Rep. Ben Lien’s May 13 E-Update

Greetings from the Floor,

We had a week at the Capitol unlike any that I will ever see again. The debate and vote on the Marriage Equality Act brought out thousands of people, for and against the bill. It was inspiring to see Minnesotans engage in our democracy in such a civil and respectful manner on very a contentious issue. I was speaking with the House Sergeant at Arms who told me at one point folks were singing “Amazing Grace,” but that it seemed to be coming simultaneously from people on both sides of the debate. The final vote was 75 yeas and 59 nays, with two Democrats voting against the bill and four Republicans voting for the bill. One provision of the bill, offered as an amendment by Republican Rep. David FitzSimmons, reinforced the bill’s language to allow any church or religious-based organization to refuse to marry a couple or provide services related to a wedding celebration based on religious objections. This provision is this strongest protection for religious freedom of any same-sex marriage law in the country. The Senate passed the bill today and the Governor will sign it tomorrow.

 I voted for the bill. I have been very clear that I have friends and family who are part of the GLBT community and that I could never turn my back on those folks, personally or politically, because of who they are. I believe all couples who are involved in committed and loving relationships deserve all the same insurance, legal, property and tax rights. I also thought it very responsible of the Legislature to get the budget bills off the floor before we took up the issue.

 In other action this week, we passed General Register House Files 826, 739, 215, 1451, 461, 161, 740, 623, 542, 80, 654, 854, 228, 1000, 316, 1510, 690, 1112, 1136, 1684, 1359, 1792, 694, 252, 683 and 817. To look up any of the General Register bills, please go to the House of Representatives website at http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/ (toward the top of the website is a search box entitled, “Get bill info” where you can enter the House File number). The most contentious of these bills was House File 826, the Providing Safe and Supportive Schools bill (the “Bullying” bill). This bill establishes that schools must develop a system to identify and address bullying. However, the bill does not mandate how individual schools do this, but instead suggests ways in which schools act according to “research-based, developmentally appropriate best practices.” Schools are required to discuss the determined approach to identify and address bullying with all students, staff, faculty, contract employees and volunteers (as well as make the information available to parents). The bill also encourages schools to work with the community in order to make bullying prevention programs available to students and develop curricula that engages students to identify bullying and mediate conflicts. I voted for this bill as I feel it is important to take precautions to protect all children’s abilities to succeed in school and address bullying, especially bullying that may take place through non-traditional forms such as Facebook. Also, the state does not mandate any curricula on individual schools or force schools to instruct any specific topics. The bullying bill would not change that.

 We also took up the omnibus energy bill, elections bill and Legacy bill. Some provisions of these bills are as follows:

 Omnibus Energy Bill: sets a date of 2025 for all investor-owned utilities to get 4% of the electricity sold form solar, extends the progression for all investor-owned utilities to get 40% of the electricity sold by 2030 from renewable sources and changes a program that incentivizes the use of solar panels by individuals to pay an amount based on the panels’ production instead of a flat rate. This bill does not make any changes in law to municipal or cooperative utilities.

 Omnibus Elections Bill: appropriates funding to the Secretary of State to update the processing and tracking of mail ballots, increase voting rights notifications to felons and ex-felons (to better notify when people can vote after completing probation) and establish a pilot project for electronic voter registration during the 2013 municipal election (some precincts in Moorhead are eligible to participate). The bill also establishes no excuse absentee voting and changes the positions of Clay County’s Auditor-Treasurer and Recorder from elected positions to appointed positions (under a bill I introduced).

 Omnibus Legacy Bill: fully funds the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council’s recommendations, changes the funding cycle of the Outdoor Heritiage fund from a one-year cycle to a two-year cycle and, as a result of the change, invests in more metropolitan habitat areas and projects to fight aquatic invasive species.

 We have one week to go before the Legislature must adjourn for the year. The Governor, Senate Majority Leader Bakk and Speaker Thissen have agreed on budget targets for Conference Committees to write Conference Reports. I anticipate a flurry of activity and very long sessions this week as we near completion of the legislative session next Monday.

 Thank You for the Opportunity to Serve,

 Ben

 

Reactions to Rep. Lien’s LGA bill

Minnesota lawmakers consider a fairer take on LGA

http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/199062051.html

 

FF to benefit from state aid legislation

http://www.fergusfallsjournal.com/2013/03/20/ff-to-benefit-from-state-aid-legislation/

 

Bill would retool local aid formula

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/polinaut/archive/2013/03/bill_would_reto.shtml

 

Small gains for New Ulm under proposed LGA revision

http://www.nujournal.com/page/content.detail/id/534039/Small-gains-for-New-Ulm-under-proposed-LGA-revision.html?nav=5009

Rep. Ben Lien’s Legislative Update

Greetings from the House Floor,

I had a very busy week last week with the policy bill deadline in committees and a town hall at the Moorhead City Council Chamber on Saturday with Sen. Kent Eken and Rep. Paul Marquart. The town hall focused on Rep. Marquart’s education initiatives to develop the “World’s Greatest Workforce.”  I want to thank everyone who came out for the event, as well as the City of Moorhead for hosting, and my colleagues Sen. Eken and Rep. Marquart.

Sen. Eken and I have another town hall at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 23, at the Oakport Township town hall. And Sen. Eken, Rep. Marquart and I are also going to participate in a League of Women Voters-sponsored Legislative Forum at Minnesota State Community and Technical College on April 6 at 10 a.m.

Work in floor sessions last week was short due to the committee deadline. The major floor action related to the Minnesota Insurance Exchange bill as amended by the House /Senate conference committee. The House voted to adopt and concur with the conference committee report. The Senate adopted the conference committee report, and Gov. Dayton signed it into law today.

I’ve recently introduced three bills. The first bill (House File 1608) changes the Local Government Aid formula. The proposed formula uses three different sets of data to measure “need” for LGA for any given community based on community size. The different data sets are as follows:

  • Communities under 2,500: based solely on city size
  • Communities between 2,500 and 10,000: percentage of housing built before 1940, household size and population decline from a city’s peak since 1970
  • Communities over 10,000: jobs per capita, percentage of housing built before 1940 and percentage of housing built between 1940 and 1970

The new formula also allows for increase to LGA based on inflation as new money is appropriated for the program each biennium. The bill had its first hearing in the Property Tax and Local Government Division of the Tax Committee.

The second bill (House File 1617) prorates the state aid grant for part-time college students. I feel that this is an effective way to help students; the “typical” student is no longer an 18-year-old, full-time student living on campus. Many students today – and this is especially true of students at MnSCU schools – are much older, work full- or part- time, are married and have children. This bill would not extend the amount of time a student is eligible to receive state aid grants, only increase the amount a part- time student would receive.

I also introduced a bill that would index the existing Disparity Reduction Credit for Commercial and Industrial (and apartment buildings with more than four units) property taxes to the lower of 2.3% of assessed property value or the lowest rate in Dakota cities neighboring East Grand Forks, Moorhead / Dilworth, Breckenridge and Ortonville. This bill would be especially important as North Dakota considers significant property tax relief for homeowners (over $500 million worth) and businesses ($250 million worth).

Work this week continues to focus on committees and bill deadlines. I anticipate floor sessions to be short and consist largely of bill introductions and committee referrals.

Our spring holiday break is next week and I have several meetings planned in the district.  I look forward to seeing folks back in the district and hope for great turnouts for our upcoming town halls.

Thank You for the Opportunity to Serve,

Ben

Rep. Lien introduces bill to change how LGA is allocated

ST. PAUL – Rep. Ben Lien (DFL-Moorhead) introduced a bill that would change the formula used to allocate Local Government Aid (LGA).

LGA is a program that has existed since the 1970s, when it was created as part of the Minnesota Miracle. It is designed to provide property tax relief and ensure that every city in Minnesota can provide basic services to its citizens. The LGA formula essentially disperses state aid to cities when their need exceeds the amount they can raise in property taxes. The current, complicated formula calculates a city’s “need” based on a number of factors over time.

Lien’s legislation replaces the current LGA formula with a new formula that makes adjustments to an individual’s city aid based on its “aid gap” or the difference between its current aid and its unmet need as measured by the formula.

“It’s good for Moorhead because it’s a stable formula and it will get pace with city growth,” Rep. Lien said. “It will also provide significant property tax relief because of the inflationary measures in the appropriation. For every dollar cut in LGA, property taxes increase 67 cents.”

The bill has bipartisan support with 17 co-authors.

The proposed formula uses three different sets of data to measure “need” for LGA for any given community based on community size.  The different data sets are as follows:

  • For small cities (a population under 2,500), need is between $410/capita and $630/ capita depending on population.
  • For medium cities (between 2,500 and 10,000 population), need per capita is based on three factors: percent of housing built before 1940, household size, and percent decline in population, if any, from the highest census population count in any census on or after 1970.
  • For large cities (more than 10,000 population), need per capita is based on three factors:  jobs per capita, percent of housing built before 1940, and percent of housing built between 1940 and 1970.

“This is an improved formula,” Lien said. “It’s a more transparent formula for cities to be able to understand and plan around. The old formula has a couple of extra moving pieces other than the need factors. For example, small city aid and city jobs aid for larger cities are eliminated. The city aid base, which is grandfathered aid, is also eliminated. So it’s getting rid of a lot of those complexities and those intricacies.”

All cities will get at least their 2013 aid amount in 2014. In 2015 and future years, any city whose current exceeds their “unmet need” will receive a reduction equal to a maximum of 5 percent of its levy in the previous year or a $10 per capita decrease, whichever is less.

The new formula also allows for increase to LGA based on inflation as new money is appropriated for the program each biennium.

The LGA program was last reformed in 2002, and prior to that in 1993. It has received a variety of criticism in recent years. Criticisms of the old formula include that difficult to calculate need and consequently aid is too complex and difficult to understand; that there is a lack of predictability in the program, making it difficult to budget – in part because has continuously cut LGA to balance the state’s budget, and that the data it was based on was outdated.

Also over the last decade LGA has been cut repeatedly to balance the state’s budget. These cuts resulted in an increase in property taxes all over the state. From 1999 to 2008, LGA saw a 25 percent reduction and as a result Minnesotans saw a 37 percent increase in their property taxes.

The new formula is stable, easier to understand, and predictable. Most importantly the formula provides direct property tax relief to the communities with the greatest needs. The cities that are the furthest from their unmet need will get proportionately larger increases.

The bill had it first hearing Wednesday in front of the House Property Tax and Local Government Division of the Tax Committee.

 

Minnesota Department of Commerce Urges Consumers to Review Flood Insurance needs

Friends,

The Minnesota Department of Commerce has put out the following information about flood insurance coverage. This is an important reminder, especially in our region.

Ben

SAINT PAUL — As winter conditions turn to spring melting, the Minnesota Department of Commerce is reminding Minnesota homeowners to determine if they may need flood insurance coverage. Flood damage is not covered under a standard homeowner’s policy.

“Homeowners should closely monitor spring flood forecasts as Minnesota emerges from last fall’s moderate to severe drought, to protect themselves from flooding’s potential dangers and risks of property damage,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “We want to make sure that Minnesotans know that there is a limited time to review updated flood maps to assess whether to purchase flood insurance. Homeowners should act quickly – flood insurance takes 30 days to go into effect.”

The Commerce Department provides information for consumers who are considering flood insurance to safeguard their homes:

  • The standard homeowners’ insurance policy does NOT cover flood damage. Flood insurance is a special policy that is backed by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Check with your insurance company to see if they offer coverage.
  • Check with area floodplain maps to figure out if your property falls on a 100-year floodplain, a 500-year floodplain or neither.
  • However you do not have to be in a floodplain to purchase flood insurance.
  • Anyone can buy flood insurance as long as their community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program.
  • Flood insurance becomes effective 30 days after it is purchased. It is never a good idea to wait to purchase insurance until you absolutely need it. The rule of thumb in situations such as flooding is it is better to be safe than sorry. There are recent examples of property flooding on the 29th day after purchasing insurance.
  • Floodplains are not the only areas at risk for flooding. Twenty to 25 percent of all Minnesota flood claims come from outside areas designated as high risk.
  • In the majority of floods, uninsured victims may have to use their own resources to rebuild or recover. Until the President declares a flood a disaster, disaster assistance is unavailable. Less than 50 percent of all floods are declared disasters. Disaster assistance is typically offered in the form of a loan which must be paid back.
  • The average flood insurance premium is $400 per year depending on where you live and the coverage you choose. It could be higher, but in low- to moderate-risk areas, coverage can be purchased for just over $100.
  • Homeowners can buy up to $250,000 worth of structural coverage. Businesses can buy up to $500,000 of coverage. There is separate coverage for contents: up to $100,000 for residential and $500,000 for non-residential, so renters can purchase flood insurance too.
  • Standard flood insurance does NOT typically cover basement improvements or personal contents in basements. It does, however, cover the structural elements and essential equipment normally located in basements, such as a furnace, water heater, washer and dryer. Talk to your insurance agent about specific coverage available for basements.
  • Flood insurance is available in all communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. Most Minnesota communities participate. To find out if your community participates in the program, visit the FEMA website.
  • All claims and expenses of the NFIP program are funded by insurance premiums, not tax dollars.

Business owners should also be aware of the recent changes to flood insurance rates that start in 2013 due to the National Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. Among other changes, rates for properties in special flood hazard areas will increase. Subsidies for certain types of non-primary residences and business properties, or properties that have experience flood damage will end.

Purchasing flood insurance: contact your local insurance agent or insurance company to find out what types of offers they have for purchasing flood insurance.

For more information about flood insurance, contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Federal Insurance Administration, Washington D.C. 20472. Information is also available on the National Flood Insurance Programs website at www.FloodSmart.gov. For information about filing claims, or to report trouble applying for flood insurance, call the national information line at 1-888-379-9531.

The Commerce Department’s website contains a Disaster Information Center containing information for consumers and businesses to help prepare for the worst and make informed insurance decisions after a catastrophic loss. If you are experiencing problems with an insurance company or would like to report any fraudulent activity, contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce Consumer Response Team at 800-657-3602 or 651-296-2488 or consumer.protection@state.mn.us.

For information additional information about flood insurance, flood preparation, safety, cleanup and more, visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources flood safety and cleanup webpage.

 

 

Rep. Ben Lien’s Legislative Update

Greetings from the House Floor,

 Last Monday the House passed the Minnesota Insurance Marketplace bill, and the Senate passed the bill late Thursday night. Now the two versions of the bill are headed to a House and Senate joint conference committee. Some specific provisions of the bill are:

  • Delivery of health care insurance through an exchange (or menu) of different policies offered by private insurers (there will also be a public option for low-income folks).
  • The exchange will be funded by up to 3.5% of consumer premiums.
  • Tax benefits for small groups and individuals who purchase policies through the exchange.
  • A Board of Directors to oversee the operations of the exchange comprised of representatives from consumer advocates, small employers, health care administrators, public health, health care policies for small groups and individuals and the Commissioner of Human Services (or a designee).
  • Private insurers are able to sell policies in and out of the exchange (any policy sold in the exchange is subject to review by the Board of Directors).
  • A navigator program to guide consumers through the exchange.
  • Consumers can purchase policies through the exchange via the Internet or through a call center.

This bill will have a very real impact on the lives of most Minnesotans:

  • Expected savings to Minnesotans are more than $1 billion annually, with the average family saving $490/year.
  • More than 1.3 million Minnesotans are expected to use the health insurance marketplace.
  • Approximately 300,000 currently-uninsured Minnesotans are expected to be able to get insurance as a result.
  • Minnesota businesses will save at least $150 million per year on health care costs.

If we don’t set up our own Minnesota-made marketplace, federal law calls for the federal government to set one up for us – at a much higher cost.

We had good news last week that Governor Dayton dropped the sales tax expansion from his budget and tax proposals. The sales tax expansion included the business to business tax and the clothing tax. As a result, the governor will likely also drop his $500 residential property tax rebate proposal. The only residential property tax relief discussed in the House so far has been HF 2 (a homestead credit refund program); however, I anticipate the discussion regarding additional residential property tax relief will pick up significantly in the legislature. I am very excited to begin the work on residential property tax relief (and Local Government Aid) as it will provide major economic relief for Greater Minnesota.

The House also passed a bill last week regarding accreditation of advanced diagnostic imaging services for health care. On Wednesday night we had a joint House and Senate floor session to select Regents for the University of Minnesota. Peggy Lucas was named from the 5th Congressional District, Abdul Omari was named the Student Regent and Dean Johnson and Linda Cohen were both selected as incumbents for the at-large positions. Congratulations to all!

The Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee will begin hearings on the University of Minnesota and MnSCU budget requests this week. I anticipate these hearings to last well into the next couple of weeks.

I had a couple of bills hearings in committees last week. HF 920 (regarding the Treasurer-Auditor and Recorded positions for Clay County) was passed out of the Elections Committee and placed on the General Register for a vote on the House floor. HF 515 (an appropriation for the Border City Enterprise Zone and Border City Development Zone programs) was heard in the Property Tax and Local Government Division of the Tax Committee and laid over for possible inclusion in the Division report. All bills heard in the Property Tax and Local Government Division are laid over for possible inclusion in the Division report. The Division report is then sent to the Tax Committee for possible inclusion in the committee’s omnibus bill.

Thank You for the Opportunity to Serve,

 Ben

Rep. Ben Lien hails elimination of B2B tax from Dayton budget

St. Paul, Minnesota — Yesterday, Rep. Ben Lien (DFL – Moorhead) met with Governor Mark Dayton to discuss the state budget. Governor Dayton announced today that he is dropping business-to-business taxes from his budget.

“It seems enough of us had an influence on Gov. Dayton for this to be dropped. When I had the opportunity to sit down with the governor and other House members to discuss his budget and tax proposals I was able to convey directly to him the negative impacts that B2B tax would have on our  district. It is also great to know that we have a governor who takes the time to sit down with folks and actually listen.

“We can now continue focusing on ways to help businesses and, specifically, businesses in our unique border city district. I have been an advocate for businesses in our district and all of Greater Minnesota by working on the following bills:

  • Authoring House File 515 to allocate $2 million dollars for the Border City Enterprise Zone and Border City Development Zone program,
  • Co-authoring House File 571 to allow for sales tax exemptions instead of sales tax credits for businesses when purchasing capital equipment,
  • Co-authoring House File 933 to direct more small business investment tax credits to Greater Minnesota.”

Rep. Lien encourages constituents to contact him with any questions, comments, concerns, or ideas on any legislative topic. Rep. Lien can be reached by phone at 651-296-5515 or by email at rep.ben.lien@house.mn. Constituents can also visit Rep. Lien’s legislative page and sign up for email updates.

 

-30-

Lien votes to create health insurance exchange

Rep. Ben Lien welcomed passage by the House of Representatives of House File 5, which establishes the Minnesota Insurance Marketplace – the health insurance exchange central to implementing the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“I’m glad we passed this legislation. Minnesota doesn’t need a one-size-fits-all exchange. A state exchange allows us to control the products, services and systems so that Minnesotans are best served.  Minnesota is uniquely positioned to be a national leader on health care exchanges and our early action on the Health Insurance Exchange is expected to save Minnesota taxpayers billions of dollars. This legislation will make health care more affordable and accessible to the people of Moorhead.”

The bill passed Monday night by a vote of 72-58.

Minnesota families are projected to save over $1 billion by using the exchange to purchase insurance — with the average family saving $500 and a lower-income family saving approximately $1,800. The exchange is expected to help roughly 300,000 uninsured Minnesotans gain coverage by 2016.

Nearly 200,000 small businesses employees are also expected to access coverage through the exchange. Small businesses currently pay on average 18 percent more than large businesses, an average of $11,000 per year for a family coverage. Small employers are projected to save up to 7.5 percent off of premium costs in the exchange and those eligible for tax credits will save even more. Small business owners would be able to choose the plan for their workers, or let their employees choose the plan that’s right for them.

The bill funds operation of the exchange by charging health insurance companies up to a 3.5 percent surcharge on premiums of the health plans purchased through the exchange. Exchange staff expects to charge less than 3.5 percent especially in the second and third years of operation.

Enrollment in the Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange begins October 1, 2013, with plan coverage starting January 1, 2014. Minnesota’s Blueprint Certification Application, submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on November 16, 2012, stated that the legislature would make policy decisions by March 31, 2012. If states are unable to set up an exchange, the federal government will step in and establish it for them.

The Senate is expected to pass their version of the Health Insurance Exchange bill later this week. The two bills would then go to a conference committee.

 

Greetings from the House Floor,

 The February budget forecast came out last week and puts Minnesota in a better fiscal position than what the November budget forecast reported. The overall deficit for the state is $627 million going into fiscal year 2014-15, which is a $463 million improvement from November.

For the current biennium, we are at a $295 million surplus. However, that money must go to paying back the schools ($290 million) and into the reserve fund ($5 million). From my perspective, although this is very good news, the state needs to stay focused on establishing a more balanced structural approach to the budget and investing in the areas that are necessary for a strong Minnesota in the future. Now that the forecast is out, committees will begin putting together their budgets and the committee hearings will be long and frequent.

The House passed two bills last week related to electronic funds transfers and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board joint dedication fee for the city. Today, we are taking up the Health Insurance Exchange bill on the floor. I anticipate a very long debate as many amendments have been filed. The State of Minnesota has a deadline to approve a state-run health insurance exchange by the end of March or a federal “one-size-fits-all” exchange will be implemented. I see this as our opportunity to develop an exchange that will work best for Minnesota.

Senator Kent Eken and I had the opportunity to sit down with business leaders in Moorhead recently to discuss Governor Dayton’s budget and tax proposals. It was a very productive conversation and allowed both of us to hear how the governor’s proposed policies would impact the district on the ground level. Talks on the budget for fiscal year 2014-15 will advance very rapidly over the next couple of weeks in St. Paul, and I appreciate the willingness of folks to take time out of their schedules to meet with us. As always, I encourage anyone to contact me with questions and comments as the legislative session advances.

Thank You for the Opportunity to Serve,

Ben