Minnesota Legislative Roundup: Final day of 2013 session today
ST. PAUL - There's less than one day left in the legislative session, and Republicans in the Minnesota House are blasting Democrats for passing a bill early this morning that increases taxes on high-income Minnesotans and hikes the cigarette tax a dollar-60 per pack.
Preston Republican Greg Davids says Minnesotans are waking to discover their pockets, "Have been picked severely." But bill author, Bloomington Democrat Ann Lenczewski says there is no, "Joy in doing the difficult work of raising revenue to balance our budget without gimmicks, pay for the things we believe in, solve the deficit and pay back our schools." The Senate is expected to pass the tax increase bill later today (11am start) and send it to Governor Dayton, who will likely sign it. Lawmakers have until tonight's midnight deadline to finish their work before the 2013 session must adjourn.
A bill that prevents a foreclosure from moving forward while the homeowner is trying to work out a loan modification is headed to the Governor. Representative Melissa Hortman is the bill's chief author and she says the bill protects homeowners from mortgage foreclosure in two ways, "One, it says they are eligible for a loan modification; and second, it says their banker can not foreclose on them until the banker has determined they are not eligible for a loan modification." The bill received broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
Minnesota voters will decide if the state constitution should be changed to include a board that will decide any pay changes for lawmakers. The state Senate voted 43-23 early this (Mon) morning to put the proposed amendment on the statewide ballot, after a much closer House vote earlier. Governors don't have any say in constitutional amendments Sponsors say having a special council determine lawmaker pay removes a conflict of interest and takes a politically charged matter out of the Capitol. Legislators haven't had a pay raise in 14 years, and some say the $31,000 salary is a barrier for some prospective candidates given the time demands of the office. The pay council would set new salary rates once every two years.
Senate lawmakers have sent a $25 million boost in funding for environment, natural resources, and agriculture projects on to the Governor. The Omnibus Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture finance bill also begins to address silica sand mining concerns in southeastern Minnesota. The bill appropriates more than $700 million for environment and natural resources and $81 million for agriculture. DFL Senator David Tomassoni says, "Most of what we did was a pretty good compromise," and he believes taxpayers will be pretty happy with the bill. Two of the major differences between the original House and Senate plans were increasing water-usage fees and adding silica sand mining fees -- proposals supported only by the House. The final legislation drops these increases. The silica sand mining compromise does not prohibit it but does send a clear signal that if the industry wants to move into southeastern Minnesota, the areas within a mile of trout streams will be looked at closely.
Minnesota will not join many other states that have put laws in place to tackle bullying in schools. The Senate started debating anti-bullying legislation late last night, but sponsor DFL Senator Scott Dibble pulled it early this morning, after Republicans said they planned 10 hours of debate on the issue. It would have required a thorough investigation of bullying complaints, detailed record keeping concerning those investigations, and administrators, students, and parents to work together on policies meant to prevent bullying. Supporters say it would take Minnesota from having one of the weakest anti-bullying laws in the country to one of the strongest. Opponents argued it was too expensive, and Minnesota Management and Budget says it would have cost local districts about $20 million a year. Dibble says he will reintroduce the legislation in 2014.