Minnesota Legislature Takes A Break

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The Minnesota Legislature had another busy week in St. Paul with hours-long floor sessions that included the passage of many omnibus bills and approval of conference committee reports. Lawmakers are now headed home for their annual Easter/Passover break. Both bodies will reconvene on Monday, April 16 at Noon.

The Omnibus Game and Fish Bill, approved by the House Tuesday, includes the “Mother’s Day Amendment” successfully offered by Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake). The Amendment changes the State’s fishing opener from May 12 (Mother’s Day) to May 5. The change is only effective for 2012. The legislation authored by Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar) also establishes a $26 wolf hunting fee to fund a wolf management and monitoring account, sanctions electronic sales of hunting and fishing licenses during a government shutdown, and incorporates the recruitment of new anglers and hunters, including women and minorities, into the Department of Natural Resources’ mission.

On Wednesday, the House passed a provision to move the primary election date from August to June after members voted 66-65 on an amendment offered by Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) to HF 2545. If approved by the Senate, the new primary election date will be the first Tuesday following the third Monday in June. Passage of the amendment was close—Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) changed her vote at the last second, allowing the amendment to prevail. The August primary election date is one of the latest in the country.

The House approved the Omnibus Legacy Bill sponsored by Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), providing a total appropriation of $97,420,000 for heritage funds in the fiscal year 2013. The nearly $100 million bill contains $2,900,000 for the Department of Natural Resources to acquire wildlife management areas, $900,000 for the Minnesota Historical Society, $80,000 for public broadcasting programming that commemorates the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War and the Dakota Conflict of 1862, and $600,000 for a new film production incentive program administered by the Department of Administration reimbursing eligible producers for production costs incurred to produce a documentary or film in Minnesota.

The controversial Voter ID constitutional amendment is now up to the voters to decide in the November election. The amendment saw its final approval after both bodies approved the Conference Committee Report, which cleared up the differences in the House and Senate bill language. Voters will see this question on the ballots: "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?”

House members voted 74-52 to pass the Omnibus Environment Bill authored by Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings). The bill includes $32.2 million for environmental enforcement; $11.3 million for lands and minerals management; and $3.4 million for renewable energy projects, measures to allow state parks and recreation areas and the Minnesota Zoo to remain open during a government shutdown, and several provisions to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species in Minnesota.

The Senate passed the Omnibus Health and Human Services Bill (HF 2294) sponsored by Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) on Thursday afternoon. The legislation includes $22 million in new spending as a result of an announcement by Governor Dayton this week that health plans would repay $73 million to the government due to a cap on Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) profits. The bill partially restores the Emergency Medical Assistance program, temporarily restores pay for personal care attendants (PCAs) who attend to relatives, and provides dialysis and cancer treatments for non-citizens. The House companion bill was passed on March 29. The bills will eventually go to a conference committee to sort out any differences. Sen. Hann said Thursday that the bill won’t be perfect for everyone but it’s his intention to produce a bill with broad support from the Legislature that the Governor will sign into law.

Governor Dayton vetoed the Omnibus Education Finance bill which would use the State’s budget reserves to pay back the school aid shift, money borrowed during the 2011 State government shutdown. Dayton said he shares the Legislature’s desire to pay back the schools as quickly as possible but would prefer to do it by using revenues raised from closing corporate tax loopholes. Senate Majority Leader David Senjem (R-Rochester) and Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) both called the veto disappointing.

The Governor also vetoed SF 2014, sponsored by Sen. Benjamin Kruse (R-Brooklyn Park), a bill modifying the terms of Metropolitan Council members to staggered, four-year terms. Dayton quoted former Governor Pawlenty who vetoed similar legislation in 2008 saying the Council’s current structure “was the result of reforms intended to increase Metropolitan Council accountability.”  Dayton said this bill removes that accountability.