LEGISLATURE ’15: Budget, Bridges, Booze And More
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The strike of a gavel Tuesday will start Minnesota's Legislative session, a marathon of bills, amendments, debate and disagreements that will run into the spring.
Here's a taste of what may be brewing at the Capitol this year.
BUDGET AND TAXES
Come February, talk of budget and taxes will consume the Capitol. Minnesota lawmakers craft the state's multibillion-dollar budget every two years. February's economic forecast of the state's revenues will set the tone for how that budget will take shape.
No fight will be bigger in the Legislature than how to fix Minnesota's ailing roads and bridges. Lawmakers from both parties agree the needs are dire - at least $2 billion and as much as $6 billion over the decade. But they'll need to bridge a disagreement on how to pay for those repairs.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is calling for a wholesale gas tax dedicated to funding transportation repairs - a plan that may scare off Republicans and even some fellow DFLers.
The GOP has already started turning up the heat to bring back an old issue: teacher tenure laws and how they're laid off.
A Republican-aligned group started airing ads ahead of the session urging Minnesotans to contact their elected officials about the "last in, first out" rule. Gov. Mark Dayton struck back, showing he's not likely to change his position from his first term, when he vetoed such a change. And some House Republicans may be eager to take on the Minnesota State High School Sports League and their recent policy for transgender student athletes.
A long effort to push the state's August primary election up to June may get new life from powerful backers in the executive and legislative branches. New Secretary of State Steve Simon has been a vocal supporter, as has incoming House Speaker Kurt Daudt. They say an earlier primary will boost turnout.
Lawmakers are worried about cameras on police officers, squad cars and in the skies. They're likely to take up some guidelines for the exploding use of drones, and hope to finalize a law that governs how police can use automated license plate readers. The emerging use of body cameras on police officers has prompted calls for ground rules on how the data should be kept.
SENATE OFFICE BUILDING
A seat of power in Minnesota government gives Republicans a chance to hit one of their favorite campaign punching bags: a new Senate office building. But with construction already underway on the $90 million complex, it's unclear what changes the new GOP House majority could actually make.
The troubling death of a Minnesota 4-year-old, and the bureaucratic failures that led to it, is likely to spur talks of change at the state Capitol. Significant attention to Eric Dean's death at the hands of his mother in 2013 has prompted calls to scrap a recent law that bars county child protection agencies from considering past abuse cases when weighing whether to investigate new cases.
Rescinding a recent pay raise for thousands of Minnesota residents wouldn't be politically popular, but House Republicans may seek to block future automatic increases to the state's minimum wage. Last spring, the DFL-controlled Legislature passed a law bumping minimum to $9.50 an hour by 2016, with inflationary increases down the road.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is also calling to remove the inflationary provision, but they likely won't find willing partners in Dayton and the DFL Senate majority.
SUNDAY LIQUOR SALES
If the Legislature is in, so is talk about repealing the state's ban on Sunday liquor sales. The old blue law is a perennial issue at the Capitol, but lawmakers who support Sunday sales have never cobbled together enough support to undo the ban. Proponents have recently pivoted to a plan that would allow local municipalities to decide whether to allow Sunday liquor sales, rather than repealing the ban outright.
An issue that consumed the Capitol in the waning days of the last legislative session may slip off the radar in 2015. Aside from a few tweaks, don't expect lawmakers to change the law legalizing medical marijuana. It won't be available for patients until July, and politicians may be eager to see how it rolls out before wading back into the issue.