Legislative notes: March 26Items of local interest from St. Paul and the current legislative session, as reported by correspondents for Forum Newspapers.
Ice rink air safe?
Linda Davis taught figure skating for more than 15 years, taking her time on the ice after hockey players were done.
A year ago, Davis was diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning that she blames on her years in the ice arenas that skaters, hockey players, coaches and parents visit throughout Minnesota.
Bills making their way through the Minnesota Legislature are aimed at improving ice rink air quality, especially by reducing carbon monoxide and nitrous dioxide, both produced by internal combustion engines.
Davis began experiencing headaches, fatigue and memory problems four years ago.
Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-West St. Paul, said recent incidents in Morris, Woodbury and Osseo in which hockey players reported illnesses blamed on carbon monoxide or nitrous dioxide illustrate the need for a bill.
The committee approved it with several “no” votes, sending it to at least two more committees before it reaches the full House.
The bill would require ice rinks to be state licensed, that rink operators would receive training to use ice resurfacers and that engines be equipped with devices to reduce dangerous emissions.
Metro divide enters the fray
The fight for increasingly scarce state money is getting heated.
As lawmakers approved trimming Minnesota spending by $313 million Monday, rural and urban representatives fought over some of the remaining money.
“Greater Minnesota gets the short end of everything we do around there,” Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake said in joining Rep. Doug Magnus of Slayton and other rural Republicans in trying to take money away from the seven-county Twin Cities area and give it to communities elsewhere.
Rural lawmakers lost their efforts to increase state aid to their areas, but Democrats who wrote the first of three budget bills pointed out that the budget-cutting plan they passed takes a much smaller bite out of local aids than would Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty: $105 million vs. nearly $250 million.
The overall bill passed the Senate 43-23 and the House 80-51, mostly with Democratic votes.
Federal health impact debated
The Pawlenty administration and Democrats who control the Legislature issued widely differing assessments on how the newly signed federal health care reform law will affect Minnesota, but Tuesday evening the two sides agreed to sit down together to figure it out.
Legislative health-care leaders, including Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth and Linda Berlin of Minneapolis, are to meet with Pawlenty administration officials Wednesday.
Besides agreeing to work together on the federal law, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, agreed to bring a compromise health-care for the poor program up for a full House vote this week. Senators already approved it.
The General Assistance Medical Care program affecting 30,000 single Minnesotans who earn $8,000 or less a year is due to expire April 1 if lawmakers and Pawlenty do not take action.
No doubt on health savings
The U.S. House-passed health care bill will bring millions of dollars to Minnesota, helping to balance the state budget.
Combined with another congressional bill, yet to pass, most of the expected cuts to Minnesota health and human services programs now will not be needed, Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said.
“Finally, the U.S. is going to join the rest of the industrial world and have universal health coverage,” said Huntley, the House health-care leader.
Huntley said the most immediate impact of the much-awaited Sunday night congressional vote will be a new negotiation about the General Assistance Medical Care program.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty and lawmakers this month agreed on a new GAMC bill that awaits a Minnesota House vote after senators already approved it. GAMC provides health care coverage to single Minnesotans earning less than $8,000 annually.
Huntley also said the federal legislation will allow the state to end the state-subsidized MinnesotaCare health insurance program in 2014, although not all Democrats agree.
The Duluth Democrat said the Sunday night bill will send Minnesota $330 million in the current two-year state budget. Another pending bill would send enough money that when health and human services program cuts are considered later, about $150 million of spending will need to be eliminated. Huntley had expected cuts of more than $700 million.
While Huntley and most other Democrats were happy with the outcome, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was not.
“Democrats rejected needed, common sense reforms in favor of an overreaching, extraordinarily expensive, government-centric plan that gives more and more control to an already bloated and bankrupt federal government,” Pawlenty said.
County payments upped for park
St. Louis County would receive about $90 million more annually to compensate for land taken out of the tax base when the state takes over land for a new state park along Lake Vermilion under a bill a Senate committee approved Monday.
“There is a growing resentment of us buying more land,” Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said.
The county already is 60 percent owned by governmental entities, Bakk said, similar to the situation in Lake County.
“My county commissioners in St. Louis County are not happy,” he said.
A public works funding bill passed earlier gives. Gov. Tim Pawlenty permission to buy the state park land, but lawmakers have not appropriated $20 million to $40 million needed to develop the park.
The new park will adjoin the Soudan Underground Mine State Park.
The Arc of Minnesota is asking elected officials to remember the disabled as they discuss the state budget.
The Arc says the proposed cuts to human services programs would hurt the disabled and their families. In the past seven years, the disabled already have lost $500 million in funding, the Arc reported, which have reduced the amount of medical care provided to them.