January 25, 2019

Minnesota Legislative Update: Legislators Tackle Taxes, Distracted Driving

The Minnesota Legislature has moved into full swing, as a number of Senate and House committees have started hearing bills this week. Legislators also continue informational hearings to familiarize themselves with state agencies, budgets and new commissioners.

Hands-Free Driving Bills

Bills prohibiting certain forms of cell phone use while driving are moving swiftly through committees in both the House and Senate. These “hands free” bill hearings were characterized by bipartisan expressions of support and emotional testimonies from families who have lost loved ones to distracted driving.

Members of the Senate Transportation Committee heard two bills relating to cell phone use while driving: SF75, authored by Sen. David Osmek (R-Mound), and SF91, authored by Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson). While SF91 aims to prohibit specific uses of cell phones while driving, SF75 proposes an increase in the penalties for texting while driving and authorizes the confiscation of one’s cellular device after their third offense. SF75 will also require driver’s education courses to include instruction related to the laws, penalties and dangers associated with distracted driving. Both bills have been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

In the House, members of the Transportation Committee considered HF50, the companion bill to SF91, authored by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis), which outlines prohibited uses of cell phones while driving, including texting, video streaming, making phone calls, and any other action that cannot be done using one-touch, voice-activated or bluetooth technology. Unlike in the Senate, House members did not hear any bills related to an increase in penalties for distracted driving.

Taxes

This week, the House Tax Committee received an overview from Department of Revenue (DOR) Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly regarding the 2019 tax filing season, which begins Monday, January 28. Since former Governor Dayton’s veto of the 2018 tax bill (HF947) conforming Minnesota’s tax code to the federal tax code as amended by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA), the DOR has worked to educate taxpayers on how the lack of federal conformity will impact corporate and individual taxpayers. Commissioner Bauerly testified that DOR has since held a number of learning sessions with businesses and tax professionals and addressed concerns regarding changes made by the TCJA and how those changes will interrelate with Minnesota’s tax system. DOR also testified that it has worked with various providers to ensure their software is compatible with Minnesota’s tax system. DOR’s top priorities for the 2019 filing season are to minimize impact to customers, support compliance, assist preparers and protect the integrity of the tax system.

The biggest change for individuals is that federal adjusted gross income is the new starting point for determining liability (although the tax rate is still derived from federal taxable income). Individuals can still choose whether to take the standard deduction or itemize (regardless of the option they choose on their federal return) and take personal exemptions. Tax returns will be much more complicated for corporate filers. DOR testified that changes wrought by the TCJA will result in seven new schedules for corporate filers.

Met Council

This week, Nora Slawik, the newly appointed Chair of Met Council, appeared before House and Senate committees saying she hopes to build a strong partnership between the Met Council and the Legislature. She emphasized her time as the Mayor of Maplewood, pointing out that it was important to Governor Walz that the appointed Chair have experience at the local level of government.

Slawik testified that her top three priorities as Chair of Met Council are:

  1. Economic competitiveness: The Council must ensure the metro area is a place in which people can work, live and raise a family. Slawik expressed a desire to work with the business community on this priority.
  2. Equity: Slawik highlighted the importance of equity, saying the metro area should be a place where all people can prosper.
  3. Collaboration: Slawik’s final priority is to collaborate with communities, local governments, state agencies and the Legislature to tackle current and future challenges.

In response to questions from legislators, Slawik said the Met Council is willing to explore changes in governance but wants to make sure they do so in the right way with a focus on working in partnership with the Legislature. Bills have been introduced in both bodies that eliminate the Met Council, require members of the Met Council to be elected and require staggered Council terms.

Important Dates:

Upcoming important legislative dates:

  • February 19, 2019 – Governor’s Budget Recommendations Released
  • Last week of February – February Budget and Economic Forecast Released
  • April 13, 2019 – April 23, 2019 – Legislative Break
  • May 20, 2019 – Session Adjourns

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