Voter ID amendment sent to House floor

A proposed constitutional amendment that would require photo identification for voting is headed for the House floor.Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) sponsors HF2738 that proposes a requirement for voters to show a government-issued photo ID card at their polling places. In order to take effect, the change would have to be approved by a majority of voters on this November’s ballot.The House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee approved the bill on a party-line vote of 13-10. Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) sponsors the companion,  SF1577, which awaits action by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.DFLers on the committee argued that a provision allowing for absentee voting would create different identity verification standards for different voters. They also argued that requiring photo ID could lead to suppressed turnout among certain groups of voters.Rep. John Benson (DFL-Minnetonka) said the proposal was “very partisan” and left unanswered questions about how a photo ID requirement would be implemented.“Constitutional amendments ought to be bipartisan,” Benson said.DFLers also accused the chairman, House Majority Leader Matt Dean (R-Dellwood), of cutting the debate short. Dean responded that limiting the debate was appropriate because the committee only had limited purview over the bill.“I allowed questions to stray very far outside that purview,” Dean noted. Continue Reading

Spending limit for public artwork approved

Those who dislike the idea of taxpayer dollars funding public works of art might soon have a small reason to celebrate.Current law allows for up to 1 percent of the cost of constructing or altering a state facility to be devoted to artwork. (Prisons are excepted.) Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) sponsors HF2212 that would cap the maximum allowable art expenditures at $100,000 per building.The House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved the bill as amended and sent it to the House State Government Finance Committee. There is no Senate companion.Supporters argue that art is better funded by the private sector. The bill originally proposed eliminating the statute that allows for art expenses in state buildings, but Franson successfully offered a delete-all amendment that proposes the $100,000 cap as a compromise.“I believe that $100K is a reasonable limit and a reasonable contribution from the taxpayers to this program,” Franson said, adding, “We do have to be frugal with our taxpayer dollars.”Opponents point out that the current program is optional, not mandatory. Sue Gens, executive director of the Minnesota State Arts Board, said the current statute has resulted in only $8.3 million of state spending on art over the last 25 years.“It’s a small investment. Continue Reading

Dayton unveils supplemental budget plan

Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled a $59.4 million supplemental budget plan that would fund additional jobs, natural resources and human services programs by closing corporate tax loopholes.“As I’ve said throughout my term, my priorities are first the people of Minnesota and secondly providing good jobs for all of them. My supplemental budget addresses those two priorities,” Dayton said at a press conference.The plan includes $43.9 million in new General Fund spending in the current biennium, as well as another $15.5 million from non-General Fund sources. Minnesota Management & Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said the plan is “self-balancing” and would not draw down the state’s budget reserves or impact current forecasted spending.Key parts of the proposal include:$35 million for a “Jobs Now” tax credit that would pay businesses to hire unemployed workers, recent graduates and veterans (all spending would occur in the next fiscal biennium);$6.4 million for medical education research;$5.9 million for personal care assistant funding;$4.7 million for emergency medical care like dialysis and chemotherapy; and$4 million annually to help control the spread of aquatic invasive species.To pay for the additional spending, the governor is proposing to cut tax credits for Minnesota companies operating overseas, extend the state’s sales tax to online purchases (the so-called “affiliate nexus” provision), and  increase hunting and fishing license fees.Full details of the plan can be found on Minnesota Management & Budget’s website. Continue Reading

The rule of law

Jerry Zubay knows the cost of regulations. As a restaurant owner, he has a veritable army of government entities policing, inspecting and picking apart every aspect of his business.“I don’t have anybody there from the nuclear waste commission; other than that, pretty much everybody has their sights on me,” Zubay said.His experiences with regulators range from the annoying — having to pay a master electrician to install a lock box on a light switch located 12 feet off the ground — to the comical. One agency insisted that he install a sprinkler system inside of his new 6,500-pound wood-burning pizza oven, then changed their mind and told him to put a garden hose next to it in case of emergencies.Zubay said the rules and regulations he has to follow, while well-intentioned, are costly, time-consuming and ultimately harmful to his business. And during his 40 years in the industry, he said the problem has worsened as new rules are piled on top of old ones.“I’m not impugning these people or their departments; they’re doing their job. But when they’re doing their job, I can’t do my job,” Zubay told a Senate committee Feb. Continue Reading

Voter ID amendment heard by first committee

A proposal to let Minnesotans vote on whether to require government-issued photo identification cards for voters had its first committee hearing.Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) sponsors HF2738 that proposes amending the state’s constitution to require photo ID for voting. The House Government Operations and Elections Committee took testimony on the bill, recessed and is scheduled to take up the bill again later tonight.Kiffmeyer said a photo ID requirement would ensure the integrity of the state’s elections as well as the opportunity for all eligible voters to cast their ballots. She said that while voting is sacred, a voter’s identity is not.“Who you are and where you live is a matter of the public right to know,” Kiffmeyer said.The Legislature passed a voter ID requirement in 2011, but Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed it. Kiffmeyer’s bill would put the question directly to voters, bypassing the governor’s approval. Under the delete-all amendment offered by Kiffmeyer, the following question would be posed to voters on this November’s ballot:“Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification on election day and that the state provide free identification to eligible voters?”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.Secretary of State Mark Ritchie testified in opposition to the bill. Continue Reading

The disappearing budget surplus

Minnesota’s economy is improving and the state budget has begun its slow climb toward solvency.That’s the gist of this year’s February Economic Forecast, which predicts a $323 million surplus for the rest of the current two-year budget cycle. But despite the good news, top budget officials warned that the state still has a stack of IOUs it needs to pay.“That anticipated $323 million balance does not stick around long,” Minnesota Management & Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said Feb. 29.Last December, MMB announced a projected $876 million surplus — the first in nearly five years. That money was used to shore up the state’s cash flow account and budget reserves, both of which had been severely drained during several years of tight budgets.Schowalter said the new surplus will mostly go to pay back K-12 school districts, which the state borrowed from during the course of the last several budget cycles. It’s not a matter of choice; current law requires the K-12 buyback before any new spending can take place. Continue Reading

Voter eligibility for individuals under guardianship

Individuals under guardianship could face changes to their voter eligibility status.Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) sponsors HF2188 that would clarify voting rights with regard to those under guardianship. She said the goal is to ensure that individuals who are not competent to vote are denied eligibility, while competent individuals aren’t denied.The impetus for the bill stems from a 2010 incident in Crow Wing County in which a group of mentally disabled adults were allegedly manipulated into voting by their caregivers. The father of one of the affected individuals claims in an affidavit that his son is not mentally competent to vote and thus should have been denied.Under a 2003 law, individuals under guardianship are presumed to be eligible to vote unless a court declares them otherwise. Kiffmeyer’s bill would reverse this by delineating between individuals under “limited guardianship,” who would be presumed to be eligible, and those under regular guardianship, who would be presumed to be ineligible.The House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved the bill and referred it to the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Brainerd) sponsors the companion, SF1753, which awaits action by the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.Kiffmeyer said the bill is needed to clarify current law and to protect vulnerable adults from those who would use them to commit voter fraud. Continue Reading

House passes slew of state government bills

Following a day of heavy floor action on public safety bills, the House took up a slew of state government reform bills.Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) sponsors HF545*/ SF1600 that would require state agencies to plan for possible federal insolvency and/or dramatically reduced federal payments in their budgets. The bill passed 74-57 and now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Ted Daley (R-Eagan) is the sponsor.Federal funds comprise 28.6 percent of the state’s total biennial budget, or $17.8 billion. Downey said that with the federal debt at record-high levels and partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., the bill is urgently needed. He called it a “common-sense risk management technique.”Critics included Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), who accused the bill’s supporters of “fear mongering.”Rep. Doug Wardlow (R-Eagan) sponsors HF1560*/ SF993 that would give administrative law judges the final say in contested cases involving rules prescribed by state agencies. The current practice is to refer the judge’s report to the relevant agency, which issues a final decision that can then be brought to an appellate court.Wardlow said state agencies have been granted too much authority in regard to administrative procedures. Continue Reading

Voter ID alternative gets informational hearing

A plan to institute a photo ID requirement for voters remains controversial among lawmakers, but members of a House committee got their first glimpse at a possible bipartisan alternative.Secretary of State Mark Ritchie appeared before the House State Government Finance Committee to demonstrate the use of electronic poll books. The technology consists of laptop computers containing updated voter registration data and photos provided by Driver and Vehicle Services. Proponents say providing electronic poll books for polling places would allow for the verification of voters’ identities without subjecting them to a photo ID requirement.“It allows us to accomplish the very important task of bringing visual verification of voters into the polling place,” Ritchie said. He added, “It’s something that can be done very easily and relatively quickly.”Supporters say electronic poll books represent a less burdensome alternative to the photo ID law proposed by Republican lawmakers. Instead of requiring all voters to obtain a government-issued photo ID card with a current address on it, the electronic poll books would simply utilize the state’s current voter registration system, but with the added benefit of being able to identify voters visually.Some doubt the value of such a system, however. Continue Reading

Land use bill headed for House floor

Opponents of frac sand mining are among those concerned about a bill that would restrict local governments’ ability to put the brakes on land developments.Sponsored by Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee), HF389 would restrict the ability of cities, counties and townships to adopt interim ordinances — also known as “land use moratoria” — that can delay for up to two years development projects for which a complete land use application is pending.Beard said the goal is to protect developers who are playing by the rules from being blindsided by moratoria that can wear them down financially. Opponents say the bill would harm local officials’ ability to protect their communities.The House Government Operations and Elections Committee voted 9-5 to approve the bill and send it to the House floor. Sen. Ray Vandeveer (R-Forest Lake) sponsors the companion, SF270, which awaits action by the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.Beard successfully amended the bill with a delete-all amendment that represents a compromise between the bill’s supporters and its opponents in city and county governments.Under the new provisions, local governments would have 30 days to adopt an interim ordinance after receiving a complete land use application. Adopting an interim ordinance would require a two-thirds vote by the local governing body, and the ordinance would be limited to one year, with no extensions.Patrick Hynes, representing the League of Minnesota Cities, said this version is a “workable compromise” compared to the old language, which the league opposed. He added that they would still prefer to keep the current law.Some say the bill is still too restrictive of local governments. Continue Reading