State and Local Government

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Last session, the two significant success stories were wide-scale pension reform with the bipartisan passage of the Omnibus Retirement Bill and approval of the public employee labor contracts. However, federal funding to secure Minnesota’s election system was left on the table and funding requests to secure the state’s IT infrastructure have been repeatedly ignored.


What has happened in this issue area since last session?

There have been significant data breaches at state agencies due to the lack of investment in cybersecurity. A recent phishing attempt at DHS resulted in the exposure of personal data of 21,000 Minnesotans.

A recent Supreme Court ruling to allow states to legalize sports betting occurred early in the summer of 2018, which opened the door to discussions of gambling expansion in the state.


What is expected to happen this session?

The House DFL majority will likely support expanded access to voting and investments in election security, which may increase the pressure on the Senate Republican majority to move forward on reforms.

This session will provide an opportunity to clarify the duties and responsibilities of the new Legislative Budget Office and the transition from MMB effective in September. Collective bargaining units and MMB may agree on new labor contracts that will need to be approved before the end of session to go into effect.


Cybersecurity concerns

The unwillingness of Republicans to invest in cybersecurity has continued to have consequences for Minnesotans. Since last session, there have been additional reports of statewide IT issues:

  • The Department of Human Services fell victim to a phishing campaign of employee email accounts in the summer of 2018. 21,000 Minnesotans personal information held by DHS could have been accessed but there have not been any subsequent reports of the data being misused.
  • Explore Minnesota was hacked in December by fake news postings on Facebook.
  • The University of Minnesota IT system, Minnesota State University Moorhead, and other databases were targeted in June 2017, although private data was not leaked.
  • IP addresses associated with the Secretary of State’s website were scanned for vulnerabilities by Russian hackers in 2016, along with voter databases in 20 other states. Fortunately, there was no attempt made to breach the Minnesota State Voter Registration System and no data was compromised, but additional steps must be taken to ensure voter information is kept confidential and secure. $1.5 million in Help American Vote Act (HAVA) funding for 2018 election security sat unused from the federal government because the Legislature failed to appropriate the funding to the Secretary of State.
  • A hacker broke into legacy computer systems in June 2017 and accessed IT administrator email addresses in protest of the verdict in the trial of police officer Jeronimo Yanez for the death of Philando Castile. MN.IT performed a forensic investigation of this incident and the results were forwarded to the FBI.

The chief information security officer of MN.IT has publicly acknowledged these breaches are “definitely preventable with more investment.” The Legislature ignored Governor Dayton’s budget proposal to provide $26 million to MN.IT for cybersecurity efforts in 2017 and failed to pass supplemental funding in 2018. In fact, Republicans attempted to abolish MN.IT Services in the 2018 State Government Supplemental Finance Bill and further hamstrung the work of state IT professionals. Governor-elect Walz and the House DFL majority will likely make additional cybersecurity funding a priority in the upcoming session.


Legislative Budget Office

The Legislative Budget Office (LBO) Transition Planning Task Force continues to facilitate the creation of the new office and clarify the duties of the new agency. Currently, the responsibility to create fiscal and local impact notes falls under Minnesota Management and Budget. Enabling legislation passed in 2018 clarified the LBO will assume full responsibility for creating fiscal notes on September 1, 2019. This session, MMB will continue to be responsible for their creation as the LBO gets up and running. The task force will continue its work to recommend a transition plan to fully shift these responsibilities from MMB to the new LBO and may provide suggested legislation this session.


Expanding access to voting

In addition to supporting additional resources to ensure the security of Minnesota’s elections, there is support in the Senate DFL for policies that make it more convenient and less onerous to vote. Expanding mail-in and absentee balloting–especially for people with disabilities and rural communities–extending early voting periods, restoring the vote for disenfranchised Minnesotans, and allowing voter pre-registration for 16-year-olds are some of the reforms that will ensure Minnesota continues to have the highest voter turnout in the nation.


Reforming the Presidential Primary

The Legislature passed a bill in 2016 in coordination with the Republican and DFL parties to create a presidential primary process, to replace voting during caucusing where voters have traditionally voted for their preferred presidential candidate. Two issues with the law have been highlighted by Secretary of State Steve Simon. At the polls, voters will be required to choose which major party ballot they prefer, and while who they vote for will remain private, which party ballot they request will not. Secretary Simon has called for both major parties to reclassify this data as private instead of using the new law as a “back-door system of party registration.” The second issue concerns the cost to local governments to administer a third election in one calendar year. Secretary Simon has suggested the Legislature and major parties agree to a statewide mail-in ballot system to save cities, towns, and counties millions of dollars, which could also keep voters’ party preference private.


Sports betting legalization

Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 that prohibited most states from legalizing sports gambling. In Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Justices ruled in a 6-3 decision that the legislation violated the 10th Amendment. New Jersey was at the forefront of the lawsuit in the hopes of jumpstarting the gambling industry in the state. Since the ruling, eight states have approved or already could operate full scale sports betting, with many additional states considering legalization. The past couple sessions, the Minnesota Legislature has considered bills to authorize sports betting, which were supported by the gaming industry but opposed by Citizens Against Gambling Expansion.

One important component of authorizing sports gambling statewide would be how to also allow tribes that already operate gambling facilities to provide sports betting to consumers. Currently, tribes are only allowed to operate within reservation boundaries, which would be complicated by mobile betters off-site. Also, how the state taxes any revenue from legalized sports betting will be important to clarify (see Tax Section.) It is not clear whether the incoming House DFL majority or Governor-elect Walz are amenable to the legalization of sports gambling, but Sen. Chamberlain will be authoring a legalization bill in the Senate.


State employee contracts

In October, MMB and SEIU began negotiations on new public employee labor contracts for the 2019-20 fiscal year. No details are available yet on the new terms of the contracts. The Legislative Coordinating Commission Subcommittee on Employee Relations (SER) must approve the contracts during the interim within 30 days of a tentative agreement. Once session begins, the entire Legislature must approve the contracts prior to adjournment for the agreements to remain in effect.


Met Council restructure

A bill to force a complete overhaul of the governance structure of the Metropolitan Council was once again vetoed by Governor Dayton last session. It would have forced out the governor’s appointees and replaced them with county commissioners, local elected officials, and MnDOT representatives. It also would have increased the number of council members from 17 to 29. Efforts to pass this legislation may be renewed this session by the Senate Republicans.

Republicans contend the Met Council is an unelected government agency with the ability to tax residents and spend indefinitely on unnecessary transportation projects without accountability. They argue locally and regionally elected officials should comprise the majority of Met Council membership because the council has regional taxation authority. Governor-elect Tim Walz will have the authority to appoint his own nominees to the Met Council and has not specified whether he supports reforms to the governance structure of the body.

Advocates of the current Met Council structure contend that current appointees are accountable through the governor and must have a regional, rather than parochial, outlook regarding metropolitan planning. By allowing city officials on the Council, the Legislature would insert members that would have conflicts of interest between local and regional concerns. Elected officials serving as members of the Met Council would be acting in incompatible positions as the regulator and as the regulated.

The Senate DFL supports numerous reforms to the governance structure of the Met Council to make it more accountable to the public; staggered terms for members, adding more citizens and locally elected officials to the nominations committee, and making the nominations process more transparent.