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2008 Legislative Session Review
Omnibus Supplemental Budget Law (CHAPTER 363--H.F 1812)
Two important provisions were included in the supplemental budget bill as part of the final agreement between the Governor and the legislature to balance the budget. Regarding Early Childhood Education, the membership and duties of the State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care were expanded. This council will have two members of the House of Representatives, two members of the Senate, and two parents with a child under age six. Among the new duties added to those assigned to the council under federal laws (Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007), the council would make recommendations on the creation of a state Office of Early Learning and propose legislation on how to most effectively create a high quality early childhood system to improve the educational outcomes of children so that all children are school-ready by 2020.
In regards to closing the achievement gap, $50,000 was allocated for fiscal year 2009 for an advisory task force for determining how the educational achievement of low-income students and students of color is impacted by education issues related to rigorous preparation and coursework, educators' professional development, English language learners, special education, GRAD tests, and the use of valid and reliable data on student preparation for postsecondary academic and career opportunities. Additionally, a provision in the bill lists that the Department of Education shall not expend any funds for the advisory task force unless a match of an equal amount of non-state funds has been received for this purpose.
In addition, although the prekindergarten through grade 12 education finance bill was vetoed by Governor Pawlenty, the bill also includes a 1 percent increase to fund schools, providing one time general education aid of $51 per pupil.
This bill will provide funding to create the Teachers of Diverse Backgrounds pilot project. A $120,000 one-time appropriation will be granted to Winona State University and St. Cloud State University in partnership with the Rochester and Robbinsdale school districts. The program will increase the diversity in the school systems by creating a much needed pool of qualified minority candidates.
Omnibus Education Policy Bill (SF3001, Chapter 310)
The bill included provisions aimed at education excellence and tried to address some of the structural components behind students’ success and motivation at school which would have helped mitigate the achievement gap. It provided for education policy changes like including a new school report card bill, rising the dropout age from 16 to 18 beginning in 2011, requiring physical education for high school graduation, and setting new standards for training teachers. The bill would have implicated a new assessment indicator called growth-based value-added which measures the difference between an established baseline of academic growth and a student’s own academic growth over time. The legislation would have established an advisory task force on improving teacher quality and identifying institutional structures and strategies for integrating secondary and postsecondary academic and career education.
Responsible family life and sex education (HF615/SF588)
Under this bill, schools would have been permitted to provide responsible family life and sexuality education for middle and high school students. But the bill was dropped from the final Education Omnibus bill because Governor Pawlenty threatened to veto the bill if it was included. The programs for students would have been age-appropriate and medically accurate, and would have required that school districts to consult with parents and guardians of enrolled students when establishing policies, procedures, curriculum and services. The initiative could benefit Latino/a students with proper information and help reduce the percentage of Latina teen pregnancy which is the highest in the state of Minnesota.
Omnibus Health Care Law (HF3924/SF3780)
The original goal to achieve universal health care in the state by 2011 is not there yet, but there are some positive outcomes to expand access to health care. Although the original reform bill intended to raise the poverty guideline to allow an additional 39,000 uninsured Minnesotans to state medical assistance (it is estimated that 374,000 persons are without health insurance in the state), 12,000 additional people will qualify for Medicaid. The bill, however, focuses on a statewide health improvement program to reduce obesity and tobacco use and establishes criteria for health care homes and care coordination fees.
In regards to reducing obesity and tobacco use, beginning July 1, 2009, the Commissioner of Health shall award competitive grants to community health boards and tribal governments to convene, coordinate, and implement evidence-based strategies targeted at achieving health improvement goals. Another provision indicates that by January 15, 2011, the commissioner must recommend whether funding should be provided to local communities based on health disparities in the populations served. Additionally, the commissioner is also required to submit a biennial report to the Minnesota Legislature on the health improvement program by January 15 of every other year (or even year), beginning in 2010, including recommendations on sustainable sources of funding.
The bill establishes the certification and other requirements for health care homes. By July 1, 2009, it is required that the commissioners of the Departments of Human Services and Health develop and implement standards of certification for health care homes for state health care programs. According to specialists in this area, this legislation highlights the primary care setting as the locus of coordination and care management. This legislation emerged in response to the rising health care costs for chronically ill persons (80 percent of health care costs are for people with these conditions), and the growing recognition that care is not effectively coordinated across multiple health systems.
Another innovation is the implementation of a quality incentive payment for all providers in state health care programs by July 1, 2010. Consumers are to be provided comparative information on costs and quality among providers based on seven baskets of care that include a) coronary artery and heart disease; b) diabetes; c) asthma, and d) depression. The information will be provided in a manner that is easily accessible and understandable to the public.
An important provision of this bill to address health disparities is the establishment of a payment system for providing care coordination services. According to the law, the care coordination payment system must vary with thresholds of care complexity, with the highest fees paid for care provided to individuals requiring the most intensive care coordination and those who face racial, ethnic, or language barriers. The development of the payment system is required to be completed by January 1, 2010.
However, the health and human services areas also incurred severe budget cuts. Almost $170 million in general fund dollars were cut in FY 2008-09, and $201 million for FY 2010-11. The finance bill transferred $50 million in Health Care Access funds to the General Fund to fix the budget deficit, although it is considered a loan that will be paid back with savings from health care reform measures.
Foreclosure Prevention Assistance (SF3073/HS3346)
State Representative Jim Davnie, DFL-62A authored a bill to increase the maximum amount of mortgage financial assistance provided by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. Under this bill, the financial assistance provided by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) changes the previous cap. The MHFA provides mortgage foreclosure assistance and prevention for homeowners facing foreclosure. Currently, the financial assistance authorized by the state for MHFA to provide is up to six months of mortgage payments, property taxes, utilities, and insurance. Additionally, MHFA’s financial assistance is capped at a maximum of $5,500 per individual or household. The Foreclosure Prevention Assistance bill changes the maximum assistance cap to an amount equal to 110 percent of the greater of the state or metropolitan statistical area median monthly owner cost multiplied by six.
Tenant Notice Requirements; Foreclosures (SF2908/HS3476)
To protect families from unexpected notices to vacate homes or dwellings, state lawmakers passed a bill for tenant foreclosure protection that requires landlords in financial distress or in foreclosure to notify tenants. Under this new law, when landlords receive a notice for deed cancellation or mortgage foreclosure, they may only enter into a periodic lease agreement with a tenant for a term not more than two months or the remaining time of their redemption period, whichever is less. Furthermore, provisions in the bill include that landlords must notify prospective tenants of a contract for deed cancellation or mortgage foreclosure, and include the date when the cancellation or redemption period ends before entering a lease contract and accepting security deposits or rent.
Other relevant bills
Mortgage Foreclosure Data (SF2914/HF3516)
State Senator Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope and State Representatives Willie Dominguez, DFL-58B, Jim Davnie, DFL-62A, Frank Moe, DFL-4A, Michael Paymar, DFL-64B, and others authored a bill to create a working group to study and make recommendations in regards to the development of a statewide foreclosure data collection and reporting system.
The bill convenes a group led by the Minnesota Secretary of State for a study to learn about the most efficient and cost-effective ways to establish and launch an electronic system for the submission, collection, entry, retrieval, management, and assessment of statewide foreclosure data. This working group comprised of several state, community, and University of Minnesota entities shall submit a report by February 2009 with results, recommendations, and proposed legislation for the implementation of the system. The working group ends subsequent to the submission of the report.
Minnesota Subprime Foreclosure Deferment Act of 2008 (SF3396/HS3612) - vetoed
In the Twin Cities and all throughout Minnesota, Latino first-time homebuyers are one of the fastest growing segments of the housing market in the state. In comparison to the national trend of home foreclosures, Minnesota is no exception as the number of home foreclosures have risen sharply. State legislators made efforts to limit foreclosures in Minnesota for borrowers facing the loss of their primary asset; however, the Governor vetoed the proposal.
Under the proposed Minnesota Subprime Foreclosure Deferment Act of 2008, borrowers with subprime loans or loans with negative amortization for which the minimum payment had increased would be given the right to defer a foreclosure sale of their residence for up to 12 months after the bill became law. The eligibility requirements for the relief were for loans subject to foreclosure sale with an origin date between January 01, 2001 and August 01, 2007. Additionally, the act would require borrowers to make minimal or reduced monthly payments to lenders during the deferment period; a measure to help families build financial stability. Borrowers who did not pay would lose the right to deferment and the lender could foreclose on the sale. The relief act would give borrowers valuable time to sell their home or refinance their loan.
This relief act would have benefited Latino, African American, and Asian homebuyers facing foreclosure, as statistics show that high cost/subprime loans were higher for people of color in the Twin Cities.
Omnibus Economic Development Policy Bill (SF3471/HF3516)
All throughout the country including Minnesota, families continue to feel the impact related to a weak economy. With the rising costs of fuel and food, employment in Minnesota has also been affected with more jobs being lost each month. Currently, the average unemployment rate in Minnesota is 5.4 percent compared to last year when it was at 4.6 percent. According to the Department of Employment and Economic Development, this is the highest the unemployment rate has jumped since 1991 and the highest level people unemployed since 1983. On a national scale, when compared to the U.S. unemployment rate, there is not much difference for Minnesota as the national average unemployment rate is 5.5 percent.
State Senator David Tomassoni, DFL-05, authored legislation under the Omnibus Economic Development Policy Bill that provides some relief to individuals and families who are unemployed. Under the bill, there is a provision that provides for an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to workers laid off due to lack of work in counties where the unemployment rate is 1.8 times the state average of at least 4.6 percent for the previous 12-month period.
Additionally, the bill includes a hardship provision where payments are available to individuals and families who have suffered economic hardship due to delays in receiving unemployment benefits resulting from the state’s new unemployment insurance application and filing system. Under state law, the term economic hardship is defined by financial loss and the delay of benefit must be at least four weeks. The eligibility requirements for this benefit can be found under the bill language.
The bill also requires the Commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development to notify all applicants of the availability for additional unemployment benefits.
Minimum Wage Increase (SF875/HF456)
Minnesota missed its opportunity this session to become one of the highest minimum wage states in the country when the Governor Pawlenty vetoed a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage rate. State Representative Tom Rukavina, DFL-05A proposed a bill in the House to increase Minnesota’s minimum wage for large companies by an additional 0.60 cents from $6.15 to $6.75 this summer 2008. Furthermore, under the proposed bill, workers would see an additional increase of $1.00 dollar next year to bring the minimum wage rate up to $7.75. For small businesses in Minnesota, the proposed increase for this summer was 0.50 cents and $1.00 dollar next year to bring the minimum wage up to $6.75. The current minimum wage rate for small businesses in Minnesota is $5.25 per hour. According to Governor Pawlenty, the pay increase was too high and would hurt small businesses in the state.
The last report conducted by the state estimated that 83,000 Minnesota workers or 3.1 percent of the state’s wage-and-labor force earned minimum wage. Among the top industries that employ minimum wage workers in Minnesota are food, lodging and cleaning, and the arts and entertainment. When compared to other communities of color and whites, Latinos in Minnesota have one of the highest percentages of people in the labor force; however, they represent the highest rate of people in Minnesota that live below poverty line at 21.2 percent. The average rate of individuals in Minnesota that live below poverty line is 9.2 percent. The passing of the Minimum Wage Increase Bill would have benefited the community and state as a whole.
Immigration Reform at the State Level
A series of bills based on Governor Pawlenty’s executive order in January regarding immigration were introduced this session, but did not find ground or support. Compared to last year’s session, this year saw an increase of flawed immigration bills trying to relate crime with undocumented immigration in Minnesota, and to cooperate with federal enforcement systems in the areas of public safety and employment. No definitive studies have been produced to justify the need for this type of regulation. To the contrary, numerous studies show the positive impact of immigrants, regardless of immigration status, to the economy in Minnesota and nationally. The bills that failed to pass the legislative deadlines set for this session included: crime of identity theft expansion to the use of identity to obtain employment; illegal immigration status requirement and federal immigration laws compliance requirements for state licensure; reduction of government local aid to cities with separation ordinances; and the adoption of English as the official language in the state, among others.
The Minnesota Dream Act (SF653/HF0722)
For the fourth time, legislation supporting the Minnesota Dream Act did not pass. The proposal would expand higher education opportunities at colleges and universities to immigrant students – with undocumented status- by paying in-state tuition if they have attended a Minnesota high school for three years and graduated, respectively. The sponsor of the Dream Act in the state Senate, Sandy Pappas, DFL-65 did not to call for a vote this year indicating the Governor Pawlenty’s threat of a veto. This bill has no fiscal note. In 2007, thanks to the work of a significant coalition of grass-roots organizations lead by the Minnesota Immigration Freedom Network, interfaith groups, and Latino community members and allies, immigrant students benefited to gain access to 22 Minnesota colleges and universities for in-state tuition.
Legislative Audit Commission selects the evaluation of the Employment Eligibility Verification Program (E-Verify)
The Legislative Audit Commission’s Topics Selection subcommittee directed the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) to evaluate the federal Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) program commonly called E-Verify, which has raised concerns about its effectiveness and accuracy. The Internet-based program is voluntary and its purpose is to allow employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of workers in the U.S. by accessing information in databases maintained by DHS and the Social Security Administration (SSA). The study will be undertaken at the end of this year because the E-Verify application for state agencies is new and OLA would like to have more data to use in its evaluation.
Real ID opt-out bill
Although state lawmakers passed a transportation policy conference committee report with a provision opposing the Real ID document in the Omnibus transportation tax bill, and later introduced a stand-alone bill with the same language, Governor Pawlenty vetoed the bill indicating that the provision should not be omitted as states have to comply with federal regulations in order to have a valid identification document (e.g. information added to apply for state driver’s licenses such as Social Security numbers and immigration status). Before the end of the session, the Governor issued Executive Order 08-08 postponing the implementation of the law until June 2009 pending further legislative action, even though Minnesota already had a waiver to implement it until December 2009. Legislators argue that unless federal money for the system is provided, it would cost the state millions to comply with the system and there are no guarantees that people’s privacy will be protected.
Other relevant bills
Mexican-American Veterans Plaque Bill (HF 3240/SF 3006)
State Representative Augustine “Willie” Dominguez, DFL-58B (current CLAC member from the Minnesota Legislature) and state Senator Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-62 sponsored the bills authorizing that a memorial plaque be placed in the court of honor on the Capitol Grounds by Minnesota’s Mexican-American veterans to recognize the services of all Minnesota veterans who have served in the United States Armed Forces, during both peacetime and war. The bills passed in both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature with overwhelming support and were part of the bills signed by Governor Pawlenty this session.
I-35 Bridge Survivor Claims: Catastrophe Survivor Compensation Fund (HF2553,CHAPTER 338)
The bill creates a fund to provide compensation to survivors of catastrophes and explicitly appropriates money to provide payments to the survivors and victims of the I-35W bridge collapse. The fund would apply when the state legislature enacts a law appropriating money for catastrophe survivors.
For the I-35W Bridge Collapse Survivors the new law appropriates $39.32 million from the general fund for deposit in the catastrophe survivor compensation fund. The bill offers up to $400,000 to the nearly 150 injured and 13 dead as a result of the collapse. The package is broken up into two separate funds, one $24 million fund will provide up to $400,000 for most of the victims. It also makes additional appropriation of $680,000 for a grant to Waite House. A “survivor” is a person who was on the I-35W bridge when it collapsed, or who is the personal representative of a person who was on the bridge. The law requires claims to be filed by September 1, 2009. For more details, also see --H.F.No. 3955 regulating certain payments to I-35W bridge collapse survivors; [3.7395] PUBLIC ASSISTANCE.
Non-smoking hotel room smoking violation penalties increase (HF1825/SF2809)
In line with other initiatives to discourage tobacco use, this bill provides a civil process for recovery of costs, a service charge of $30, and a civil penalty against an individual who smokes in a designated non-smoking hotel room. The innkeeper may only recover if sufficient notice is given and the alleged violator has had an opportunity to dispute the claim. The bill removes the $100 cap, allowing the innkeeper to seek reimbursement for the full actual cost of restoration. The innkeeper may not recover lost income incurred as a result of a room being vacant during a restoration.
Automatic updates provided for voter registration (HF1546/1297)
The bill makes it easier for voters who change residence to automatically register their new address and renew their voter registration. One of the clauses states that the secretary of state shall transmit the information about the changed address by electronic means to the county auditor of the county in which the new address is located. Upon receipt of the information, the county auditor shall update
the voter's address in the statewide registration system and mail to the voter a notice stating
the voter's name, address, precinct, and polling place. The bill also wants to prevent fraudulent voting and to eliminate excess names. The county auditor may mail to any registered voter a notice stating the voter's name and address as they appear in the registration files. The notice shall request the voter to notify the county auditor if there is any mistake in the information.
Modification of Human Rights civil and criminal penalties (HF3478/SF2915)
The bill was modified to allow in all cases, that the administrative law judge may order a respondent to pay an aggrieved party, who has suffered discrimination, damages for mental anguish or suffering and reasonable attorney's fees, in addition to punitive damages in an amount not more than $25,000. Previously, the damages were set at $8,500.
Employee Relations Department elimination and duties transfer (HF3309/SF3202)
The bill eliminates the Minnesota Department of Employee Relations (DOER) as a department of
state government and transfers duties from the commissioner of employee
relations to the commissioners of finance and administration. In 2007, the legislature enacted a law abolishing the Department of Employee Relations (DOER) and transferring its duties to other state agencies (primarily the Department of Finance). The 2007 law (Laws 2007, Chapter 148, article 2, section 80) required the transfer to be completed by June 1, 2008. This bill makes statutory changes codifying the transfer required by the 2007 law. These sections are primarily technical, given the changes already required in 2007. This is the fourth standalone agency or office that has been eliminated during the Pawlenty Administration. In 2003, the Governor Pawlenty merged the Minnesota Department of Economic Security (MDES) and the Department of Trade and Economic Development (DTED) to create the new Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
Important bills vetoed
Use of sick leave benefits to care for sick parent, grandparent, spouse or sibling
Introduced by Rep. Neva Walker (DFL 61B), this bill intended to expand the use of employer provided sick leave benefits by authorizing an employee to use sick leave benefits when a spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, stepparent, or domestic partner is ill or injured, requiring the employee to care for the related person. The use of sick leave benefits under current law is authorized only for the worker and the care of an injured or sick child. The bill would have applied only to employers that do not already have policies or a provision in a labor agreement in place to allow for the use of sick leave for a spouse, sibling, parent, grandparent, or stepparent. Although the bill was approved with significant majorities in both the House and Senate, it was vetoed by Governor Pawlenty who argued that such bill was an unfunded mandated on local units of government and would interfere with collective bargaining.
With information from: State of Minnesota Senate Counsel and Research, Minnesota House of Representatives Research, Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate webpage, Session Weekly, Women’s Press, Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minnpost, Minnesota Public Radio, Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network, Minnesota Budget Bites, Minnesota Department of Labor, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
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