Bills are starting to move from Minnesota legislator hands to the committee calendar. The House’s introduction calendar on Thursday brought forth a record 102 bills to be included in this year’s session.
Last week’s release of the Governor’s budget numbers with a call for a significant amount of early childhood education spending, including universal preschool, has been attracting attention. The House Education Finance and HHS Finance committees met for a joint session this week to hear further remarks from the Department of Education on the breakdown of the Governor’s proposal.
Early Learning Scholarships
In light of the budget release, many early education groups spoke up this week regarding the best ways to approach early childhood. The bipartisan MinneMinds coalition introduced its early learning scholarship bills this week, HF603 and SF606. These bills emerge in advance of a Senate DFL proposal slated to include universal Pre-K with a higher price tag than the Governor. There remains to be a GOP early education proposal.
The Senate Tax Committee met on Tuesday to discuss four bills related to property tax refunds and exclusions. SF208 (Latz - DFL, St. Louis Park)/SF319 (Schmit - DFL, Red Wing) (bills have the exact same language) allows for property tax exclusions on certain homestead and commercial/industrial properties that have undergone improvements if the properties are at least 30 years old. Advocates of this legislation testified and alluded to the benefits this financial incentive may have on stimulating local economies and downtown areas in larger outstate towns and cities. Testimony against came from property assessors who cited the difficulty in both process and form of determining market property value of individual improvements. Members of the committee were largely concerned with burden shifting this legislation, disadvantaging those unable to improve their property even with the tax incentive. The bills were laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus tax bill.
Also passing through the Senate Tax Committee was SF226 (Limmer - R, Maple Grove), which excludes non-taxable scholarships from property tax refund calculation, and SF129 (Rest - DFL, New Hope) which drops percentage growth needed for homestead property tax refund from 12 percent to 10 percent. Over in the House, HF381 (Dehn - DFL, Minneapolis), which allows a credit for the significant rehabilitation of historic structures, was heard and also laid over for possible inclusion.
Sen. Lourey's (DFL, Kerrick) proposal to consolidate the structure of MNSure from a public-private partnership to an independent state agency (SF139) was heard initially in the Senate Committee on State and Local Government. The main concept behind this legislation was to create further accountability for MNSure as a department of state government. Outside of replacing the current MNSure Board with a commissioner and creating other aspects of a state agency, this bill would leave MNSure unchanged. Opinion on this shift was divided along party lines, as DFL members praised the move to more accountability, while GOP members cited the move further away from private health insurance markets as detrimental. The bill passed unamended by roll call vote (8-4) and will be heard next in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.
The Metropolitan Council testified in front of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee on Wednesday, sharing the transit-related portions of the Governor's budget proposal. Highlights include a $2.8 billion investment over the next 10 years funded by a 1/2 cent transit-dedicated sales tax in the 7-county metro area. This will allow for an accelerated bolstering of the entire transit system, including an increase of busing routes as well as further expansion of rail transitways. Governor Dayton believes this investment is necessary to improve transit systems around the state that "... are becoming more antiquated and inadequate.” GOP opinion on the matter can be summarized by Speaker Daudt, "... should we spend a billion on a train when we can't fill potholes?" This difference in opinion between parties on transit represents what figures to be a session-long battle on statewide transportation funding.
Public Safety/Police Force
The House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee forwarded HF12 this week, which would create the Blue Alert system for Minnesota’s police forces. The system has been called the “Amber Alert” for police. It would be way to immediately report information to the public to help track down suspects who have injured or killed a law enforcement officer. The committee hearing took place just a day after Brian Fitch was sentenced for killing Mendota Heights Officer Scott Patrick in July 2014.
Upcoming Legislative Notes
Two bills related to deficiency funding for Ebola-related activities and the St. Peter Security Hospital, as well as funding for natural resource enforcement and the Zoo Board, are expected to move through the House Ways and Means Committee onto the House floor by Thursday. Additionally, the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee expects to hear an overview on license-plate reader and body camera technology, a reboot of last session’s vetoed legislation suspending online lottery activity will be heard in House State Government and Finance Committee, and the Senate Tax Reform division expects to hear legislation related to the expansion of the research tax credit.
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