January 10, 2015

First week at legislature

The Minnesota Legislature convened on Tuesday, January 6 at noon to begin the 2015 Minnesota Legislative session. The first day of session was marked by the swearing in of new members, organizational matters and other formalities. Most of the legislative business in January will consist of committee overviews of matters within their jurisdictions.

On Thursday, January 8, the DFL Senate leaders and Republican House leaders announced their key priorities for the upcoming session. The bills singled out by the leaders will mark the general focus and goals for these caucuses. Both plans emphasize job creation and education, but they take very different routes to get there.

Minnesota Senate Democrats proposed free education at the State’s two-year colleges, loan forgiveness for rural doctors and dentists, and a program to link up current minded students with employers. The other bills highlighted in the Senate DFL press conference also would fund early childhood education, child protection measures, and disaster relief for counties hit by storms. The House Republicans, on the other hand, emphasized reducing or removing regulatory barriers for business and reducing taxes as the best way to boost the State’s economy and generate jobs.

Governor Dayton will unveil his priorities for 2015 when he releases his proposed budget on January 27. However, speaking at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Session Priorities Dinner on Wednesday, January 7, Dayton made it very clear that his number one priority for 2015 will be increased transportation funding for State roads, bridges and transit. The Governor will propose wholesale and retail sale gasoline taxes as one way to generate funding. House Republicans countered that while they support additional funds for transportation, they prefer to do so within the context of the State’s estimated $1 billion budget surplus for the next biennium.

The physical constraints which will hamper the upcoming legislative session because of an extensive remodeling and updating of the State Capitol building have become clear. The project begun last summer and will continue through 2016. The constraints are so significant that Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann of Eden Prairie is even proposing that the Legislature skip the 2016 session and complete any business required for the biennium during the 2015 session. Other legislative leaders admitted being intrigued by the possibility, but questioned how realistic it would be to accomplish.

Senate First Six

Senate Majority Leader Bakk said the State has a surplus because of the good work of the Legislature over the last two years. “We left $600 million on the bottom line to make sure the incoming legislature and Governor had a clean slate. Our proposals are scalable. We do not see a need for general fund spending increases.”

SF1 (Jensen) – Disaster Relief bill. Heavy rains last summer brought about major flooding in the State. FEMA funding was made available, but need a State match. The bill provides appropriations to the disaster assistance contingency account.

SF2 (Stumpf) – Education bill. The legislation grants tuition relief for qualifying high school seniors at a MNSCU site. It aims to address the shortage of skilled workers and match up unemployed workers with the employers that have vacancies. The bill encourages graduating seniors to enroll in community or technical college (provided they follow the set guidelines). The cost savings for students should cover about 50% of their education costs. The hope is that more students will go into trade and technical schools to aid in boosting rural economy.

SF3 (Clausen)- Jobs bill. The legislation provides loan forgiveness for doctors, mental health professionals, public health nurses, and dentists who agree to work in rural Minnesota. There is a critical shortage of dentists, healthcare professionals in rural Minnesota.

SF4 (Sheran) – Child Protection bill. The bill proposes stronger protection for children facing maltreatment. It would require records be kept on file for five years and enlist county agency involvement.

SF5 (Bonoff) – Jobs bill. The legislation addresses the PIPELINE, apprenticeship programs, creating a dual training competency grant program. It implements a “Earn while you Learn” proposal; the State will partner with business via the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for grant dollars to support the student classroom on-the-job-training.

SF6 (Hoffman) – Education bill. The bill takes all-day kindergarten to the next level with funding for universal all-day preschool for four year old students.

Transportation Chair Sen. Dibble said transportation will be an extremely important focus for the Senate. He explained that they won’t be introducing the bill until next week, saying it will reflect recommendations of the MoveMN coalition that wants to generate funding through tax hikes.

House First Five

In the House, Speaker Daudt characterized the first five bills as those that represent the priorities that Minnesotans care about. He maintained that he will work with anyone who wants to work with their caucus to achieve their goals.

HF1 (Kresha) – Tax bill. The bill provides new markets tax credit for mining, timber and high tech. It also contains a pass through tax credit for S Corps. and speeds up the permitting process for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency from 90 days to 45 days.

HF2 (Loon) – Education bill. The legislation builds on the teacher evaluation process passed four years ago, and will be part of the process for teacher removal. It also seeks to streamline the process for teacher licensure including out of state teachers and offer flexibility for local school districts to bring in local community experts.

HF3 (Shomacker) – Long Term Care bill. The legislation introduces additional incentives for the long term care workforce. It offers a loan forgiveness program for certain health care workers and expands the scholarship program to nursing staff in long term care facilities to work toward a higher degree. The bill directs Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to make long term care a priority in their workforce planning and establishes a long term care savings account along the same lines as an HSA. The new account would provide a tax credit for long term care costs for individuals who are not at retirement age to offset the cost of tax penalty for early retirement withdrawals.

HF4 (Kelly) – Transportation bill. The legislation seeks to use 15% efficiency savings across Minnesota Department of Transportation. $750 million of funding would come from existing funds with no need for new taxes. The bill would earmark $200 million toward local roads and bridges.

HF5 (Mack) – Health Care bill. The legislation seeks to bring about greater transparency and accountability for MNsure. The bill calls for requesting a federal waiver to allow for individuals to receive ACA tax credits outside of MNsure.