An attempt to change employment practices in private businesses to give ex-felons a better chance to be considered for jobs was passed with bipartisan support in the Minnesota Senate on Saturday.
Sometimes called "ban the box," because it would eliminate the are-you-a-felon box on most employment applications, the bill would delay questions about criminal histories until an applicant is granted an interview or made a conditional job offer. It passed the Senate 44-16 vote and its sponsor, Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, said he believes it will have similar success in the House.
The bill essentially extends to private employers the law that now applies to public employers. It would not require private employers to hire anyone, but it is designed to give people who have rebuilt their lives a better chance to explain their past to prospective employers.
Champion said the bill does not prohibit employers who are prohibited by law from hiring certain offenders -- such as nursing homes and hospitals -- from continuing to state that on their job applications. He also accepted an amendment that clarified that the bill does not give rejected applicants a cause of action to sue the company that turned them down.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday announced that he has picked prominent DFL attorney David Lillehaug to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Minnesota Supreme Court, adding a reliable Democrat to the court's Republican-appointed majority.
Lillehaug, a former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate, has been built into the fabric of Minnesota's political life for decades.
The white-haired, Harvard-trained attorney represented U.S. Sen. Al Franken in his 2008 recount that lasted until 2009, Dayton in his 2010 recount, the next year's government shutdown and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in last year's redistricting.
Rarely one to shy from the spotlight, Lillehaug has cut a lower profile since last year after he applied to join the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Helen Meyer. Ultimately, Dayton selected appeals court judge Wilhelmina Wright, who became the high court's first African-American female member.
Lillehaug, who handles complex litigation at the Fredickson & Byron firm, will replace Justice Paul Anderson. Anderson was an appointee of former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson and will reach mandatory retirement age in May.
On the court, Lillehaug will sit with several justices who had represented partisans before joining the bench.
Justice Chris Dietzen defended then Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty during the 2002 campaign before Pawlenty appointed him to the appeals court then the Supreme Court; Justice G. Barry Anderson had worked as a Minnesota Republican Party attorney before his Pawlenty appointment to the court and retiring Justice Paul Anderson worked closely with Carlson before the govern elevated him to the bench.
“How do you get appointed to the Supreme Court? Know the governor, know the governor, know the governor,” said attorney Erick Kardaal, who has worked on the opposite side of cases from Lillehaug.
But political connections are no guarantee of judicial outcomes.
“You don’t get to decide the cases just because you appointed the judge,” said Peter Knapp, professor at William Mitchell College of Law.
Eric Magnuson, a Pawlenty appointee to the court who left the bench in 2010, said the bench tends to moderate former advocates.
“There is a significant difference between being an advocate where you can kind of have tunnel vision and when you are a decision maker,” said Magnuson. Shortly before he left the court, Magnuson sided against Pawlenty in an unallotment case. Lillehaug argued the winning side of that case.
Lillehaug's political connections run even more deeply than those he will join.
Along with representing Democratic candidates and office holders, the former debate team and moot court star has long been a go to operative for debate prep for candidates, often playing a role in developing the lines that would ring for years.
He was a staffer to Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign and worked with late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and his campaign.
After Wellstone's death in a plane crash shortly before the 2002 election, Lillehaug was a key calming influence as Democrats geared up to finish the campaign with Mondale on the ticket, said Ken Martin, the DFL Party chair who ran Lillehaug's 2000 U.S. Senate campaign.
"David played a huge huge role in that episode, really calming people down, giving people a sense of stability and purpose," Martin said.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration on Friday highlighted steps they have taken to streamline government and make the case that new investments will drive down costs even more in coming years.
Dayton chief of staff Tina Smith and two commissioners outlined a host of initiatives that have saved tens of millions of dollars. While the savings are modest so far, Smith and others said the improvements show the administration’s work to make government more efficient and affordable is working.
The goals continues to be, Smith said: “How can we make sure we are getting the best value for the tax dollars that we are spending? How can we improve services for people and businesses?”
Dayton’s team picked up an initiative started by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration, a so-called lean initiative that empowers workers to find ways to work more efficiently. The state estimates the program has saved about $12 million over the last two years.
The state saved $19 million my centralizing its piecemeal, agency-by-agency approach to technology, using its consolidated purchasing power to bargain for a better deal.
Finding efficiencies in government has been an area where Dayton and Republicans have found agreement. Republicans offered several initiatives in past years to streamline government, particularly in the area of technology.
Dayton’s new budget proposal would make investments in many departments to yield larger savings, including the departments of human services, natural resources and education.
For consumers, the changes have resulted in faster permitting times and faster appeals by residents seeking greater state services.
New-found efficiencies at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs allowed workers to lower the bedsore rate to 4.5 percent, less than half what it was at its peak.
These efficiencies are not "going to change overnight, but you can really feel the momentum shifting,” said Department of Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk.
Echoing President Obama's call to raise the minimum wage, a group of powerful Minnesota Democratic lawmakers put their backing behind a bill to raise the state's minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.
Minnesota's $6.15 an hour minimum wage is one of just four states with a wage floor that lags behind the current federal rate of $7.25.
In his state of the union speech on Tuesday, Obama pleaded with Congress to raise the federal wage standard.
"Tonight, let’s declare that, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty -- and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour," Obama said.
Both the federal proposal and the state's pitch, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park and a speaker pro tempore, and Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm and the chair of the Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Finance Division, would add an inflation index to the wage standard. That means, as time goes on, the minimum wage would rise.
Backers say keeping the minimum wage moving would ensure that low-income workers would not be left behind as the goods and services become more expensive; detractors say it would force employers to scale back their work force as paying workers becomes unaffordable.
The state proposal rolled out on Wednesday is one of several pitched by Democrats this year to hike the lowest standard of pay.
Hortman and Tomassoni on Wednesday, backed by a group of religious, union and child advocates, also proposed creating a child tax credit that would go to low and medium income families and bolstering subsidies for child care.
Their plan also has backing from 14 other DFL lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Erin Murphy and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Hayden are co-sponsors, as are several committee chairs from both the House and Senate.The power of those lawmakers may help elevate the measure's chances.
Gov. Mark Dayton is proposing more than $45 million in additional fees as part of his new two-year budget package.
The proposal calls for $4.7 million from strengthening the state’s newborn screening program, $2.9 million from home health care licensing and an increase in the critical habitat license plates fees that will bring in an additional $2.6 million.
Some fee revenue is expected to go down, like wind turbine permitting, which is expected to drop $52,000. Fees from the state auditor are expected to drop $13.1 million.
The state is expecting to take in $50 million less from the so-called health impact fee, a cigarette and tobacco tax approved several years ago. The fee is going down because fewer people are smoking, budget officials say.
Fees would ratchet up even more the next two years.
Dayton’s proposal calls for $57 million in new fees for the 2016 and 17 budget.
The Dayton administration notes that the fee increases are less than when GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty was in office.
In 2009, the state imposed $116 million in additional fees. In 2005, state fees soared $621 million, mostly from the new health impact fee, or tax on tobacco products.
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