Business and government officials and environmental advocates gathered today at the Science Museum of Minnesota for the Environmental Initiative's legislative preview, and things got a little testy among legislators.
House Environment Committee Chair Denny McNamara and Mining and Outdoor Recreation Chair Tom Hackbarth introduced themselves but said little in the first round of a panel discussion about this year's legislative session.
After that, DFL Reps. Rick Hansen and Jean Wagenius and Sen. John Marty used their time to assail the Republican agenda on the environment, saying they would likely ignore important issues.
Wagenius said the key issues would be global warming, air quality, drinking water and threats to bees and said she feared no action because Republicans now control the House. She said Republicans were in hock to the energy lobby, and specifically oil, after the 2014 campaign.
McNamara shot back, "Anybody in this crowd who thinks Denny McNamara is in the pocket of big oil -- give me a break."
"I can be a nice guy, folks, but don't you dare claim that I won't talk about big issues," he said.
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.
Just a few months after voting to unionize, home health care workers announced Thursday they have agreed on a contract that would raise their pay floor to $11 an hour, provide funding for training and offer pay protections, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota said.
The contract is now heading for a ratification vote by members and still needs approval by the Legislature, which in 2013 pushed through legislation allowing the union certification vote. The contract would affect 27,000 newly-unionized members.
Union leaders said the contract would also provide for five days of paid time off for full-time employees.
"No one should have to choose between caring for their sick children and paying the bills," said Summer Spika, a home health care worker who was part of the bargaining negotiations, according to a statement. "This part of the contract is an important step towards fixing one of the many injustices facing the workers like me who care for seniors and people with disabilities across our state.”
The path to a union vote last summer and now a newly-formed contract was rocky. Republicans and other groups vociferously opposed the unionization effort and it overcame legal challenges.
Photo: Home health care workers cheered when announcing last August a decision to unionize. (Brian Peterson/Star Tribune)
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.
Companion bills that would eliminate gaps between state and federal tax law advanced Tuesday through their respective committees.
The bills, House File 6 and Senate File 50, would better align the state’s tax code to mirror federal law after changes made by Congress and include provisions that could mean tax relief for thousands of Minnesotans, including teachers who spend on classroom supplies and those enrolled in higher education programs.
Lawmakers in both parties are racing to get the legislation to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk for his approval by Jan. 20, when the federal and state tax filing period begins. If the legislation takes longer to be approved, Minnesotans who filed before would have to file amended returns to get the benefit.
The House bill advanced through the Taxes Committee unanimously and has now been referred to the Ways and Means Committee. The Senate bill also passed unanimously and advances now to the Senate floor.
Dayton said Monday he plans to sign the legislation should it reach his desk, a spokesman said.
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