Lawmakers prepare to wrap up session
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators debated election legislation Monday like they debate issues during campaigns: dividing along party lines. The Democrat-controlled Senate approved 39-28 a bill to allow mail balloting in small cities and townships, e...
ST. PAUL - Minnesota senators debated election legislation Monday like they debate issues during campaigns: dividing along party lines.
The Democrat-controlled Senate approved 39-28 a bill to allow mail balloting in small cities and townships, expand voting before Election Day and let felons vote once released from prison.
In the meantime, negotiations began late Monday afternoon among the governor and legislative leaders toward a compromise on budget issues that must be resolved in the next week to meet the constitutionally mandated adjournment date.
Republicans opposed the election bill by Sen. Katie Sieben, D-Newport.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, reminded senators that Gov. Mark Dayton has said that he would only sign an election bill that passes with strong bipartisan support, which Sieben’s bill did not receive.
“It’s too bad we can’t agree that we can have a noncontroversial election bill,” Hann said after a party-line vote on a GOP amendment failed to strip the Sieben legislation of what Republicans considered controversial provisions.
Mail balloting already is allowed in small, rural communities. The Sieben bill would extend that to any townships and cities smaller than 1,000 outside the Twin Cities that want mail voting.
Minnesota has allowed no-excuse absentee voting before Election Day. The Sieben legislation would expand it to a broader early voting plan, which she said would save $4 per voter compared to current law.
The felon voting law, known as the North Dakota model, would allow them to vote when they get out of prison. Sieben said that is easier for election officials than to try to track the probation status of convicts.
The House and Senate went through lists of mostly minor bills Monday, while their leaders and Dayton began negotiating in earnest about a budget that would spend more than $40 billion in the next two years.
“The Senate, House and governor remain significantly apart on a few key issues,” Sen. Matt Schmit, D-Red Wing, said. “What to do with the projected budget surplus? How best to pay for a sustainable and comprehensive transportation funding package? What about our ailing school budgets or pressure on local property tax payers? Or the future of MinnesotaCare, our state’s long-running program for working Minnesotans who lack health coverage?”
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, remained upbeat through the day, to a point.
“I’m optimistic we still can close this out on time...” Daudt said. “We need to see some movement or were not going to get done on time.”
Dayton said Republicans also need to give some. “It is going to have to be a collaborative process. ... It is up to the House.”
The Democratic governor warned that a shutdown is possible. “It is doable, but it is going to take a lot more cooperation than has occurred so far.”
In other Monday legislative news:
-- The House approved a bill 102-25 that provides farmers some legal liability protection when hosting agritourism events.
The provision is in an overall agriculture bill that also contains provisions to allow farmers whose poultry flocks contracted avian flu to take advantage of a low-interest loan program for up to $200,000. They could use the money for things such as improving biosecurity around poultry facilities.
The ag bill also allows for the transfer of seeds in small amounts, resolving a problem the Duluth library faced when it set up a seed library.
-- As budget negotiations continue, the governor and legislators received news that state revenues are above expectations.
Minnesota Management and Budget reported that $260 million more came to the state in April than was expected. The increase was due mostly to individual income tax payments, while corporate taxes were down slightly.
-- The House commerce committee approved a bill to phase out four toxic flame retardant chemicals, fewer than firefighters wanted. The bill had been stalled while firefighters, businesses and chemical companies negotiated a compromise.
It would be the most restrictive flame retardant law in the country, although firefighters say they would like to see more cancer-causing chemicals banned.
-- Senators approved legislation 63-0 to allow smartphones to be used to show vehicular proof of insurance. The House already approved it unanimously, so it heads to the governor for his approval.
“There has been some confusion about how you can show proof of insurance,” Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said, and some motorists have received tickets for only having electronic insurance proof.
-- The governor signed a bill to create incentives to encourage nearby landowners’ land management practices consistent with the National Guard’s Camp Ripley military mission.
-- Dayton signed a bill to increase the penalty for people who attack workers at the St. Peter State Security Hospital. Several attacks recently have been reported there.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press, a Forum News Service media partner, contributed to this story.