Tricounty News

Legislative Week in Review

May 5-9 With a little more than a week until the constitutionally mandated adjournment date (May 19), there is just a short time to overcome disagreements about millions in spending cuts, specifics of a property tax cap and the use of reserve funds. A less popular option allows unallotment - the authority for the Governor alone to make cuts to the current budget if the Legislature fails to do so. Tax Bill The Senate again passed its tax bill, a procedure needed to align it with the corresponding House bill and assign it to a conference committee. You may remember that the House proposal is drastically different from the Senate version, most notably wiping out the property tax deduction on state income taxes and attempting to remodel the system to create greater property tax relief for lower income households. The outcome of the conference committee is also dependent on an overall budget agreement, in which we are seeking caps on property tax increases to limit local government levies that drive up taxes on homeowners. Bovine TB Minnesota has taken a national lead in the battle for fighting tuberculosis in cattle and deer under a measure signed into law last week. The bill permits the state Animal Health Board to offer a buyout payment to cattle owners with herds in the bovine tuberculosis management zone, conduct risk assessments and make other requirements to control animals at risk. The plan is vital to containing the spread of the disease, which is a real and serious threat to Minnesota's livestock industry. Since the initial 2005 discovery of bovine TB in Minnesota, the state has identified 11 infected beef cattle herds and 20 infected deer in extreme northwest Minnesota counties. As a result of the discoveries, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) downgraded Minnesota's federal status, meaning Minnesota producers face new federal testing requirements for cattle being shipped from Minnesota to other states. Bridge victims The Senate unanimously approved a $38 million compensation package for the victims and families of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, and the bill was ceremoniously signed on Thursday. Bridge victims and survivors would qualify for up to $400,000 under the plan. Those whose injuries and losses were more severe could get more money for uncovered medical costs and wage losses from a $12.6 million supplemental fund. Exact amounts will be determined later by a compensation panel appointed by the Supreme Court. Although the state does not admit liability, the bill recognizes "a catastrophe of historic proportions" when the bridge fell on Aug. 1, killing 13 and injuring 145. It also contains $750,000 for administration and $610,000 for social services for a group of child collapse victims through Waite House, a Minneapolis community center. The state may be able to recover its money in court after the cause of the collapse and the role of private companies has been determined. A final report is expected later this year. Their focus so far has been on a design flaw involving gussets, the plates that connect steel beams, and the weight of construction materials at vulnerable points in the bridge. Home foreclosures A DFL plan to slow home foreclosures for those in subprime or negative-amortization mortgages was narrowly approved by the Senate. The bill would allow some homeowners to defer foreclosure as long as they work with a foreclosure-prevention agency and make partial payments. Opponents say it unconstitutionally involves the government in private contracts and, if not targeted to specific fraud situations, could lead to lenders raising rates to make up for the higher costs and affect lending and credit markets. Committee reports Conference committees, the joint House/Senate panels that compare different versions of bills passed by their respective chamber and seek compromises, are starting to wrap up that work and return their reports on policy bills to the house for final passage. Here are some of the more notable provisions: • E-12 Education - requires student attendance to age 18, literacy instruction training for new elementary teachers and statewide physical education requirements. Adoption of a so-called "growth-based value-added" measurement of student academic achievement puts the bill in veto territory; the governor says the approach is misleading to the public about how students actually measure up to statewide standards. • Ag & Veterans - sets requirements for chiropractors wanting to treat animals in their practice, increases state mandate for bio-diesel fuels by 2015 and establishes a veterans health care council will help ensure our veterans receive the best care possible. • Public Safety - allows civil commitment in Department of Corrections facilities for sex offenders to complete their treatment, rather than have the civilly committed through the Department of Human Services. The change will save the state about $280 per person per day. As always, please feel free to contact me with your questions and comments. Sen. Michelle Fischbach is serving in her fifth term in the Minnesota Senate. She encourages and appreciates constituent input and can be reached at (651) 296-2084, by mail to 153 State Office Building/St. Paul, Minn. 55155 or via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. >.