plan is to fund the bill by eliminating corporate tax breaks, which Lanning said Republican lawmakers would not approve.That didn’t sit well with some DFL committee members. Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park) accused Republicans of holding a “fake hearing” on the bill with the intention of letting it die quietly in committee. Continue Reading

Representative Connie Doepke stepping down and across new lines

When the state’s redistricting maps were released Feb. 21, Rep. Connie Doepke (R-Orono) found that her entire district had shifted northward. With her state senator retiring, she faced two choices: represent an almost totally new group of constituents in the House, or represent her new constituents and her former ones simultaneously in the Senate.She’s opted for the latter. The two-term House lawmaker will retire and make a run for the Senate seat currently held by the outgoing Sen. Gen. Olson (R-Minnetrista).“I don’t view it as stepping down from the House. I’ve loved my four years in the House. Continue Reading

House passes Voter ID bill

Members of the House voted 72-62 to put a question on this November’s ballot asking Minnesotans whether government-issued photo ID should be required for voting.Sponsored by Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), HF2738 proposes amending the state’s constitution so that voters would have to present an approved photo ID card at their polling place on Election Day. The bill now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) is the sponsor.After more than 9 hours of floor debate, all Republican members voted for the bill and all DFL members voted against it. As in previous debates on the issue, Republicans said photo ID is needed to prevent voter fraud while DFLers argued it will disenfranchise voters. Both sides accused each other of having no evidence to back their claims.Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) said the issue is a “no-brainer” for most Minnesotans.“Frankly, most people are shocked when they go to the polls and they pull out their driver’s license and the election judge says, ‘Oh, that’s okay, that’s not required,’” she said.Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park) warned that Republicans were igniting an “arms race” of partisan constitutional amendments.“We are putting policy preferences into the constitution on a whim because one political party can, because they have the votes,” he said.The Legislature passed a voter ID requirement in 2011, but Gov. Mark Daytonvetoed it. Continue Reading