House Democrats are making a final push for a measure designed to close the general pay gap and strengthen workplace protections for women.
The measure expands family leave and provides accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees. It would expand access to affordable childcare and take several steps to reduce the gender pay gap, like better enforcement of equal pay laws for state contractors. The proposal also attempts to offset financial consequences for victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.
Democratic leaders say the “Women’s Economic Security Act” would be one of their most significant achievements of the legislative session, and a step that would add lasting improvement to the state’s economy.
“In 2014, we shouldn’t be in a position where women are making less and have different economic opportunities than men,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. “This should be important to all Minnesotans because when women do better, families do better, and all of us do better.”
The House is expected to pass the measure Wednesday, and could be on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk in coming weeks. The governor is expected to sign the proposal.
Supporters held a rally on the Capitol steps before the vote Wednesday morning, surrounded by Thissen and dozens of legislators and supporters.
“The bill we’re voting on today is about strengthening working families – because when women have equal opportunities to succeed, it means stronger families, stronger communities and a brighter future for our state,” said Rep. Carly Melin, a Hibbing DFLer who has been a chief backer of the measure.
Democrats have tried to work closely with the business community to resolve any possible objections. The business community has strongly opposed a component of the measure that was stripped out and is expected to pass separately – an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.
Advocates say women continue to earn, on average, 80 percent of what men make, a gap that has remained stubbornly persistent for a decade.
Debra Fitzpatrick, director of the Center on Women and Public Policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said the gender pay gap robs every Minnesota woman of almost $500,000 over the span of their career.
“That isn't going to change without a comprehensive, research-based approach like the Women's Economic Security Act," she said.
“Please, let’s show all women and the nation that it does not have to be an economic disadvantage to be born a woman,” said Danielle Hans, a Minneapolis resident who spoke at the event.
Once signed into law, Thissen said, “I think it is going to make Minnesota a nation leader on these issues.
Gov. Mark Dayton said Minnesota legislators are “hiding behind their desks” on a proposal to legalize medical marijuana.
Parents of children with seizure disorders have lambasted the governor’s opposition to legalizing medical marijuana, saying he is the only person standing between their children and the herb that could help them.
The governor offered to enroll the children in a Mayo Clinic study that could provide relief, but so far the parents have rejected the offer, saying similar studies never worked in other states.
It remains far from certain supporters even have the votes in the Legislature to legalize medical marijuana.
DFL Rep. Carly Melin, a strong backer of the proposal from Hibbing, said she believes the votes are there, but so far House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, has not called for a vote.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, has authored a new proposal to legalize medical marijuana, but House officials say that proposal will not get a floor vote.
When asked if he would veto a medical marijuana measure if it got to his desk, Dayton put the pressure squarely back on legislators. “Let’s see them vote,” he said Tuesday.
With just over a month remaining in the legislative session, the governor said he believes Democratic lawmakers are spending too much of the projected $1.2 billion surplus.
He did not quarrel with the items legislators wanted to spend money on, but warned against spending so much the state goes back into deficit in coming years.
He did not threaten to line-item veto any new spending, saying he hopes to work it out with legislative leaders later this month.
The governor also said he’d like to spend closer to $1 billion on statewide construction projects, saying the state can easily afford the extra debt payments.
Legislative leaders agreed to $850 million in new borrowing last year, but the state’s improving finances and billions of dollars in worthy projects has Dayton pressing for more.
Dayton was particularly critical of the amount designated for higher education buildings and projects, which he has said is inadequate.
Minnesota can't have a first-rate higher education system with third-rate facilities, Dayton said.
A panel of House lawmakers has approved a controversial plan to build a new, $77 million office building for state senators next to the Capitol.
The House Rules Committee narrowly moved the project forward Friday on a split vote of 14-13, with Republicans and one Democratic lawmaker opposed but the rest of the committee's DFL majority in favor. The House altered plans for the building that were previously approved by the Senate, chopping about $13 million off the price tag by scrapping a parking ramp and some amenities including a fitness center.
The House plan also added to the building's total square footage so that it contains office space for all 67 senators, instead of 44 of them as originally planned.
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, called the revised plan "the least expensive option and the best long-term option."
The project has been touchy for Democrats, with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk arguing that it's needed in order to provide space for senators during and after an ongoing renovation of the Capitol building. But Republicans have harshly criticized the project, calling it not necessary, and even DFL Gov. Mark Dayton criticized the original plans as overly lavish and said he thinks it could hurt his party in November.
The House had moved slowly to give its approval, but the House panel's vote on Friday moves the issue toward resolution and removal of a potential obstacle toward peaceful resolution of an issue that has been dividing Democrats.
The building plans still must clear several steps before contractors can break ground. The Senate Rules Committee, which Bakk chairs, must sign off on the House's changes. That panel is meeting Monday. After that, a committee overseeing the Capitol renovation project must also give its stamp.
In addition, construction can't proceed until final resolution of a lawsuit trying to block the building that's currently before the state Supreme Court.
Gov. Mark Dayton will deliver his (late) State of the State address at 7 p.m. on April 23 from the Minnesota House chambers.
The 67-year-old governor was away from Capitol in the early part of this year as he recovered from hip surgery. Then, once he returned to the Capitol, he proposed the April 23 date and got a caution signal from lawmakers.
"Well, you know we might not be in session then," Dayton said he got in response. Lawmakers had been hoping to finish their work before their mid-April break.
“We certainly don’t want them to use the excuse of the State of the State as the reason they are coming back," he said last week.
Since then, lawmakers realized they would be back at the Capitol after their break, giving him certainty that the April date would work.
The date Dayton has settled upon is later than any governor's State of the State address since Gov. Floyd B. Olson's December address in 1933, according to records kept by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.
Two governors in recent memory did not give State of the State speeches -- Gov. Jesse Ventura skipped the big speech in 2000 and Gov. Rudy Perpich did so in 1986.
Medical marijuana supporters are airing a new ad on Minnesota TV stations that criticizes Gov. Mark Dayton for not supporting a proposal at the Capitol to legalize it.
The ad features a Minnesota mother with a five-year-old son who suffers a rare disorder she said causes him multiple seizures every day. Angela Garin of Inver Grove Heights said her son Paxton's seizures were drastically reduced with exposure to medical marijuana on a trip to Oregon, where the family was able to access it legally.
In the ad, Garin urges viewers to "tell Gov. Dayton to support Paxton and stop blocking access to medical marijuana."
Heather Azzi of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care said the ad was paid for by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates nationwide for medical marijuana legalization. She would not disclose the cost of the ad buy but said it is statewide.
The ad is set to start airing Wednesday night during the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and the Late Show with David Letterman, and then during several morning news and talk shows on Thursday. Azzi said the group is likely to air a second ad starting next week.
A bill to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota has been much discussed at the Capitol this year, but has made little legislative progress. Advocates are planning a news conference outside Dayton's office on Thursday to deliver a petition in support of the bill. Advocates have been particularly critical of Dayton, alleging that in a recent private meeting with medical marijuana supporters that the governor suggested they could buy the drug illegally. Dayton has denied that.
The ad can be viewed here.