Rep. Cheryl Youakim (46B) – Legislative Update
Last week we had four days of floor session. On Monday, we took up the bill to restructure the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. You can read about that below. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we met briefly to move bills from one committee to the next. Last Friday was the first policy committee deadline. All bills dealing with policy had to be through all of their required committees in either the House or the Senate. This coming Friday, March 17, is the second policy deadline when the bills have to do the same in the opposite body.
As you are reading this, we are meeting on the House floor to discuss and vote on the “re-insurance” bill. Reinsurance is insurance purchased by an insurance company from another source (in this case the State of Minnesota) to mitigate risk from high claim consumers. Under this bill, the state would reimburse insurance companies for some of their high cost claims.
Real ID UPDATE
On Monday, the Minnesota Senate rejected the Real ID bill. The House previously passed the measure, though Republicans have slowed the process by insisting the Real ID bill also include anti-immigrant language that prevents undocumented immigrants from obtaining legal driver’s licenses in the future. There is a January 2018 federal deadline to have the agreement in place; without it, anyone boarding an airplane or visiting a military facility will have to use a passport or enhanced driver’s license. I am closely monitoring the issue and continue to advocate for a clean Real ID bill that will allow Minnesotans to travel with ease into 2018. The issue of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants should be debated separately in a clean bill.
Sports Facilities Authority Bill
On Monday, the House passed HF 778 on a bipartisan vote of 122-7. The bill is a response to the Legislative Auditor’s report citing concerns with the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority’s use of US Bank stadium suites. The bill will change the number of members on the MSFA, who appoints them, and negotiate an eventual return of the MSFA suites back to the Vikings. While I voted for the bill, I do think it goes much farther than the suggestions in the Office of the Legislative Auditors report. I believe the Senate bill addresses the issue in a much better fashion and I hope that the bill is straightened out during a conference committee.
Legislative Salary Council Recommends $45,000/Year
In last November’s elections, a constitutional amendment passed to take away the ability for the legislature to set their own pay. Instead, a Legislative Salary Council was created to set the pay. This council is made up of a bi-partisan group of private citizens appointed jointly by the Governor and the Supreme Court. Last Friday, the Legislative Salary Council voted to raise legislative salaries to $45,000 effective July 1, 2017. Legislative pay has not been raised for eighteen years and the increase places the salary just shy of what would have been a basic inflationary increase.
With the first policy deadline last Friday, committees met extra days and late into the evening. This week will be much of the same with this Friday, March 17, being second policy deadline.
Last week, Property Taxes & Local Government Division met both Monday and Wednesday morning. We heard a variety of bills dealing with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) extensions for cities and counties as well as property tax classifications. Last Wednesday, I presented a bill (HF973) that would provide clarifying language on how money can be spent in the TIF district just south of Highway 7 and the area surrounding Wooddale Avenue on infrastructure projects. It was laid over for possible inclusion in the Property Tax Division Report. In the following weeks, we will be putting together the report that will then be rolled into the final Tax bill.
Transportation & Regional Governance Committee met Monday and Wednesday with Wednesday going late into the evening. We heard a few bills that focused on transportation policy but many of the bills were still dealing with regional governance. One of the bills attempted to move the money going into the Livable Communities grant program to pay for bus operations in the metro region. The Met Council facilitates this program and cities may opt-into the program; it provides grant money to help cities develop, or redevelop, land by remediating hazardous soils and leveraging private dollars for affordable housing as well as transit oriented development. That bill was laid on the table and hopefully it will not be going anywhere this session. Both St. Louis Park and Hopkins have been recipients of these valuable grants.
The final bill on last Wednesday evening’s agenda had a provision included that would have prohibited Met Council from entering into a Federal Full Funding Grant Agreement with the Federal Transit Administration to build Southwest Light Rail (SWLRT) or Bottineau without legislative approval. The amendment I proposed to take that language out failed on a party-line vote with all the GOP members voting against the removal. I would like to thank Deb McMillan, from the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, for waiting the entire day to speak in support of building the SWLRT and against the amendment.
Last week, the Government Operations and Elections Committee was very busy. We met Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and heard 42 bills. The variety of the bills were almost equal to the number heard. This committee is the last stop for many bills that have traveled through multiple other House committees. Jurisdiction requires the committee to hear anything to do with the running of state government including any bill that creates a taskforce or affects a government agency. This committee also will put together an elections omnibus bill and hear the final pension bill. This week is shaping up to be almost as busy as last week as we approach second deadline.
Constituent and Organization Visits
It was a busy week with constituent and organization meetings. I met with constituents that were up at the Capitol with the Minnesota Association of Community Telecommunications Advisors, Insurance Agents, Moms Demand Action, the Commission for the Deaf, Blind and Hard of Hearing, MN Nursery & Landscape Association, TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, Chiropractors Association, Catholics at the Capitol, Transit for Livable Communities and the Golf Course Superintendent Association.
Last Friday, I helped to convene a meeting of the Mayors, County Commissioners and State Legislators along the Southwest Light Rail Transit line with the Governor’s office and Metropolitan Council. We discussed the current status of the project and the bills that are moving through the legislature that would impact the construction of the line. There has been some concern that despite the decades of planning, public input and business support, votes from city councils and counties and the millions of dollars invested that a small minority of Republican state legislators are trying to stop the project during this final hour. I continue to fight for the buildout of Southwest Light Rail as well as a comprehensive transit system in Minnesota.
State of the City
St. Louis Park is hosting their State of the City on Thursday, March 23 from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at MATTER in St. Louis Park (7005 Oxford St, St. Louis Park). The event is free and everyone is invited to attend. You can RSVP by March 16 to Debbie Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 952-924-2525. Enjoy networking and food from 4:30-5 p.m. with a program hosted by Mayor Jake Spano starting at 5 p.m. The program will include presentations by council and city staff on last year’s highlights and this year’s initiatives. Stay after the program to take a tour of MATTER, a nonprofit on a mission to expand access to health next door and around the world. You can learn more about MATTER here.
One more Community Conversation Remaining
I would like to thank all of those who have attended one of the community conversations that I have hosted from January through March. I have one more meeting left before we swing into the last month and a half of session.
St. Louis Park Library Meeting Room, 3240 Library Lane, St. Louis Park MN 55426
Tuesday, March 14: 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
Due to the fluid nature of the House, this meeting may need to be canceled at the last minute. I will send out a notice through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter if that does happen.
As always, please feel free to contact me with questions and issues. E-mail at email@example.com is the best way to get in touch. If it is urgent, or you would like to schedule a meeting, please contact my office by phone at 651-296-9889.
Have a great week!