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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published April 15 2012

Issues in the Minnesota Legislature: What is moving, what is not

ST. PAUL – As state lawmakers face the end of the 2012 session, most issues remain unresolved.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has signed 41 bills, mostly making minor changes to state law, sent to him by the Republican-controlled Legislature. He vetoed 11 so far, compared with 23 all of last year. By comparison, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s top veto year was 2008, when he rejected 32 of the Democratic Legislature’s bills.

There have been 2,998 bills introduced in the House during 2011 and 2012, with 1,237 new bills this year alone. In the Senate, 2,535 bills have been introduced in two years, 1,299 this year.

This list shows where some of the most-discussed legislative issues stand; many bills introduced in the past two years remain active and available to receive lawmakers’ attention.

• Bonding: The House, Senate and Dayton offer three contrasting ways to finance public works projects by the state selling bonds, and there has been no indication how the differences could be resolved. Dayton wants to spend $775 million, the Senate almost $500 million and the House $280 million.

• Budget: After last year’s budget impasse and resulting government shutdown, little work is needed on the budget this year. A slightly improved revenue picture has resulted in arguments about whether to use a newly increased budget reserve for tax cuts, paying back debt to schools or other purposes. Dayton wants to leave it alone.

• Gambling: Legislators have debated several gambling-related issues, mostly to fund a new Vikings football stadium. The favored stadium funding plan would allow electronic pull tabs and bingo. Allowing casinos at horse tracks and a White Earth Twin Cities casino proposal have gained less support for a stadium or other uses.

• Labor: Some Republicans want a constitutional amendment to make union membership voluntary and allow workers in union shops to not be forced to pay union dues. The proposal appears unlikely to pass this year.

• Facebook passwords: A bipartisan group of legislators introduced a bill, relatively late in the session, to ban businesses from asking job applicants for Facebook or other social site passwords. No progress has been reported.

• Fishing opener: A plan to allow walleye and other fishing a week earlier than normal next month has received considerable support, but its future remains in question.

• Guns: Dayton vetoed a bill that would have expanded Minnesotans’ right to use deadly force, such as guns or other weapons, if they felt they were in danger. He signed a law allowing county attorneys and assistants to carry guns. A constitutional amendment affirming the right to bear arms has gone nowhere.

• Jacob’s Law: The governor signed into law a bill named after Jacob Gould, a Clara City youth who was abused but his mother was not notified. The new law requires both parents to be told when a child is a victim of neglect, physical abuse or sexual abuse outside the home.

• Jobs: Dayton and legislative leaders went into the session calling for action to support new jobs. But Republicans reject Dayton’s idea of providing tax credits for hiring the unemployed, and Dayton hesitates to back the GOP plan to cut business taxes.

• Permitting: Republicans and Dayton agreed to take a little step beyond last year’s law to speed up state permits for business construction.

• Pregnancy: A Positive Alternatives law expansion provides pregnant women more options for medical attention, nutritional services, housing assistance, adoption services, education and employment assistance.

• School payments: Everyone says they want to repay Minnesota school districts the $2.4 billion the state has borrowed from them by delaying payments, but cannot agree on a plan. Dayton vetoed a GOP proposal to take $430 million from the state budget reserve to begin the repayment.

• Sex offenders: Sex offenders released from a state treatment program will be subject to community notification. Legislators rushed the bill through the Legislature, and Dayton signed it, after they learned that while sex offenders being released from prison are subject to community notification laws, those who get out of a state treatment program are not.

• Synthetic drugs: The House and Senate approved expanding the list of forbidden synthetic substances that are made to mimic already-illegal drugs. A House-Senate conference committee is working out differences.

• Teachers: A House-Senate conference committee is considering a bill that would abandon the long-held practice of deciding teacher layoffs based on seniority. Dayton is expected to veto it. The governor signed a bill requiring teachers to pass a basic skill tests before entering a classroom.

• Wolf hunting: House and Senate bills would open wolf hunting and trapping seasons, but the proposal has yet to gain final legislative approval.


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Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.