Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I love the smell of amendments in the morning

Minnesota House Minority Leader Rep. Marty Seifert sent me a wonderful summary of the various omnibus bills currently before the Legislature. Actually, Rep. Seifert sent the same summary to everyone else on his e-mail mailing list, too (add yourself to the list by visiting his web page).

Reading through this makes me wistful for a job at the Capitol, watching the dance of legislation from ground level, taking a brisk walk through the tunnel between the Capitol and the State Office Building, watching a raucous demonstration in the rotunda, waving in the background while Mary Lahammer or Tom Hauser tries to tape a report, nodding off during citizen testimony during a stuffy Senate committee hearing, schmoozing with the LAs in the Senate Republican caucus, filing the business card of the new governmental affairs director from that non-profit in Minneapolis, catching a press conference in SOB Room 181 — well, enough about me, here is Rep. Seifert's most excellent update from the front lines, or, "Sleepless in Saint Paul:"

Two Weeks to Finish Session

The legislature has two weeks from tomorrow to meet the Constitutional deadline and finish. There are many Omnibus Finance Bills yet to finish, but some progress is being made. Let me share the specifics:

1) The Omnibus Agriculture and Veterans Finance Bill passed easily and was signed into law last week. I voted "yes" on passage of this bill. It spends less money than Governor Pawlenty originally recommended. It funds programs relating to agriculture like ethanol, grain inspections, alternative energy studies & items relating to state veterans programs and military affairs. The Governor line-item vetoed two agriculture provisions worth $1.35 million. In Minnesota, the Governor does have the authority to strike out specific appropriations, but cannot strike out individual language items, only spending money. As Minority Leader, I consult with the Governor on line-item vetoes and vetoes on entire bills.

2) The Omnibus Public Safety Finance Bill passed easily on Friday. This was after a provision relating to trial lawyers originally added to the bill got dropped on Thursday. This provision may come back as a stand-alone bill later in session. I voted "yes" on passage of this bill, which funds prisons, courts, victim's programs, etc. The Governor will not line-item any provisions from this bill and it spends about $1 million less than his original request.

3) The Omnibus Environment, Energy and Commerce Bill passed on Friday. It funds agencies like the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Pollution Control Agency (PCA), among others. This bill spends about $19 million more than the Governor requested and raises various fees. In addition, there are also some troublesome regulatory provisions in this bill, which triggered my "no" vote on the bill. The Governor is very likely going to sign this bill, but strike out some appropriations via a line-item veto on this bill.

4) The Omnibus Education Finance Bill is in conference committee. A Conference Committee is a group of 10 members of the legislature (5 from the House and 5 from the Senate) who work out differences in the original bills. The conference report is the final bill, which cannot be changed or amended once it reaches the floor. Both the House and Senate spend more than the Governor's recommendation in their original bills, but I am hopeful that savings from other bills and line-item vetoes can be moved to this budget area to be able to successfully finish session, fund education and not have to have a tax increase. This bill has not returned for a vote.

5) The Omnibus Health and Human Services Bill is still in conference committee. It spends hundreds of millions of dollars more than the Governor's recommendation and will likely be vetoed if it stays on the spending track that the original bills took. In the next biennium (two year budget period), the House bill grew in spending by 19% and in the biennium after that, it grew this area by over 40%. That is simply unsustainable. This bill has not returned for a vote as of yet.

6) The Omnibus Jobs and Economic Development bill was passed on a mostly party-line vote last Friday. It spends over $50 million more than the Governor's recommendation, including many pork-barrel provisions. There are some key anti-job provider provisions in the bill too. The bill is being vetoed this weekend and the legislature will have to address those concerns in a new bill this week. I voted "no" on the bill.

7) The Omnibus State Government Finance Bill barely passed on Friday with all Republicans voting "no" and some DFLers voting against it too. This bill has some troublesome language issues. It also grows the budget of the legislature by 19% over the biennium. This is just unacceptable and too large. Why should legislative budgets grow that much, while important areas in other parts of the budget get measly increases? This bill is being vetoed over the weekend and a new bill will come out later this week. I voted "no" on this bill.

8) The Omnibus Transportation Finance Bill is in a conference committee. The big sticking point is the difference between Governor Pawlenty's opposition to the 10 cent per gallon gas tax increase and the one in the bill proposed by House and Senate Democrats. If a gas tax is included in the final bill, it will be vetoed. This bill has not returned for a vote as of yet.

9) The Omnibus Higher Education Finance Bill is still in a conference committee. The big sticking point is a provision pushed by Democrats to give in-state tuition to illegal aliens. If this is in the final bill, it will be vetoed by the Governor. This is the bill that has a tuition freeze included. I offered the amendment to do the tuition freeze on the House floor and it passed easily. The Senate does not have a tuition freeze in their bill. This bill has not returned for a vote as of yet. I will not support it if it includes the provision to give in-state tuition for illegal aliens.

10) The Omnibus Capital Investment or "Bonding" bill passed the House on a straight party line vote about two weeks ago. It was vetoed in its entirety by the Governor. It spent over $300 million, much on pork projects or items that can be funded in next year's bonding bill. This is supposed to be an emergency only bill and it went far beyond that. I will vote to sustain the Governor's veto if and when it comes up. I voted "no" on passage of the bill.

11) The Omnibus Tax bill is still in conference committee. Both the House and Senate bills raise income taxes. The House bill also raises taxes on tobacco, institutes a "gift tax" on people, a new hockey ticket tax, taxes on job-providers, amongst others. The state budget will grow almost 10% over the biennium without a tax increase, so I question the need for a tax increase to throw a wet blanket on our economy. The Senate bill would make Minnesota have the higher income tax rate of all states in the United States. The Governor will veto this bill if it returns with tax increases. Generally, most families do not have their incomes grow by this rate and state government should too.

Other Remaining Issues

Some issues that the House of Representatives will consider in the next two weeks, in addition to the above omnibus bills will include: disaster relief for Brown's Valley, Rogers and Warroad (I was appointed to the House-Senate Conference Committee on Friday by the Speaker of the House); a bill to allow smoking of marijuana for medicinal reasons; a bill to disallow cigarette smoking on private property such as bars; a bill to create a mandatory state-wide insurance pool for school employees; a bill to regulate energy providers, among many others. Go to to check the schedule.

Governor's Legislative Log

A bill that passes both houses of the legislature is called an act. In order to view the acts presented to the Governor and see if he signs or vetoes them, go to this log:


Due to the amount of activity in the legislature, it will be very difficult to contact me via phone in the next two weeks. I do personally check my e-mail almost every day, so please send your thoughts on legislation to me at

Have a great week!

Rep. Marty Seifert

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