2015 MNA Legislative Report
Sandy Neren, Messerli and Kramer
The Minnesota Legislature began the first half of their 89th biennial session on January 6th, and adjourned at midnight on Monday, May 18, as required by the Constitution.
With a newly elected GOP House majority and a DFL Senate and Governor, bipartisan cooperation would be necessary in order to reach final agreement on a budget for the next biennium. After 12 years of budget deficits, a projected nearly $2 billion surplus led to hopes of tax reductions, more money for education, and passage of a comprehensive transportation funding package for transit and repairs to the stateâ€™s roads and bridges. When the House and Senate adjourned last week, most of those priorities were left unresolved.
After weeks of negotiations between the Governor and legislative leadership did not succeed in a final agreement, legislative leadership worked out their own final budget numbers the last weekend of session, and passed all the major finance bills. To the dismay of many, a comprehensive transportation plan and the omnibus tax bill did not make the cut, and those conference committees were left in place for possible action next year.
However, the debate over a few key pieces of legislation is not over; the Governor vetoed 3 of the major finance bills, including the E-12 Education bill, the Jobs/Commerce Finance bill, and the Ag/Environment Finance bill. And State Auditor, Rebecca Otto, has convinced the Governor to support her efforts to repeal a provision that passed as part of the State Government Finance bill that would give counties the authority to contract with private certified public accountants to do financial audits that her office currently conducts. A few other key bills were also left unfinished, including a $107 million Bonding Bill and a $540 million Omnibus Legacy Bill.
The end result is that the Governor will have to call the Legislature into special session to complete the budget work. Itâ€™s not clear where it might occur â€“ the Capitol will be closed for substantial repairs for the next 10 months and desks have been moved off the House and Senate Floor to complete the Capitol renovations. Itâ€™s also not clear when it may occur, but it likely will be by mid-June, before a partial state government shutdown occurs on July 1 for those agency functions without authorized funding.
The session was again a fairly successful one for the Association. No adverse legislation on taxes, public notice, open meeting law, or data practices passed into law, and several proposals that the Association supported did pass the Legislature.
Here is a brief summary of the issues we worked on for the Association this year:
For the first time in several years, no tax legislation of concern to the Association was introduced or considered this year, undoubtedly due to the budget surplus.
PUBLIC/LEGAL NOTICE LEGISLATION
There were a number of bills introduced this biennium that removed public notices from newspapers and newspaper websites, and permitted them to be placed on government websites instead. We met with the authors to discuss their proposals, and were successful in keeping any of them from being heard. Here is a list of those bills:
- Assumed names publication(SF376/Hall)
- Sample ballots publication(SF 1500/Torres Ray/HF1753/Runbeck); County officers bill
- League of Cities bill for all public notices(SF 166/Dahle/HF1679/Yarusso)
- Requiring designation of qualified newspaper with highest circulation(SF1856/Goodwin/HF2008/Laine)
The National Association of Industrial Office Parks also again introduced their budget disclosure publication proposal that they have pursued for a number of years. They have been in communication with the Association about this proposal, and plan on working with us over the interim to address any concerns. It was introduced late in session, for consideration next year.
MORTGAGE FORECLOSURE PUBLICATION(CHAPTER 14)
The Minnesota Bankers Association and Minnesota Bar Association approached the Association last fall to discuss possible changes to the mortgage foreclosure publication law in light of recent court cases that were using publication definitions in other sections of Minnesota law to overturn foreclosures, causing confusion as to where the publication of foreclosure notice under chapter 580 should occur. They were seeking to return certainty to the law to remove any possibility of a cloud on property titles.
The Association met with the bankers and bar association members dozens of times, and explored many options and alternative language to try and solve this problem. The Association took the initiative on the bill, and found authors, met with committee members, prepared support materials, and testified on the bill. The language in Chapter 14 is the result of those efforts, and basically restores the law to conform to the practice of permitting the publication to occur in any paper in the county. It will hopefully bring some certainty back into the law.
UNCLAIMED PROPERTY PUBLICATION(SF1645/HF1693)
Rep. Joe Atkins took the initiative last year to ask the Department of Commerce for a list of his constituents who had unclaimed property being held by the state, and was able to successfully help a number of them recover over $300,000 in lost property. When we heard about this effort, we asked him if heâ€™d be interested in authoring legislation that would hopefully bring more attention to the $650M being held by the state and help return it to owners. He agreed, and worked with us on the language that was introduced as HF 1693. The bill restored the annual newspaper publication of the unclaimed property list that was removed from law 10 years ago, required the Department to give every legislator a list of their constituents with unclaimed property and to also put the entire list on their own website instead of requiring a search by individual name, and permitted the department to hire two â€œfindersâ€ to actually look for property owners. It also required a report on the process to reclaim property once found.
The proposal passed all policy committees in the House and Senate, and was included in the Jobs Finance legislation that dealt with the Commerce department budget. The conference committee conferees were unable to agree to final language on that bill because of other controversial provisions, and they instead passed a â€œlights onâ€ only bill for those agencies one minute before midnight on the last night of session. The Governor chose to veto that bill, so it will be addressed during the special session, which may give us another opportunity to work on this issue.
DATA PRACTICES COMMISSION FUNDING (CHAPTER 77)
The 2014 Legislature passed legislation supported by the Association to create a Legislative Commission on Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy. They met 8 times over the interim, and tackled such issues as license plate readers, body cameras, school data privacy, and drivers license records data. Legislation was introduced this year to provide the commission with funding to expand the scope of their activities; that funding for $70,000 per year passed as part of the omnibus State Government Finance bill. The Commission sunsets on June 30, 2017.
INSURANCE FRAUD LEGISLATION/ACCESS TO TRAFFIC INCIDENT DATA (SF782/HF864)
An insurance fraud task force met monthly over the interim, and again drafted legislation to deal with a number of issues. One concern was the â€œambulance chasingâ€ marketing that accident victims are subject to immediately following an accident. The suggested remedy introduced in the senate and house bill would have made incident data private for 30 days following an accident, but granted access to the news media only. The Association met with the billâ€™s supporters to voice concern about this special rule for media access, and it was removed from the bill.
DATA PRACTICES/OPEN MEETING LAW LEGISLATION
The Association was successful in passing a number of provisions on data practices, including deficiency funding for the Office of Administrative Hearings due to hearings on data practice issues. We also amended a technical bill to clarify access to health data held by the Department of Health and Human Services, and supported a bill to remove some open meeting law exceptions in the MNSure program.
A number of initiatives that we actively opposed or didnâ€™t support did not pass, including access to body camera data, closure of juvenile court hearings, access to birth records information, closure of meetings held by the Public Employees Relations Board, and restrictions on the use of court funds to expand audio/video coverage in criminal proceedings.
Several bills that the Association supported were not heard this year, but remain alive for consideration next session, including legislation to make municipal power agencies subject to the open meeting law and data practices act, legislation to make townships subject to the data practices act, a bill to require additional disclosure of public employees personal data relative to complaints, charges, and settlements, and additional disclosure on teachers who resign or are terminated.
MISCELLANEOUS CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES/ELECTIONS, CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS(CHAPTER 73; HF 43; HF 327)
The Association monitored a number of campaign finance provisions that were of concern. One of those provisions again changed our disclaimer law following several court rulings finding it unconstitutional; this did pass into law. Another proposal would have significantly expanded the definition of electioneering communications to include any communication re: an elected official; this initiative did not pass. There was also serious discussion on a proposed constitutional amendment re: privacy. MNA raised concerns that the legislation was not needed, and it did not pass.
In addition to the issues discussed above, we also monitored all introduced legislation for its impact on newspapers, public notice, and openness in government issues. There were approximately 2400 House bills and 2200 Senate bills introduced this year. 80 bills were sent to the Governor this session; he vetoed 3 of them and signed the others. All bills introduced this year remain alive for consideration in 2016.
The MNA legislative tracking list has been updated and is posted here. We will update it again once the Legislature completes the expected special session next month.
The Legislature does not return for its next regular session until March 8, 2016. Following the special session, there should be some interim activity of interest to the Association, particularly with the expected work of the Data Practices Commission.
Thank you for the honor of representing MNA again this session â€“ our 33nd year!! We do appreciate it! A special thanks to Lisa Hills and her staff for the incredible job they do in assisting our efforts, and for the great job all of you do contacting legislators when needed. Of course, none of our efforts would be successful without the indispensable guidance Mark Anfinson brings to the process.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Sandy Neren, Messerli and Kramer
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