The 2011 Legislative Session has come to a close without an agreement between Gov. Dayton and Republican legislative leaders. The governor was presented with an all-cuts budget and with little time to negotiate before the required May 23rd legislative adjournment deadline. With the vetoing of the budget bills (to read his veto messages for each of the nine budget bills, visit www.mn.gov/governor and click on the link under “Recent News”) the Legislature will need to be called back into a special session to find a compromise on the budget.
I stand behind the governor’s decision to veto the all-cuts plan. If passed, the Republican budget would have increased property taxes on homeowners, renters, and small businesses by more that $1 billion over the next four years, 140,000 Minnesotans would have lost their health care, and funding for battered women’s shelters, child protection, firefighter training and crime prevention would have been slashed. I am hopeful that Republican leaders will come to the table and offer a balanced approach that compromises with the governor.
Although the session did not end with an agreement on the budget, legislation did pass this session with bipartisan support. Legislation passed that makes any sale of synthetic marijuana a gross misdemeanor and any possession of synthetic marijuana a misdemeanor. Synthetic marijuana is often known as “Spice” or “K2” and is packaged and sold as herbal incense. It is made up of herbs and synthetic compounds that are similar to THC, the natural chemical found in marijuana. The synthetic drug, however, produces much stronger and more dangerous side effects. The use of this synthetic drug is increasing rapidly among teenagers because it is currently legal, but this product is clearly dangerous.
Senator Ted Lillie and I also authored legislation that passed that will require driver education programs to include a section on carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the number one cause of accidental poisoning in the United State’s. With the proper knowledge of the dangers surrounding carbon monoxide, this danger is 100 percent preventable. Minnesota needs to do a better job of informing the public of carbon monoxide hazards, and we believe this legislation will move us in the right direction.
Other bills I have been working on and will continue to pursue include:
• Bonding Bill Requests – There are several bonding projects being considered for the special session, possible projects in our area include; Maplewood Regional Public Safety Training Facility, Harriet Tubman Center East Regional Safety Service Center and Learning Institute, I-694 and Rice Street Interchange, I-694 and White Bear Avenue Interchange, Maplewood Fish Creek Natural Greenway Land Acquisition, and Oakdale City Hall Veterans Memorial Construction.
• Homestead Tax Exemption for Surviving Spouses of Disabled Veterans – The bill removes a time limitation on property tax benefits for surviving spouses of disabled veterans.
• Income Tax Subtraction for Military Retirement Pay – The bill provides a military retirement (pension) pay subtraction from federal taxable income for state income tax filing.
• Personal Care Assistance Pilot Project – This legislation establishes an outcome-based personal care assistance pilot project in Ramsey County.
• Cell Phone Use While Driving Prohibition – The bill bans all cell phone use by all drivers of motor vehicles, including handheld and hands-free cellular devices.
• High School Assessments for College and Career Readiness – This legislation includes a number of provisions that deal with statewide testing of high school students.
• School Attendance Requirement for Drivers’ License – This proposal requires school attendance as a condition of obtaining or renewing instruction permits and drivers’ licenses for applicants under the age of 18.
As always, please contact me with questions or suggestions about any issue. Please visit my Senate website at senate.mn/senatorwiger. I also encourage you to visit me at the Capitol, or let me know if you’d like me to stop by your home or apartment. Also, please tune in to my local cable TV show, “Your Capitol: What’s Up?,” which appears on public access channels 15 and 16.