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.