The legislature has finished the 11th week of session, meaning only nine weeks remain before the 2015 session comes to a close. With the first bill deadline approaching at the end of next week, committees have been conducting longer hearings with quick floor sessions to move bills between committees. This week, the legislature passed a bill improving child protection, confirmed commissioners and began to take floor votes on bills in the House.
Thursday was gun day at the Capitol, as the House Public Safety committee heard three bills easing firearms restrictions. The bills would make it legal to carry a firearm with permit and without notification at the Capitol, make legal the sale and purchase of firearms from persons in all other states (instead of only states contiguous to Minnesota as in current law), and repeal the restrictions on possession and use of suppressors.
Discussion on the use of body cameras by law enforcement officers continued this week in Senate Judiciary. Additionally, the committee heard a bill regulating law enforcement use of drones.
With a proposal from the Governor, buffer strips have become a controversial environmental issue during the session. The proposal calls for borders along water and in some cases, along farmland, to create wildlife habitat and preserve water quality. A bill requiring 50-foot buffer strips (HF1534) was laid over in the House Environment Committee this week. Its companion in the Senate (SF1537) passed a committee and moved to the Senate’s Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. Both hearings included considerable testimony.
The Senate Tax Reform committee heard multiple bills improving local government aid (LGA) to cities and counties. Two bills that would establish a property tax credit for targeted homestead and agricultural land were also heard. Finally, Sen. Bakk (DFL- Cook) introduced SF944, which would extend local government aid to certain unorganized territories. Sen Bakk also amended this bill to restore payments of local government aid to four times per year instead of two times under current law. The resulting shift in state expenditures would create an impact of $226.5 million in FY2016 as compared to amounts forecasted under current law. All bills were laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus tax bill.
The Senate Education Committee took up teacher licensure after the House passed HF2 last week, calling for changes to the current practices for teacher retention. This issue has solicited contentious debate, and the Senate hearing required attendees to have a first-come-first-served ticket to the hearing.
Governor Dayton released a new version of his education bill (HF1591 / SF1495) which was heard in House and Senate committees this week. It makes several changes, including adjustments to standardized testing, charter schools and early learning scholarships. Testing advocates, special needs student groups and testing opponents contributed to committee discussions regarding the bill’s decrease in standardized testing and elimination of ACT requirements.
Upcoming Legislative Notes
After some delays, the Governor is expected to release his supplemental budget next week. The first of three committee deadlines is Friday, March 20, 2015. The GOP is expected to release their budget targets on March 25.
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