Dear Constituents and Friends,

We are just three days away from adjournment from the legislative session on Monday, May 18th, 2015. It is difficult to imagine how we will accomplish all the work remaining to be done, particularly on the HHS Conference Committee I serve on. Without a budget target for the HHS division, the conference committee is at a standstill. This week the Senate voted to suspend the rules to allow for conference committees to work through the night until 7am. This means there is a busy weekend ahead of us to get all of our work done on behalf of the state. As I type, we are still awaiting the E-12 budget target, but we are able to move ahead with targets for Higher Education ($166 million) and Judiciary ($111 million).

For your reference, I have included the budget differences between the Governor, the Senate and the House below. This shows why negotiations are moving slowly to get global targets for each budget division.

Stay tuned for my 2015 Capitol Report, which will be delivered in early June.

Sincerely,

Melisa

FY 2016-17 General Fund Budget Priorities

Committee

Governor

Senate

House

E-12 Education

$695 million

$365 million

$158 million

Health and Human Services

$341 million

$340 million

-$1.2billion

Higher Education

$283 million

$205 million

$57 million

Transportation and Public Safety

$179 million

$144 million

-$26 million

Environment, Agriculture and Economic Development

$84 million

$57 million

-$2.2 million

State Department and Veterans

$64 million

$40 million

-$67 million

Budget Reserve

$0

$250 million

$150 million

Tax Cuts and Aids to Local Governments

$138 million

$458 million

$2.3 billion

Higher education budget target released

On Thursday, negotiations between the Senate, House and Governor agreed upon a final budget target. The target was set at $166 million, smaller than the initial Senate proposal of $205 million and a significant increase over the initial House proposal of approximately $57 million. The Higher Education Conference Committee must now negotiate how the final bill will take shape. Those details will include what the final amount of funding for the U of M and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) systems will be. There was also an agreement to include $30 million for an investment in the University of Minnesota Medical Center, which will appear in the final bill.

Electronic proof of auto insurance

Minnesota will now join a list of 37 other states that also allow electronic proof of insurance, thanks to an update in state law. As more drivers are using cell phone apps rather than paper forms, Minnesota law needs to reflect the 21st century, and this is an easy and convenient way to prove a valid insurance status.

Currently, a lack of clarity around electronic insurance has resulted in some drivers being given a citation for not carrying proof of insurance. However, many insurance companies offer cell phone apps that allow insurance to be shown on the phone. Updating the law will ensure both law enforcement and drivers know that electronic proof of insurance is a valid method of showing proof of insurance.

The bill also states that in a traffic stop, police officers would only be using a driver's phone to view their insurance. Also, if the phone it falls and is damaged while being handled, the police officer is not liable for any damages – as long as the officer handled it appropriately.

The conference committee report on the bill was accepted and re-passed and now awaits the governor's signature. (H.F. 307)

Omnibus Elections Bill

The Minnesota Senate passed the Omnibus Elections bill on Monday. The legislation would expand early voting and restore voting rights to felons once they are no longer incarcerated. If the omnibus bill becomes law, Minnesotans would have an early voting window of 12 days. Voters could cast their vote 15 days before Election Day through 5 p.m. on the third day before Election Day.  

The Restore the Vote provision was included in the Omnibus Elections bill. This provision allows felons to have their voting rights restored as soon as they serve their sentence, rather than after leaving state supervised probation or parole. Proponents argue that allowing felons to vote upon release from incarceration would encourage positive participation in society, which would encourage others, particularly children, to participate in pro-social behavior. In addition, the current system is confusing and results in voting errors: some offenders vote who legally are not allowed to do so (which is a felony), and some were prevented from voting who legally were allowed to vote. Allowing felons to vote once they are released from prison will reduce costs and minimize confusion in the election system.

The bill allows 16- and 17-year olds to "preregister" to vote, although they could not cast a vote until they turned 18. The bill would also automatically register eligible voters when they apply for a driver's license or state identification card or have it renewed. A driver's license applicant could opt-out of registering to vote.

Other major provisions include:

  • Mail balloting authorization modification - This legislation allows any town or city in the state with fewer than 1,000 registered voters outside the metropolitan area to provide mail balloting.
  • Helping voters mark ballots - Under current law, a voter who has a language barrier or is physically unable to mark a ballot is able to request assistance from an individual of their choosing. Currently, the person providing assistance can only do so for three voters. This legislation eliminates the number of voters a person can assist in marking ballots.
  • Overseas voting modifications - This legislation would allow National Guard members to use the same special voting procedures when they are called into service by the state as they receive when the federal government calls them into service. The special voting procedures allow ballots to be received electronically and allows voters to track their ballots to ensure they are counted.

Silver Alert legislation signed into law

Legislation that would establish a working group to study the state's need for a Silver Alert system was signed into law by Governor Dayton this week. Establishing a working group is the first step in developing a system similar to the Amber Alert, but it is intended to aid in the recovery of missing persons who are senior citizens with dementia, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer's disease, or other mental disabilities. (S.F. 857)