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,