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

Bill that would strip teacher seniority introduced by DFL senator

Posted by: Ricardo Lopez Updated: January 15, 2015 - 4:37 PM

Lawmakers will consider several bills that could eliminate teacher seniority from consideration in layoff decisions, including one introduced by a DFL state senator who will have to build support from other members within her own party.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, on Thursday broke with her party by introducing a bill that would consider merit instead of seniority when schools make layoff decisions. Republicans have long been critical of so-called “last in, first out” practices, arguing that it hurts student achievement.

Supporters say it’s important to retain the most experienced teachers in the classroom. “It is my belief that really in every profession merit ought to be what gets someone hired, promoted or kept,” Bonoff said. “I believe especially in a profession where our teachers play such an important role in shaping the lives of our young people that we want to make sure the very best teachers are in every classroom.

The bill introduced Thursday isn’t the first time Bonoff has supported ending the teacher seniority protection. The Minnetonka lawmaker voted for a 2012 bill that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed, calling it premature and vague in the absence of an objective evaluation system.

The landscaped has changed since then. A teacher evaluation system has now been implemented statewide, giving school districts more data on teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom. Under the state evaluation law, 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must gauge student achievement as measured by tests.

“School districts have the tools, they have the information available to implement whatever improvements they think are necessary in their system,” Dayton said in an interview earlier this month. “We’re on that track, and if the Legislature wants to review the track and look at it, then that’s fine.”

The DFL governor, now serving his second and final term, has not yet reviewed Bonoff’s bill, a spokesman said.

Education Minnesota, the state's teacher union, opposes the legislation. 

Delays in Capitol renovation feared because of dispute over space

Posted by: J. Patrick Coolican Updated: January 14, 2015 - 2:35 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton, leading the State Capitol Preservation Commission, said earlier today that he and legislative leaders have been unable to come to a final agreement on how to allocate space in the newly renovated Capitol. 

A final agreement on how space will be used is required before the next phase of the $272 million project can be approved by the commission and commence. Without an agreement, the builder won't know how to proceed. 

Dayton said he and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt have been in intense negotiations in recent days and have made significant progress. The House changed hands and became Republican after the November election, scuttling an earlier tentative agreement. 

The delay will begin to increase project costs soon, eventually to the tune of $680,000 per month. Commission members were also told a slowdown could create other difficulties, such as a shortage of skilled workers, who may want to bolt given the region's booming construction market. 

Also, bids have been approved and contracts are ready to be signed, but they will expire on Jan. 31. A new bidding process could cost even more due to rising construction costs. 

The commission agreed to meet next week. Dayton said he hopes an agreement will be reached by then. 

Post modified to reflect that delay will begin to affect costs "soon" rather than "immediately." Project officials told Dayton that an agreement by next week's meeting won't add to costs.  

Senate DFL out with transportation funding proposal

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: January 12, 2015 - 1:06 PM

State Senate Democrats proposed a new fuel tax of 6.5 percent per gallon, along with a hike in license tab fees and a one-cent sales tax increase in the seven-county metropolitan area, as a way to raise about $800 million in additional state money every year to upgrade Minnesota's transportation system. 

"This is a serious problem that requires a serious solution," said Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, who appeared with a handful of colleagues at a Monday morning news conference to unveil their plan. The Democrats, many of whom represent swing districts, acknowledged the political difficulty of a proposal that would demand more money from the pockets of every Minnesota driver. 

"I can't think of another path," said Sen. Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna. "I can't find another path" to raising the kind of money needed to repair and replace thousands of miles of crumbling roads, hundreds of aging bridges while also increasing road capacity with a few key projects. 

The proposal, authored by Minneapolis DFL Sen. Scott Dibble, has as its centerpiece the sales tax on gas at the wholesale level of 6.5 percent a gallon. That would be on top of the existing 28.5-cents-per-gallon state gas tax, so drivers would definitely pay more at the pump. 

That's identical to a proposal from Gov. Mark Dayton, who has identified a big transportation spending boost as one of his top priorities of the new legislative session. Dayton has also advocated a license tab fee increase and a metro sales tax. 

Dayton and DFL senators have repeatedly cited the work of a transportation panel, convened by Dayton in 2012, that produced a report stating the state needs to raise about an additional $6 billion over 10 years in order to keep its roads and bridges in decent working order. 

Republicans, who hold the House majority, have also called fixing roads and bridges a priority; but GOP lawmakers have been much more reluctant to sign on with tax increases. Last week, House Republicans proposed an additional $750 million in transportation funding in the next four years, a figure Dayton blasted as not nearly sufficient. 

The DFL and GOP are also likely to square off over transit funding. The one-cent metro sales tax increase in the Senate plan would raise about $250 million in 2016, or an estimated $1.30 a week for the average metro resident. 

A flashpoint could be the ongoing Southwest Light Rail project, which requires $121 million from the state in order to proceed. Dibble said he'd like to see that money come from the metro sales tax, which Dayton has already suggested. But Republicans, including House Speaker Kurt Daudt, have repeatedly emphasized their opposition to spending any state dollars on the project. 

A plethora of Sunday liquor sales bills filed in House, Senate

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: January 12, 2015 - 3:34 PM

The first measures to repeal the ban on Sunday liquor sales were filed in the Minnesota House and Senate Monday, the first of many expected legislative attempts to reverse the Prohibition-era “blue law.”

The Senate bill, authored by Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, would allow liquor sales between noon and 10 p.m. on Sundays. Osmek said last week that the bill was a first step, and that he would be open to further negotiation, such as bills that would allow individual cities to decide whether they want to sell liquor.

In the House,  a similar offering proposes the same Sunday hours, while a more liberal bill would allow Sunday sales between 8 a.m and 10 p.m.

A pair of bills, would allow small brewers to sell growlers on Sundays--a move shot down last year when the Teamsters objected, saying it could reopen their labor contracts and potentially interfere with wages and benefits.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who co-authored a number of House bills, also authored a measure giving cities control over whether they want to sell alcohol on Sundays. Drazkowski also filed a bill proposing a five-year "pilot project" of Sunday sales in Anoka, St. Louis and Winona Counties.

Sunday liquor sales, an issue where both supporters and detractors cross political lines, has stalled at the Legislature, but proponents of a repeal say the effort has new life thanks to a Republican-controlled house where Speaker Kurt Daudt has expressed his support.

The influential liquor lobby remains opposed to Sunday sales, saying the measure would spread six days of sales across seven days, and that the profits would not justify the added labor costs. Although stores would have the option of being open, they say they would be forced to stay open to keep up with larger competitors.

Tomassoni defends decision to take Range job

Posted by: J. Patrick Coolican Updated: January 12, 2015 - 12:14 PM



State Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, defended his decision to take a job as executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, a group with significant interests before the Legislature. 

His hiring was first reported by the Mesabi Daily News. 

On the steps outside the Senate chamber in front of a small scrum of reporters, Tomassoni said he had looked into the legal and ethical ramifications of taking the job and was comfortable in the dual role.

"It is legal and it's not a conflict-of-interest. I won't be different from any other legislator who has issues such as a farmer voting on farm issues or a lawyer voting on court issues, or a teacher voting on K-12 issues," he said.  

He won't start in his new position until the end of the legislative session and will take an unpaid leave of absence during future legislative sessions. He will earn $45,000 per year once the unpaid time is factored in. 

Tomassoni, who is also the chairman of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, said his dual role would only occasionally require him to recuse himself from voting. 

He said the job would be administrative, not lobbying, and that the board would hire a lobbyist if it so chose, reporting to the board and not to him. 



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