Members of the DFL Senate and House unveiled a series of bills Thursday aimed at providing paid family leave, earned sick leave, among other workplace protections, they said would give Minnesotans economic security.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the package of bills is a "response to the real challenges facing families."
The labor-backed proposals contained in the so-called Working Parents Act have been unveiled in recent days and include a measure by Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, that would end erratic, last-minute scheduling of hourly workers by employees.
Another measured sponsored by Rep. Carly Melin-DFL-Hibbing, and Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, would create penalties for employers who skimp on workers' pay. Proponents on the measure say wage theft is a problem that disproportionately affects low-wage and immigrant workers.
The other bills would:
-- Provide sick leave for an estimated 1 million Minnesotans to care for themselves or family.
-- Another bill would prohibit restaurants from deducting credit card processing fees from their servers' tips.
-- Paid family leave would give families up to six weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child, care for an elderly or ill family member or deal with pregnancy-related health concerns.
No cost of the bills was available Thursday.
Gov. Mark Dayton, Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Wednesday they were close to striking a deal that would settle a festering dispute over the governor's recent pay raises for his agency commissioners.
Talks over those pay raises blew up last week between fellow DFLers Bakk and Dayton, who called the Senate majority leader "conniving" and a backstabber who had lost his trust.
Daudt, a Republican, has apparently been acting as an intermediary of sorts between the two DFLers; Daudt and Dayton met Wednesday morning at the governor's residence, and Daudt and Bakk have also been in touch in recent days. The goal has been agreeing on a budget deficiency bill that would include some sort of provision responding to Dayton's commissioner pay hikes, which have drawn the ire of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
"The governor is eager to get the focus of the session back to the priorities of Minnesotans," spokesman Linden Zakula said. "To that end, he is working with House and Senate leadership to pass the deficiency bill and bring the salary dispute to an end."
The budget deficiency bill contains about $16 million for several state agency that need small cash infusions to reach the June 30 end of the state's fiscal year. But it got wrapped up in the pay raise dispute after Bakk led an effort in the Senate to delay the pay raises until July 1.
A group of DFL senators said Wednesday that they hope to revive rural and small-town economies in Minnesota by linking together a series of bills to boost worker training, deliver more workforce housing, incubate new businesses and greatly expand broadband internet access.
Together, the initiatives if made law would total nearly $200 million in additional state spending over two years.That puts them in competition with a whole raft of other possible uses of the state's current $1 billion surplus, but the senators said there should be enough to go around and that the state's struggling rural economy needs attention.
"We're not just throwing money at the problem," said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm. "We're trying to fix a problem with money."
Challenges facing rural Minnesota have been at the top of the legislative agenda this year, after a November election in which 10 Republicans unseated DFL House members from rural districts. Of the five senators at Thursday's Capitol news conference, two represent districts where both House members are Republicans. That dynamic looms large for senators as they face re-election in 2016.
But the senators said their initiatives aim to address real economic dilemmas facing Minnesota's small towns and rural areas. Their proposals include:
- $27 million for new career counselors at workforce development centers in rural Minnesota.
- $50 million in tax credits aimed at generating private investment to build housing for workers. The money would help establish an "Office of Workforce Housing" charged with distributing the tax credits.
- $40 million for grants to small communities for public infrastructure, to attract new businesses or help existing businesses expand.
- $15 million for a new job training program for rural Minnesota. "The people in rural parts of the state simply haven't experienced the explosive job and economic growth that the metro has seen in the last few years," Tomassoni said, pointing to what he called a "skills gap" between what outstate Minnesota businesses need and the skills of potential applicants.
- $100 million to continue an ongoing push to expand high speed broadband access in rural areas. "Broadband access is a great equalizer," said Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing.
A number of the DFL initiatives have backing from some Republican lawmakers, too. The senators bristled at the idea the legislative package is an attempt to shore up political support from rural Minnesota; but Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, said if successful it would likely be noticed by rural voters.
"I'm convinced that if we have a real trained and educated workforce put to work in rural Minnesota, we'll do just fine," Saxhaug said.
The dispute over how long Minnesota law enforcement should be able to store data collected by automated license plate readers took a tense turn Tuesday, when a measure that appeared bound for the Senate floor must now clear another committee hurdle.
The devices, commonly known as LPRs, are small cameras mounted in squad cars or in fixed mounts that scan license plates and store information on where and when a vehicle was located when the scan was taken. Revelations about the devices in 2012 raised calls by privacy and civil liberties advocates — as well as ordinary citizens — on how police classify and retain the data.
For the third consecutive session, lawmakers have sparred over whether LPR “hits” on innocent people should be deleted immediately—what privacy advocates want, or kept for 90 days-- what law enforcement wants.
This session, a 90-day retention bill sponsored by Sen Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, over protests from Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, who authored a competing bill arguing for zero retention. While the committee opted not to move forward with Petersen's bill, Latz’s bill headed to the Senate floor for a vote.
But Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who co-authored Petersen’s zero-retention bill, asked Latz to refer the bill to the Transportation and Public Safety Committee, which Dibble chairs. Latz declined, saying his bill does not fall under that committee's jurisdiction.
Petersen and Dibble objected, and the three sat side-by-side before the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday afternoon to figure out just where it should go next. It's the second time in as many days that the differences of opinion between them has been public.
“First and foremost, it’s a custom of the Senate to honor the reasonable requests of (Chairman Dibble),” Petersen told the Rules Committee. “I don’t think anybody would claim that it is neither a public safety or transportation issue.”
Dibble argued that Latz’s bill includes data managed by Driver and Vehicle Services, which falls under the auspices of the Transportation Committee. Latz countered that the language pertains to the Data Practices Act, which is solely under Judiciary Committee authority.
Pointing at other potential motives, Latz mentioned the “substantial differences” in retention periods between he and Dibble’s bill, adding that an identical 90-day retention bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee last year and headed straight to the Senate floor without protest.
“The only time any interest in hearing this bill in front of the Transportation Public Safety Committee appears to have arisen this year when there was apparently a change of mind by Sen. Dibble about the 90-day retention period.” Latz said. “I respect his right to change his position on that, it happens, but that seems to be (behind) the request for referral.”
Dibble bristled, saying “I think it is inappropriate for Sen. Latz to suggest any motive on my part. He has no idea why I requested this other than the statements I’ve made in public already.”
Dibble maintained that his intentions in hearing the bill have nothing to do with the retention period, and that while he doesn’t intend to offer an amendment to change it, he wouldn’t stop one from being offered.
The Rules Committee differed on whether Dibble’s Committee should have the right to hear the bill.
Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said it’s important to be mindful of “jurisdiction creep” and to be mindful of the authority committees hold, as well as the potential for backlog.
Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, sided with sending the bill to Dibble, saying “there are lots of reasons bills go to committees.”
“It’s unfortunate that it came to this point,” she said. “When a chair requests something, we should at least honor it."
On a split voice vote, the bill went to Dibble’s committee. Afterward, Latz said he was “disappointed and frustrated” but respects the process. He said he has “no doubt" an amendment will be made to change the LPR retention-length from 90 days to zero, and if it succeeds, he will ask that the bill be referred back to his committee.
After the hearing, a pleased Petersen stopped short of saying whether he planned to offer that amendment.
“I’m sure we’ll find a willing member,” he said.
Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, offered up an amendment to a campaign finance bill today that would allow legislators to raise money on the first day of a legislative session before it begins and on the last day of the session post sine die.
The bill, authored by Sen. Jim Carlson, makes numerous changes to campaign finance and ethics law. It would define a "regular session," during which legislators could not raise money from lobbyists, to include the entire first day and the entire last day of each annual session.
But Metzen's oral amendment would strip out that language and allow, for instance, legislators to have coffee-and-doughnut breakfast fundraisers with lobbyists on the first day of a legislative session before gaveling in, traditionally around noon.
The amendment and the bill passed the Senate Rules Commitee.
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