The Minnesota Legislature has an unusually long interim period between sessions this time around. The 2013 session ended on May 20th and the 2014 session is set to convene on February 25, 2014 – more than nine months later. When the Legislature does reconvene, it has very little time in which to do its work and to drill deeply into the many complex issues with which it wrestles. With no legislative elections this fall one might assume that our State Senators and Representatives simply go home to their respective districts and resume their private lives. Not so. Most legislators are very active this interim, serving on one or more of the many committees, commissions, working groups and advisory councils which are meeting this summer and upcoming fall and winter. Here is just a sample of the interim work being done.
The Senate Rules and Administration Committee, chaired by Senator Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), meets over the interim (last week’s agenda included litigation payments), as does its several subcommittees, including Personnel and Budget, chaired by Senator Sandra Pappas (DFL-St. Paul), and Subcommittees on Committees (also chaired by Senator Bakk), which discussed appointments to Commissions.
The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (“LCCMR”) meets year round. The legislators currently serving on the LCCMR are Senators David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm), Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls), Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis) and John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin) and Representatives Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul), Dan Fabian (R-Roseau), John Persell (DFL-Bemidji), Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) and Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis). The Commission’s agenda last week included overviews of the Minnesota State Lottery, State Board of Investment, Natural Resources Trust Fund, and LCCMR Responsibilities and Processes. This last item is particularly relevant in light of the apparent disconnect this session between the LCCMR and the House Legacy Committee, and the Governor’s line-item veto of two appropriations in the Legacy Funding bill this past session. The Commission also discussed the acquisition of property, the conveyance of easements, and the approval of the Environmental and Natural Resource Trust Fund Work Plan. The Commission’s meeting schedule includes a number of field trips to allow the members a first-hand look at current and proposed project sites.
The Minnesota Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs met last Thursday to review State business and job subsidies. The Committee plans to hold a total of ten meetings during the interim, most of them on the road. It will tour workforce centers and other key employment sites in locations such as Hibbing, Albert Lea, Brainerd, Moorhead and Duluth, to name a few. The goal of the Committee is to make legislative recommendations toward the creation in Minnesota of not simply more jobs, but more “good jobs,” according to Susie Merthan, Communications Specialist.
Representatives Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) and Andrea Kieffer (R-Woodbury) joined with the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry (“DOLI”) in a meeting of the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council on June 19th. The Council’s agenda included an overview of Workers’ Compensation amendments from the 2013 session, which included the addition of coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and discussion of a Reimbursement Cost Study and a Patient Advocate Pilot Program.
The Legislative Energy Commission (“LEC”) received some of its marching orders directly from the 2013 session omnibus energy bill, which directs the LEC to work with the Minnesota Department of Commerce (“DOC”) and other agencies to develop a “framework and strategy (which) should aim to make Minnesota the first state in the nation to use only renewable energy.” The legislation is not a mandate, and anticipates that it will take decades to achieve this lofty goal, but nevertheless the LEC has its work cut out for it. The Commission met June 20th to discuss, among other matters, administrative rules and the hiring of an executive director. The LEC voted to make the hire, but on a controversial party-line vote.
The Minnesota Senate Commerce Committee Working Group, co-chaired by freshman Senator Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) and Senator Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) has begun meeting to take on the unarguably worthy goal of reducing insurance fraud. The group’s list of identified stakeholders is as diverse as the insurance industry itself. It includes consumers, law enforcement, the Chamber of Commerce, hospitals, financial institutions, insurance companies, care providers, prosecutors, and insurance defense attorneys. Both of the group’s co-chairs are licensed insurance agents, and together bring a great deal of practical experience to the table. Discussion at the initial meeting showed just how large and complex the issue of insurance fraud is. It extends from fraudulent roof damage claims to overbilling by providers to wrongful claim denials by insurers. While Senate Commerce Committee Chair James Metzen (DFL-South St. Paul) serves on the group, he clearly has given the reigns to co-chair Jensen, who is very committed to using everyone’s time well and getting to systemic problems in the industry.
It appears that interim work will keep many Senators and Representatives quite busy. With significant work ahead in the 2014 session, but little time during session to accomplish that work, the State could benefit greatly from having its legislators ready to hit the ground running on February 25th.