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Minnesota Government Update


January 9, 2009


Coleman Files Lawsuit over Senate Recount
Democrat Al Franken secured a 225-vote lead in the U.S. Senate recount and was unanimously certified last Monday by the state Canvassing Board. Franken declared victory, and stated: “I want every Minnesotan to hear this: I work for you now…” The Secretary of State made clear that the Board was certifying only the results, not declaring a winner. The results prompted the Coleman Campaign to announce that they will be filing suit to challenge the Board's results.

Earlier Monday, the Coleman Campaign's petition to order the review of 654 rejected absentee ballots that the campaign said appeared to be validly cast was rejected by the Minnesota Supreme Court. These ballots had been labeled as properly rejected by local election officials and were left out of the pool of improperly rejected absentee ballots counted last Saturday. Those ballots boosted Franken's lead from 49 votes to 225 votes. The 654 ballots will be the key to Coleman's legal contest, along with 150 ballots the Coleman Campaign claims were counted twice and 133 Minneapolis votes that were counted (based on Election Day tallies) though the actual ballots couldn't be found during the hand recount.

The lawsuit that Coleman's attorneys are filing is considered an election contest. An election contest would, under Minnesota State Law, prevent the Governor or Secretary of State Mark Ritchie from officially certifying Franken's win until all litigation has been settled, which could take up to several months. Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak stated that their lawsuit will bring in constitutional issues, such as the Equal Protection Clause. These cases are typically decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Until an official winner is declared, Minnesota is left only with Amy Klobuchar to represent the State in the U.S. Senate, as Congress convened this week.

2009 State of the State Address
Governor Pawlenty's State of the State Address will be delivered at 12:00 Noon, Thursday, January 15, 2009 at the Minnesota House Chamber at the State Capitol.

2009 Session Opening
State legislators returned to St. Paul on Tuesday to convene the 2009 legislative Session. The 2009 Minnesota Legislature began with a ceremonial afternoon of roll calls and leadership elections. House Leadership includes Speaker of the House Representative Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Minneapolis), House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm), and House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall). Senate Leadership includes Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller (DFL-Minneapolis), and Senate Minority Leader David Senjem (R-Rochester).

Senator Senjem announced that the 2009 Session could prove to be “historic, epic, even cataclysmic.” Legislators have been hard at work, looking to solve a record, and rising, $4.8 billion general fund deficit projected for the 2010-2011 biennium. A bipartisan effort is on the rise to reconcile the budget shortfall while the economy is already struggling, and while everything from healthcare, road projects, schools, prisons, and local government aid are all facing major cuts.

Senator Pogemiller spoke of the importance of continued cooperation between both the DFL and the Republican parties during Session. He pledged to take Governor Pawlenty's budget proposals and fashion a bipartisan solution, which he hopes to have accomplished by Session adjournment on May 18.

Beyond the budget deficit, Minnesota lawmakers this session are expected to confront other issues such as same-sex marriage and primary seatbelt laws. Senator John Marty (DFL-Roseville) plans to continue his efforts to legalize gay marriage. The bill that he introduced last session died in committee. Moreover, Representative Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis) hopes to introduce a bill allowing Minnesota's automobile dealers, as well as liquor stores, to be open on Sundays. The Minnesota branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is supporting a bill that would require law-enforcement authorities to gather racial data as a part of all traffic stops. Minnesota's commissioner of public safety, Michael Campion, is working diligently with Senator Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing) to make the State's seatbelt law a "primary" law, meaning that it can be enforced like any other law.

Minnesota Nursing Homes in need of More Aid
As legislators begin to tackle the 2010-2010 state budget, groups representing the uninsured and nursing homes are asking for millions in additional spending in health and human services, which may be a prime target for budget cuts by Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Two proposals have been made. The first, called the Minnesota Health Security Act, would cover approximately 77,000 uninsured children by 2010. It is supported by a coalition which includes the Children's Defense Fund Minnesota and a group of unions and other interest groups with over 350,000 members. The proposal would be expanded to cover adults by 2012 and would ensure that no one would pay more than 5% of their family income for health insurance.

The second proposal is a request by Minnesota's 393 nursing homes for $80 million for the next two years in order to prop up their rates and give all long-term care employees a 2.9-percent pay raise. Nursing homes are losing more than $23 a day per resident under current reimbursement rates.

Advocates of these proposals argue that it would save money by reducing unnecessary hospitalizations and improving overall health. One of the proposals would allow people to buy state-supervised long-term care insurance charging a set premium and making payments to individuals based on need.

Patti Cullen, CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota is working with the Chairman of the Health and Human Services Policy and Oversight, Representative Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) to ensure that healthcare remains a state priority and is not subject to a reduction in quality care due to budget cuts. Thissen is also sponsoring a bill offering MinnesotaCare to anyone receiving unemployment.

2009 Committee Membership:
Committee memberships for the 2009 Legislative Session have been announced.

For House and Senate Committee membership, jurisdiction, and schedules, please click on the following links:

State Senate:
http://www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/committees/index.php?ls=85#header\
State House:
http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/comm/commemlist.asp

Tim Pawlenty under Scrutiny for Rising State Fees
Former DFL leader of the Minnesota House Matt Entenza, chairman of the non-profit group Minnesota 2020, released a report that shows fees for birth certificates, hunting permits, marriages licenses and other fees rose 21 percent above inflation over the past five years.

The rise in these state fees has drawn attention to Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is now being attacked for allowing fees to increase well above inflation while maintaining his stand against rising taxes.

Some of the fees cited in the Minnesota 2020 report include: Marriage licenses costing $70 five years ago now cost $110; Birth certificates cost $40 to replace, up from $20, and a pheasant stamp costs $7.50, up from $5 five years ago. Moreover, tuition at state colleges and universities has climbed 22 percent above inflation since 2003. The report also focuses on Minnesota's “health impact fee”, signed into law during the 2005 session, which tacks on 75-cent charge added to every pack of cigarettes sold in Minnesota.

State fees added approximately $2.44 billion to the state's coffers last year, while taxes totaled an approximate $17.5 billion. The State's overall revenue still dropped 4 percent this year, with a 9 percent drop forecasted for the next year. This has left local governments scrambling to make up for lost revenue. Six years ago, the state collected $384 in fees per person, today, the report states that the state incurs $464 per person.

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce presents: 2009 Session Priorities
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce held their Annual 2009 Legislative Priorities Soiree at the St. Paul Rivercentre on Wednesday, January 7th. Local and national businesses, legislators, and interest groups met to discuss upcoming issues for the 2009 Legislative Session. The program included a speech delivered by Governor Tim Pawlenty, and a panel comprised of Minnesota Legislative Leadership: Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, and Senate Minority Leader David Senjem.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce set forth its legislative priorities for the 2009 Session:
  • State Budget: Balance the State budget by restructuring government services and cutting spending.
  • Workforce: Ensure that businesses have an adequate supply of skilled workers to compete in today's global economy by advancing reforms in the K-12 public education system.
  • Transportation: Ensure that taxpayers receive the greatest value for every dollar spent on the State's infrastructure system.
    • The Chamber of Commerce opposes any additional increases in current transportation taxes and fees.
  • Environment and Natural Resources/ Climate Change: Climate change must be addressed on the State, National, and International levels.
    • The Chamber of Commerce opposes adoption of a state cap-and-trade policy due to the negative economic impact on Minnesota businesses and families.
    • The Chamber of Commerce supports a reduction in Minnesota's greenhouse gas emissions.
    • The Chamber would like to ensure that funding for the Clean Water Legacy Amendment is spent in such a way that it minimizes administrative costs and achieves its desired results.
  • Energy/Nuclear Power: Nuclear power should be an option for generation of additional and necessary base-load power.
  • Health: Ensure that 2008 reforms are implemented and produce improvements in controlling costs and improving quality of care.
The Leadership Panel discussed the Minnesota business climate, and efforts to solve Minnesota's budget crisis. Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher views the crisis as a way to bring Minnesota to a healthier climate, and that Minnesota must invest in prevention, innovation, and reform. House Minority Leader Marty Seifert also claimed that while there is a budget crisis on hand, this is also an opportunity for Minnesota to move forward, doing things differently.

While DFLer Larry Pogemiller argued against cuts in Health and Human Services, House Minority Leader Marty Seifert stated that every single spending issue is on the table and is subject to cuts. Regarding the Health and Human Services budget, Pogemiller stated that the highest percent increase is within waivered services, and specifically for handicapped children. Seifert's concerns lay in the fact that Minnesota welfare dollars have been found being spent across the United States. Seifert suggests tightening eligibility requirements for GAMC because he argues the standards are becoming too permissive.

For up-to-date information about the Minnesota Legislature, tune into Almanac: At the Capitol. This lively and informative program is aired Wednesdays during the legislative session on Twin Cities Public Television at 7:00 PM on Channel 17 and at 10:00 PM on Channel 2.

Almanac: At the Capitol is seen on all public television stations throughout Minnesota and in Fargo. Winthrop & Weinstine is the exclusive law-firm partner and a sponsor of the program.

For more information and to see previous broadcasts, check out the Almanac: At the Capitol Web site at http://tpt.org/aatc/.
 
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