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.
One day after the only Republican candidate for Secretary of State dropped out of the race, former state senator John Howe announced on Tuesday that he would run for the seat and former state senator Ted Daley said he is "definitely" considering a bid.
On Monday, Dennis Nguyen, who had the GOP field to himself, quit the race, claiming his existing obligations had made it difficult for him to run a statewide race. Nguyen had seen his support from sitting lawmakers diminish after reports that he had visited strip clubs.
Howe, the former mayor of Red Wing, said he had thought about running when Nguyen was still in the race. Daley said he did not.
Both of the former senators were elected in 2010 and lost their seats to Democrats after the 2012 redistricting.
Howe, a former mayor of Red Wing, said that his hallmarks would be honest and common sense.
"I think most people know that I work well with everybody," Howe said. In the 2012 legislative session, he proposed what some saw as a compromise to the voter ID constitutional amendment. That alternative was not adopted by the Republican-led Legislature.
Daley, a CPA and military veteran, said he is "definitely, definitely considering" a run for the office. While he said his interest in running rose after Nguyen quit the race. He said he expects to make a decision this week.
Daley, of Eagan, was on the joint House-Senate committee that crafted the voter ID amendment. The voter ID amendment ultimately made it onto the ballot and was rejected by Minnesotans in the 2012 election.
Current Secretary Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, is not running for re-election. DFL state Reps. Steve Simon, of Hopkins, and Debra Hilstrom, of Brooklyn Center, are both running to replace him.
With just 140 characters at their disposal on Twitter, Minnesota lawmaker and their staff have found plenty of ways to get in trouble.
On Sunday night, Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo sent out a tweet linking NBA players to street crime. The tweet produced a firestorm of criticism and was called racist nationwide. On Monday morning, Garofalo said he sincerely apologized for the message.
The five-term state lawmaker had bipartisan company in his Twitter turmoil.
Last year, Democratic Rep. Ryan Winkler tweeted of U.S. Supreme Court's voting rights act decision, that the “VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas.” The reference to Clarence Thomas, the only African American member of the Supreme Court, with the racial epithet was shared around the country. Winkler, who had been contemplating a run for Secretary of State at the time, deleted the tweet and said he didn't understand the reference would be offensive.
The year before, then-Republican Senate staffer Bob Koss tangled with then-Republican state Rep. John Kriesel over same-sex marriage, shortly before a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage was on the ballot. Koss lost his Senate job in the wake of the late night tweeting.
In 2011, then-state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, tweeted that Democratic Sen. Barb Goodwin called people with mental illness "idiots and imbeciles" during a Senate floor debate. Goodwin was, in fact, disparaging the historic terms used for people with mental illness. That incident resulted in an ethics complaint. The ethics panel met for five hours and decided the complaint would be dropped if Hoffman apologized, which she did.
And in 2009, as Twitter was dawning as a way for lawmakers to share their thoughts, Democratic Rep. Paul Gardner used the messaging service during a floor session to suggest that Republican Rep. Tom Emmer was nastier to women during debate than he was to men and that Republican Rep. Mark Buesgens had a black eye. Gardner, too, was brought up on ethics charges and issued a public apology.
Minnesota Senate Republicans failed Monday to rush a $500 million tax relief package to a final floor vote.
“Minnesotans are working on their tax returns right now, and they deserve clear a clear answer from the legislature on tax reform," said Senate Minority Leader David, R- Eden Prairie. "The House was able to move quickly on this issue. Senate Republicans think it’s vitally important to citizens of the state that we do the same. There’s no reason to delay.”
DFL Senate leaders said they need time to hold public hearings on a plan the House overwhelmingly approved last week.
“This is a very large proposal,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport. The Senate “does want to have hearings and hear from the public on the components that will go into it.”
Hann said he suspects the Senate DFLers are intentionally holding up the tax proposal to keep it as a possible bargaining chip for other measures, like the proposed $90 million Senate office building and parking ramp.
The building issue must resolved “before we have movement on these other major things,” Hann said.
The Senate taxes committee “isn’t trying to hold anything up,” Sieben said. “They are moving ahead as quickly as possible, keeping in mind that there is a process in the Senate.”
The proposal includes tax breaks for middle-income Minnesotans and would repeal new business sales taxes on warehousing services and telecommunications equipment and repair, changes strongly supported by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
Dayton has asked legislators to pass the tax breaks by Friday, giving revenue department officials’ time to implement the changes before Tax Day.
Some of the changes would be retroactive for the 2013 tax year, like the working family credit, student loan interest deduction and tax breaks for consumers who lost their home to foreclosure.
The Dayton administration is not looking to make the elimination of the so-called marriage penalty retroactive, saying that it would be too cumbersome and expensive to adjust tax returns for 650,000 tax filers at the last minute.
Sieben said that legislators will probably not meet Dayton’s deadline, but the tax relief could get final passage soon after.
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