Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


If you are … A tunnel rat or a Hannah Montana fan, this legislative session will interest you

By Robert Whereatt | Monday, May 19, 2008 The annual commotion in the Capitol that started Feb. 12 ended last night, and what lawmakers decided will affect Minnesotans in large and small ways.

…A tunnel rat or a Hannah Montana fan, this legislative session will interest you

The annual commotion in the Capitol that started Feb. 12 ended Sunday just minutes before midnight.  It was, by recent standards, fairly productive. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty dueled with the DFL-controlled House and Senate from start to finish, often using the deadliest constitutional weapon in his arsenal, the veto.

He used it on a hefty $6.6 billion transportation spending bill.  It was overridden in spectacular fashion by those legislators tired of congestion and potholes, and willing to roll the dice that voters feel the same way.  It was, in a sense, emblematic of the session: A governor intent on what he wants to do and a contrary majority with a sense of political mission.

Legislators’ actions affect Minnesotans in large and small ways.  Here are some of the folks who were and are affected.  If you approve, tell your legislators. If you don’t, you also can tell them and maybe vote against them next time around.  Most of the new laws kick in Aug. 1.

Molnau can go fishing
If you’re Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau: Take a break, maybe do some more fishing or practice being governor in case Pawlenty makes it to the Show as vice president under a President McCain. You lost your day job as commissioner of transportation when Senate DFLers  failed to confirm your gig as top dog at MDOT, essentially firing you. 

If you’re Gov. Tim Pawlenty:  Start dreaming up an excuse in case McCain does tap you to run as his VP.  You promised Minnesotans you’d finish your gubernatorial term, so how do you ‘splain that one away?


If you’re a cattle rancher in northwestern Minnesota, call it tough love: The state will pay you to kill part of the herd you’ve been nurturing, in an effort to check bovine tuberculosis. Participating ranchers can collect market value plus $500 per head and $75 per animal a year until the area is TB-free.

If you’re a scrap metal dealer: Make sure that empty cylinder did not contain beer before it got to you.  Distributors don’t like losing those pricey kegs, and come Aug. 1, it’ll be illegal to buy or receive them regardless of how much the hung-over, would-be seller pleads.

If you’re a supporter of all things outdoors — clean water, fishing, trails — and an advocate of the arts, yet don’t think the Legislature is doing an adequate job:  Take control of the reins with this proposed constitutional amendment that would add three-eighths of 1 percent on the state sales tax and dedicate it to those projects.

If you’re a driver of a car or any other internal combustion machine, even a riding lawnmower: Your gas tax went up.  DFLers, with a little help from a few Republicans, overrode the governor’s veto and jacked up the tax, a total of 8.5 cents eventually. Annual license tab fees on most cars also are going up.

If you’re state Rep. Kathy Tingelstad: The price you paid for that gas tax hike was much steeper. The 12-year veteran Republican from Andover and five other House Republicans bucked her governor and her caucus and voted for the gas tax override. As a result, she lost her position on the bonding committee and failed to get her party’s endorsement. In the end, to avoid the hassle, she is not seeking re-election.

Article continues after advertisement

If you’re a shopper in Ramsey, Anoka, Hennepin, Dakota or Washington County, dig deeper for pennies: Your sales tax is going up to help finance transit projects.  The Legislature authorized a quarter-cent sales tax hike, subject to the approval of the county boards, and, you guessed it, they did.

If you’re thinking of coaching and you’re not a teacher:  You better not have an unsavory past, coach.  You have to undergo a background investigation, starting Sept. 1. You student volunteers, we trust you. You’re exempt.

If you’re an operator of bingo or pulltab games, once again your lobbying paid off: You get to increase expenses that you can pull out of the kitty.  For one year, allowable expenses can go to 75 percent (from 70) of gross profits from bingo and to 65 percent (from 60) for other forms of lawful gambling. The current annual prize cap of $48,000 for progressive bingo also is removed.

Young blood

If you’re young and looking for something different to do: Give blood.  Starting July 1, the age to donate that vital red stuff drops to 16 years, from 17, but you need parental permission.

If you’re a Vietnam War vet, they finally gave you a special day:  From now on, March 29 is designated Vietnam Veterans Day. On that day in 1973, the last U.S. troops departed from that land.

If you’re a vet from the so-called forgotten war: July 27 is now designated Korean War Armistice Day.  The date commemorates the day in 1953 a truce was signed, ending the three-year war.

If you’re a public swimming pool operator, start looking: You must upgrade the safety — and make daily inspections — of drain covers to prevent future tragedies. Called the Abigail Taylor Pool Safety Act, it is a response to a 6-year-old Edina girl who died from injuries from a pool drain last year.

If you’re a sicko and think it’s funny to call the cops or fire station to report a fake emergency: We’re after you, weird one. Legislators added phony police and fire to the misdemeanor list that already includes emergency medical and ambulance services.

If you’re a victim or survivor of the I-35W bridge collapse: The state is trying to do what is financially possible.  It creates a compensation fund of $24 million with an individual cap of $400,000 and a $12.6 million fund for those whose expenses exceed the cap. In return for a payment, you must agree not to sue the state.

If you’re a druggie who got busted while driving and lost your license:  It’s harder to get back those driving privileges. You have to pass written and road tests and pay a $30 reinstatement fee.

If you’re so anxious to see Hannah Montana: Get in line like the rest of us fanatics. It’s still OK to scalp the old-fashion way, but you can’t use software to move to the front of the Internet buying line.

If you’re in the mortgage business: Your legislators want to make it harder to issue a subprime to some sucker who really can’t afford the loan. Mortgage originators must analyze if a borrower can afford the payments.

If you’re a bad guy or simply into incognito in your car: It’s going to take a doctor’s prescription to get vehicle windows tinted.  Your doc must say how much light needs to get through the windows to satisfy your medical needs.  This stiffens current law that forbids tinted windshields or reflective materials on side windows.

Tunnel law

If you’re a tunnel rat with a yearning to explore or steal:  Forget it, buster.  Legislators made it illegal to trespass in tunnels with utility lines or tech equipment whether you’re just curious or after, say, pricey wiring or tubing.

If you’re feeling poorly and live on the Iron Range: A new study may take the guesswork out of your concerns.  Legislators put aside $4.9 million for the University of Minnesota to study why nearly 60 Iron Range miners died from a rare form of cancer thought to be connected to taconite dust and if future deaths can be averted.
If you’re big on big Memorial Day shindigs:  The cap on how much county boards can spend on those observances was hiked to $3,500 from $2,000.  But don’t look for a bigger blowout next week. The law doesn’t take effect until July 1.

If you’re a political activist, drop the placard and listen up: The executive committee of your party can now set the date of your caucus, taking the heavy hand of the state out of the picture. The old law had established caucuses on the first Tuesday in March. The change also lets each party postpone a caucus because of bad weather.

If you’re a delegate to the Republican National Convention this summer or simply a heavy drinker: Bars in the seven-county metro area can stay open till 4 a.m. from Aug. 31 through Sept. 5.  Affected cities, though, have the final say.

Robert Whereatt writes about public affairs and state government. He can be reached at rwhereatt [at] minnpost [dot] com.