Mid-session progress report

State Rep. Joe Atkins
District 52B

The 2014 legislative session has reached its midpoint, so a progress report seemed in order regarding some high profile issues before the legislature this session. 

Unlike my daughter’s school progress report, however, which shows her current grades in each class, my progress report does not do that. The grades are not up to me; they are up to you.  You can grade each item below, either by emailing or calling me.

Tax cuts
$443 million in income and sales tax cuts were passed earlier this session, with almost unanimous bipartisan support. The legislation also repealed some business taxes and added to the state’s budget reserve. I voted yes.   
Property tax relief: A second tax cut proposal, representing an additional $103 million in tax relief, has passed the House and Senate with wide bipartisan support, but with vastly different provisions in each body. The House version focuses on direct property tax relief to homeowners. The Senate version provides the aid to local governments, in hopes they in turn provide property tax relief. I voted yes and support the House approach of providing tax relief directly to homeowners.  
Schools, vets and nursing home
A modest portion of the state’s $1.2 billion budget surplus went to additional spending, mainly for schools, veterans programs and nursing homes. The additional spending represents 0.7 percent of the state general fund budget. I voted yes for the House version, which passed with bipartisan support of various provisions. The Senate version is slightly different.   

Minimum wage increase
Minnesota’s minimum wage will rise under a compromise proposal signed into law last week. For large employers, the minimum wage rises from the current $6.15 per hour to $8 per hour on Aug. 1, $9 per hour on Aug. 1, 2015, and $9.50 per hour on Aug. 1, 2016. For small employers, the minimum wage rises from the current $5.25 per hour to $6.50 per hour in 2014, $7.25 per hour in 2015, and $7.75 per hour in 2016. There are exceptions to the new law, allowing for slightly lower wages for teens, trainees and some foreign workers. I voted yes.   

School funding
$485 million in additional school funding, much of it targeted for all-day kindergarten, special education and an increase in the general funding formula, went into effect this school year, though it was approved during the 2013 session. I voted yes.   

Tuition freeze
Like the additional school funding mentioned above, a two-year tuition freeze at all of Minnesota’s public colleges and universities was approved in the 2013 legislative session and became effective this school year. I voted for it. An interesting byproduct, according to some higher education experts, is that several private colleges followed suit in freezing tuition.   

Sen. Branden Petersen, R - Andover, and I are the chief authors of legislation to better protect private data from government intrusion. We have successfully made it through the committee process in both the Senate and the House and now await final votes in each body.   

Public works
Also known as the “bonding bill,” this is the legislature’s primary means of funding public works projects around the state. Local examples in this legislation include fixing the crumbling foundation of the Business Building at Inver Hills Community College and flood mitigation. I expect to vote for this, if the overall price tag doesn’t grow too large.    

There are 308 projects that comprise the recently-released list of road and bridge repairs underway this construction season. Reconstruction of the Lafayette Bridge, which is now more than halfway complete, has the most impact on drivers in our area. With a sufficiency rating lower than the 35W bridge that collapsed, I strongly supported the Lafayette Bridge reconstruction, even though it has caused inconvenience.     

Medical marijuana
In spite of this legislation not making it through the committee process yet, I still think a compromise will be found. Seizure-suffering children and their families present a compelling case for medical marijuana.  This being said, I don’t have a good sense at this point for what sort of solution will emerge.   

Senate office building
I opposed this. While space is definitely needed, especially for public hearing rooms, I favored a refurbishing of the nearby Ford Building, which is currently mothballed.   
Women’s Economic Security Act
As described by Rep. Rick Hansen in a recent edition of the South-West Review, this new law seeks to address disparities in pay for women as well as reduce further reduce discriminatory practices in the workplace. I voted for it, and it passed with wide bipartisan support.

Efforts to repeal obsolete and redundant statutes — part of the so-called “UnSession” — are enjoying wide bipartisan support. This spring cleaning is more than just window dressing. Some of the old and unnecessary laws that clutter state statute books cause misunderstandings for consumers and businesses, preventing legitimate business transactions and stymieing job growth. The legislation I am carrying repeals over 1700 lines of statute, from 400-plus sections of Minnesota law.    

Input is welcome and appreciated. I have tried to provide a brief but fair description of where things stand on high profile issues, and of where I stand. I can be reached at Rep.Joe.Atkins@house.mn or 651-296-4192.


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