Legislators worked day and night this week to meet their second deadline of acting favorably on bills that met their first deadline. The Legislature’s final deadline to act favorably on major tax, appropriation, and finance bills is Friday, March 30 at midnight.
A Racino bill authored by Senate Majority Leader Senjem (R-Rochester) was voted down by the Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee on Monday after three and a half hours of discussion. Senjem added an amendment to pay back money borrowed from schools last summer as part of a plan to end the state government shutdown. Committee members eventually killed the bill, with eight voting against and five in favor.
Another Racino bill authored by Senator Al DeKruif (R-Madison Lake) was heard in the Senate Education Committee on March 12, 2012. The bill establishes a Racino and specific revenue allocation for education purposes. Chair Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) indicated the bill would be laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus education bill. The bill was heard and some testimony was taken including the request from an Iron Range group to obtain a license for a track on current Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board land. The track would include quarter horse racing, car racing and snowmobile racing. The amendment to add this additional track was defeated on a roll call 4-9 vote.
The Voter ID Constitutional Amendment was passed by both chambers of the Legislature. The House deliberated until 2:00 a.m. Wednesday and after passing the bill a 72-62 party-line vote. DFLers offered 15 amendments though none were adopted. The Senate passed the bill Friday night on a 36-30 vote. Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) was the only Republican to vote against the measure. DFLers in both bodies offered amendments to the bill to use an electronic poll book alternative supported by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Governor Dayton. The electronic poll books would allow election judges to confirm voters’ identity at polling places without photo identification. The bill is most likely headed to a conference committee to resolve the slight language difference between the House and Senate bills. The question will then be put to the voters on the November ballots whether or not a government issued photo identification should be required to vote.
A group of Republicans held a press conference urging Republican leadership to advance the “Right to Work” constitutional amendment. Sen. David Thompson (R-Lakeville) said he is disappointed that the bill has not moved through the legislative process faster. The bill needs approval by the Senate Rules Committee before being sent to the floor for a full Senate vote. The House has yet to have a hearing on the bill. Rep. Doug Wardlow (R - Eagan) submitted a motion Thursday to move HF 2140 to a more receptive committee, breaking legislative protocol as he is not the chief author of the bill. Wardlow was not on the floor to speak to the motion and the House moved on.
The House voted Wednesday to pass the Omnibus Tax bill on a 72-62 party-line vote. Rep. Davids, Chair of the House Taxes Committee, said the provisions in the bill reducing statewide property taxes are aimed at improving the State’s business climate. “There’s no question that this jobs bill will make Minnesota competitive in the marketplace,” he said. House DFLers argue the bill hurts middleclass Minnesotans because of cuts to the renters credit and will raise taxes for more than 300,000 Minnesotans making $55,000 per year or less. The Senate version of the bill, approved by the Taxes Committee this week, does not include cuts to the renters credit. Instead, it uses the State’s budget reserve to fund the reductions. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen), Chair of the Senate Taxes Committee, said if State agencies are able to come up with enough budget cuts, there will be no reason to tap in to the reserve. Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook) said ideas in the bill are good policy but are not being paid for in a responsible manner. Republicans maintain that the tax relief will make it easier for businesses to expand and hire new employees. The bill will likely see a vote from the full Senate on Monday.
The House Capital Investment Committee released a two part bonding proposal: a $280 million bill for local projects and a $220 million bill for State Capitol restorations. Rep. Larry Howes, Chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, said they will not put forward a bonding bill that exceeds $500 million. Governor Dayton’s bonding plan, a part of his jobs proposal, has $775 million in new construction projects—not including the State Capitol restoration. The renovation has bipartisan support and is seen as necessary but some say part of the four year project could be funded now and the rest in 2014, the next bonding year. The Committee voted to pass the bill and send it to Ways and Means where it is set to have a hearing on Tuesday. The Senate will likely release their plan early this week.
Governor Dayton vetoed HF 1560, a bill gives Administrative Law Judges at the Office of Administration decision making authority in government agency contested cases. Dayton said the current system of executive branch agency heads settling disputes provides accountability and a change would increase the cost of government and confuse decision making.
The House Health and Human Services Finance Committee completed work on its omnibus bill at 11:00 p.m. Thursday night, a week ahead of the Legislature’s finance deadline. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee could take it up anytime next week.
On Thursday, the Senate passed two bills that would allow state parks to remain open, and keep the racing commission and gambling control board in operation in the event of another state government shutdown.