Medical marijuana faces a tough fight in the Minnesota Legislature, House Speaker Paul Thissen warned Friday.
Legislation that would make Minnesota the 21st state to legalize medical marijuana cleared one committee this week and heads to Government Operations next Tuesday. The bill would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana and allow patients to either pick up their prescriptions at a licensed marijuana dispensary or grow their own under lock and key.
But in its current form, the bill is unlikely to make it to the House floor, Thissen said. State law enforcement associations strongly oppose the bill in its current form, and Gov. Mark Dayton does not want to sign off on a law without law enforcement support.
"What I want to get to is a bill that both law enforcement and the advocates of medical marijuana can support," Thissen told reporters Friday. "Until we get that bill, I don’t see a bill passing out of the House floor."
Law enforcement groups worry that medical marijuana will make it into the wrong hands -- particularly teens and people seeking marijuana more for its recreational effects than any therapeutic benefits.
The medical marijuana debate pits law enforcement against patients and families seeking the drug to treat a host of debilitating conditions. The first hearing drew parents seeking cannabis treatment for young children with seizure disorders, a mother who scored marijuana to ease the final months of her daughter's battle with cancer, and patients seeking the drug for conditions ranging from glaucoma to muscular dystrophy.
It might be possible, Thissen said, to hammer out a compromise that both sides can live with.
"We’ve been sitting down with law enforcement folks and the advocates a number of times and there has been some progress and movement together," Thissen said. "It wouldn’t be as broad, obviously, as the bill that got its hearing last week in the committee, but I think we are making progress and will continue to work at that."
The bill is not yet scheduled for a hearing in the Senate.
"The negotiations are on to see if we can get law enforcement involved," Senate Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Hayden told reporters. "The governor’s been pretty clear from the very beginning that he wasn’t going to sign a bill that law enforcement didn’t approve. I think that those negotiations are ongoing."
Gov. Mark Dayton’s new $1.2 billion supplemental budget calls for tax benefits that could be a big help for charities.
Lost in the much larger tax proposal is small change that would reduce sales taxes that non-profit groups pay to host fundraisers.
“This sales tax exemption is critically important for booster clubs that support our schools, helping raise funds for student enrichment activities like sports teams, chess clubs, and other school groups,” Dayton said.
The state has not adjusted that sales tax exemption for nearly 30 years.
Dayton’s tax plan would also allow people over 70 1/2 to transfer up to $100,000 from their individual retirement accounts to charities and exclude that amount from their income.
The proposal would also make it easier for individuals and businesses to donate food, land and money to charitable causes.
The House and Senate are now considering Dayton's budget plan, with Senate hearings set for next week.
A measure to make the transition between schools easier for military children cleared the Minnesota House Education Policy committee Thursday morning.
The panel unanimously approved the recommendation that Minnesota join the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. The compact has been adopted by 46 other states, and, with an average of six to nine family moves during the average military career, helps schoolchildren adjust by ensuring credit for classes taken transfers from state to state, and facilitates opportunities for military kids to try out for sports teams or other squads even if the season has already started.
On Thursday evening the committee will reconvene to discuss bills that would direct the state’s licensing board grant expedited licensing for military members and their families, and a measure that would allow high school students with disabilities to transfer between schools without affecting their eligibility for athletic competition or other activities.
If low-income children can't afford a nutritious, hot lunch, the state of Minnesota should pick up the tab, the House Education Finance Committee decided Thursday.
After reports that more than half the public school districts in Minnesota deny hot lunches to students who can't pay for them, the Legislature is rushing to find the $3.5 million it would take to expand the state's free lunch program to the thousands of low-income children enrolled in the reduced-price lunch program.
"This is a great opportunity to, in a bipartisan manner, make the statement that no child shall go hungry in Minnesota because of an inability to pay," said Rep. Yvonne Selcer, DFL-Minnetonka, who sponsored legislation that would let the state cover the cost of expanding free lunches to the thousands of students in the reduced-price lunch program.
A searing report by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid last month found that a majority of school districts substitute cold sandwiches, or no lunch at all, when students run out of money in their lunch accounts. Some sent children home with hand stamps or stickers to alert parents that they had come up short. The districts noted that they often continued to provide the lunches long after the money ran out, which led to large deficits in their own budgets.
Right now, families in the low-income lunch program, pay 40 cents per child per meal, which might not sound like much, but can add up for families and districts alike.
Selcer offered a hypothetical: A single parent with two children, earning $32,000 a year, wouldn't qualify for any other supplemental food assistance, like SNAP, and would be left with a monthly food budget of about $51 a month. Any expense, like a car repair, could erase the family's entire school lunch budget, she said.
"A child who has decided not to have lunch, because he or she knows that mom and dad hasn't paid this month's lunch bill, is more likely to go home and overeat on the starchier foods that the family can afford," Selcer said. "That child is less likely to do well academically at school, as we know that good nutrition plays a huge role in learning."
The legislation would shift the cost of lunch to the state and mandate districts to provide nutritious hot lunches to low-income children, regardless of their parents ability, or willingness to pay.
The committee signed off Selcer's bill by voice vote Thursday morning. It now moves to the House Ways and Means Committee. Gov. Mark Dayton also included the lunch money in his budget request.
Sunday liquor sale supporters in the Minnesota Legislature are taking no chances this year.
The bipartisan, bicameral team of Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jennifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, introduced seven different bills Thursday aimed at lifting or relaxing the state's longstanding ban on Sunday liquor sales.
"We are offering the Legislature a full spectrum of choices," Reinert, who pledged to have at least one of the bills out of Senate Commerce before the committee deadline, two weeks from now. "It is unreasonable to not make some progress on this in 2014, the 'unsession.' What better unsession issue than the repeal of a Prohibition-era ban that just does not fit in 21st Century Minnesota?"
The bills range from full repeal to proposals that would allow individual communities to decide for themselves whether they want to permit Sunday sales. There's also a proposal to place Sunday sales on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, and bills -- Reinert called them "baby steps" -- that would allow growler sales and allow tap rooms to open on Sunday.
Minnesota is one of only 12 states that does not allow liquor sales to open on Sunday. Every year, the issue comes up in the Legislature, and every year it either stalls in committee or gets resoundingly rejected by a floor vote.
The state's liquor lobby, and many small mom and pop liquor stores, have successfully argued that the ban could be bad for business. Instead of bringing in more sales, opponents say, it will simply spread six days of sales across seven.
Reinert countered that argument with a tongue-in-cheek bill that would ban Saturday liquor sales, as well as Sunday. Then, he said, liquor stores could concentrate six days' worth of business in just five.
"Now you have the same amount of expenses with just five days of expenses. Given the argument, I'm expecting a loud hurrah to come out of the (Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association), but somehow I don't think that's going to happen," said Reinert, noting that he has a list of 60 liquor stores around the state that support repeal.
"We know there's more momentum on this than we've ever seen at the Capitol," Reinert said.
"I have had members who have indicated to me that they are rethinking their position on the Sunday ban," Loon said. "And I think it's because of the range of options we've provided for members to consider."
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association issued a statement blasting the repeal effort, warning that the only way stores will do more business is if Minnesotans do more drinking.
“When government changes the ‘rules’ that a private business is operating under it will have an effect on many businesses,” the statement said. “Some may do better, but we believe many businesses will see no benefit from the change and will experience increased costs in doing business. Unless alcohol consumption increases, our mom and pop stores will see increased costs without increased revenues.”
The statement continued: “The Legislature has overwhelmingly listened to the concerns of small business in the past and defeated attempts to change the rules. We hope they will continue to support the local business in their districts.
The Distilled Spirits Council, by contrast, praised the repeal plans. Seventeen other states have legalized Sunday sales since 2002.
“Nationally, states are repealing outdated Prohibition-era alcohol laws to increase consumer convenience and generate new revenue without raising taxes,” DISCUS Vice President Dale Szyndrowski said in a statement. “We urge Minnesota lawmakers to consider passing Sunday sales for consumers, small business owners and the treasury.”
For Loon, the issue boils down to a question of economic freedom.
"Some liquor store owners may not want to be open on Sunday, and I'm not here to tell you they have to be, or that I want them to be," she said. "What I'm saying is that there are liquor store owners who would like to be open on Sunday and there are consumers who would very much like to patronize liquor stores on Sunday, if that's when it works out for them to do their shopping. This is a change that is needed."