A measure that would grant Minnesota law enforcement 90 days to hang on to location data gleaned from automated license plate readers narrowly made it out of a Minnesota Senate committee intact Monday, though it’s likely to face further challenges from privacy advocates in the Legislature.
After an hour-long debate, the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee voted 9-8 against an amendment that would change law the length of time law enforcement could keep “non-hit” data from 90 days to zero.
For the third consecutive session, lawmakers have sparred over whether LPR “hits” on innocent people should be deleted immediately—what privacy advocates want, or kept for 90 days-- what law enforcement wants.
Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, cast the deciding vote against the zero-retention amendment after a moment’s hesitation. Champion, who last year authored a 90-day retention bill that unanimously passed the Senate last year (a final measure died in conference committee,) said his vote was a difficult one.
I’m conflicted on it,” he said, adding that he’s hoping for a shorter retention period this time around-- one that pleases everyone.
“I hoped there would be some ability for all of the players to come up with some compromise that works.” he said. “Hopefully they still will do that.”
Sen. Ron Latz, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and chief author of the 90-day retention bill, has long called it a compromise between law enforcement’s capability to fight crime and concerns for ordinary citizens’ privacy. A contingent of uniformed law enforcement officers have maintained a presence at each of the Senate hearings. Latz was resistant to having the bill heard in Monday’s Transportation committee, saying it pertained to data practices and was not in the committee’s jurisdiction. He said he expected a close vote, but didn’t know how it would turn out, and he’s ready for further challenges.
“An amendment is in order any step of the process, so I’ll be prepared for it.” He said.
Ten states currently have enacted laws regulating license plate reader use and data storage, though none, Latz pointed out, have zero retention. Under a zero-retention, he said, potential evidence could be destroyed before police may even know a crime was committed.
“You don’t know on day zero whether the license plate owner is involved in a crime. That data is destroyed immediately,” he said. “Even if you find out the next day that there was a murder and witness comes forward the day after and said ‘I saw a partial plate, it was a white Camry with the license plate letters ABC,’ that data is gone because there was no retention whatsoever.”
Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, proposed the zero-retention amendment, thinking it had a “50-50 shot” of passing. Although it didn’t, he voted to pass the bill out of committee.
“It’s better than nothing,” he said. “But you have to put an amendment out there for what you really want. I’m willing to go with 90 but I’d rather have something else.”
The bill heads next to the Senate Finance Committee. A pair of similar dueling measures in the House still await committee hearings.
Photo: Sen Ron Latz testifies on behalf of his 90-day retention bill for license plate reader data.
Top leaders in the Minnesota House and Senate have proposed creating a legislative budget office to provide legislators "nonpartisan, accurate, and timely information on the fiscal impact of proposed legislation."
The bills, introduced Monday, come after Republicans late last week questioned a report issued just hours ahead of a floor vote on a GOP-sponsored bill that would revise teacher seniority rules that guide layoffs.
The report, known as a fiscal note, was prepared by the Department of Education and approved by the Minnesota Management and Budget Office (MMB).
Under the current structure, fiscal notes are prepared by agencies who would be affected by proposed legislation. It is then approved by MMB. Lawmakers from both parties have in the past questioned analysis, raising questions of partisanship.
It would require that state departments and agencies, as well as the state Supreme Court, provide information to the proposed Legislative Budget Office.
With an additional $832 million available this year for Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers to work with thanks to a positive budget forecast, the DFL governor said Friday that he wants more than half that money to benefit the two ends of the learning spectrum.
"I propose that we invest our collective good fortune in our collective better future," Dayton said Friday, after state budget forecasters said a projected surplus had swelled to $1.9 billion from $1 billion just three months earlier.
To that end, Dayton said he'd seek an additional $444.2 million in spending to bolster several priorities. He's suggested an additional $238 million to ensure full statewide access to pre-kindergarten programs, rather than partial access as he initially proposed.
Dayton also backed an additional $127.5 million to freeze tuition for two more years at all public higher education institutions, plus $25 million more in state grants for college students.
In addition, Dayton said he'd propose setting aside $50 million to implement expected recommendations from a Child Protection Task Force working to bolster that system.
Dayton also flagged $3.7 million for the Minneapolis Park Board, which he'd initially proposed penalizing for what he called its delays to the process of approving a new light-rail route through southwest Minneapolis. On Friday, the Park Board and Metropolitan Council reached a deal meant to end those delays.
With that additional spending, about $388 million in additional surplus dollars would remain. Dayton said he would fully detail his revised budget proposal on March 9. The extra dollars could leave some room to negotiate with Republicans on their priorities for the surplus, which include tax relief, spending on road and bridge repairs, and additional money for nursing homes.
Democrats and Republicans at the Capitol agreed Friday that Minnesota's projected $1.9 billion budget surplus is great news for the state, but there was considerably less agreement on what to do with it.
"Today is good news for Minnesotans," said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, echoing comments by Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislative leaders.
But, where Dayton and DFL allies suggested greater spending on areas like education and transportation, the GOP's emphasis was as-yet-unspecified tax relief -- and the argument that Dayton now should jettison his proposal to raise state taxes on gasoline for transportation projects.
"I think this surplus means Democrats can stop talking about a gas tax in St. Paul," Daudt said. That's after Dayton said just a few minutes earlier that he intended to proceed with that proposal, which involves a new, 6-percent-per- gallon tax on gas at the wholesale level. Daudt said a portion of the surplus should be spent directly on rebuilding roads and bridges.
Daudt was elusive about what kind of tax relief Republicans might pursue. But he suggested at least $900 million, or about half the new surplus figure, should be returned to taxpayers. Whether that might come in the form of wide-reaching relief, like an income or sales tax cut or rebate, or more targeted relief through tax credits or carve-outs to smaller subsets of taxpayers, he wouldn't say.
"Anything is on the table," Daudt said.
Various Republican lawmakers have already introduced bills tending toward the latter approach, with tax relief for businesses meant to promote new job creation, tax relief for farmers and other proposals.
Still, it was clear Republicans have their eyes on spending some portion of the surplus. Besides roads and bridges, Daudt and other GOP leaders expressed an interest in boosting state payments to nursing homes and spending more on schools, among other possible priorities.
"We will be proposing spending but it will be spending targeted at results," said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
As new spending requests from interest groups flooded in via press release, Democratic legislative leaders said the new money available should be focused toward programs that aid working families.
"We hope to hear the priorities of communities across the state," said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis.
The state's budget office on Friday reported that Minnesota's projected budget surplus grew to $1.9 billion, up $832 million from a previous projection, setting the final stage for budget negotiations at the Capitol.
The Minnesota Management and Budget Office, which publishes the twice-yearly budget and economic forecast, attributed the nearly doubling of the budget surplus to an improvement in the state's labor market, lower gas prices and a stronger U.S. dollar.
Officials said that since the November budget forecast, revenues are projected to rise an additional $616 million, or 1.5 percent. Projected spending, based on current law, is down $115 million, or 0.3 percent.
"Today's news is very good news, over the last few years, we have righted the ship," said Myron Frans, the recently appointed budget commissioner. In recent years, “we were facing large deficits as we began the budget process. By focusing on balanced budget proposals, we’ve paid back our schools, enhanced strong revenues for the state… we’ve carefully managed our state budget."
He went on: “Minnesota is truly a success story. We have a balanced and diverse economy. And we have a growing economy.”
Friday’s economic forecast showed improvements in the national and state economies that are expected to drive higher wage growth and an uptick in household formations, said state economist Laura Kalambokidis.
Higher consumer confidence nationally “is buoying consumer spending, which is the largest driver of the U.S. outlook,” Kalambokidis said.
Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters that the surplus, which he credited to the state’s well-performing economy, should be used to invest in education and transportation, his two main priorities. Though he’s not opposed to offering tax cuts as Republicans are putting forth, he said spending on schools and the state’s infrastructure would be a way to spur future economic development.
“Inevitably, there will be another national economic slowdown or downturn, and Minnesota’s economy will be affected like everyone else’s,” he said. “Our budget surplus will disappear, so I propose that we invest our collective good fortune in our collective better future.”
Friday’s revised figure will provide the framework with which legislators will craft their respective budget proposals. Dayton has already proposed a $42-billion budget, with the majority of new spending earmarked for education. He said Friday that his revised budget will call for an additional $444.2 million in spending to fund his legislative priorities.
He will present his revised proposal in early March.
DFL legislators said the surplus will provide additional money to fund their priorities, which include universal pre-kindergarten, a child-care tax credit similar to Dayton’s and increasing the state’s contribution to schools by boosting the per-pupil funding formula.
Republican legislators meanwhile are calling for much of the surplus to be returned to taxpayers. They also oppose a separate $11-billion transportation proposal by Dayton which calls for new sources of revenue, including a wholesale gas tax and an uptick in the metro-area sales tax .
This is a developing story. Check back later for updates and more details.