This week at the Capitol, committees have been busy hearing bills and starting the process of creating legislation that will ultimately make up the final budget proposal from each chamber. Both the House and Senate leadership have released budget targets that set spending guidelines for each committee. From that point, committees hear both budget and policy ideas from their jurisdiction and ultimately will put together a larger spending and policy bill.
It is expected that the omnibus budget bills will become public in the next week and begin to make their way through the full committee process. Typically, an omnibus bill must pass out of its committee of original jurisdiction and then move to the Finance Committee before heading to the Senate Floor. If a bill has any tax provisions included it will also make a stop in the Senate Tax Committee.
Once each of the larger spending bills is passed off the Senate Floor, conference committees will be convened to work out differences with the House and Governor. The conference committee process allows for negotiations between the House, Senate, and Governor in order to reach a final agreement on taxes and spending.
The Senate Transportation Committee has begun work on its omnibus bill which will contain a variety of proposals. Likely to be under consideration are a variety of tax and fee increases relating to transportation, including an increase in the gas tax of approximate 9.5 cents per gallon, license tab fees, and a provision that would allow counties to assess a per-vehicle fee of any amount. The bill will also likely include funding for transit projects in the metro area. This week the Health and Human Services Finance Division began its work on putting the budget together. The Division began hearing bills for possible inclusion in the Omnibus bill, as well as parts of the Governor’s HHS budget, which is SF 1034.
The Senate Education Committee has continued discussions on a variety of issues. The committee heard one proposal that would provide funding to school districts specifically targeted for the payment of costs associated with the 2011 requirement that teachers must be evaluated regularly and that such evaluations must include consideration of student performance levels (effective with the 2014-15 school year). Currently, many teachers are never formally evaluated once their probationary status has passed. Under the 2011 law, evaluation methods will be piloted in the upcoming school year and then school districts must be ready to implement in the following year. Unlike most funding formulas that are driven by the number of students enrolled, this legislation would provide an amount of state aid per teacher.
In the Senate Higher Education Finance Division, legislation to provide undocumented residents attending college with both in-state tuition rates and state financial aid eligibility (often referred to as the Dream Act) was further considered and then passed to the full Finance Committee. Supporters of the measure argued that only students who have a history of living in Minnesota and attending high school will qualify. These students were typically brought into the country as children by parents who immigrated illegally. Concerns have been voiced, however, that holding out the promise of educational benefits from both the K-12 and now the post-secondary systems will likely encourage additional unlawful entry, and that Minnesota taxpayers should not have to fund additional benefits or see financial aid diverted from legal residents. Overall immigration policy and the legal status of such persons continue to be debated at the federal level with some expectation of a resolution later this year.
On Thursday, the Judiciary Budget Division heard SF 235, which mostly contains pieces of gun crime enforcement legislation that have fiscal costs. A majority of the provisions seek to enforce current law, including requiring prompt reporting of data in an electronic format to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that is already required under current Minnesota and federal law so that law enforcement can trust that the current background check system properly contains accurate data about dangerous felons and people with mental illness. The bill also includes provisions related to keeping guns out of the hands of repeat, violent crime offenders. The bill passed the committee, and now heads to the full Finance Committee.
I was honored to have three bills up for hearing in the Senate Environment and Economic Development Committee that were aimed at helping projects of local importance to our area move forward. One bill, S.F. 1147, would provide funding, in the form of a bonding proposal, for construction on the Rocori Trail. S.F. 884 would continue an appropriation to the City of Sartell for $500,000 to acquire some land for park development near the Sauk River. S.F. 1384 would provide funding to the City of St. Joseph for the construction of a new community center within the city.
Senator Michelle Fischbach encourages and appreciates constituent input and can be reached by phone at (651) 296-2084, by mail to G 15 State Office Building