House Commerce Committee heard and advanced two bills that would curtail the Minnesota State Lottery's foray into innovative forms of State Lottery gambling, such as at the gas pump, ATMs and online.
The two bills, authored by GOP Reps. Greg Davids and Tim Sanders, were similar to legislation passed last year by wide bipartisan majorities in both houses but vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.
The legislation seeks to restore legislative branch prerogative after lawmakers perceived the State Lottery moving into new gambling without legislative approval.
"I think we have 'lottery gone wild,'" Davids said. "And I think we need to be clear that the Legislature will decide what we're gonna do."
Several anti-gambling activists testified that the easier access provided by the new forms of gambling were dangerous and could lead to higher rates of addiction.
Minnesota State Lottery Executive Director Ed Van Petten said he it was never his intention to "usurp the authority of the Legislature," and that lottery officials had "learned our lesson." He touted the hundreds of millions of dollars of lottery proceeds that have gone to state programs, and especially environmental programs, while opposing the legislation and offering compromise language.
Republicans leading the Minnesota House have established a new legislative subcommittee that's charged with delivering oversight of the Metropolitan Council, a municipal body with wide jurisdiction in the Twin Cities area that has frequently been the target of Republican criticism.
The new Subcommittee on Metropolitan Council Accountability and Transparency will be chaired by Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines. Last October, Runbeck called the council an "unelected, unaccountable board" that's "not responsible to any authority but its own."
The Met Council is comprised of gubernatorial appointees from districts throughout the seven-county metro area, and which has a hand in setting transportation, land-use and wastewater policies and programs. The agency has been a major player in the construction of light rail lines, including the current push to develop the new Southwest line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
"We are forming this subcommittee to hold the Met Council accountable and ensure they are meeting the needs of people in the metro area," Speaker Kurt Daudt said. "This unelected board has grown more powerful over the decades, and legislators want to ensure that the Met Council is listening to the needs of all its constituents both in the cities and suburbs, providing the services for which they were given authority."
The panel will be comprised of seven members, four Republicans and three Democrats who all hail from areas covered by the Met Council.
Recently, Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Adam Duininck, a Met Council member and DFL political operative, to be the council's new chairman. A separate legislative proposal recently introduced by Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, would give communities under Met Council jurisdiction more involvement in the process of approving Met Council members. Similar proposals are likely to be considered by the new House committee.
Duininck said Wednesday that House Republicans let him know the new subcommittee was in the works. He said he was open to discussions about boosting Met Council accountability, but also warned that an entity like the council, by its nature, is often a target of criticism.
"I would just say there is oftentimes tension between local governments and a regional planning body," Duininck said.
Gov. Mark Dayton appointed John Tuma to a six year term on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which regulates electric, gas and telephone utilities, according to a Dayton news release.
His appointment requires Senate approval.
Tuma served in the Minnesota House from 1995 to 2002 as a Republican, representing parts of Rice, LeSueur, Scott and Dakota counties.
He is currently a lobbyist for Conservation Minnesota and has had policy positions at the Minnesota Inter-County Association and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.
Gov. Mark Dayton is recommending more than $11 million in state dollars go toward reform of the state’s controversial sex offender program.
The recommendation, part of Dayton’s proposed $42 billion budget unveiled Tuesday, includes allocating $7.3 million in the 2016-17 biennium and $3.8 million in 2018-19 biennium to evaluate the treatment progress of the residents of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) and to move 50 of them to less-restrictive settings if they are approved. Nearly 700 residents are held indefinitely at treatment centers in Moose Lake and St. Peter.
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which oversees MSOP, two people have been discharged from the program, one in 2012 and the other in 2014. Both are in supervised community placements. A third was provisionally discharged in 2000, but it was revoked because he did not comply with the program, although he did not reoffend, the department said.
The controversial program has long remained a hot potato for lawmakers and Gov. Dayton, who blame one another for failing to address problems with MSOP, whose policies were described by a federal judge as “draconian” and ordered the Legislature to take action or face court-ordered changes.
Republican leaders of the Minnesota Legislature gave a chilly reception to the budget proposal that Gov. Mark Dayton released Tuesday, arguing that it spends too big over the next two years and doesn't go far enough in setting priorities for state government.
"He is spending every penny of this," House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said of the state's current $1 billion budget surplus. "We are also a little disappointed in the lack of returning some of the money back to Minnesotans."
The budget blueprint that Dayton submitted to legislators Tuesday calls for a total of $42 billion in state spending for the two years that start on July 1. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, pointed out that the size of the two-year budget was $34 billion when Dayton took office.
"That is a big increase in spending," Hann said.
By far the largest share of spending boosts in the Dayton proposal would go to schools, both an increase in per-pupil payments to schools, and specific increases in programs that target early learning. Republicans criticized that approach, saying education programs demand "reforms" aimed at increasing student performance.
"It spends more money doing the same things we've done the last 15 to 20 years, and we have not seen any results so far, and somehow we're expected to believe that's going to improve education and make it excellent?" Hann said.
Daudt did say he supported Dayton's proposal to boost spending for early reading programs. But he said he was disappointed Dayton did not propose additional state money for nursing homes, which has been a high priority for the new House Republican majority.
The only major piece of tax relief in Dayton's proposal is a $100 million child care tax credit. Republicans said they were open to that, although Daudt said Dayton's proposed income ceiling of $124,000 might be too high. "I'm not sure that's the kind of folks that need that kind of tax relief," Daudt said.
Republicans were not forthcoming with details of their own budget priorities. Daudt said Republicans would not start assembling budget bills until after the next state economic forecast, in late February. He also said Republicans were not yet ready to say how much under $42 billion the next budget should be.