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, and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry and Jim Spencer.

Posts about Minnesota state senators

Push for Sunday liquor sales renewed with confidence, support

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: January 22, 2015 - 3:41 PM

The key lawmakers behind the state’s push to legalize Sunday liquor sales unveiled their latest attempt to repealing the state’s 80-year-old ban, saying overwhelming public demand could bring success in 2015.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said this year's bill is simple and straightforward. It’s a change from a spectrum of bills offered by the duo two years ago, which included giving communities the opportunity to opt in or out of Sunday sales. They went nowhere, so Reinert said the focus remains on a full repeal. It’s likely the shortest bill he’ll author this session, he said.

Both Loon and Reinert have been vocally optimistic about this year’s chances to make Sunday sales a reality, with the support of House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Gov. Mark Dayton, who said he would sign the bill. However, Dayton made clear Thursday that pushing Sunday liquor sales legislation was "not a high priority."

"I think to say you can have all the shopping you want on Sundays except for alcohol and automobiles just doesn’t fit the modern era," he said. Still, "It’s not something I’m going to expend a lot of political capital on".

Loon’s bill, one of many filed this session, has 20 co-authors from both parties. In a state where 75 percent of residents live within 30 miles of a neighboring state where Sunday sales are legal, they say it’s time for special interests to listen to overwhelming public demand.

“There are certain powerful forces on the other side of this. What is on the pro side of this is the people of Minnesota,” Reinert said. “Here we are in a state that in the last couple of years has made marriage equality law, has dealt with the issue of medical marijuana, but somehow liquor sales on Sunday is too much? That’s a bridge too far?

The effort continues to face staunch opposition from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, who argue Sunday sales will simply spread six days of sales over seven days, resulting in higher overhead costs without the profit. But Loon and Reinert were flanked by four local liquor store owners who say being forced to close on Sunday cuts into their profits.

Louis Dachis, owner four Merwin Liquors locations in Minneapolis and Ace Spirits, a boutique liquor store in Hopkins, said a typical Saturday generates twice the amount of sales of a weekday. He expects Sunday to be the same. At his smaller store, he would likely cut hours on a slower weekday, such as Tuesday, to make up for the cost of being open on Sunday. No matter what, it should be up to him, he said.

“What we’re asking for is the opportunity to make those business choices and to better serve our customers and improve our business.”

David Hansen runs Hansen’s Liquor in Stillwater, “just a stone’s throw” from the Wisconsin border, where Sunday sales are legal.

“I am literally right on the border of Wisconsin,” he said. “This could literally mean the difference between success and failure for my store.

Mick O’Connell, owner of Booze Mart in St. Paul, said he pays the rent on Sundays, as well as the electricity bill to keep the coolers running and the beer cold.

Each month, he said, “You’re taking away four days that I can’t sell liquor. Literally 14 percent of the year, I can’t make a dime off my business.”

Tamra Kramer owns Vom Fass, a specialty liquor store in the Mall of America. Her customers want it, she would generate an additional $50,000-100,000 in profits annually.

Loon said the first step is attempting to get a hearing, so the bill might gain traction. They anticipate roadblocks in the DFL-controlled Senate, who blocked last year’s bid to allow the Sunday sales of “Growlers,” or refillable glass beer containers from taprooms, after concerns from the Teamsters union that they may have to work Sundays. Loon said she’s open to accommodating them by amending the bill, and is open to listening to other concerns.

“I will say publicly I am happy to put language in the bill that would make the Teamsters comfortable,” Loon said. “As I understand it, their concern is their members working on weekends to make deliveries. I know that liquor store owners can manage their inventory and operate in a way that would not be necessary. I am happy to write into the language of the bill that they would not be required to make deliveries on the weekend. If the Teamsters are listening, please come and see me.”

Photo: Tamra Kramer, Owner of Vom Fass, a specialty liquor store at the Mall of America advocates for Sunday liquor sales. Behind her are the bill's key legislative sponsors, Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie

Remodeled State Capitol expands public space with dining rooms, info center

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: January 22, 2015 - 1:26 PM

(This post has been updated)

When the newly renovated and remodeled Minnesota Capitol debuts in early 2017, it will feature what planners are describing as a major boost in the amount of space and facilities that are open and available to the public. 

That includes a third-floor "Cass Gilbert Library," named after the building's original architect, that will be illuminated by a series of newly recovered, original skylights that have been boarded up for decades. Also new to the Capitol will be a public information center, an increase in the number of bathrooms and elevators, two reservable public dining rooms and a couple of public classrooms, and a room for mothers of young children. 

 "This is going to be some really fantastic public and available space that will restore a lot of the 1905 original architecture," Matt Massman, commissioner of the Department of Administration, said Thursday at a meeting of the Capitol Preservation Commission, a panel led by Gov. Mark Dayton that's overseeing the $273 million renovation project. The Capitol originally opened to the public in 1905.

Dayton and the panel of lawmakers signed off on a "space allocation agreement" at the Thursday meeting, after several weeks of negotiation between Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt. By striking a deal late Wednesday and making it official Thursday, the elected leaders just avoided what construction managers warned would have been costly delays if the space negotiations had continued to drag on. 

The final deal left the Senate with considerably less space in the remade Capitol, both compared to before the renovation and to what Bakk had originally sought. Pre-renovation, a total of 39 state senators had offices in the Capitol; Bakk said he had sought 23 senator offices after the construction, but in the end he settled for four. 

That leaves 63 senators who will have offices in a new Senate office building that's currently under construction north of the Capitol. That project has been politically controversial, but Bakk said it created the space that's needed to create more public space in the remade Capitol, and to give more room in the big building for the governor's office and the House. 

"The Capitol would permanently be a Senate office building if it weren't for that project across the street," Bakk said. 

The four Senate offices that remain in the Capitol will likely go to the majority and minority leaders, and likely two top committee chairs. Bakk stressed that no state senator would have more than one office. Rep. Paul Torkelson, a House Republican on the preservation panel, said no House members would have permanent office space in the new Capitol. House members all have offices in another adjacent building, the uncreatively named State Office Building. 

The governor's office is gaining about 7,000 square feet of space in the renovated Capitol, while the House will gain about 2,700 square feet of additional space. The Senate is surrendering nearly 43,000 square feet of space.

In recent months, the premier building of Minnesota government has been rung by scaffolding and wrapped in sheets of white canvas as work crews execute the renovation. Major portions of the building are currently closed off to lawmakers and the public alike even as the 2015 session has gotten underway. The renovation project is scheduled to be finished up in time for the 2017 legislative session.  

Outstate coalition makes its ask

Posted by: J. Patrick Coolican Updated: January 20, 2015 - 12:43 PM

Some key outstate players held a conference call and outlined priorities in a session that is already shaping up to be consequential for rural Minnesota. 

Bradley Peterson, lobbyist for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities; Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership and a former state representative; and Marty Seifert, CGMC lobbyist and a former state legislator, laid out an outstate agenda that totals nearly half a billion dollars. 

Peterson said the key priorities are local government aid, broadband access, job training, workforce housing and transportation. 

They want local government aid of $45 million by 2017, which would return it to 2002 levels (not adjusted for inflation.) They're also asking for broadband access similar to last year's $20 million; job training; a workforce tax credit; and $400 million for outstate transportation, split evenly between local roads and busier arteries they call "corridors of commerce" such as Highway 23.  

Given House Republican victories in outstate Minnesota, where they flipped 10 districts, plus Senate DFL Majority Leader Tom Bakk's rural geographic base, many Capitol observers believe outstate is well positioned to do well this session.    

Dayton outlines child-care, dependent care tax credit proposal

Posted by: Ricardo Lopez Updated: January 20, 2015 - 4:19 PM

As many as 130,000 Minnesota families could receive state help to reduce the cost of child care and dependent care for the elderly under a proposal by Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled Tuesday.

Dayton, the two-term DFL governor, said the initiative would provide direct tax relief that could reduce the cost of child care and dependent care for working families.

"Rising childcare costs have put hard financial strains on many Minnesota families, making it increasingly difficult for working parents to hold their jobs while assuring quality care for their children," Dayton said in a statement. "My Child Care Tax Credit helps to provide Minnesota families with options -- so they don't have to choose between working and caring for their families."

The proposal would provide about $100 million direct tax relief. Under Dayton's plan, the average family would receive $481; the maximum benefit would be $2,100 for eligibile families.

Photo: Gov. Mark Dayton gives his inaugural address earlier this month at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune)

Dayton 'open' to Bonoff teacher seniority bill, miffed with Senate GOP leader Hann

Posted by: Ricardo Lopez Updated: January 16, 2015 - 2:14 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday said he was open to considering a teacher seniority bill proposed by a DFL senator but expressed disappointment with Senate Minority Leader David Hann for sharing details of a conversation the two had on the issue. 

"First of all, I said anything we discussed at the residence is supposed to stay at the residence, so I can’t trust Senator Hann and other leaders on both sides of the aisle to keep to that promise and we’ll have to modify our future conversations, but I said to him that I was open to considering it, I didn’t say I supported it," Dayton told reporters after an event in Brooklyn Park.

The conversation was over legislation proposed by Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, who broke with her party by introducing a bill Thursday that would end so-called "last in, first out" practices in teacher layoffs. House Republicans have introduced similar legislation and Bonoff has secured the support of two other Republican senators who signed on as cosponsors of her bill.

"Clearly this is going to be a subject for legislative review and initiative, so I’m open to considering it, but I’m not advocating for it, per se," Dayton said.

A spokeswoman for Hann declined to comment on Dayton's remarks.

When Republicans last controlled the Legislature in 2012 they pushed through a measure that would have eliminated last-in, first-out practices, arguing that they hurt student achievement. Dayton vetoed the bill — which Bonoff supported — saying it was vague and premature in the absence of a well-developed, objective evaluation system.

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