Minnesotans should be able to use a website to register to vote, a bipartisan panel of lawmakers voted on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the House Elections committee on a bipartisan vote approved the online practice that has been available — with considerable controversy — since last year.
“I think its an issue that is kind of a no brainer for the state of Minnesota,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
DFL Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s office began accepting online registrations last year without specific legislative instruction to do so. Democrats, Republicans and the nonpartisan Legislative Auditor said last year that the matter likely should have been approved by the Legislature first. Ritchie claims existing law gave him the authority to start registering voters online.
Despite a still unsettled lawsuit to stop the web-based registrations, more than 3,300 Minnesotans have registered to vote online. A judge is expected to decide the case by April.
By then, the Minnesota Legislature may have already put a practical end to the question of Ritchie's authority to create the online system. The legislative action would add the force of law to online voter registration.
A Senate panel is expected to take up a measure to approve online voter registration next week. The House may deal with the issue more expediently.
“To the extent that we can move it quickly, we’re better off,” Thissen said. With Tuesday's vote in committee, the House bill is ready for a full floor vote.
More than two dozen states offer voters online registration, although some states allow more limited web-based registration than others, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration rolled out a comprehensive government streamlining package Tuesday, outlining more than 1,000 proposed changes to make state services easier and more efficient.
The overhaul seeks changes in every corner of state government, from speeding environmental permitting to making it easier and faster the buy fishing licenses and pay taxes. The initiative also seeks to root out antiquated laws clogging up the books and adding work for state agencies.
Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Chairman Tony Sertich, who is leading the streamlining effort for Dayton’s administration, said state law is filled with antiquated provisions. He noted one state law even has a detailed prescription of exactly who must capture or kill wild boars in the state.
Dayton is staking a lot of political currency on the outcome of the initiative, which he calls “unsession.” He wants legislators to devote a significant amount of time weeding out antiquated or cumbersome laws.
But Dayton is not merely trying to declutter the state law books. He wants to make it easier and less aggravating for consumers of state services, which has been a frequent gripe when dealing with state government.
Dayton is not the first governor to try such an effort, but it is the most concerted one in a long time.
In selecting Sertich to lead the effort, Dayton has tapped a former House Majority Leader with a strong sense of how to get things through the sometimes unruly legislative bodies.
Dayton’s top policy advisers have been meeting regularly and touching base with legislative committee chairs, who will be vital to the success or failure of the effort.
Legislative committees will begin holding hearings on the streamlining measures this week.
A new poll from SurveyUSA/KSTP found that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton leads his Republican rivals by double digits.
According to the poll, which had a margin of sampling error of 4.2 percentage points, the governor has between 17 to 21 percentage point leads over the Republicans hoping to oust him. Against each of the six Republican candidates the pollster matched against Dayton, the governor netted more than 51 percent of the support and the Republican hopefuls garnered 34 percent or less.
See more detailed results here. The station said it will release polling results on the U.S. Senate race on Tuesday. The recent polling results fit with findings from other recent polls.
The Star Tribune found last month that Dayton's approval rating was at 58 percent, the highest of his term.
Late last year, a Public Policy Polling poll found Dayton had a lower approval rating and led his rivals by 10 to 11 percentage points.
The relatively high numbers for Dayton do not give the governor, who won his first race by a margin so narrow it triggered a recount, a guarantee of re-election. Much can change between February and November when Minnesotans go to vote.
Photo: Star Tribune archive from Election Day 2013
Minnesota’s strengthening economic recovery has left the state with a budget surplus of $1.23 billion, a dramatic jump from just a few months ago.
The surplus is another sign of the strength of the state’s economic recovery and will set off a new round of budget fights as Minnesota legislators figure out what to do with the windfall in an election year.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said the economy “continues to steam along,” and he has an upbeat outlook.
“I don’t want to get too much irrational exuberance here,” he said earlier this week, “but things are going well.”
Schowalter said the new, two-year federal budget deal has ushered in fresh confidence after years of repeated budget and debt ceiling showdowns in Washington.
“There is no budget crisis, and that helps people plan and understand where they are at,” Schowalter said.
Budget watchers have seen hints of the good news as monthly tax revenue collections beat projections over the past few months. “I think that is one of the good economic indicators of the activity already going on,” he said.
Minnesota’s economy continues to outpace the nation, Schowalter said, and “there doesn’t seem to be any signs of that slowing down.”
Minnesota has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, standing at 4.6 percent. The state created nearly 46,000 jobs in the past year, one of the fastest-growing states in the nation.
Legislators have been in session less than two weeks and are already figuring out ways to spend the money.
Leaders in the Minnesota House want to set aside at least $500 million for tax relief, which has to be booked as spending in state budgets. A coalition of Democrats and Republicans want to use a significant share of the money to bulk up the state's budget reserves to prepare for the next economic downturn. Many legislators want to use a share of the money to increase transportation spending, or even use it to pay cash for the multimillion-dollar State Capitol renovation.
“Our priority, number one, is the tax relief,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. “What this shows is that Democrats have collected too much money from the taxpayers. Let’s send it back.”
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk supports some tax relief, but also wants to set aside money to build up the state’s rainy day fund. He is concerned spending all the money now could cause problems in future years.
“The one thing I feel pretty strongly about is the budget reserve,” said Bakk, DFL-Cook.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert came to the Minnesota Capitol on Thursday to announce the selection of Rep. Pam Myhra as his running mate.
“Pam is a person that is immensely qualified,” Seifert said in front of blue-and-white campaign signs.
Seifert, a former legislator, previously recruited her to run for the Minnesota House. He called her a “work horse, not a show horse.”
The pick highlights the geographic diversity of this ticket, Seifert said. He is from Marshall and Myhra is a two-term representative from Burnsville, one of the Twin Cities suburbs that could be a battleground in the gubernatorial race.
“We have a good balance to bring the conversation back to the mainstream, rather than the far left, where we have been wallowing for the past few years,” Seifert said.
Myhra called her running mate “trustworthy and a strong conservative.”
“He has the right mix of experience and Minnesota values to be a great governor,” she said.
Myhra, 57, said she will not run for re-election in the House and focus on being Seifert’s surrogate on the campaign trail.
If elected, Seifert said Myhra would become the state’s ambassador and a leader in the state’s literacy efforts.
Seifert is the second GOP gubernatorial candidate to select a running mate. GOP Sen. Dave Thompson selected fellow Republican Sen. Michelle Benson as his lieutenant governor.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s lieutenant governor, Yvonne Prettner Solon, has decided not to join him in his quest for a second term. Dayton selected his chief of staff, Tina Smith, as his new running mate.