With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry and Jim Spencer.

Posts about Minnesota legislature

Lawmakers again mull regulation of license plate readers

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: December 22, 2014 - 5:46 PM

Lawmakers and law enforcement appear bound for yet another showdown over how long cops can hang on to information gathered by high-tech license plate readers.

The 2015 legislative session will mark the third consecutive year that lawmakers will attempt to regulate just how long cops can store data gathered by the license plate readers—small cameras mounted in squad cars or in fixed mounts that scan license plates, storing information on when and where a vehicle is located when the scan was taken.

On Monday, the bipartisan Legislative Commission proposed a “zero-retention” bill that prohibits storage of any data unless it indicated a “hit” for certain type of offenses or is active investigative data. All the rest would be discarded. Agencies that use the technology would also be subject to a biennial audit and would have to maintain a log of their use.

Police renewed their opposition to the bill, saying they were “disappointed.”

“Today’s recommendation sends a clear message that we have to work even harder to prove to lawmakers and the public just how valuable the technology is to solving crimes and convicting criminals,” said Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. “Like all technology, we believe LPR must be secured and safeguarded to ensure public accountability and transparency.”

The Legislative Commission’s proposal is similar to last year’s, required that the license plate “hits on innocent people are deleted immediately unless the vehicle had been stolen, the owner had an outstanding warrant or he information related to an active investigation. However, a Senate bill backed by law enforcement would allow police to keep the information for 90 days and use it for broader purposes.

The two sides were unable to reach a compromise and no bill reached a final vote before the Legislature adjourned for the 2014 session.

Read the recommendations, and Police Chiefs statement below:

12-22-14 Lesch Recommendations on LPR

ALPR Statement 12.22.2014

House GOP bounces Minneapolis' Wagenius from longtime post on natural resources committee

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: December 18, 2014 - 8:57 PM

State House Republicans have yanked Rep. Jean Wagenius, a Minneapolis DFLer and longtime ally of environmentalists, from her longstanding spot as lead House Democrat on the committee that oversees state spending on environment and natural resources. 

Republicans take over the House majority when the new legislative session convenes on Jan. 6. On Thursday, the GOP released its list of 2015-16 committee assignments. Wagenius previously chaired the environmenta and natural resources commitee in 2013-14, chaired it in previous sessions as well, and served on it since she first entered the House in 1987. 

A spokesman for House Democrats said when the caucus submitted its committee wishlists to incoming Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt, that it was made clear Wagenius was the party's choice to be the top DFLer on what will now be called the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. Instead, she was excluded from the committee altogether. 

Rep. Paul Thissen, the House DFL leader, described it as "unprecedented" that the minority party would not get to choose its own committee lead. "Rep. Wagenius is in her 15th term and is the 4th most senior woman in the Minnesota House," Thissen said in a press release. He went on to suggest it was because "House Republicans don't take climate change or protecting Minnesota's water and air seriously." 

A spokeswoman for Daudt said he was attempting geographical balance on the committee assignments, and noted the committee already has several members from Minneapolis and St. Paul. In place of Wagenius will be Rep. Jeanne Poppe, a Democrat from Austin. 

"We have put together a committee structure that is balanced and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on problems Minnesotans care about," Daudt said in a statement. He was not made available to answer follow-up questions. 

The 21-member committee will have 12 members from otustate Minnesota, six from the Twin Cities suburbs and three from Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

Wagenius was first elected in 1986 to represent a south Minneapolis House district that's centered around the Lake Nokomis area. She has associated herself with a number of environmental causes, including efforts a decade ago to ban the controversial herbicide atrazine. She once described herself as a "Mother Earth feminist" in a campaign bio, a term the state Republican Party later mocked in a press release. 

When Democrats took over the House two years ago, Wagenius's environment committee was expanded to also oversee state spending on agriculture. That led to howls from Republicans who were upset that a Minneapolis Democrat and environmentalist would be controlling distribution of money for ag programs. At the time, Democrats also denied several seats to several Republican members who wanted to be on the committee; but they did honor the GOP request to make Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, the Republican lead. 

McNamara said Thursday that he did not ask for Wagenius to be taken off the committee. "That was the speaker's call," he said, referring to Daudt. Asked about his relationship with Wagenius, McNamara said: "She's got her views and I've got mine. I think we've got a lot of respect for each other." 

Coalition plans push for higher renewable energy standard in '15 session

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: December 18, 2014 - 4:42 PM

An alliance of green energy, labor and faith groups said Thursday they would mount a campaign to get Minnesota to increase its current renewable energy standard, which requires that at least 15 percent of the energy sold in the state come from renewable resources.

The group, which calls itself the Minnesota Clean Energy and Jobs Campaign, wants that increased to 40 percent by 2030.

“Energy efficiency creates jobs that people can live on,” said Justin Fay, the manager of the campaign. “Construction jobs doing home or business retrofits and designing and manufacturing the components needed to make our buildings more energy efficient all will create good jobs for workers.”

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, signed the 15-percent renewable standard into law in 2007. Under that law, Minnesota's current standard will raise to 25 percent by 2025. 

It has since become a target for some Republicans who call it an unneeded burden on energy production, and the alliance may have trouble getting support from the House’s new Republican majority.

Still, members of the new coalition said they saw the potential to build bipartisan support, and noted that a number of the state’s most prominent utilities are already exceeding the 15-percent standard. 

Chamber's 2015 legislative wish list: tax cuts, rollback of minimim wage inflation index

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: December 18, 2014 - 1:05 PM

Top priorities on the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 legislative wish list include tax relief for small and midsize businesses, rolling back automatic increases in the minimum wage to account for inflation, and adjusting how transportation infrastructure is funded in the state.

The chamber’s policy team on Thursday laid out priorities in five areas, including tax relief, education and workforce development, health care, transportation and labor and management.

Tax Reform: Chamber officials say Minnesota ranks nearly last in a survey of tax-friendly states.  Tax relief for small businesses—which employ more than half of Minnesotans in the private sector--could promote economic growth, they say.  Eliminating the taxing of “phantom income,” or income that is taxed even if it is reinvested in the business, is a start, said Beth Strinden Kadoun, the Chamber’s director of tax and fiscal policy. Other proposals include reducing Minnesota’s corporate tax rate, which at 9.8 percent is third highest in the nation, and enhancing the state’s research and development tax credit. Although Minnesota was the first state in the nation to pass such a tax credit, the rate has since been surpassed by other states.

Transportation: The Chamber ‘s goals for transportation funding—the likely hallmark issue of the 2015 legislative session, include passing a 10-year funding plan to improve the state’s infrastructure, and funding it through more than fuel taxes, vehicle registration and the motor vehicle sales tax. Bentley Graves, the Chamber’s director of Health & Transportation Policy, said 33 states use money from the general fund to pay for roads and bridges, and that Minnesota should be among them.

“We’re not suggesting that any dedicated sources go away, we’re talking about how to get additional investment in the system,” he said.

Other ideas include “value capture” mechanisms, which would place more of the cost of road construction projects on property owners who would benefit most.

“The idea is to have a very close tie between those who pay and those who benefit, rather than just a blanket approach,” Graves said.

Chamber representatives will argue against a wholesale gas tax increase, but wouldn’t say directly whether they were opposed to a standard gas tax increase.

Labor Management: Increases in the state’s minimum wage should be decided by the Legislature, not set to automatically increase, said Ben Gerber, the chamber’s manager of Energy and Labor/Management Policy. Gerber said Minnesota will be the only state in the upper Midwest

“We see a real problem with setting things on autopilot,” Gerber said. “We elect legislators, we hold elections to put people in office to make these tough decisions, especially on an issue like the minimum wage, that legislators should be making that decision and it shouldn’t be put on an automatic index.”

While the automatic increase doesn’t take effect until 2018, Gerber said the increases could largely impact rural businesses and border communities. Minnesota is the only state in the upper Midwest with indexing and could lose business to neighboring states, he said.

Other targets include exploring ways to reduce the rising costs of the worker’s compensation system.

Education and Workforce: The chamber’s goals include ensuring access to college credit programs for all high-school students, reforming teacher tenure to allow administrators to pick their teams regardless of seniority, reforming struggling charter schools and reducing standardized testing, while requiring basic skills in reading, writing and math for graduation.

Healthcare: In Minnesota, where 80 percent of Chamber members are small businesses with less than 100 employees, the Chamber supports a state-based exchange like MNsure, Graves said. However, the organization backs reforms to increase oversight, seizing upon the expertise of business and health industry experts when governing the system and ensuring employers have as many options as possible.

Read an outline of the Chamber's goals here:

Chamber

Lawmakers hear the virtues, risks of drones

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: December 12, 2014 - 5:40 PM

State lawmakers spent more than three hours Friday mulling the economic benefits and privacy pitfalls of unmanned aerial devices, more commonly known as drones, while contemplating how to regulate them, if at all.

From attorneys and civil rights advocates to law enforcement and college professors, witnesses explained to a joint committee of legislators in a fact-finding hearing to learn how the devices work, how they’ve been regulated in other states, and their risks and rewards. Lawmakers left the hearing acknowledging that the information is useful should bills be drafted for the 2015 legislative session as concerns grow about potential high-tech spying.

A pair of University of Minnesota professors testified that they received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to use drones on in research facilities across the state, while Le Sueur County Geographic Information Systems Manager Justin Lutterman said the county was among the first local governments in the nation to get FAA approval to use a drone to map drainage ditches.  The device’s high-tech cameras create 3-D mapping, completing in 15 minutes tasks that would ordinarily take a week, and at 16 to 20 times cheaper, he said, leading lawmakers to acknowledge distinct economic benefits to the technology.

Donald Chance Mark, Jr., an Eden Prairie Attorney whose firm specializes in aviation and has researched drone regulations, said the FAA receives 25 reports per month of drones in national airspace. Still, the agency has yet to establish a comprehensive set of laws surrounding drones, suggesting state legislatures take regulating them into their own hands. Twenty states across the country already have passed drone-related legislation.

Still, he said, “I’m not blaming the FAA for lagging behind,” he said. “The proliferation of these is just amazing.”

The FAA currently prohibits commercial use of drones without a specialized permit, yet realtors are using the devices to market or survey property, while drone companies are marketing their wares to farmers at trade shows.

Mark said potential legislation could involve registration of drones and licensing of their operators, pilot training or limiting the size and weight of the devices.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the organization’s primary concern when it comes to drones is the potential that they could create constant surveillance.
“If we do nothing, there is a chance we could get there,” Stanley said.

So far the organization said it would approve of law enforcement’s use of the drones in emergency situations, but would take a "wait and see" approach on private sector regulation of drones, start first with law enforcement regulation.

Bill Franklin, Executive Director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, said no law enforcement agency in the state owns or uses the devices, and that embracing the technology is likely far down the line.

"We're still trying to get computers and dash cams in all Minnesota squad cars,” Franklin said, but added that they would comply with the law if drones were used to gather evidence in future investigation.

Outgoing Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, remained skeptical, however, saying law enforcement has challenged data privacy-related policies in the past.

“We don’t want to impede your ability to get the bad guys, but frankly there are some bad guys within your ranks,” Holberg said.

Franklin responded that the organization has remained forthright, and has been and remains willing to negotiate on a number of issues.

Jay Reding, an attorney who owns and operates drones, told lawmakers that regulation requires knowing about drones and how they work. For instance, the skills required to pilot a drone are far different from that of a 737 jetliner. A ban on commercial use of the devices is also mostly ill-advised, he said. Hobbyists can fly drones within certain parameters legally, but if they make as much as $1 doing so, it's prohibited.

“There needs to be a common-sense, risk-based approach,” he said.
 

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