In an effort to shed more light on who is influencing lawmakers, a Senate panel on Wednesday approved a measure that would require disclosure of officials' spouses' financial interests.
"I really see it as an oversight," said Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, who sponsored the measure.
Various studies have found that Minnesota has weaker financial disclosure requirements than many states. Many other states already require some financial disclosure from spouses, and some even require information about lawmakers and other officials' children.
But the idea has its detractors.
"I just really don’t see how we can force a spouse to comply with this statute," said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson. He said he could not support the measure.
Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, said she shared that "sense of umbrage."
"I'm going to vote for it but I, too, have some misgivings," she told Eken.
The measure would also ask lawmakers and other officials to disclosure the areas in which they have contracts to do consulting or independent contracting.
A similar measure is moving forward in the Minnesota House as well.
A proposal to avoid partisan, big-money fights for judicial seats by changing the way judges achieve and keep their offices moved ahead on a mixed voice vote at the Legislature Wednesday.
The Senate Subcommittee on Elections approved the measure and sent it to the full Rules Committee.
Sponsored by Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, the bill proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would go to voters in November. It would replace the current system, in which judges run for re-election with the word "incumbent" by their names, with one that depends on an appointed merit commission and yes-or-no "retention" elections with no opponent on the ballot.
Rest and supporters of the bill, including former Supreme Court Justice Eric Magnuson, presented the amendment as a way of avoiding partisan judicial elections that require judges to commit on issues that may later come before them. In Wisconsin and Michigan, they said, those races have attracted significant campaign contributions.
"You folks run on platforms," Magnuson told the legislators. "A judge can't run on a platform. That's antithetical to what a judge does. A judge decides cases based on the law and fact in front of him or her."
Sarah Walker, president of the Coalition for Impartial Justice, also argued in support of the bill. "All you have to do is look around the country .... to see that high-cost partisan elections are sweeping the country, and it's not far off in Minnesota."
Currently, most judges do come into office by gubernatorial appointment, but there are rare elections for open seats without an appointee. Once in office, judges stand for re-election and can be challenged by opponents. Most run unopposed.
Opponents of the measure including Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the powerful anti-abortion organization, and others who argued that the measure denied voters the right to freely choose their own judges.
"We oppose the premise that citizens aren't qualified to vote for judges," said Andrea Rau of the MCCL. We believe citizens have the right to vote for a particular judicial candidate, not just against them."
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, a member of the subcommittee, said voters "will have their vote taken away." He said empowering a commission to evaluate judges and recommend replacements means the people's right to select judges would be given to "political appointees."
"I don't see the public pounding our doors for this," Limmer said.
Rest's proposed amendment is now queued up in the Senate Rules Committee along with a proposed amendment that would make it harder for the Legislature to submit future constitutional amendments to voters. The House, which is up for re-election in November, has shown less interest in putting amendments on the ballot this year.
Booze and baseball; football and taxes. Sports are on the agenda for lawmakers.
A House committee today to debate allowing later bar closing times during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. This afternoon, the governor and the leaders of the House and Senate talked about possible tax breaks during the Super Bowl in 2018, which Minnesota is wooing.
"I don't know the details," House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said before the meeting. He said he has some reservations about giving the tax breaks and wants to make sure they get close examination.
Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson said after the meeting that the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen "provided a very preliminary first look at the potential economic benefits of bringing the Super Bowl to Minnesota."
"No decisions or commitments were made during the meeting. The Governor and legislative leaders will continue their discussion on this issue in the coming weeks," Swenson said.
If Minnesota wins the Super Bowl four years from now, the Legislature may see a bill much like the one the House Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy will debate later today.
The measure up for votes today would permit Hennepin County to license bars to stay open late "only during the period from 12:00 p.m. on July 15, 1.132014, through 4:00 a.m. on July 16, 2014," the period of the 2014 Baseball All-Star Game.
The bill will be considered at a 4 p.m. hearing Wednesday.
It remains to be seen how many Minneapolis bars are interested in paying $2,500 to stay open a few extra hours on a warm July night.
Craig Wait, general manager of Kieran’s Irish Pub, paid for the license to stay open during the 2008 Republican National Convention, but found that most convention-goers gravitated to private events instead of local pubs.
“It ended up being not so beneficial,” Wait said. “Bars paid a lot of money for not a lot in return.”
Photo: Minneapolis' Lowbrow bar, which is plastered with baseball cards//source: Star Tribune file photo
Staff writer Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report
Medical marijuana sponsors in the House offered opponents a compromise: no smoking.
Law enforcement negotiators responded: no thank you.
The result is a stalemate that has stalled the bill, says Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, who sponsored the bill that would make Minnesota the 21st state to legalize medical marijuana. She is calling on the governor to break the deadlock.
Over the weekend, Melin said she offered a series of changes to the bill to satisfy the major objections law enforcement groups have had to the legislation. She offered to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis as a pill, liquid or vapor. But anyone caught smoking medical marijuana would face penalties.
Melin's also offered to strip out provisions that would allow patients to grow up to six plants in their own homes, and to narrow the language to allay concerns that people could fudge their way into a marijuana prescription -- changing "severe and debilitating pain" to "intractable pain."
Despite the changes, law enforcement remained strongly opposed to the bill, pending more in-depth research into marijuana's medicinal properties. John Kingrey, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, said he believes Melin and other supporters are sincere in their desire to help sick and dying Minnesotans, but the dangers of drugs may still outweigh the potential benefits.
"We are concerned that medical marijuana will make its way into the hands of Minnesota teens," Kingrey said.
Philosophically, he said, the gulf between the two sides is probably too wide to find a compromise during this year's brief session.
"Given the short session and the technical aspects of the bill, I just don't think there's time" to reach a consensus, he said.
Melin asked the House Government Operations Committee to postpone a scheduled Tuesday morning hearing on the legislation and appealed to the governor to mediate.
In a statement, she said: "Governor Dayton has been consistent that his support of a medical marijuana bill is contingent on support from law enforcement. I have attempted to compromise with law enforcement over the past few months and offered several major concessions, but they have been unwilling to accept a proposal that would allow Minnesota to join 20 other states in permitting patients safe, regulated, and legal access to medical marijuana. I will continue to stand with Minnesotans who support the Compassionate Care Act and remain hopeful we can make progress, but right now we are at a stalemate with law enforcement and I don't see a path forward until the governor changes his position."
The medical marijuana bill cleared the House Health and Human Services Policy committee by a voice vote last week.
A Republican legislative leader who supports same-sex marriage said she will run in a primary after failing to win her party’s endorsement over the weekend.
“This is a democracy and people are able to throw their hat in the ring,” said state Rep. Jenifer Loon, of Eden Prairie. “I don’t see this as a huge issue, honestly.”
Local GOP activist Sheila Kihne emerged to challenge Loon at their local convention, with neither candidate able to get enough votes to win the endorsement.
Kihne said she is weighing a primary run after her strong showing at the convention. Loon was one of four GOP House members who voted to legalize same-sex marriage last year.
“Here locally, it was an issue of trust or integrity,” Kihne said Monday. “We do not feel like we have good leadership.”
Activists who oppose same-sex marriage had worked behind-the-scenes to defeat Loon, a deputy minority leader.
“Life, marriage, and religious freedom are values for which there is no compromise,” said John Helmberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council. “Jenifer Loon tried to compromise these values-hurting the families in her district who trusted her to uphold them. And her constituents have spoken.”
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said he expects Loon will prevail and win a fourth term.
“Jenifer Loon—and I don’t know anybody who would dispute this—is very well-liked by the constituents in her district,” said Daudt, R-Crown. “I’m very confident that she will make it through a primary and easily win a general election again. She does a great job representing her community and I think that support will definitely be there for her.”
Just over 40 percent of voters in Loon’s district supported a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2012, a factor that Loon said she considered when she voted to legalize same-sex marriage last year.
Kihne said she is not a single-issue Republican, and noted that Loon is among several GOP leaders who have faced a challenge from within the party, including Daudt.
“It speaks to the fact that we are looking for more principled leadership and representatives who do what they are say they are going to do,” she said.
Of the four GOP House members who supported same-sex marriage, Loon is not the only one facing challengers.
First-term Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, lost the endorsement at his convention and is considering a primary run.
Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, is not seeking re-election.
Only Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington breezed through his convention without trouble.
Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this story.
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