MLBA Capitol Report for Friday, February 8, 2013:
State of the State: On Wednesday, Governor Dayton addressed a joint convention of the House and Senate to deliver his annual State of the State address. In addition to members of the House and Senate being present; also in attendance were the Lieutenant Governor, members of the Supreme Court, Constitutional Officers, former Governors, the Governor’s family, and Arctic explorer Will Steger.
Governor Dayton laid out the case to defend his budget proposals – admitting that they have aroused controversy, but that such controversy is healthy in our democracy. He also admitted that in our system of governance, no one gets to have it all his or her way – including the governor. To that end, the Governor invited those with other ideas to bring them forward. But, he also blasted critics who don’t offer solutions saying if they are only throwing rocks and casting blame to simply send in a letter or a postcard. The Governor addressed the issue of same sex marriage stating that while controversial, it is consistent with his faith and principles. He stated that every Minnesotan should have the freedom to marry legally the person she or he loves, whether of the same sex or not. The Governor stopped short of calling on legislators to pass a bill this year.
Legislative Response: The Republican response to the Governor’s speech was to renew their criticism of Dayton’s budget and proposed tax increases. They expressed disappointment in the lack of reform in the Governor’s plan and the large increases in spending. DFL leaders generally expressed support for Governor Dayton’s plan praising the Governor for not resorting to one-time budget gimmicks that have left the state with a bad credit rating and little cash. House Speaker Paul Thissen stated that the Governor clearly laid out a vision without hemming and hawing, without hesitation and put it out to the people of Minnesota. The next step will be for the House and Senate to prepare budget bills and bring them through the committee process.
Guns and Cigarettes: The House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee held three days of hearings this week on gun issues. Committee Chairman, Representative Michael Paymar (DFL, St. Paul) plans to put together an omnibus gun bill this month February 8, 2013.
that will include some of the ideas shared during the hearings. Proponents and opponents packed the hearing room all three days, even filling the overflow rooms where the hearings could be viewed on legislative television. Testimony was provided by police officers, family members of victims from gun violence, the National Rifle Association and others. Much of the debate surrounds the issue of the public’s safety verses Second Amendment rights.
The House Taxes Committee heard testimony on a bill to increase the price of a pack of cigarettes. Currently, state taxes on a pack of cigarettes total $1.23. The bill heard in committee would increase the amount of tax to $2.83 and have it apply to more tobacco products. The changes could add approximately $407 million in fiscal year 2014 to the state’s general fund. While additional revenue is a component of the proposal, the bill’s author, Representative Ann Lenczewski (DFL, Bloomington) said the more serious component of the bill is the public health impact of tobacco. No vote was taken on the bill and it was laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus tax bill.
Senate Confirmations: The Senate continued the work of confirming Governor Dayton’s appointments this week. Five cabinet members were confirmed on Thursday by the full Senate. : Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans, Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle, and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. The confirmation of Commissioner Casssellius sparked a heated debate on the Senate Floor as some members expressed concern that the Commissioner had changed benchmarks for educational standards without legislative approval. A motion was made to refer the discussion down to the Senate Education Committee. This motion failed and the vote on the confirmation was passed.
Next Week: Special Elections will be held in two legislative districts – House District 14A which is vacant after the resignation of Representative Steve Gottwalt (R, St. Cloud), and House District 19A which is vacant after the resignation of Representative Terry Morrow (DFL, St. Peter).