by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Same-sex marriage legislation will be in committee in both House and Senate.
The House Civil Law Committee is expected to take up the legislation at 8:15 a.m. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up a bill at a noon.
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said should the legislation pass the House committee and be set aside until after the budget work is done.
Republicans found it “odd” Democrats were bringing up the bills prior to bringing forth their proposed budgets.
On Tuesday, too, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to bring out his reworked state budget. The governor recently indicated that he has decided to back off a controversial provision, his business-to-business sales tax proposal.
“The proposal was never going to be part of Plan C in the House,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said Friday (March 8) morning.
The governor’s decision caught others off guard.
“I frankly was a little surprised,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. The move punched a big hole in the governor’s proposed budget, he said.
Republicans hope the governor will scale back his proposed spending, too.
Thissen suggested state business leaders were more receptive to an income tax increase on higher wage earners than the business to business sales tax. Republicans scoffed at this idea. Both proposals are found troubling, they suggested.
Minnesota closer to state-run health insurance exchange
The Minnesota Senate approved health care insurance exchange legislation late night on Thursday (March 7), moving the state closer to having a state-run exchange next year.
“It’s true. We are gambling,” Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, of his legislation. But it’s better the state create its own exchange than let the federal government impose one, he argued.
Like the House bill, the Senate bill creates a seven-member board to oversee the web-based exchange, envisioned as a marketplace for those needing health insurance to compare prices, get advice and buy. The exchange, Lourey argued, is not the result of a hurried process — the federal government expects a bill to be signed into law by the end of March, he said — but the reasoned outcome of months of preparation.
The exchange will bring insurance savings to many consumers, he said. Not everyone agrees.
“I just don’t know where the (savings) numbers come from,” Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa.
Unlike the House bill, the Senate looks to tobacco revenues to fund the exchange.
The House bill has the exchange board collecting up to 3.5 percent of premiums sold through the exchange to cover the estimated annual $60 million budget.
Debate in the Senate and House focused on similar themes.
“We are creating the most powerful board in the State of Minnesota,” Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said, expressing Republican sentiments that the board would operate without proper oversight or constraint.
But Lourey, noting his bill creates a legislative oversight committee, countered the Legislature would be perfectly positioned to make changes.
Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, at the end of the 12-hour debate, argued Republicans could have taken up the exchange during their two years in the majority.
“And you chose not to,” she said.
Republicans slammed a conflict of interest provision in the bill to bar board members from working in the insurance industry for one year prior to serving on the board. Republicans were exaggerating the risk of out-of-touch individuals becoming board members, Lourey insisted.
“You don’t have to get a (payroll) check from the industry to know how the insurance industry works,” he said.
Republicans repeatedly tried to amend the legislation with some success.
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, succeeded with a provision dealing with violations of data privacy.
Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, also scored an amendment.
“If it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander,” he said of his provision requiring state senators to purchase their health insurance through the exchange.
The Senate insurance exchange passed on a 37-28 vote. Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, joined Republicans in voting against the bill.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, repeatedly took the floor during the long debate. He called the Senate’s proposed method of funding the exchange a “gimmick.”
On Monday night (March 4) the House passed its exchange bill with one Republican, Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, voting for it. Abeler sometimes votes for bills he doesn’t like with idea they can be improved. He’s hoping this is the case with the exchange legislation.
“I can’t support the (exchange) bill the way it is,” said Abeler, who looks to serve on conference committee. It is possible to improve it, he explained.
“It’s a narrow, torturous path to this,” the former House Health and Human Services Finance Committee Chairman Abeler joked. But if the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Business Partnership, sign-off on the bill, “I’m aboard,” Abeler said, smiling.
Abeler depicts his try-to-fix-it attitude as simply acknowledging reality. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, Abeler said. It was left standing.
Last November, voters re-elected the president whose name the historic health care legislation bears.
“The discussion is over,” Abeler said.
“You can be an elephant or an ostrich,” he said of shaping the bill. “I’ll be an elephant — push my weight around,” Abeler said.
Minnesota is going to have a state-run insurance exchange, he said. This question is, will it be politically leftist or centralist? Obamacare has bitten deeply into the Republican Party, Abeler explained.
“Obamacare has become a ‘third rail’ for at least some of the party — the most vocal part,” he said.
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, indicated that the House would appoint a conference committee next week.
Sex abuse legislation has three-year window
Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, amended his legislation relating to childhood sexual abuse and statute of limitation while appearing before the House Civil Law Committee on Wednesday (March 6). Previously, Simon’s bill wholly did away with the statute of limitation for plaintiffs to file suit against alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse.
But critics charged such leeway put churches, city governments, schools, at risk of being sued over alleged incidents of abuse from decades ago. Such suits are expensive and difficult to defend against, officials argue.
Simon, in committee, said he understood people had concerns.
“I need to be a vote counter,” Simon said. “I’ve listened,” he said.
In his amendment, Simon creates a three-year window at the date of enactment of the bill in which people could file suit for alleged past incidents of abuse. But after the window closes, the ending of the statute of limitation would apply only to future cases.
Simon called the amendment “a really big and painful one,” speaking after the committee hearing.
“But I think it puts the bill in the shape that most people can support it,” he said.
Simon believes the bill can reach the House floor.
“I think so. I hope so,” he said, noting one more committee stop.
Debate in committee on the bill was emotional, with childhood abuse victims testifying.
The courts should be willing to listen when abuse victims are ready to talk, Jim Keenan said. Personally, he still doesn’t talk much about his childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.
“It’s not something you go around and say, ‘By the way,’” he said.
City, church and school associations spoke out against the Simon’s bill, though expressing thanks for the amendment.
Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, an attorney, expressed concerns, too, over the bill. Not everyone who files suit against an alleged perpetrator has a valid case, she explained. Liebling spoke of “creative memory” and other factors clouding perceptions and judgement. To get accused of being a pedophile is life altering, she said.
And if the person is innocent — if allegations can extend indefinitely into the future — that’s tantamount to “being accused forever,” she said.
Simon conceded some allegations are false.
“Is it likely? I would say, ‘No,’” he said.
A companion bill carried by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, has been sent to the Senate floor.
Electronic pull-tabs, bingo disappoint
The underperformance of electronic pull-tabs and bingo as revenue-raisers for the Vikings stadium had lawmakers in House Ways and Means Committee on Monday (March 4) contemplating a game plan gone wrong.
Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, who was extremely critical of the electronic pull-tabs and bingo proposal last session, again blasted it.
“They don’t want this,” Hackbarth said of charitable gaming locations having the electronic games.
General fund dollars will be going towards paying for the Vikings stadium, Hackbarth warned.
“The truth is coming out now,” he said.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, was “slightly embarrassed” to be agreeing with Hackbarth. Young people, Kahn said, don’t go to bars to play electronic games. They do that at home, she said.
Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said general fund dollars have already gone to pay for the stadium.
“Who’s paying this? The kids are paying for the Vikings stadium,” Holberg said, referring to education funding. “That’s how weird this is,” she said.