FYI: Senate District 61 Town Hall Meeting
When: Saturday, June 7, 10 a.m.–noon
Where: Pershing Park Recreation Center multi-purpose room, 48th & Chowen
What: A town hall meeting featuring Sen. Scott Dibble, Rep. Frank Hornstein and House Speaker Paul Thissen to discuss the recent session and what’s next on the legislative agenda
The Minneapolis legislative delegation tackled an ambitious agenda for the 2014 session and succeeded in securing state bonding for the Nicollet Mall redesign and a Sculpture Garden renovation.
State lawmakers representing the city also led efforts to pass medicinal marijuana legislation, a tougher anti-bullying law, an increase in the state’s minimum wage, new recycling policies and secure more money for education and affordable housing, among other things.
In a recent interview at Turtle Bread in Linden Hills, Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-61A) and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-61) reflected on the highlights of the 2013-2014 legislative session.
“It really was truly an extraordinary session this year and the last two years we’ve been able to accomplish many, many things for Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis,” Hornstein said.
Dibble said he’s pleased with how lawmakers have handled the state budget.
“I’m really happy over the last two years that we were able to balance the budget in a transparent way,” he said. “We came into this biennium with a deficit. We were able to reformat our tax system so it’s more progressive, more fair — raise some revenue, make some key investments and balance the budget without all these shifts and gimmicks that we had done.”
As for next session, Dibble and Hornstein, who both chair key transportation committees, said a transportation funding package will be high on the agenda.
“We’re getting ready for a significant step forward on transportation. That’s the next big undertaking the Legislature needs to take,” Dibble said.
Hornstein said he’s seeing more engagement and a commitment from lawmakers throughout the region to take action on transportation improvements.
“The stars are aligning for a major push on transportation,” he said.
Here’s a quick look at some of the major highlights of the 2014 legislative session.
Vision for Nicollet Mile taking shape
The $1 billion bonding package includes $21.5 million for the Nicollet Mall redesign.
Project organizers are trying to secure $25 million in public funding and another $25 million from an assessment on businesses along Nicollet Mall.
Mayor Betsy Hodges has plans to include $3.5 million for the Nicollet Mall Project in her proposed 2015 budget for the city, which will be released in August, said Kate Brickman, Hodges’ communications director.
James Corner Field Operations — the designer working on a new vision for Nicollet Mall — is working on a plan for the street that would make it greener and friendlier for pedestrians.
Funding for the Nicollet Mall project was a key legislative priority for city leaders this session.
Hodges thanked state lawmakers for including the project in the bonding package.
“We’re thrilled to be in the state bonding bill at $21.5 million. Nicollet Mall will reinvigorate downtown Minneapolis, making it a 21st century destination our city and state can be proud of,” she said. “Nicollet Mall already draws more than 140,000 workers from across the state daily to work in the 34 million square feet of office located along the mall. It helps generate hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue and private development each year. The regional significance of this project is enormous.”
State Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-59B) authored the provision in the House bonding bill that included $21.5 million for the Nicollet Mall redesign and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-59) authored the Senate version.
“Thanks to state funding, the redesign of Nicollet Mall is going to become a reality,” Dehn said. “I’m thrilled the Legislature got this done. It’s a major step toward growing our city and our state’s economy overall.”
Minneapolis Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer said the Downtown Council will be working with the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) to come up with an assessment plan to raise the additional $25 million needed for the project, he said.
“Hearing the news about Super Bowl LII coming to downtown in 2018 just reinforces the central role a vital Nicollet Mall plays in our local and regional economy. The new Mall will be ‘Super Bowl Boulevard’ during that event because Nicollet marks the core of our community. It’s where the most jobs and retail are, and its where we go to gather and celebrate,” he said.
A study touted by supporters of the Nicollet Mall redesign indicated that reconstruction of the project is expected to create $105.5 million in new spending in the state and 860 full-time jobs.
Project organizers are hoping to start construction spring 2015 and have it completed in 2016.
A boost for the arts
The bonding bill also includes $8.5 million for renovations to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and the Cowles Conservancy — the amount requested by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
The 11-acre park home to the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry has aging infrastructure that needs renovations to avoid deteriorating. The 26-year-old sculpture garden is home to more than 40 sculptures.
The Hennepin Center for the Arts, 528 Hennepin Ave. S., also secured $550,000. It’s connected to the historic Shubert Theatre as part of the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts.
The eight-story building — built in 1888 for the Masonic Temple Association — provides offices, studios and performance venues for several Twin Cities arts organizations.
More money for education
The Legislature approved additional funding for K-12, higher education and early childhood programs. More money was also set aside for breakfast and lunches for low-income students.
“We made substantial investments in public education,” Hornstein said. “We really reversed a trend of disinvestment.”
An investment in affordable housing
The Homes for All Campaign succeeded in securing $100 million for affordable housing. Minneapolis school leaders also lobbied for the funding at the Capital, raising awareness about the plight of homeless students.
The bonding package includes $80 million in housing infrastructure bonds and $20 million for public housing bonds. The money will be used to preserve existing federally subsidized housing, stabilize neighborhoods hit hard by foreclosures, rehab public housing and create new housing for the homeless
A new minimum wage
Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation in mid-April increasing the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.
The new hourly wage takes effect Aug. 1, 2016 and will increase with inflation in 2018. It will make Minnesota’s minimum wage one of the highest in the country.
The state’s minimum wage is typically $7.25 an hour, but can be $5.25 in certain cases. Minnesota had roughly 461,300 jobs (about 16 percent of the state’s total) that had wages less than $9.50 an hour in 2012, according to the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
While Minneapolis leaders advocated for increasing the minimum wage, it faced opposition from the business community.
Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, who represents downtown and North Minneapolis, praised the legislation. “Anything we can do to lift people out of poverty is a good thing,” he said.
Medicinal marijuana approved with restrictions
New legislation will allow patients to use medicinal marijuana in the form of an oil, pill or vapor.
Smoking the drug, however, is prohibited.
Patients with the following medical conditions will quality for treatment: cancer, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s Syndrome, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, seizures, severe muscle spasms, Crohn’s Disease, and a terminal illness under certain conditions.
Dibble said the legislation “ended up in a compromised form,” but called it “an excellent first step.”
Anti-bullying measure enacted
The new Safe and Supportive Schools Act replaced the state’s anti-bullying law, which was criticized for being too weak.
The law directs public and charter schools to adopt anti-bullying policies, it clearly defines what constitutes bullying (including online forms of bullying), calls on schools to designate a staff member to monitor and investigate reports of bullying and provides assistance for schools implement the policies.
On the day of the Senate vote, bill author Dibble said: “No young person should be forced to choose between going to school or being safe. But today, far too many are put in that position. … Today we are able to answer them, and thanks to the amazing work of those students, parents, educators and health care professionals, Minnesota schools will be safer, healthier environments for all kids.”
Dibble said he believes the anti-bullying law will be a “nation setter in terms of policy.”
New recycling goals
Hornstein was successful in passing legislation mandating recycling for most businesses and requiring metropolitan counties to reach a recycling rate of 75 percent by 2030. The measure also increases funding for county recycling programs by $7 million.
Minnesota is now the eighth state in the country to mandate recycling for businesses.
Starting Jan. 1, 2016, commercial buildings in the metro area must ensure that at least three recyclable materials are collected and taken to a recycler.
In an interview with the Journal earlier this year, he said too many recyclables end up in the trash.
“We’re literally throwing out $200 million a year in the state of Minnesota,” he said. “That’s how much the recyclables we throw out are worth. Why would you throw something of value into the garbage and have it wind up in the incinerator or landfill? This is worth something.”
More money has been set aside for recycling programs, too, including $275,000 to assist Minneapolis in the rollout of curbside organics recycling.
Funding for I-35W Transit/Access Project
The supplemental transportation bill included funding for the new transit station planned for I-35W Transit/Access Project. There are plans for a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the median of I-35W near Lake Street with connections to the Midtown Greenway, Nicollet and Lake Street.
Breaking down barriers for women
Dayton signed the Women’s Economic Security Act into law on Mother’s Day (May 11).
The act includes several measures designed to increase economic opportunities for women.
The legislation requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant women and nursing mothers, reduces the gender pay gap in a variety of ways, expands unpaid leave from six to 12 weeks, and expands unemployment insurance options for victims of stalking and sexual assault, among other things.
House Speaker Paul Thissen said: “When women succeed, Minnesota succeeds. Minnesota’s economy is headed in the right direction, but not everyone is sharing in the gains. And when you dig underneath the first layer of economic challenges facing Minnesotans, we find that the people struggling to stay or step-in to the middle class are disproportionately women. The Women’s Economic Security Act aims to break down barriers to economic progress so that women and all Minnesotans have a fair opportunity to succeed.”
Money to remove cattails
Dibble and Hornstein also succeeded in passing legislation allowing the Park Board to remove cattails, also know as “corn dog grass,” from Loring Park Pond. The invasive cattails are choking out other vegetation in the pond and will be replaced with native aquatic vegetation.
A hive owner can seek compensation if his or her bees are killed off from an improper use of pesticides, under new legislation. If it can’t be determined who is responsible for killing the bees, the bee hive owner can receive money from a new fund created from a tax on pesticides. Another new law will also require pesticides that are lethal to pollinators to be labeled accordingly.
Bus shelter investments
Dibble and Hornstein secured $500,000 for improvements to Metro Transit bus shelters. The poor condition of many bus shelters has been an issue raised by many constituents, particularly during the especially cold and snowy winter of 2014, Hornstein said.
A second chance
Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-59) pushed for a new law that makes it easier for people to get their criminal records expunged so they have a better shot at good jobs and finding housing.
The new law allows state judges to expunge all criminal records for people who are trying to turn their lives around. Previously judges could only expunge court records — not ones kept by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or the Department of Human Services.
“Nearly one in five Minnesotans have an arrest or criminal record,” Champion said. “The use of online record checks by employers and landlords has skyrocketed as they evaluate candidates for employment and housing. Unfortunately, online records are often inaccurate, incomplete or misinterpreted.”
Safeguards for transporting oil, hazardous materials
Hornstein also championed legislation requiring railroad and pipeline companies to meet with local public safety officials to go over response plans in the event of an accident involving trains carrying oil and hazardous cargo. It also requires the companies to offer training to fire departments, calls for more track inspectors and improved rail crossings, among other things. Funding for the legislation comes from an assessment on railroads and pipeline companies.
A new deterrent for smartphone thefts
All new smartphones sold in Minnesota after July 1, 2015 must have an anti-theft “kill switch” function under a law signed by Dayton on May 14.
The function allows smartphone owners to remotely disable their phone if it’s stolen or lost.
About one-third of robberies in the country involve phone thefts, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Locally an uptick in robberies at the University of Minnesota has raised awareness of the problem.
Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-60), who represents neighborhoods in Southeast and Northeast Minneapolis, pushed for a provision in the legislation that bans smartphone dealers from using cash to buy used electronic devices. Instead, a retailer will be required to pay via a mailed check, electronic transfer or store credit.
“We have seen a number of students on the University of Minnesota’s campus targeted and attacked because their cell phone or iPod is quick and easy money for the assailant,” Dziedzic said. “After working with students, community members and law enforcement, I believe this change will deter would-be thieves and keep our citizens safer.”
Lawmakers also approved $550 million in tax cuts during the session.
Nearly 1 million Minnesotans will benefit from the tax relief, which is targeted toward middle class families, small businesses, nonprofits, veterans and farmers.
Dayton said: “These tax savings will put more money in the pockets of over 2 million middle-class Minnesotans and benefit thousands of business across our state.”