The House on Monday will debate and vote on legislation that would create a minimum-wage exception for tipped employees, a measure expected to draw hours of debate among legislators.
Sponsored by Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington, the bill is an effort to revise the minimum-wage law passed last year by a DFL-controlled Legislature.
Garofalo and other supporters of the legislation said it would relieve pressure on restaurants who are seeing their labor costs grow after the Legislature raised the state's wage floor last year.
The first of three phased-in pay hikes went into effect last summer, raising the state’s wage floor to $8 an hour. It will rise to $9.50 an hour by 2016. Beginning in 2018, the minimum wage will be indexed to inflation.
Crafted and supported by the Minnesota Restaurant Association, Garofalo’s bill would cap the minimum wage for tipped employees at $8 an hour. The proposed pay change would apply only if those workers earned a total of at least $12 an hour in a two-week pay period, after factoring in tips. If they don’t, they would earn the prevailing state minimum wage.
Restaurant workers and labor unions oppose the bill, saying it would effectively freeze wages while the cost of living continues to rise.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said last month that Garofalo’s bill is unlikely to find much support in the DFL-led Senate. Gov. Mark Dayton opposes creating an exemption for tipped employees, a spokesman said.
Some terminally ill patients would have the right to end their lives on their own terms under a proposal by DFL legislators.
A bill dubbed “The Minnesota Compassionate Care Act” is modeled after Oregon’s own 1997 Death with Dignity Act. It gives patients with less than six months to live the freedom to accelerate their imminent death. Patients must meet certain criteria, including being a Minnesota resident, having a terminal illness with less than six months to live, be age 18 or over and mentally competent. Its sponsor, Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, cites overwhelming support by Americans for aid in dying, including a 2014 Harris Poll, which found 75 percent support.
Eaton, who does not intend to push for the bill's passage this session, will testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing at 5:30 p.m. Monday. Eaton filed the bill as a conversation starter, and will host listening sessions around the state this summer. After receiving public input, she intends to push the bill during the 2016 legislative session. Her motivation for sponsoring it was simple enough: Her own mother’s death.
“She would ask us to take her to the vet because they would treat her better than her doctor, because they would put her to sleep,” Eaton said. “She had what I would consider a calm, nice hospice, but she wanted out. She’d had enough.”
If the law passes, Minnesota would be the sixth state to authorize the practice after Oregon, Washington, Montana, New Mexico and Vermont. At least 17 states have introduced similar legislation. The bill already has opposition from groups like the Minnesota Family Council, which is expected to show up to Monday’s hearing wearing “No Assisted Suicide” stickers.
Dr. David Grube, medical director for Oregon-based Compassion & Choices, said the legislation holds up to legal challenges, though a number are still pending.
If approved by a doctor, a dying patient is given a barbiturate that they must take orally on their own. They fall asleep within minutes and stop breathing within an hour or two. The family and doctor cannot administer the medication. After 17 years, he said, the law works and is not ripe for abuse.
“These people are very sick,” he said. “They’re not ‘kinda’ sick.”
The law would not make exception for patients who are unable to take the medication, such as advanced ALS patients already paralyzed by the disease.
“It’s very sad, yes, but it’s not legal in Oregon,” he said.
Burnsville resident Pamela White watched both her parents suffer through debilitating terminal illnesses. Her father, Edward White, underwent invasive surgeries that left him weak, in pain and dependent, until he was hospitalized and life support was withdrawn.
“We realized we had made a mistake,” she said of pressuring their father to do anything to stay alive. “We had no idea of the agony my father would suffer until, unable to speak; he looked at us with pleading eyes and tore at his oxygen cord.”
They resolved that such a death would not happen again in her family until her mother, Evelyn White, was diagnosed with rapidly spreading bladder cancer, and couldn’t tolerate the chemotherapy. During one treatment, they looked into assistance in dying in Oregon, but it was only for residents. Her mother lost her independence and dignity, and “hated to be reduced to a sick and helpless rag doll,” White said.
After two angst-ridden months in hospice, Evelyn White died.
“This period is still like a nightmare to me. What remains is the fear that I too could be stuck with misery and suffering at the end of my life. I don’t want my family to feel guilt and hopelessness as I did.” She said. “Minnesotans deserve the freedom to die at home, at peace and on their own terms,” she said.
Eaton said that after the medical marijuana and same-sex marriage bills, she can’t predict which way the bill will go. Fellow DFL Sens. Scott Dibble, John Marty and Sandy Pappas have signed onto the bill, along with Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley.
Photo: Pamela White of Burnsville talks about her parents, Evelyn and Edward White, who died of painful terminal illnesses. With her are DFL Sens. Chris Eaton, Scott Dibble and John Marty.
Republican leaders of the Minnesota Legislature said Monday they have a plan to raise $7 billion over the next decade, without raising the gas tax, to pay for repairs to roads and bridges.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt and other GOP lawmakers unveiled their proposal at a State Capitol press conference. It's a counterpoint to earlier, 10-year transportation proposals from Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Democrats, who both favor a larger, $11 billion roads-and-transit plan funded with a new wholesale gas tax to accompany the existing per-gallon tax, higher license tab fees and a Twin Cities sales tax increase for transit projects.
"We think this is what Minnesotans have been asking for," Daudt said. "They've been telling us they want an investment in our road and bridge infrastructure, and they don't want a gas tax increase."
The Republican proposal creates what its backers dubbed the "Transportation Stability Fund." It would re- direct to roads and bridge projects a series of existing vehicle-related sales taxes that currenty feed the state's general treasury. Those include a sales tax on auto parts, a sales tax on rental vehicles, and a sales tax on vehicle leasing.
"If you ask Minnesotans if the money they spend on cars should be used on roads and bridges, the answer would be yes," said Sen. John Pederson, R-St. Cloud, the lead Senate Republican on transportation.
Between them, those existing sources would raise $3 billion over a decade for immediate repairs to roads and bridges, and highway improvements in economically strategic areas. Other major sources of funding in the GOP proposal are $1.3 billion from highway bonds, $1 billion in general bonding, $1.2 billion from "realigning resources" at the Minnesota Department of Transportation and $228 million from the projected $1.9 billion state budget surplus.
By proposing to shift existing sales taxes from the general fund, and skimming a portion of the surplus for roads, Republicans set the terms of a coming clash with Dayton and Senate DFLers. Leading Democrats including the governor have said they oppose taking money out of the general fund for transportation, arguing it leaves less money for schools and other state priorities.
Daudt said the sheer size fo the nearly $2 billion surplus leaves lawmakers room to shift some toward roads and bridges without shorting other priorities.
The GOP proposal also includes far less money for transit projects than what Dayton and many DFL lawmakers have sought. While the proposed metro sales tax hike in several DFL proposals would raise hundreds of millions in new, annual transit funds, the GOP plan directs a total of $64 million to transit statewide over the next two years. That would be split equally between transit in the metro area and outstate Minnesota, meaning just $16 million yearly for Twin Cities projects.
Crouching and sitting on a classroom floor, Gov. Mark Dayton mingled with four-year-olds Friday as he made a pitch for a hefty state spending increase for universal access to preschool in Minnesota.
"You look like you're 65," observed one little boy. "Close. I'm 68," said Dayton, who interacted with kids for about 20 minutes as they sat in a group and later worked on iPads.
Dayton wants lawmakers to approve $348 million in new state spending so that every public school in the state could provide such classes. It's the biggest single general fund spending increase Dayton has proposed this year, and comprises about a fifth of the state's projected $1.9 billion budget surplus.
The group of about 15 children in the pre-kindergarten class at Newport Elementary School were well-behaved despite an unusually large crowd of adults accompanying the governor -- aides and security, area state legislators, school district officials and reporters. Their teachers later said the good showing by the kids was a testament to the benefits of early learning.
"We notice a huge difference between students who do pre-K and those who don't," said Brittany Vasecka, a pre-kindergarten teacher at the school. The classes are half-day and run five days a week.
In all, 80 percent of students in the South Washington County district attend pre-kindergarten classes, district officials said. Under Dayton's proposal, both districts that already provide pre-kindergarten classes and those that don't would both be recipients of the money.
"I don't think we should penalize the school districts that have made this commitment," Dayton said.
But some education advocacy groups have jumped on that lack of a distinction. On Thursday, a business-backed nonprofit called Parent Aware for School Readiness released an analysis contending that about 70,000 low-income kids between birth and age 3 could have access to needed early learning programs if about $100 million less were to be spent on the universal preschool initiative.
In a news release, the group said that districts with high numbers of "wealthier families whose children are already likely to be ready for kindergarten" don't need the funding Dayton's proposal would provide.
“That ought to be focused on younger children from low income families,” said Ericca Maas, executive director of the group.
If Dayton and lawmakers were to make preschool access universal to four-year-olds, Maas said, “then next year all of us advocates will be back here saying, ‘what about the three-year-olds.’”
Dayton said he’d be open to more funding for even earlier learning programs. But he said diverting some money away from universal preschool access would run the risk of “pitting four-year-olds against three- and two-year-olds,” Dayton said.
This year, Dayton must navigate the proposal through a GOP-led House, which has different priorities for both the budget surplus and in state management of schools. House Speaker Kurt Daudt and other Republicans, while calling universal preschool a worthy goal, have also suggested some means testing might be needed.
Members of the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee received quite an education in body modification Wednesday night while discussing a measure to clarify licensing requirements for Minnesota’s professional piercers.
Carol Tepley, president of Almost Famous Body Piercing, pushed for the bill in the wake of Minnesota’s relatively new body art licensing law enacted in 2010.
The measure, which strengthens requirements for licensing, and clarifies identification requirements for minors to receive a piercing, also prohibits certain piercings—specifically, horizontal tongue piercing, gum piercing, eyelid piercing and Princess Albertina piercing, because of the health risks they pose.
The House panel, admittedly not versed in piercing, was naturally curious. Rep. Jennifer Schultz, DFL-Duluth, asked what, exactly, a Princess Albertina was.
“Madam Chair and members of the committee, it’s a female genital piercing,” Tepley said. “Would you like more information?”
The committee declined.
“There’s a reason we pushed this late into the evening,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River.
“Apparently we need to start putting ratings on our committee hearings so people are going to be prepared for what we are going to be talking about,” said the committee’s chair, Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley.
But Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, remained genuinely curious. She asked Zerwas to explain what genital piercings would not be prohibited under the law. Zerwas deferred to his witness, Tepley.
“Madam Chair, I really would like to know,” Liebling said, shaking with laughter. “I have a particular reason for asking. Earlier in the day we were talking about inspecting…” she said, unable to finish her sentence as the committee joined her in uncontrollable giggling.
After a moment to regain her composure, Liebling said in jest: “Rep. Zerwas, I am disappointed that you are carrying this bill and can’t explain it. I am really disappointed in you.”
Zerwas took on the question, while deftly avoiding going into detail.
“Many piercings that I wouldn’t think of in a million years are still going to be allowed,” he said. “God knows why someone wants them, but they would still be allowed under this provision.”
The committee then turned to Tepley, the piercer.
“So…I’m not sure what question I’m supposed to answer,” she said.
Liebling, her composure fully regained, explained that in all seriousness that she was curious as to whether piercers underwent background checks.
“A lot of us don’t’ give a lot of thought to this because we’d find ourselves in the bottom of a lake before having piercings…but a lot of our health-related licensed professions require background studies. The idea that piercers are doing genital piercing makes me wonder, could a person be a predatory sex offender and still be licensed to do genital piercing?”
Tepley said the changes to current law don’t address that, but some cities and counties have their own laws governing licensing, which require background checks.
Liebling added that she still had some pause.
“I am a little concerned that if we are doing genital piercing and then not requiring a background check, if you’ve got somebody in a room and you’re going to pierce their genitalia, that’s pretty intimate situation with somebody and, you know…I don’t know.”
Mack said she understood the concern, and wondered about background checks for Estheticians, who during waxing and other skin procedures may also work near clients’ intimate areas.
“I guess there are a plethora of possible questions,” said Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, as the meeting closed. “I don’t think anyone here is expert enough to know the breadth and depth of this topic. What committee does this go to next?”
Upon word that it heads to HHS Finance, the committee again dissolved with laughter.
“I will eagerly await the schedule in hopes that House Video televises,” Quam said.
The measure passed, and Zerwas thanked the committee.
“This hearing was as memorable as I thought it would be,” he said.
Listen to the hearing here.