A summary of the League of Women Voters "legislative preview" I attended:
First on deck: Dealing with Dayton’s veto last session of the legislature’s funding. This was upheld by the MN Supreme Court, and the legislature only has enough money to operate for a short time. They'll need to negotiate a solution with the Governor and pass funding quickly. If they can’t, it’s back to court.
Bonding Bill: Every biennium (two-year period), the legislature passes a big bonding bill. This pays for infrastructure (mostly physical things like roads, buildings, etc.). In 2017 they passed a bonding bill, but it was just catching up on the previous session’s bonding bill that failed to pass. So, a big part of this session will be taken up with passing a bonding bill. Expect the Republicans to want a small bonding bill and the DFL to want a big bonding bill.
The Lieutenant Governor Issue. You’ll recall Dayton appointed Tina Smith to fill Al Franken’s seat. Under the MN Constitution, the President Pro Tem of the State Senate, Republican Michelle Fischbach was elevated to Lt. Governor. She doesn’t want it, didn’t take the oath of office, and says if she must take it, she can keep her Senate as well. Democrats brought a lawsuit arguing that she can’t keep her senate seat. The lawsuit was recently dismissed but will be appealed and/or refiled. If Fischbach loses that lawsuit, the Senate will be tied 33-33 between Republican and Democrats until a special election can be held to fill her seat.
Supreme Court Decision on Otto's Lawsuit: Sometime during the session, the MN Supreme Court may release a decision in Rebecca Ottos’ lawsuit that, among other things, challenges the misuse of omnibus bills. Omnibus bills are misused by both parties … they pack unrelated legislation into huge bills in an attempt to force the governor/other party to accept bills they don’t want or lose bills they do want. If the Supreme Court rules against this, it will really shake things up.
State Auditor's Voter Registration Audit: The legislature requested a voter audit last session. Expect both sides to use the audit as to justify new voter laws. The GOP will use the findings to try to make voting harder. Look for "provisional ballot" legislation that would allow someone to challenge a voter at the polls. If someone is challenged, they would be given a "provisional ballot" that is not counted unless they go to their county office within 7 days and prove they can vote.
MN Tax Code: Republicans will try to implement more tax cuts to reduce state government funding and to "align" MN tax code with the new federal tax code.
League of Women voters is supporting several pieces of legislation to make voting accessible:
Restoration of voting rights for felons if no longer in prison. Currently, someone convicted of a felony is not allowed to vote until they finish their sentence, but with things like parole, provisional sentencing, etc. it can be unclear to someone when exactly they have “finished” their sentence. It is also not clear to poll workers. There's little voter fraud in MN, but most wrongful voting (maybe 8-9 convictions over the past 10 years) happens because of this confusion. The easiest way to resolve it (and help transition felons) is this legislation that says if you're convicted of a felony, but aren't in prison, you can vote. This actually has some bipartisan support.
Automatic Voter Registration: With this, when you go to renew or change your driver’s license, you're automatically registered to vote unless you check a box opting out. You're checked against records to make sure you're eligible to vote, and if not you're notified so you can correct it.
Fair Redistricting. Supports the creation of an independent redistricting commission or having it done by a panel of judges. The legislature’s map always ends up being challenged in court (and usually ends up being drawn by judges anyways), so going straight to a judicial panel would bypass the waste of time.
Redistricting principals and rules. There are already general legal principles for proposed maps, but this would fill in the details. Example: A legal principle used by courts might be “population must be balanced”; this would might specify “all districts must be within .5% population of each other”.
We'll keep you posted with action items and calls to make about troublesome bills as they heat up!
This post by guest blogger, Steve Kranz. Steve helps run Indivisible Minnesota Local, the statewide Indivisible group that focuses on stopping the Trump agenda in our state legislature. Check them out on FB here. Thanks Steve!