Rep. Cheryl Youakim (46B) – Legislative Update
We met last Monday, Wednesday and Thursday on the House Floor. Monday, we had a non-controversial bill up to allow veterans’ memorials to be built any place in a Minnesota county and not just in the county seat. Last Wednesday, we briefly met to move bills between committees and on Thursday, we had a four hour debate on the 2017-2018 permanent rules to the House. You can read more about Thursday’s floor debate below.
Last week I was interviewed by a Star Tribune reporter on my bill to require cooling towers to register with the Department of Health. This bill would provide the Department of Health with one more tool in the prevention of Legionnaire’s Disease by being able to investigate sources quickly. The bill awaits a hearing in the House Health & Human Services Committee. It is my hope that the news article will raise awareness and that victims of the Hopkins outbreak will contact me with their stories so I can share them with my colleagues. Senator Latz is carrying the bill in the Senate and you can read the article from the Sunday paper here.
Today, we will be hearing a bill that would allow liquor stores to be open on Sundays. In 2016, there was an amendment to a bill on the House floor that, if passed, would have allowed cities to decide if their liquor stores could be open on Sundays. I voted no on that provision because I prefer a statewide approach that would allow individual businesses to make that decision. At the time, I was also concerned about how our small mom and pop liquor stores would fare against the big box liquor stores. While I am still concerned about our small mainstreet liquor stores, I am leaning towards voting yes on this year’s statewide proposal and will be listening to the debate carefully.
Vote on House Permanent Rules
Last Thursday we debated the permanent House Rules. While there were a few changes to the rules agreed to by Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, the floor debate focused on DFL suggested rule changes that were not accepted. They ranged from the amount of time bills can be publicly published before a vote is taken, to a series of firm deadlines on joint budget targets and when our work should be completed.
There were two proposals that garnered the most discussion and attention. One was to require increased documentation on legislative trips, including disclosing any amount paid for the trip by an organization. This would not prevent legislators from taking these trips, but would require them to provide the public information on who is paying for them. It was voted down on a mostly party-line vote with all Democrats voting for it and all but three Republicans voting against it.
The second suggested rule change was a request to remove a button at the front desk that allows the Speaker of the House to shut off the representatives’ microphones. This “mute” button was installed by current House Speaker Kurt Daudt during the recent House floor renovations. The minority found out about the button when members microphones suddenly “turned off” during a heated House debate in 2016. The majority’s ability to suppress the minority’s voice in this way is unacceptable. I was extremely disappointed that this proposal failed on a party-line vote with only one GOP member siding with the DFL members who voted to remove the button. KARE 11 News provided coverage on this controversial method to silence the minority. You can see it here.
House Committees have finished their finance and policy overviews and are hearing more bills. The first policy deadline is right around the corner on March 10th. That is when a policy bill has to pass all of the necessary House or Senate Committees. The second policy deadline is March 17th. By that deadline, a bill has to pass all its required committee stops in the other body.
Last Monday and Wednesday the Transportation & Regional Governance Committee met. Monday’s agenda had three relatively non-controversial bills. The fourth bill dealt with a prohibition of spending any public money on planning, engineering or building commuter rail from Rochester to the Twin Cities. While that project has been put on hold, the bill would prevent any further planning on the part of local and county elected officials to respond to a future proposal. Wednesday we heard four bills, one of which received the most discussion. That bill would allow people to mow, or hay, public right-of-ways next to trunk highways that are under the control of MNDOT. Currently, they can be mowed but a free permit is required. Much of the discussion revolved around the liability of an individual working on publicly owned land and the potential of damage or injury that could occur.
Property Taxes & Local Government Division met Wednesday morning to take up five bills. The bills focused on changes to the State General Levy. The State General Levy is a property tax on commercial/industrial property as well as seasonal recreational property that is sent to the General Fund. It was originally put in place when rate classifications on these properties were lowered and was meant to mitigate the revenue loss that these changes caused to school districts and local municipalities. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is the main proponent of this change citing the added tax on businesses is increasing rapidly. Opponents worry about the enormous hole that will be left in the state general fund if this tax is removed entirely. We had a thoughtful discussion on a range of proposals from exempting a portion of a property’s value to phasing out the levy over a six year period. Last year’s tax bill, which I supported, exempted the first $150,000 of value on a commercial-industrial property from the State General Levy. That bill was pocket-vetoed by the Governor for a variety of other reasons and did not become law.
Government Operations & Elections Committee met on Tuesday to hear a bill that would completely restructure the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority (MSFA). The MSFA was part of the Vikings Stadium bill and was tasked to oversee construction and operations of the Vikings Stadium. There has been some controversy around the use of the two U.S. Bank Stadium suites the MSFA owns. The controversy lead to an Office of the Legislative Auditors (OLA) report that made recommendations on how to restructure the board to provide more transparency. While the bill (HF778) went way beyond the recommendations of the OLA, I did vote in favor of moving the bill to the State Government Finance Committee for more work.
Constituent and Organization Visits
Last week, I met with constituents at the Capitol with Minnesota Nurses Association, as well as those who work with individuals with disabilities. I also had a great time talking with students from the St. Louis Park Schools Park Spanish Immersion program. I asked them what law changes that they would propose and they had some interesting and fun ideas. I also met with constituents on specific bills and attended a U of M Alumni breakfast for legislative staff and members.
A highlight of my week was spending part of the day with a good friend and her daughter. They wanted to shadow me at the Capitol to see what my day was like. Thank you to Kirsten and Elizabeth Eickenberg for spending time with me and for your interest in how state government works!
Community Conversation Dates
Below are the future dates for my individual “Community Conversations”. There will be coffee provided at the Saturday morning meetings. I only have three left, so I hope you will get a chance to attend one of them.
Hopkins Library Meeting Room, 22 11th Avenue North, Hopkins MN 55343
Tuesday, February 21: 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
Saturday, March 4: 10:30 a.m.-NOON
St. Louis Park Library Meeting Room, 3240 Library Lane, St. Louis Park MN 55426
Saturday, March 14: 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
As always, please feel free to contact me with questions and issues. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org 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!