What lawmakers worked out this yearHere are some major issues from the just completed 2010 Minnesota Legislature.
By: Forum Newspapers, Lake County News Chronicle
Here are some major issues from the just completed 2010 Minnesota Legislature:
Business taxes: Up to 12,000 people could find new jobs in small businesses due to a bill providing tax credits to people investing in small businesses and old buildings.
Cash flow: A budget-balancing bill gives the state an enhanced ability to pay bills if the federal government comes through on a promise to send the state $408 million.
Complete streets: More flexibility in street and intersection design is possible through the Complete Streets law.
Copper mining: Legislators attempted to strengthen financial assurance rules for nonferrous copper mines in northern Minnesota, but bills did not reach the House or Senate floor.
Deficit: The session began with a $1.2 billion deficit, which grew to nearly $3 billion by May. A brief special session resulted in the deficit disappearing by borrowing $1.9 billion from schools and cutting state spending $1 billion.
Drunken driving: A new law requires serious drunken driving offenders to install ignition interlock and pass a breath test to start their car. Also, repeat drunken driving offenders may lose their licenses for longer periods.
Education reform: The governor wanted several reforms, including evaluating teachers and principals based on student performance as well as allowing professionals to easily become teachers. Many legislative Democrats strongly opposed them and the bills never passed.
Elections: Primary election was moved up a month, to Aug. 10 this year. Also, absentee ballots will be counted uniformly statewide and the absentee application process will be streamlined.
Epilepsy drugs: Pharmacists will not be allowed to substitute epilepsy drugs without consent and notification of patients.
Game and fish: Lawmakers approved allowing anglers to fish with two lines on many waters with a $10 stamp, establishing a program paying landowners to allow hunters access to their property and allowing anglers to fish for free through age 17.
Governor power: Several bills were introduced to reduce a governor’s power, including trimming his ability to unilaterally cut budgets and to allow legislators to call themselves into special session, now a power of the governor alone. All failed.
Health care: Despite deep budget cuts, health-care programs survived better than they could have. However, the budget-balancing bill cuts $85 million from programs, mostly for the poor and disabled.
Home warranty: Lawmakers passed an alternative dispute resolution process for homeowners and builders to resolve home warranty disputes outside of court.
Ice rink air: Efforts failed to make sure Zamboni and similar machines do not poison ice rink air.
Income tax: Despite some Democratic attempts to increase income taxes, they went nowhere.
Judges: A proposed constitutional amendment to change how Minnesotans pick judges failed. Instead of electing judges, voters would have decided whether to keep judges in office.
Lake Vermilion: The state signed a deal with U.S. Steel in recent days to buy land on the Lake Vermilion shoreline in northeastern Minnesota to become a state park. It will be managed along with the adjoining Soudan Underground Mine State Park.
Legislative replacement: The House passed a bill, but not the Senate, to allow military members who are legislators called to active service to be temporarily replaced.
Local aid: The final budget bill cuts $300 million from aids sent to local governments by the state. That is on top of other large cuts in recent years.
Mobile phones: Mobile telephone companies will be forced to provide law enforcement officials the location of missing people’s phones.
Nuclear power: The House voted to lift a ban on new nuclear power plants in Minnesota with a lot of conditions. The Senate did not act.
Outdoors funding: Two environment and natural resources bills provided about $85 million in spending for projects across the state. The governor vetoed a few small provisions, but most of the funding stands.
Pensions: Three struggling pension plans, the Teachers Retirement Association, the Minnesota State Retirement System and the Public Employees Retirement Association, were shored up.
Public works: The Legislature approved spending $1 billion on public works projects across the state, ranging from building new public buildings to fixing existing ones to establishing new trails. The governor vetoed $313 million of the so-called “bonding” projects.
Racino: Efforts to put casinos at the state’s two horse-racing tracks failed, as they have for the last several years.
Sales tax: Suggestions to increase the sales tax went nowhere.
Salvia divinorum: Selling the Mexican herb will be a gross misdemeanor and possession will be a misdemeanor in a bill passed by the Legislature and sent to the governor.
School funding: The state will borrow $1.9 billion from schools, in the form of delaying payments to districts, to help balance the state budget. Otherwise, school funding was little changed.
Sex offenders: There was talk about increasing sex offender penalties, but it did not happen.
Tax reciprocity: Eastern Minnesota legislators wanted to overturn the governor’s decision to end a tax deal with Wisconsin that allowed residents who live in one state and work in the other to file just one income tax return. The effort failed.
Unallotment: In the end, the Legislature basically approved spending cuts that the governor made last summer. Efforts to limit that power failed, but a Supreme Court ruling found that cuts the governor made last year without legislative involvement were illegal.
Veteran’s cemeteries: Legislators and the governor approved a state veteran’s cemetery to be built in southeastern Minnesota.
Vikings stadium: Talks abounded, but a proposal to fund a Vikings football stadium made little progress.