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Key issues and topics for the 2012 session

24 Jan

2012 Legislative Highlights, pdf format available.

(Note: Sources are listed in the links provided).

educationEducation (source)

  • Republican legislative leaders outlined their education agenda for 2012, which includes
  • Performance-based teacher pay
  • Basing layoffs primarily on teacher effectiveness rather than seniority
    • The provision would allow schools to cut the least competent staff members during cuts, as opposed to only the most recently hired staff members. (source)
    • Educational policy observers have commented that how “teacher effectiveness” is measure has yet to be determined (i.e. is it based on MCA scores or other measures of student success?)
  • Requiring local referendum money to follow students if they attend a charter school within their home district boundaries. Charter schools currently receive per-pupil dollars only from the state.

Opposition against these proposals is expected from Democrats, including the governor.

NCLB Waiver

Minnesota’s request to opt out of key provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law also will be up for debate.

In its waiver application, the Minnesota Department of Education spelled out a new accountability system for schools that will focus not just on test scores but also on other measures of student growth – such as achievement rates of students of color.

Two key GOP lawmakers who head House education committees wrote a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week asking him to reject Minnesota’s waiver request.

The future of Integration Funding

The Legislature also will tackle integration funding, which will be phased out in 2013. A task force is drafting recommendations to redirect the money, which is used for voluntary desegregation efforts, to other efforts to boost student achievement.

Addressing the school funding shift

Currently, MN’s schools are paid 60% of their funding total and 40% the following year. The delay in funding has forced some districts to pursue short term financing, which incurs additional financing costs.

Education policy advocates have noted that only MN and California employ a school funding shift. California has a 19% school shift. (source)

“We need to start figuring out a way to get that paid back,” Koenen said. “It’s getting to be such a huge dollar amount, and the bigger it gets, the more difficult it becomes to pay back. We showed a surplus for the remainder of the biennium, but in the future we’ll be looking at a deficit again, and we have to be careful we don’t do more school shifts that will make the whole thing worse.” (Source)

healthHealth (source)

The Health Insurance Exchange

The HIE continues to be a topic of discussion as state leaders would like to avoid having a federal exchange being adopted in Minnesota.

Emergency Medical Assistance (source)

Non-U.S. citizens in Minnesota who received emergency medical assistance from a program of last resort will no longer receive health care, thanks to the budget deal to end last summer’s state government shutdown.

Among them are doctor visits, home health care, treatment for chronic conditions such as chemotherapy and dialysis, and prescriptions from outpatient pharmacies. The Emergency Medical Assistance program served people who can’t qualify for Medicare or MinnesotaCare because of their immigration status.

Some critics have stated that nobody should die of an illness when there’s treatment available just because of their immigration status.Other critics of the cuts say the state may save some money, but counties will pay the bill when patients wind up in county hospital emergency rooms where they can’t be turned away.

Rep. Abeler said, to address it, he plans to introduce a bill that would adopt the coordinated care model that replaced General Assistance Medical Care for the poorest and sickest patients in several large Twin Cities area hospitals.

Personal care attendants

Human Services Commissioner Jesson and some Republican legislators are looking for ways to restore some or all of the 20-percent cut in pay to about 7,000 family members who act as care attendants. A Ramsey County District judge granted a temporary restraining order after some care providers challenged the law as unfair and unconstitutional, and a final decision is expected soon.

Cuts to family caregivers heavily impacted Asian Pacific families who need to employ a family member as a PCA due to language and cultural needs.

Converting life insurance benefits into long-term care benefits

Republican lawmakers are considering a bill that allow elderly Minnesotans to convert life insurance benefits into long-term care benefits. (Source)

Workforce

Dayton’s jobs plan includes tax credits for businesses that hire veterans, long-term unemployed resident and college graduates.

The job plan reduces the cost of hiring an additional worker through the New Jobs Tax Credit. The credit provides $3,000 in 2012 and $1,500 in 2013 for hiring an unemployed worker, a veteran or a recent graduate, and thus makes it more likely that a firm will hire a new employee.

The governor’s plan also zeroes in on the “skills gap”. Briefly, some businesses want to hire workers but can’t find people with the necessary skills. The prescription for this malady is to promote training and match up potential employees with employers. The job bill does this by expanding the fastTRAC program  and by creating a Minnesota Opportunity Grants Pilot Program. (Source)

Republicans would like to restore the private sector economy through reducing the size and cost of government and continuing reforms that remove mandates or regulatory red tape.

Economic and Government reform (source)

Republicans on Thursday announced a “Reform 2.0” plan that aims to shrink government and reduce the regulatory burden on businesses. (Source)

Reduce regulations on businesses

One example given was working with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to build a better relationship between it and the businesses it regulates. Such as OSHA visiting sites without the intention of issuing fines, but to give suggestions on how to improve compliance with regulations.

GOP leaders will also focus on restructuring state agencies for efficiency and evening out staff ratios.

Constitutional Amendments (source)

Voter ID

Sen. Senjem said requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot has “overwhelming public support” and “will probably find its way to a ballot question” this session. Rep. Zellers agreed.

Dayton vetoed a voter-ID bill last session. He said he would be open to negotiating a bill he could accept this session but made no promises.

Super-majority required for tax increases

Rep. Zellers said requiring a three-fifths majority to raise taxes is also popular in the Republican caucus and among state residents.

Marriage Amendment

Already on the ballot for the general election is a 2012 ballot question that will ask voters if they support amending the state Constitution to define marriage as only the union of a man and woman.

Community organizers in the Asian community have begun work to oppose the amendment. (Source)

Bonding

2012 is a bonding year and the GOP legislative caucus and Gov. Dayton have some differing views on how much to fund public works projects. Details on the governor’s bonding plan are listed on our blog.

Gov. Dayton would like to see a $775 million bonding bill as a way to spur hiring.This is in response to the concern that there is insufficient demand for the goods and services firms produce, so there is no point in hiring more workers. The governor’s plan aims at this problem through a bonding bill.

Sen. Senjem, who chairs the Senate’s capital investment committee, is shooting for about $400 million in bonding; Rep. Zellers has not announced a target amount. (Source).

Overall, Republican leaders say they are wary of using public-works projects as job-creation vehicles and prefer to focus bonding money on fixing existing infrastructure.

Important dates

Budget Forecast

A year ago, lawmakers faced a $5 billion deficit, but that has been erased so they can concentrate on non-budget issues. However, if a Feb. 29 budget report shows new fiscal problems, the budget could again dominate.

Redistricting

Part of the reason a short session is predicted is so those running for re-election can campaign. And with new district maps to be released Feb. 21, that could speed things up even more as lawmakers feel the need to check out their new districts.

Caucus

February 2-7: House break for Precinct Caucuses

February 7: Precinct Caucuses

Easter Break

April 6-13: Easter/Passover break; no official legislative business

End of Session

April 30: Proposed Legislative Adjournment Date

Other important political dates are listed on our blog.

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