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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL)

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Legislative Update- The Last Week of Session

Friday, May 25, 2018

Dear Neighbors,

Session came to an interesting end once again this year. It felt like Republican leadership was a bunch of college kids cramming in everything on the week of finals. In my last full update, I said “A week can seem like a month in legislative time. I expect full days, late nights and lots of activity.” Boy was I wrong. The last week limped along, we left early a few of the nights and only had two nights when we worked passed 2:30 a.m.

Last Week of Session
Monday through Friday, we met on the House Floor at 10:00 a.m. to open up session. We quickly recessed for our caucuses and conference committees to meet and came back at noon to start the calendar of the day. That pattern held through Friday. The week was filled with individual bills that were relatively non-controversial and during this time the conference committees were meeting to put together the Tax bill and the large 998 page Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill that the media nicknamed “Omnibus Prime”. The majority of the bill was filled with policy unrelated to the budget provisions.

Omnibus Prime. And don’t worry, I borrowed a copy for the photo. I read what I could in three hours on my computer.

On Monday, we heard the first version of the bonding bill in the House. The final Bonding Bill hit the House floor late in the evening on the very last day of session. On Tuesday, May 15, we heard the final Tax Bill. I voted no because, over time, cuts for corporations grow disproportionally to individuals. The bill would also lead to fiscal instability for our state budget. The Governor promptly vetoed it.

On Wednesday, we heard the constitutional amendment to dedicate a portion of the general fund, taxes on auto parts, to roads and bridges. There are already 7 constitutionally dedicated funding streams to roads and bridges. While I firmly believe that we need to invest new money in our transportation system, it should be in a comprehensive way and actually include new money. The way this constitutional amendment was structured merely shifts money away from the general fund. The majority of the general fund invests in education, health and human services as well as running core functions of the state. The constitutional amendment did not include any investment for transit which is also desperately needed.

On Thursday, the House DFL moved to declare a sense of urgency to bring the hands-free cell phone bill to the House floor. This bill had tremendous bipartisan support, a Republican chief- author, and was backed by a large coalition of advocates who had lost family members to distracted driving. This bill has been in the works for two sessions. There were 55 GOP members and over 40 DFL members in favor of the bill; plenty of folks to pass it. But, every single House Republican member voted in opposition to bringing the bill forward. The House author, Rep. Uglem, even spoke against taking the bill up saying “Today is not the day.” It was very difficult and disappointing to hear when there were only four days of session left.

Friday brought more general register bills and we were adjourned early in the evening. I had a bag packed in my car to work late and was prepared to sleep on my couch but got to go home. On Saturday, we didn’t start until 1 p.m. I still had my bag packed and although we worked until 2:30 a.m., I still went home as we were not scheduled to start until Sunday at noon. But, it’s important to always be prepared.

On Sunday, we had to adjourn by midnight because the Minnesota Constitution does not allow us to pass any bills past midnight. As Sunday began, we still had yet to see the giant omnibus bill, the re-run of the tax bill, the bonding bill or the pensions bill. Earlier that day, we were told that we would be doing the pensions bill last. Speaker Daudt had said that we were saving it for last to make sure that “we behaved.” Yes, you heard that right, House Republican leadership held hostage the pensions bill until the last fifteen minutes of session, which affects tens of thousands of workers across the state. These folks work in our schools, our prisons, plow our roads and work in our cities. I found this maneuver disgusting. We did pass it at 11:45 p.m. and sent it to the Senate where it was passed with 15 minutes to spare. It is awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Over the last few day of session there was a lot of waiting around as we worked our way through the long list of bills, especially on the last day.

 Rep. Peggy Flanagan and me spending time waiting for action on the last day of session.

Bottom-line, the process really should not work like this. There were way too many conference committees and deals that happened behind closed doors. And, having a 998 page bill posted publically on-line just hours before we were to vote for it really hit a new record low. There needs to be much more transparency in the process moving forward.

Governor Mark Dayton's Vetoes
On Friday, May 25, Governor Dayton vetoed the large supplemental budget bill, “omnibus prime.” It was full of policy, many of it the Governor opposed, as well as a few provisions that had gained bi-partisan support. For example, there was a section in the bill that would have unlocked millions of federal dollars to protect our voter registration system from cyber-attacks. The GOP House leadership refused to send this bill separately despite the pleas of Secretary of State Steve Simon. Provisions like this could have easily stood on their own or could have been included in less controversial bills. Governor Dayton repeatedly asked for that approach and consistently said he would veto a bill that was chock full of harmful provisions. There were so many bad provisions in the bill, it would take another two pages to explain all of them. My biggest opposition was where it fell short. During a time of surplus, there was very little new money for schools, no money to stem higher education debt, cuts to health and human services and Department of Revenue.

I also had a hard time understanding the GOP leadership’s attempt at “compromise.” Once the Governor vetoed the first tax bill, they took almost the exact same language and added it to a meager education bill. I say meager because it had only 1/3 of the amount of new investment that the Governor had requested. Of the $225 million dollars proposed, only $50 million was new money and that came from the rainy day fund instead of the surplus dollars. The rest of the money repurposed funding that the schools already had been appropriated. Not exactly a stellar bill. This is the combination education/tax bill that the Governor also vetoed earlier this week.

Other vetoes this week include: the Agricultural Policy Bill; the bill that changed the nitrate/wild rice standards; and the bill that raised the criminal charge on those who block a highway, airport or transit during a protest.

Missed Opportunities
There were some significant missed opportunities this session. There was little to nothing that made it into the big budget bill to address elder abuse, despite the problem revealed by the StarTribune series and our own Legislative Auditor. The only things put forward were working groups to study the problem. Almost none of AARP’s requests or the Governor’s Taskforce on Elder Abuse even received a hearing. For years, we have heard about the issue of opioid abuse that has grown into an epidemic in Minnesota. Despite the Senate overwhelmingly passing a bill to require the pharmaceutical companies to pay a fee to be used for addiction programs and education, the House GOP leadership refused to take it up. There was no separate bill for school safety, but there is a little money in the bonding bill. And, despite the thousands of people who marched on the Capitol demanding common-sense gun violence reforms, no meaningful action allowed by the GOP majorities.

What is Left on the Governor’s Desk
While there are 89 individual bills that Governor Dayton has already signed, there are a few bills still awaiting his signature on his desk. During the second year of the biennium, the Governor has 14 days after a bill has presented to him/her to either sign or veto it. If left unsigned, it does not become law either and is called a pocket veto.

The largest bill awaiting action is the bonding bill that was passed during the last hour of session. It includes $825 of general obligation bonds, some cash, trunk highway bonds for road projects and provisions from the LCCMR bill. The LCCMR bill (Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources) appropriates money from a constitutionally dedicated fund from lottery proceeds. Traditionally, the LCCMR bill is put together after the board reviews the multitude of proposals from around the state. It is normally non-controversial and bipartisan. The projects are thoroughly vetted and go through a rigorous process. The LCCMR board met this year and proposed a bill that would fund projects with the cash in the fund. But instead, projects were cherry picked from that bill, plopped into the bonding bill and were combined with wastewater treatment projects. A mechanism was used to bond for these projects, one that is high-cost,  and would eat up the proceeds in the fund leaving little money for any future projects. Not only is this unorthodox, it may be deemed unconstitutional. It is not what voters approved of in 1988 when it was on the ballot. You can find out about the LCCMR program here. It is worth noting that the Governor may line-item veto specific projects in this bill because they are tied to money and not just policy. It will be interesting to see what he decides to do.

Lieutenant Governor Update
Effective today, Michelle Fischbach resigned her seat in the Minnesota Senate and took the oath of office to serve as Minnesota’s 49th Lieutenant Governor. Lieutenant Governor Fischbach was to ascend to that position, from her post as the President of the Senate, once then Lieutenant Governor Smith was appointed to the U.S. Senate. Governor Dayton joined Lt. Governor Fischbach for today’s oath of office ceremony, and has made special election plans for Senate District 13. The special election will be held in coordination with Minnesota’s general election on Tuesday, November 6th.

During the last year of the biennium, some colleagues choose to retire instead of running for re-election. This year was no different. After we adjourned session for 2018 on Sunday evening, we started retirement speeches at 12:30 a.m. I really do wish we would have come back for our ceremonial Monday to hear those speeches, but I am not in charge. You can listen to them hereI am going to miss many of these folks, they have dedicated much of their time to public service and we owe them a debt of gratitude. I am going to especially miss working with Rep. Peggy Flanagan. Her strong and compassionate leadership made a mark. Not to mention, she could make me laugh even during the darkest of times. Thank you for your friendship!

I am really going to miss this lady!

Constituents and Organizations
During the final week, many organizations came up to the Capitol to rally for their cause. We saw folks pushing reforms to prevent elder abuse, to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the opioid epidemic and for common-sense gun reform.

Folks protesting for sensible gun protection legislation and reform to prevent elder abuse.

We saw school districts push for increase in education funding and different groups push for their projects in the bonding bill.

Rep. Jack Considine holding an adorable baby during an education rally.
On Wednesday, I had the honor of presenting Michael Korsh a resolution to honor him for receiving the Minnesota Student Journalist of the Year Award. Michael is a Hopkins High School Senior who will be attending Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern in the fall.

Michael Korsh and his mother Jill on the House floor.

The resolution for Michael Korsh.

This is one of the last few updates you will be receiving from me. I will be sending only one or two more out. There is a rule during an election year that you cannot send out unsolicited correspondence 60 days after the legislature adjourns. I can still respond to constituent e-mail, invites, questions and concerns, so please, continue to feel free to contact my office.
And, mark your calendars for an upcoming SD46 Town Hall on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 hosted by Senator Ron Latz, Rep. Peggy Flanagan and myself. It will be from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at St. Louis Park City Hall in the council chambers. Hope to see you there!
Have a great weekend!