House Commerce Committee heard and advanced two bills that would curtail the Minnesota State Lottery's foray into innovative forms of State Lottery gambling, such as at the gas pump, ATMs and online.
The two bills, authored by GOP Reps. Greg Davids and Tim Sanders, were similar to legislation passed last year by wide bipartisan majorities in both houses but vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.
The legislation seeks to restore legislative branch prerogative after lawmakers perceived the State Lottery moving into new gambling without legislative approval.
"I think we have 'lottery gone wild,'" Davids said. "And I think we need to be clear that the Legislature will decide what we're gonna do."
Several anti-gambling activists testified that the easier access provided by the new forms of gambling were dangerous and could lead to higher rates of addiction.
Minnesota State Lottery Executive Director Ed Van Petten said he it was never his intention to "usurp the authority of the Legislature," and that lottery officials had "learned our lesson." He touted the hundreds of millions of dollars of lottery proceeds that have gone to state programs, and especially environmental programs, while opposing the legislation and offering compromise language.
Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a progressive political organization, said its political tracker was improperly kicked out of a public legislative meeting in Burnsville on property taxes organized by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, a Republican from Mazeppa.
Drazkowski, chair of the House Committee on Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division, however said the reason the tracker was kicked out was because there was not enough space at the Burnsville restaurant where the meeting was hosted.
"These events are always open to the public, but unfortunately space was tight at the Burnsville gathering," he said in a statement. "In the future, we will look to hold these listening sessions at venues that are able to accommodate much larger crowds.”
Emily Bisek, spokeswoman for the progressive group, said that the tracker, who was carrying video recording equipment, was not told the problem was a lack of space. She said Drazkowski told the group's tracker that the event was not public.
Drazkowski has organized listening sessions throughout the state seeking public comments on property taxes.
Billed as informal listening sessions, the meetings last week attracted criticism from Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, on the House floor who said they raised questions about transparency and asked Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, to clarify whether official business would be conducted.
Daudt said the listening sessions were informal even though other committee members would attend and that no official business would be conducted.
Two meetings, though, were later made official, according to the committee's calendar. Those meetings were Thursday in Stewartville and Saturday in Albert Lea. Minutes from those meetings were approved Wednesday morning and will be posted publicly, a spokesman for the House GOP caucus said.
Details of the Burnsville meeting, sponsored by newly-elected Rep. Roz Peterson, R-Lakeville, were distributed from Peterson's official email account and described the meeting as a "Property Tax Hearing."
A request for an interview with Peterson and Drazkowski was declined.
Republicans leading the Minnesota House have established a new legislative subcommittee that's charged with delivering oversight of the Metropolitan Council, a municipal body with wide jurisdiction in the Twin Cities area that has frequently been the target of Republican criticism.
The new Subcommittee on Metropolitan Council Accountability and Transparency will be chaired by Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines. Last October, Runbeck called the council an "unelected, unaccountable board" that's "not responsible to any authority but its own."
The Met Council is comprised of gubernatorial appointees from districts throughout the seven-county metro area, and which has a hand in setting transportation, land-use and wastewater policies and programs. The agency has been a major player in the construction of light rail lines, including the current push to develop the new Southwest line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
"We are forming this subcommittee to hold the Met Council accountable and ensure they are meeting the needs of people in the metro area," Speaker Kurt Daudt said. "This unelected board has grown more powerful over the decades, and legislators want to ensure that the Met Council is listening to the needs of all its constituents both in the cities and suburbs, providing the services for which they were given authority."
The panel will be comprised of seven members, four Republicans and three Democrats who all hail from areas covered by the Met Council.
Recently, Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Adam Duininck, a Met Council member and DFL political operative, to be the council's new chairman. A separate legislative proposal recently introduced by Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, would give communities under Met Council jurisdiction more involvement in the process of approving Met Council members. Similar proposals are likely to be considered by the new House committee.
Duininck said Wednesday that House Republicans let him know the new subcommittee was in the works. He said he was open to discussions about boosting Met Council accountability, but also warned that an entity like the council, by its nature, is often a target of criticism.
"I would just say there is oftentimes tension between local governments and a regional planning body," Duininck said.
A fight over Legacy Amendment spending broke out in the open today in a key House committee.
House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Republicans overrode the recommendation of Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and moved conservation money requested by White Earth Nation to Department of Natural Resources wetlands enhancement.
White Earth Nation has applied for $2.2 million for 2,000 acres of forest, riparian corridors and meadows to protect the Wild Rice River. The public, regardless of tribal affiliation, could use the land for hunting and other recreation.
The land is currently for sale and in private hands, and White Earth Nation fears development.
Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, offered the amendment to move the money. He said the amendment was not intended as an attack on White Earth Nation, of which he said he is a member. Rather, he said, the continued acquisition of lands by the public in places like Clearwater County is a financial burden for counties and schools and other public entities because it takes the land off the tax rolls.
Democrats objected, but the amendment to H.F. 181 passed on a mostly party line vote.
*Updated to reflect the money will go to DNR.
Gov. Mark Dayton is recommending more than $11 million in state dollars go toward reform of the state’s controversial sex offender program.
The recommendation, part of Dayton’s proposed $42 billion budget unveiled Tuesday, includes allocating $7.3 million in the 2016-17 biennium and $3.8 million in 2018-19 biennium to evaluate the treatment progress of the residents of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) and to move 50 of them to less-restrictive settings if they are approved. Nearly 700 residents are held indefinitely at treatment centers in Moose Lake and St. Peter.
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which oversees MSOP, two people have been discharged from the program, one in 2012 and the other in 2014. Both are in supervised community placements. A third was provisionally discharged in 2000, but it was revoked because he did not comply with the program, although he did not reoffend, the department said.
The controversial program has long remained a hot potato for lawmakers and Gov. Dayton, who blame one another for failing to address problems with MSOP, whose policies were described by a federal judge as “draconian” and ordered the Legislature to take action or face court-ordered changes.
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