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.

Rep. Kline optimistic on education reform, calls torture report 'purely partisan'

Posted by: Abby Simons under 2nd District, Minnesota congressional, Republicans Updated: December 15, 2014 - 3:56 PM

Fresh off the close of the 2014 Congressional session, Minnesota Rep. John Kline said Monday that he expects more legislation to smoothly pass in Washington with a Republican-led House and Senate next year, including initiatives for education reform.

Kline, a Republican representing Minnesota’s Second District, sat down with reporters before taking a holiday break.  The veteran Congressman was optimistic about 2015, saying a new GOP majority in the session will likely bring a sea change by allowing more bills to the floor.

“The Republicans are determined to overuse the term ‘Regular Order,’ Kline said. “I expect to see a very different process where legislation will move, contrary to the past six years.”

‘Purely Partisan’
He called last week’s release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report that alleging torture against alleged terrorists “purely partisan.”

“This is created by Senate Democrat staffers to criticize the CIA and previous administration,” Kline said. “There may be things that are true concerning torture, and maybe not, but I don’t like a one-party report. There’s not one Republican drop of ink in that report.”

Torture, he said, “Should not be a partisan issue. We should not give (this report) objective credibility.”

Education reform
Kline, who cruised to a seventh term last month, will continue chairing the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Along with his Senate counterpart Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Kline said his first priority is replacing No Child Left Behind and reducing the role of the federal government in K-12 education. Whatever the new act is called, the name “No Child Left Behind” is history.

 “You can count on that,” he said.

Key components for reform will be reallocating money to fund special education, which he said is currently underfunded by half. Kline said they’ve set an ambitious timeline, getting the bill through committee by February and ideally passing it by summer. Beyond that, he said, the presidential campaigns begin their full swing, making it more difficult to pass legislation.

In higher education, Kline also said they’d like to simplify student loans and grants, while creating transparency about the true costs of college.

While Kline said he has a good working relationship with Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, he didn’t’ pull punches when referring to President Obama.

“I just think this White House is more inept and less functional than anything I’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

Kline and GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen were the only two members of the entire Minnesota delegation who supported the continuing resolution to fund the federal government, which passed the House last week and the Senate over the weekend. Kline said he would rather vote on each of the appropriations bills separately, rather than a giant omnibus that funded all but the Department of Homeland Security through Sept. 30.

Kline said he had little opposition to the bill, other than that he believes Department of Defense cuts were too deep given the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Kline disagrees with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, saying “I think we’re going to have to show a greater presence on the ground at some point.”

Eye toward the future
Kline declined to say whether he would consider running for an eighth term in two years.
“Anybody can step away anytime,” he said, adding that at this point he has no plans to leave his seat.

Kline also said it too early to say which Republican he would back for a presidential run, and acknowledged the field would likely be large. Generally speaking, he said he would prefer the executive experience of a governor over a candidate who serves as Senator.

Primary problems
Turning an eye toward Minnesota, Kline mulled over why it’s so hard for Republican candidates to win statewide races.
“Dare I say Minneapolis?” he said, noting that GOP candidates who fare well outstate are often beaten in the metro. Kline said that a late primary process does candidates no favors when they must spend the duration of the summer facing off against one another instead of their Democratic opponents.

Sens. Klobuchar, Franken don't support government spending bill

Posted by: Allison Sherry under Morning Hot Dish newsletter, Minnesota U.S. senators Updated: December 14, 2014 - 7:37 PM

WASHINGTON -- Minnesota's two Democratic senators mirrorred their Democratic House colleagues last week and voted against the massive government spending bill over the weekend.

The measure, which passed the Senate 56-40 late night Saturday, funds most of the federal government through next September. It passed the House last week. No Minnesota House Democrats supported it and neither did outgoing Rep. Michele Bachmann. 

In statements Sunday, both Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken said they didn't support the spending bill because of a provision that gave wealthy people more influence over campaigns because it lifted some contribution limits to party committees.

"This spending bill included major provisions that were added with no public debate," Klobuchar said Sunday, in a statement, "including measures designed to chip away at campaign finance laws. We need to have these debates in the light of day through an open process and moving forward I will continue to fight to make sure we can find common ground."

Franken said, in a statement, he didn't favor the campaign finance measure either. He also disagreed with a provision in the big spending bill that rolls back some banking rules that were put in place by Congress after the 2008 financial crisis. 

"I didn't support this spending bill because Minnesotans deserve a government that helps make the economy work for the middle class and those aspiring to be in the middle class," he said. "After closely studying this legislation, I could not in good conscience vote for it."

Lawmakers hear the virtues, risks of drones

Posted by: Abby Simons under Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators 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.
 

Former gubernatorial candidate Seifert to lobby for outstate interests

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: December 12, 2014 - 4:20 PM

Marty Seifert, a former Republican House leader who ran for governor twice, will join Flaherty & Hood as a lobbyist, the firm said on Friday.

The St. Paul law and legislative advocacy firm represents Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, Greater Minnesota Partnership and U.S. Highway 14 Partnership, among others, which makes it a natural fit, Seifert said.

"I want to believe in what I'm doing," Seifert said.

Seifert, who lives in Marshall, represented his hometown in the Minnesota House from 1997 to 2010, rising to be the Republican minority leader. In 2010, he ran for governor and fell to Tom Emmer, now an incoming U.S. House member, in an endorsement fight.

This year, he ran for governor again. He vied in a primary in August, winning the significant support in outstate Minnesota, but came third place statewide.

Along the way, formed relationships with many lawmakers. Seifert's first campaign was managed by  Incoming House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Seifert said he knows, and even first recruited, many of the incoming Republican freshmen.

"Obviously, the speaker is a friend of mine, the committee chairs are friends and a lot of Democrats are friends," Seifert said.

Seifert will have the company making the switch to lobbying. Former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, former Senate Minority Leader Dick Day are both now registered lobbyists as are an assortment of former Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Photo: Marty Seifert campaigning in 2014/Source: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune
 

Delegation members get last minute victories before Congress' end

Posted by: Allison Sherry under Morning Hot Dish newsletter, 1st District, 4th District, 5th District, Minnesota congressional Updated: December 11, 2014 - 1:40 PM

WASHINGTON -- Amid the big debates this week to keep the federal government running, three Minnesota Democrats were relishing smaller victories in the final hours of the 113th Congress. 

Rep. Betty McCollum got her Global Food Security Act passed late Wednesday. Rep. Keith Ellison got the Federal Housing Finance Agency to agree to $700 million a year to create affordable rental housing units. And Rep. Tim Walz was hoping the Senate would pass his veterans suicide prevention bill and send it to the president's desk. 

-McCollum's bipartisan Global Food Security Act, introduced by Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, directs the president to develop a strategy to improve nutrition and strengthen agricultural development with an eye on international aid. Minnesota's biggest food companies, including Cargill and General Mills, were supporters.

-The Federal Housing Finance Agency committed to more than $700 million more to construct affordable rental housing. Ellison's office had been pushing the federal agency to shift resources after learning there was at least an 8 million unit shortage across the country.

-Walz was working across the chamber Thursday to get the Senate to pass his Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, named after a Marine who committed suicide after being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. The House passed the measure earlier this week. The Senate moved to pass it through a manuever called unanimous consent. It was unclear whether that maneuver would work before Congress left town at the end of this week. White House officials said the president would sign the bill if it hit his desk.

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