Session will be short, full, worth watchingWith a pucker from special interests, a shuffling of papers and the pound of a wooden gavel, lawmakers get back at it today in St. Paul. And while not nearly as intriguing as taking in the Olympics or even as fun as watching the snow melt (and it
With a pucker from special interests, a shuffling of papers and the pound of a wooden gavel, lawmakers get back at it today in St. Paul. And while not nearly as intriguing as taking in the Olympics or even as fun as watching the snow melt (and it
really does do that — and will, trust us), Minnesotans have good reasons to keep a close watch on the 2014 Legislature.
Such as …
… Bonding money coming our way
Every other year lawmakers sell bonds for hundreds of millions of dollars of public facilities, whether to build them or repair them. An expected $840 million bonding bill this year could include cash so Spirit Mountain can make snow with water from the St. Louis River rather than from our municipal water supply as well as money to help renovate the historic but distressed NorShor Theatre and Wade Stadium. The Northland’s delegation of lawmakers can fight hard for projects proposed for Duluth and elsewhere in the region.
… A marijuana measure with a good tweak
Iron Range Rep. Carly Melin’s measure to legalize medical marijuana, while well-intentioned, was going to be a hard sell. Other states have taken the step and been left with chaos and criminal activity as weed is sold and resold and smoked not by people with legit medical needs but who were just looking to get high. Law enforcement’s appropriate opposition has included Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay who, in an interview with the News Tribune editorial board, likened the scene outside legal marijuana dispensaries in California and elsewhere to the sidewalks outside Duluth’s Last Place on Earth. No one wants to go back to that.
But Melin is now working on a much narrower proposal that would allow the beneficial chemicals in marijuana to be dispensed in liquid form or in pills like other medicines. There’d be no weed to smoke.
“If you can come up with a truly medicinal product, one that can be reduced to medication or an inhalant, I think we’re certainly open to that,” Minnesota County Attorneys Association Executive Director John Kingrey told the St. Cloud Times for a story Saturday.
All of Minnesota could be open to that to help those who truly are suffering and who truly need the medicine.
… Business taxes that need to go away
In the rush to wrap up the 2013 legislative session and worried that not enough money had been lined up to cover record spending, DFLers enacted a trio of business-to-business sales taxes. With budget forecasts now making clear the taxes aren’t needed, that there’ll be enough money to pay for the Legislature’s spending without them, the B2B taxes, as they’ve come to be known, can be repealed. And quickly, too, before one of them, a 7.5 percent tax on warehouse space, goes into effect
April 1. Other B2B taxes are on the labor to repair electronic equipment and on telecommunications equipment sales.
… Minimum wage on the rise
In Minnesota there certainly is reason and room for a pay bump for minimum-wage earners. Families and individuals struggling to thrive would benefit. The last time the Gopher State raised its minimum wage was in 2005, and then by only a dollar, from $5.15 to $6.15 per hour. Minnesota’s minimum wage lags embarrassingly behind the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin. All of our neighboring states match the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Minnesota is one of only four states in the country with a minimum wage lower than the federal wage, itself the target of a likely increase. And had Minnesota’s minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it’d be at $10.55 per hour right now. So raise it. But lawmakers can be careful how high. Proposals to zoom past neighboring states could make Minnesota an island that job creators may want to avoid.
… The brawn to battle bullies
Minnesota has a bullying problem. Statewide, more than half of school kids are suffering the humiliation, fear, abuse and distraction caused by meanness. It’s negatively affecting school performances, attitudes, self-esteem and entire communities.
Yet the state has one of the weakest, if not the weakest, anti-bullying laws in the country — just 37 words. The Minnesota Legislature can fix that this session with a beefed-up bill to clearly define bullying, harassment and intimidation and to provide specifics to school districts about what their policies should say and how kids should be protected.
The bill also calls for as much as $19 million in spending for training and for a School Climate Center within the Department of Education. That’s a shocking number. Surely the state’s genuine need to protect children can be achieved without unnecessary spending.
… Those things the Legislature thankfully won’t do
After raising taxes more than $2 billion last year, Democrats who control the Senate, House and governor’s office can back off from any inkling of new spending. Likely, thankfully, they will. They do have elections to try to win this fall.
The Legislature also appears poised not to take any action at all on a push to start charging a 10-cent deposit on empty bottles and cans redeemable by consumers. The goal is laudable: encouraging recycling. But running a deposit program is messy, expensive and a pain. Just look at other states that have tried it.
“We all support recycling. We all want people to recycle as much as they can because the materials are valuable,” Tim Wilkin, president of the Minnesota Beverage Association, said in an interview this month with the News Tribune editorial board. “The overall recycling rate is around 45 percent. This (proposal) would move it to 47 percent — for a lot of work and a lot of cost.”
Single-sort recycling remains the best option for Minnesotans.
Also the best option for Minnesotans is the Legislature staying out of proposed copper-nickel mining in Northeastern Minnesota. House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said no legislation would be considered this year as PolyMet Mining weaves its way through the environmental-review and permitting processes. It would be inappropriate for lawmakers to interject themselves at this point.
That’s a lot for one session, and an expected short session at that. And yet it only scratches the surface. Minnesotans can keep a close watch through the end of the session May 19 — or until the snow starts melting.