This week there was a full committee schedule with lots of bills up for hearings. REAL ID was heard in Transportation, the bonding bill passed out of Capital Investments and we had bills in the energy committee. I explain more on these bills in this week’s newsletter.
Another important event that took place this week was a large press conference featuring DFL legislators, doctors, nurses, and other advocates all in favor of the Minnesota Health Plan. The new universal plan would cut costs and provide quality, affordable care for all of us in Minnesota.
What is Happening in the Legislature?
Minnesotans with disabilities and their families can save for goods and services to improve their lives under the new Minnesota ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Plan, which opened this month. Which was a bill I authored in 2015, the ABLE Act, and I’m thrilled to see the legislation open up new doorways for Minnesotans with disabilities.
This legislation is long overdue recognition of the profound and significant extra costs people with disabilities must endure. The Minnesota ABLE Act provides some hope and is a vehicle by which families with young people with disabilities may avoid living at near poverty levels. We’re starting to put people first and that’s a very important step in the right direction.
The plan allows a maximum of $14,000 a year, to a total maximum of $100,000, to be contributed to an account for an individual before the individual’s public benefits are affected. Participants can choose to put their money into what operates as a regular checking account or into one of six investment options.
The Minnesota ABLE Plan has several features:
• ABLE accounts are not limited to people with disabilities on public programs. The accounts are exempt from eligibility consideration if people are on Medical Assistance, Supplemental Security Income or other public programs. Currently, people with disabilities may lose eligibility for public benefits once they reach $2,000 in savings.
• Earnings on accounts and distributions for qualified expenses are not counted as taxable income.
• Minnesota ABLE Plan accounts can be opened online at mn.savewithable.com. Parents of eligible minor children may open an account for their child.
• Any person can contribute to an ABLE account. Contributions can be made by check, through an employer’s payroll direct deposit, or directly from another checking or savings account.
Ascensus College Savings is the firm that will administer the Minnesota ABLE Plan. People who are interested in the Minnesota ABLE Plan may visit mn.savewithable.com or call 888-609-8872.
To get a more personal look on how the ABLE act will help people, the Star Tribune has an article.
Bonding Bill Passed
The Capital Investment Committee passed Senator Senjem’s bonding bill last week. Commissioners and the public testified with their concerns as well as support for the proposal. The bill has several challenges because Capital Investment bills are subject to specific rules. The bill needs to originate in the House and a super majority is necessary to pass the bill. It is also unclear if the Governor will support the proposal as drafted.
The House has been reluctant in moving forward with a bonding bill. At this time, they have not scheduled a hearing and it doesn’t look like they will anytime soon. While it is still early in the legislative session, the House is clearly taking their time relative to the speed that the Senate is moving.
Senate one step closer to implementing Real ID
The Senate heard the REAL ID implementation bill this week. The bill would grant the Department of Public Safety (DPS) the authority to make Minnesota driver’s licenses and IDs compliant with the federal standards. The bill creates a two-tier system with a REAL ID compliant ID and driver’s license and a noncompliant instate ID and driver’s license. This allows those who have privacy concerns and those who will not be traveling by airplane to maintain their current driver’s license and ID, while also allowing the traveling public to get a REAL ID compliant ID or driver’s license. DPS would have to begin issuing compliant IDs and driver’s licenses by Oct. 1, 2018.
The Transportation and Public Safety Committee adopted a few amendments that should help alleviate some of the concerns among some stakeholders. The Senate took out language that required Minnesotans to provide proof of citizenship when applying for a noncompliant REAL ID. This was a major sticking point during 2016’s Conference Committee negotiations. However, this language remains in the House version of the bill. The Senate Transportation Committee also adopted an amendment paying for the costs associated with fee waivers for some license holders who would be required to get a compliant license out of the natural schedule. However, no funding was provided for the cost in the tails.
Upcoming REAL ID Deadlines:
- Now until Jan. 22, 2018
- The TSA says it will continue to accept Minnesota driver’s licenses as a form of identification to board domestic flights.
- Jan. 23, 2018 through Oct. 1, 2020
- Licenses from all compliant states (or noncompliant states with an extension) will be accepted. Minnesota is currently noncompliant and has not been granted an extension by the federal government.
- People with licenses from noncompliant states without extensions, including Minnesota, will need to show another form of ID, such as a passport or EDL, to board a flight
Energy Committee approves net metering fee regulation bill
The Senate Energy and Utilities Committee approved a bill Tuesday, SF 141, that allows electric cooperatives an exemption from regulation by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for fixed charges for net metering, provided the cooperative adopts its own rules for net metering that includes a dispute resolution process. The bill also exempts municipal utilities from a requirement that the PUC resolve net metering disputes.
Supporters of the bill side with cooperatives who believe the PUC should not have a role in regulating cooperatives as they do with investor-owned Utilities. They point out that cooperatives are run by member-owners who are both ratepayers and investors, with a long and successful history of self-regulation. Opponents disagree, arguing that the bill removes an important protection for customers who participate in net metering. They argue the PUC provides a neutral expert venue for hearing complaints by cooperative members about what may be needlessly high net metering fees that can run as much as $83 a month. The bill was approved 6-4, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats voting no. The bill will be heard next in the Finance Committee.
Xcel Energy’s plan to close Sherco 1 & 2 with Natural Gas and Renewables.
Xcel energy’s plan, SF 85, to build a natural gas plant in order to close Sherco coal plants 1 & 2 was heard Thursday. The plan is to replace the power of Sherco 1 & 2 with a mixture of renewable and natural gas. The primary generation of power will be with wind and solar. When those are not enough to provide the power that Xcel energy needs to generate, the natural gas plant will be on. This will result in an overall 60 percent reduction in CO2 emissions.
There has been some argument over the process of this bill. Xcel energy is skipping the certificate of need process in order to expedite their plan to build the natural gas plant. There has been precedent in skipping certificate of need before, which you can find on my previous newsletter. In the end, I feel this is a good plan that was worth passing.
Legislative Deadlines released
Majority Leader Gazelka released Deadlines this week for bills to pass out of committee. The first deadline, March 10th, is for a bill to pass out of a committee of either chamber. The second deadline, March 17th, is for a bill to pass out of a committee if their companion bill in the other chamber met first deadline. The third and final deadline is for committees to pass bills on major appropriation and finance bills.
The result is that third deadline this year is set 52 days prior to adjournment. Typically the last deadline is set an average of 28 days prior to adjournment.
The goal of this is to frontload the work in order to avoid the disorganized way that sessions in years past have ended. I think this is an admirable goal of the Majority Leader. However it seems it will result in a frantic pace to get bills heard before first deadline, especially since these deadlines were released a week later than normal. If these deadlines were two weeks later, it would be a good balance. In the end, these are what the deadlines are this year and I will work to ensure that I represent the district.
Allowing 17 Year Olds to Vote in Primary Elections if Eligible to Vote in the General Election.
This bill was brought to me by a constituent, Jack Joa. He is a student at Champlin Park High School, and would be 17 in the next Primary. His reasoning is that it is unfair for someone to be able to vote in the general election but not have a voice in who they are choosing from in the primary election. I was happy to introduce the bill.
If you or another constituent you know has an idea for a bill do not hesitate to contact my office. I am always happy to help constituents get involved in the legislative process.
If you have any questions or concerns feel free to call my office at 651-296-4154 or by e-mail at email@example.com