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Well, that’s different: the 7 most offbeat bills introduced at the Minnesota Legislature (so far)

A bipartisan group of legislators wants everyone to stop and think about what they’re flushing down their toilets.

The 2016 session of the Minnesota Legislature is only a week old, and yet hundreds of proposals have already been introduced in the House and Senate. Many, as you might expect, offer sober and thoughtful remedies to complex issues: health care, education policy, taxes, capital investment. 

Others? Well, in the grand tradition of Minnesota Nice, let’s just say they’re “different.”

Some of those bills deal with issues you’ve probably never thought about before. Some are somewhat quirky, while others try tackle problems that state legislators are conspicuously grappling with for the first time. Then there are those that try to take on age-old problems with some novel, if eye-catching, approaches.

As a service to the citizens of Minnesota — and because reading bills can sometimes be, well, tedious — MinnPost has compiled a list of the seven proposals that stuck out amid the myriad legislation proposed at the Capitol so far:

Look ma, no political parties

What if political parties didn’t exist in Minnesota? One top Republican legislator would like to see that happen, at least when it comes to voting for the Legislature. Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, has introduced a bill that would remove any mention of party affiliation on ballots for state legislators (statewide offices like governor would still run under party labels). Knoblach’s bill is not unprecedented. Prior to the mid-1970s, legislators ran as independents, even if they did tend to caucus as Republican and Democratic factions once they got to St. Paul. Knoblach returned to the Capitol in 2014 after spending eight years away, and he’s frustrated with what he sees as intensely polarized modern-day politics. And while this bill is a long shot, especially in an election year, it’s definitely got people talking.

‘Do Not Flush’ this bill

A bipartisan group of legislators wants everyone to stop and think about what they’re flushing down their toilets. A bill from Sen. Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, and Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, would require all nonflushable products in the state to carry a “do not flush” label. Under the bill, a manufacturer that violates the proposal would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for each violation and prosecution from the attorney general. The reason for all this attention: So-called flushable wipes, used with diapers and for household cleaning, are often labeled as flushable but don’t actually dissolve in water like toilet paper, causing them to get stuck in sewer systems, which has lead to substantial removal costs for municipal governments.

Leaving a Legacy (of redirecting Legacy funding)

Here’s one way to solve the transportation funding problem: Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, has proposed a constitutional amendment to take funding generated by the Legacy Amendment and put it into roads and bridges instead. To review: In 2008, Minnesota voters passed the Legacy Amendment, which allowed the state to collect an additional three-eighths of one percent in sales taxes and dedicate the funding to art and conservation projects across the state. Green wants to ask voters if they’d rather put 67 percent of that money into the state’s deficient roads and bridges fund and the rest into the clean water fund. The funding would expire in 2034, when the Legacy Amendment is slated to sunset. And lest mass transit advocates get any ideas, Green made it clear in the language of the proposed amendment that this money is only for roads and bridges: “Money in the deficient roads and bridges fund must not be used for light rail transit projects,” notes the proposed legislation. 

Bringing back the death penalty

Minnesota hasn’t had the death penalty since 1911, when it was nixed after the botched hanging of convicted murderer William Williams. But a handful of legislators think the practice should come back, at least for those who murder a member of law enforcement. A bill introduced this session by Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, and Sen. Dave Brown, R-Becker, would allow a jury to return with a sentence of death by lethal injection for those convicted in cases that resulted in the death of a peace officer. This is hardly the first attempt to bring back capital punishment in Minnesota: There have been nearly two dozen attempts to reinstate it over the last 105 years, but none stuck, and Minnesota — for now — remains one of 17 states that do not use the death penalty in any form. 

Don’t mess with the trash

Last summer, officials in the city of Bloomington took a vote that got a lot of people riled up: They moved toward an organized trash collection system, one in which the city government would take over the job of bidding for trash hauling for the entire city, reducing the number of garbage trucks out on the road. But citizens protested the move, saying it took away their choice to get the best deal possible. Now, under a bill proposed this session by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, cities would not be allowed to set up an organized collection system until Jan. 1, 2021. It may sound like a little thing, but little things can be powerful: Republicans attribute anger over the issue for their victory in a February special election in Bloomington, where newcomer Chad Anderson beat Bloomington City Council Member Andrew Carlson for a seat that had been held by the DFL.

Calculating refugee costs

A large group of Republicans in the state House signed their name to a bill, introduced Monday, that asks the state legislative auditor to find out how much governments pay for the resettlement of international refugees in Minnesota. Last fall, Republicans expressed concerns over refugees traveling to Minnesota, after two men used fake Syrian passports to travel as refugees to Paris, where more than 100 people were killed in terrorist attacks. In November, legislators called on Gov. Mark Dayton to stop accepting Syrian refugees into the state until the issue could be looked into further, but the Democratic governor refused. The new bill attempts to put a dollar-figure on relocation costs, asking the auditor to “contract with vendors to conduct independent third-party financial audits of federal, state, local, and nonprofit spending related to refugee resettlement costs and other services provided to refugees in Minnesota,” the bill reads. 

No, I don’t want 72 more issues of Good Housekeeping

A bill proposed this week by Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, and Rep. Deb Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, requires magazine solicitors to disclose the month and year in which the subscription expires in a “clear, conspicuous, understandable, and readable form.” The bill also adds that the solicitor must be clear about whether they are asking a potential customer to renew, extend, or add issues to a magazine subscription. It sounds like a small issue, but Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has warned people to be on the lookout for magazine sellers who use aggressive tactics. Some Minnesotans have been duped into paying money for magazines they didn’t really want or renewing subscriptions that were already paid many months in advance. The proposal does not apply to publishers soliciting renewals to their own magazines.

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/15/2016 - 12:33 pm.

    Imagine No Parties

    I don’t understand why Rep. Knoblach thinks taking away partisan labels would make the Legislature less polarized. Before partisan labels were in place, legislators caucused as “Liberals” and “Conservatives,” but everyone knew which party went with which caucus.

    Today’s polarization doesn’t come from labels, it comes from the ideological rigidity adopted by members. Taking away labels isn’t going to change that.

    • Submitted by John Harlander on 03/15/2016 - 06:13 pm.

      I suspect Rep. Knoblach’s motivations to remove party labels from the ballot are at least partially self-preservation. In the 2014 non-presidential year election he bested his DFL opponent, the incumbent, by only 69 votes (<0.6%). In the past four cycles his district has gone to DFL candidates in presidential election (higher turnout) years, GOP in "off" years.

  2. Submitted by John Edwards on 03/15/2016 - 01:06 pm.

    Only on MinnPost, or some kookie left-wing website, would an effort to have a death penalty for people who kill police officers be described as “offbeat” (which means unusual). More than 30 states still have capital punishment. All the other bills being proposed make sense, especially for anyone who has had a sewer backup. It is the premise of this story that is “offbeat.”

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/15/2016 - 01:40 pm.

      Not only on Minnpost

      Given the epic failure of the death penalty in this country and the growing trend away from the death penalty, this bill was an appropriate inclusion in this list.

      • Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 03/15/2016 - 04:46 pm.

        death penalty

        Given the difficulty that states with the death penalty by lethal injection are having trying to even obtain the drugs let alone to actually kill someone with them, I as a Minnesotan don’t wish to see my tax dollars wasted this way. And as I Christian I will leave judgement to the good Lord.

  3. Submitted by Sean Olsen on 03/15/2016 - 01:30 pm.

    Local control?

    Although I generally disagree with the concept of “organized trash collection”, Garofalo’s bill is an unnecessary state intrusion on cities to govern themselves as they see fit and yet another instance where legislative Republicans (who frequently campaign on “local control”) don’t live by their campaign promises.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 03/15/2016 - 07:37 pm.

    And we are paying

    these people to dream up stuff like this?……Is the purpose of theirs to compromise an already limited time session…kind of like the numerous money and time wasting attempts by the gop at thwarting the ACA ?

  5. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/16/2016 - 08:01 am.

    Death, Death, and More Death

    Well, there goes the GOP’s stance as being the pro-life party. That’ll cost them some votes with that demographic.

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/16/2016 - 08:48 am.

    Stealing from Other Funds

    If Rep. Steve Green wants to use constitutionally-dedicated funds to pay for roads and bridges,…

    I’d suggest he should propose a Constitutional Amendment to directly raise funds needed for that purpose,…

    rather than trying to practice sleight-of-hand by seeking to convince voters to steal from the Legacy Amendment funds.

    I can’t help but wonder when the time will come when our Republican friends will develop the courage to tell their Tax phobic constituents the truth:

    If we want paved roads that don’t have pot holes big enough to rip the wheels off our cars,…

    paved roads that aren’t crumbling back into gravel,…

    and bridges that don’t fall down,…

    we’re going to have to pay for at least some of what’s needed, ourselves, now, out of our own pockets…

    and stop trying to finagle a way to steal the money to pay for those roads from the poor, the powerless, and the future.

    When was it, exactly, that Republicans became so completely gutless when it comes to telling those who elected them the truth,…

    that truth being, of course, that the folks in rural areas especially low income areas like Fosston, have never been able to raise sufficient funds locally to maintain their roads and bridges,…

    and that their needed highway funds have always been heavily subsidized by metro area drivers?

    What on earth makes these rural Republicans think the state should just hand them the money they need for their own transportation system,…

    almost all paid for by others,…

    but then they should get to tell those who are handing them that money,…

    that those from whom the money is coming can’t arrange the transportation system in the metro area to meet the needs of the people who live there?

    • Submitted by Chad Quigley on 03/16/2016 - 12:41 pm.

      Change all your republican to democrat and take out roads and bridges and add in LRT and the same could be said about liberals.
      Politicians crafted an amendment that confused the voters into believing that their vehicle registration taxes, lease fees, etc. were going to be used to rebuild the roads but it has been used to build a LRT system very few people use. Why should those who live in say Pine City, be paying for an LRT system they will never use? Talk about slight of hand.

      • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/16/2016 - 05:21 pm.

        Because Even Considernig the Considerable Cost of LRT

        a fair amount of which has been paid with federal funds, the good folks in and around Pine City are getting far more back in highway funding than those local citizens contribute.

        Pine City folk are NOT paying for LRT. The same folk in the metro area that ARE paying for LRT still have enough money left over from what they contribute to highway funding through gasoline and other taxes,…

        to subsidize Pine City, too.

        Without those state subsidies, provided primarily by funds from folk in the metro area,…

        Pine City would have a lot more gravel roads and a lot fewer paved roads in decent shape,…

        a lot less snow plowed in the winter,…

        and several bridges closed because they’re no longer safe.

        • Submitted by Nathan Johnson on 05/06/2016 - 03:03 pm.

          This Pine Citian would use LRT routinely…

          Seeing as how currently 37-percent of Pine Citians commute into the Twin Cities for work daily–and that number will likely grow–it is obvious that a commuter train between the Union Depot in St. Paul and Hinckley (a.k.a. “Rush Line”) would be a good investment toward the future.

  7. Submitted by Helen Hunter on 03/21/2016 - 04:38 am.

    Let the Death Penalty Stay Dead

    Murder is murder, no matter who does it, and no matter how prosecutors, grand juries and courts treat the perpetrators and victims.
    Which is very different depending on whether the killer is a policeman or policewoman, or a non-police person. (I don’t use the term “civilian” because it seems to me to widen the already large perceived difference between most of us and law enforcement officers.)
    To make the killing of police officers so much more serious a crime than the killing of non-police officers would be a mistake, as would the re-introduction of the death penalty in Minnesota. In terms of numbers alone, so many more of us are murdered than police officers. (FBI statistics released in early 2015 show 51 police officers “feloniously killed in the line of duty” in the whole country for 2014, and an average of 64 for the years 1980-2014.)
    We have learned in the year and a half since Michael Brown was killed by Darren Wilson in 2014 the astonishing fact that local police departments are not required to report injuries and deaths of citizens by police, to the FBI or any other state or federal agency. Apparently the FBI itself, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics are disturbed by this state of affairs. FBI Director James Comey told an audience in February 2015: “it’s ridiculous that I can’t tell you how many police were shot by police in this country — last week, last year, the last decade –.” And the BJS enlisted the RTI research institute to help them prepare an accurate report

  8. Submitted by Helen Hunter on 03/21/2016 - 05:25 am.

    Let the Death Penalty Stay Dead (continued-I saved it too soon)

    The BJS and RTI were only able to come up with an estimate of 7,427 killings of citizens by law enforcement officers for the years studied, 2003-2009 and 2011, an average of 928 people a year.
    The Guardian newspaper has started a project, “The Count”, which shows 231 people killed by U.S. law enforcement officers so far in 2016.
    There is a lot of understandable sympathy with the police for the difficulty and danger of their jobs. We can remain sympathetic in this way while requiring law enforcement officers to do their jobs without killing the citizens they are hired to protect.
    My husband and I saw Michael Moore’s new movie, “Where to Invade Next”, in which he interviewed police and prison officials in at least 2 European
    countries. The attitudes of those officials towards the communities they serve are breathtakingly different
    than those I’ve heard articulated by police here, and
    experienced myself on two occasions. (I’m a white
    woman, a native Minnesotan.) Those attitudes are
    summed up by a quote from a U.S. policeman I read
    in a newspaper: “Just do exactly as I tell you and you
    won’t have any trouble.”
    There’s a fine balance between officers doing their
    jobs, and not violating the civil and personal rights of
    citizens.
    It will not help this balance, it will not be possible for
    them to do their jobs well, if we keep on showing
    them they can use violence against us with impunity,
    and that their deaths by violence will be punished
    more harshly than any of ours.

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