Tricounty News

Legislative Week in Review: April 14-18

On the surface, activity at the Capitol seems a bit slow, but hearings on various issues continue and some important topics are arising in Senate floor debate. Budget bills passed by each chamber continue to be hashed out in conference committee, as well as some policy provisions. Here is a brief summary of   some of the issues. Budget talks progress A flip of a nickel determined that Republicans will make the first move in the recharged bi-partisan budget debate. At a closed-door meeting Wednesday with Gov. Tim Pawlenty and leaders of the DFL majority and GOP minority in the House and Senate, all sides also agreed to submit written offers, the House agreed to remove policy proposals from its budget bill, and DFLers in both bodies agreed not to introduce tax increases into the remaining debate. In play are the use of a health care fund surplus for overall debt reduction, the DFL-desired Central Corridor light rail plan and the Governor's list of veteran's nursing homes and the proposed Lake Vermilion state park. Insurance lawsuits Legislation giving Minnesotans the right to directly sue their own insurance companies now goes to Gov. Pawlenty for approval. Called "good faith" (or sometimes "bad faith") insurance practices, the bill requires insurers to have a reasonable basis for denying a customer's claim, or the policy holder would be allowed to sue their insurance company for the value of their insurance claim, plus damages and attorney fees. The change applies only to property or automobile insurance cases, and was a compromise from an earlier more controversial bill. Airline merger Most Minnesotans are now aware of the pending merger of Minnesota-based Northwest Airlines with Delta. The merged company will be based at Delta's Atlanta headquarters, leaving as many as 1,000 Eagan-based jobs up the air, not to mention uncertainty about another 11,000 jobs statewide. Northwest's promises to maintain a Minnesota hub, headquarters and certain services would, if broken, lead to the state  calling for quicker repayment of $245 million in outstanding loans and cancellation of lease breaks like rent reduction and concessions revenue sharing. The merger still must be approved by federal regulators, but the Delta CEO has initially agreed to retain a pilot training facility in Eagan, reservations centers in Minneapolis and Chisholm and Twin Cities-based flight attendants. Lawmakers will have hearings later this month to address concerns about the debt, how we can reasonably protect jobs in Minnesota and ways to ensure a competitive level of air service in the region. Coming up ... One of the controversial issues that should come up in the Senate early this week is Minnesota's participation in the REAL ID program. Under federal law designed to counter terrorism and illegal immigration, states are required to tighten the system that produces identification cards and adopt certain residency and identification requirements for card applicants. The provision in the omnibus transportation bill restricts Minnesota from implementing the requirement, based on cost and privacy concerns. Gov. Pawlenty has said he will veto the bill unless the provision is changed. The Senate will soon consider a bill allowing a commission of retired judges, rather than the Legislature, to redraw legislative and congressional district lines following the 2010 Census. Based on the recommendations of a study panel led by former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Governors Arne Carlson and Al Quie, the proposal could provide a more stable process of redistricting, which has in the past ended up in legislative gridlock and been decided ultimately by the courts the last four tries. The plan would still allow the Legislature the final approval. 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 at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .