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, Jim Spencer and intern Beena Raghavendran.

Posts about Minnesota legislature

Firefighters decry 'slow death' of flame retardant bill

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: May 4, 2015 - 6:12 PM

Photo: DFL Rep. Erik Simonson, an assistant Duluth fire chief, greets his fellow firefighters at the Capitol.

Firefighters from across the state gathered in the State Capitol hallways Monday to decry the “slow death” of their bill to phase out what they say are cancer-causing flame retardants from household furniture and other goods.

Representatives from the Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters Union went so far as to light a couch aflame last week to demonstrate what they say are the harmful effects of flame retardant chemicals relative to their inefficacy. At a time when cancer accounts for more than half of line-of-duty firefighter deaths nationwide, the union wants Minnesota to follow the suit of three other states that have begun phasing out certain flame retardants by eventually banning their manufacture and sale in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the American Chemistry Council and the North American Flame Retardant Alliance, who say Minnesota’s proposed ban goes much further than those in other states, and is too broad.  Despite sailing through the Senate, the bill has not received a hearing in the House Commerce Committee. Committee Chair Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, urged the two sides to come together to strike a deal, but it appears it was unsuccessful, said MPFF President Chris Parsons, a St. Paul Fire captain.

“It didn’t go well,” Parsons said, adding that the firefighters offered up a few concessions, but wouldn’t elaborate. “We asked them to give us their bottom line, what it’ll take to reach a deal, and it was pretty clear to me that they’re content with running out the clock on this bill and not supporting it at all.”

Tony Kwilas, the chamber’s director of environmental policy, confirmed the meeting, but maintained that conversations are still ongoing.

If it doesn’t pass this year, Parsons said it’s unlikely it’ll have success next year, as long as the House remains under Republican leadership. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Kurt Daudt said last week that the bill "continues to work through the process." Parson disagreed.

"I think that the Republican House leadership right now are perfectly happy with just kind of letting this bill die a slow death like many of our colleagues are dying a slow death from cancer that is possibly caused by flame retardants," Parsons said.

Firefighters wore their helmets in the Capitol hallways as they awaited House members arriving for the afternoon session. A young firefighter with bagpipes approached Parsons and explained he was told by a Minnesota State Trooper that he was not allowed to play inside the building.

“We’re gonna play it anyway,” Parsons said.

With Parsons standing in front of him, the firefighter quickly a pair of tunes, the firefighter anthem “Going Home” and “Amazing Grace,” receiving a warning from the trooper before they stopped. It wasn’t worth getting anyone arrested, Parsons said.

Dayton, DFL lawmakers blast GOP campaign spending provisions

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: May 4, 2015 - 1:07 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday that he would veto a budget bill funding various state agencies if it includes several provisions he and DFL state lawmakers see as undermining the disclosure of special interest spending to influence elections. 

"It'd be a terrible direction for Minnesota," Dayton said at a news conference. "We have a history of strong campaign finance protections."

The state government finance omnibus bill, which the GOP-controlled House passed in late April, contains several measures that drew fire from Dayton and DFL lawmakers.

The legislation would effectively end campaign spending limits for statewide candidates including in governor's races, as well as for other statewide offices and in state legislative races. It would remove limits on the number of total donations that could be received by lobbyists and political action committees, and end public subsidies for campaigns. 

"Do the citizens of Minnesota really want to see their tax dollars going to politicians' campaigns?" Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, the sponsor of the state government bill, said last month. She also noted that Democrats in Minnesota as a group have been the recipient of more political donations than Republicans in recent election cycles. 

House Democrats have pushed legislation they say would go in the opposite direction, to force greater disclosure of spending by political groups on issue-based mailers that still mention specific candidates but stop short of calling for votes for or against them. A companion bill in the DFL-controlled Senate has seen some progress this year, but Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said it was unlikely to advance if it does not move in the House. 

Sunday growler sales soon a reality, once cities give the OK

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: May 1, 2015 - 5:32 PM

Taking home a jug of craft beer from your favorite local taproom on a Sunday will require local signoff before becoming a reality.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the state’s omnibus liquor bill into law on Friday, which includes allowing the sale of growlers from craft breweries on Sundays. Other provisions of the bill include the “Bloody Mary Bill,” which allows 8 a.m. alcohol sales from bars and restaurants on Sundays, and also reclassifies Minnesota instructional learner’s permits as valid identification to buy alcohol. (Provided you’re of age, of course.) Despite a strong push by advocates and closer-than-ever votes in the House and Senate, a full repeal of the state’s ban on Sunday liquor sales failed.

But it doesn’t mean growlers will be sold from local taprooms as soon as this Sunday, or even next. The law gives cities the authority to issue licenses to taprooms to sell off-site on Sundays, a move that will require action by city councils, said Dan McElroy, president and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, which represents hotels, restaurants and resorts across the state.

It appears Minneapolis has already begun the process. A notice of intent was filed Friday to amend ordinances regarding off-sale malt liquor.  Officials say the law may not be changed until the end of May or first of June.

Changes in the Bloody Mary bill are a little more fluid, McElroy said.

“The law is interesting, a city can have liquor regulations which are more restrictive than state law, but cannot have less restrictive regulations,” he said. “Because more people would say 8 a.m. would be more restrictive than 10 a.m., city ordinance would prevail.”

That’s the case in Minneapolis, which does not allow alcohol to be served before 10 a.m. on Sundays. Therefore that law too may need to be changed. However, McElroy said that if a city currently does not have its own ordinance restricting Sunday hours of sale, it defaults to state law, and 8 a.m. sales would take effect.

Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report.

State Senate defeats move to restrict transgender student bathroom, locker room use at high schools

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: April 29, 2015 - 5:41 PM

The state Senate defeated a move Wednesday to repeal a Minnesota High School League policy that allows transgender students to use locker rooms and bathrooms that don't match their sex at birth. 

The GOP-led House of Representatives passed an identical provision on Saturday, attaching it to an education policy bill on an unrecorded voice vote. But the DFL-controlled Senate voted it down 40-25 during debate on its own education policy measure. 

Last December, the Minnesota High School League adopted a policy that opens up transgender student-athletes to participate in girls' sports. State law already lets female students participate in boys' sports. Since then, the Minnesota Family Council and other socially conservative groups have pushed for the locker and bathroom prohibitions. 

"I believe, and believe parents believe, that biologically female students should not have to worry about a biological young man sharing their locker room or bathroom," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove. "Nor should our daughters be put in a position of sharing a locker room or bathroom with a bunch of adolescent young men."

But Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said such a prohibition would increase the stigma facing transgender students, and expose them to greater discrimination and physical violence. 

"Gender identity is not a matter of choice or amenable to change," Dibble said. 

The vote on the amendment fell largely along party lines, but with several crossovers. Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, joined most Republicans in backing it. Three GOP senators -- Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen, and Carla Nelson and Dave Senjem of Rochester -- voted against it. 

"This amendment makes me incredibly sad because it targets so very few Minnesotans," Ortman said. "I encourage members to be brave and vote no."

Since the House backed the measure, it will be up for debate in final House-Senate negotiations over the education policy bill. Gov. Mark Dayton has spoken in favor of the High School League policy, and has been critical of what he has called attempts to demonize transgender students. 

House passes public safety bill, provides $2.1 billion in funding

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: April 28, 2015 - 8:04 PM

The Minnesota House signed off Tuesday on a bill that provides $2.1 billion in public safety funding, lowers the threshold for enhanced drunken driving penalties and increases fines for texting and driving.

The omnibus Public Safety Finance bill passed the House, 115-19. The bill funds dozens of public safety departments over the next budget cycle, including the Department of Corrections, the courts, much of the Department of Public Safety and Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, among others.

Its dozens of measures also include lowering the threshold for advanced drunken driving penalties from a blood alcohol level of .20 to .16. The change will place Minnesota’s criminal penalties in line with the civil penalties for drunken driving. Another would make legal the necessity defense,legislation that stems from the case of Jennifer Axelberg, who had no choice but to drive legally drunk to escape her husband during a domestic dispute. Some of the proposals are the results of recommendations by the state’s DWI Task Force.

The bill includes enhanced penalties for texting or using other electronic devices while driving. Drivers caught on a second, or any subsequent violation would be fined an additional $150 on top of the financial penalties set by the state’s Judicial Council. Despite impassioned arguments by Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, the House rejected his proposed amendment to pay a $350 fine for a second texting while driving offense, and $500 for a third.

Other highlights of the bill include:

Combating terror: Directing the Department of Public Safety to collaborate with local law enforcement to combat the recruitment of Minnesotans to terrorist groups like ISIS.

Safe Driving: Enhancing criminal vehicular homicide penalties for drivers with certain prior convictions, and enhancing penalties for reckless driving causing great bodily harm or death.

Sex Trafficking: A measure to list sex trafficking as a violent crime, rendering it eligible for more enhanced criminal penalties.

Synthetic Drugs: The bill expands the definition of controlled substances to include new chemical compounds used in the manufacture of synthetic drugs. This is a move frequently needed to catch up with synthetic drug makers, who tweak the compounds to avoid prosecution.

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