Legislative update, week 12: Lawmakers break for a week as big issues loom

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Right in the middle of some march madness at the Capitol, it's halftime for lawmakers in the Minnesota Legislature – they are off this week for spring break.

Legislators vowed to return to their districts for listening sessions with their constituents. DFL lawmakers, who outlined budget targets last week, say they will make a case for raising new taxes in an effort to slash the state deficit and bring in more money for education, MPR reports. GOP lawmakers will make a case against the DFL approach, arguing against new taxes, MPR reports.

Lawmakers will return April 2 for the second half of the session, which likely will feature big state budget battles, a showdown over gun control legislation and a vote on gay marriage.

Last week

Here's a glimpse at the action from last week.

Health insurance exchange

Gov. Mark Dayton signed landmark legislation that would create an online marketplace where more than 1 million Minnesotans are expected to shop for health insurance.

Guns

The tussle over gun control legislation continued as lawmakers found themselves sharply divided along party lines on the issue of background checks for gun purchases. A House panel approved legislation late last week that requires background checks at gun shows, but it is expected to face a tough road in the full House. A bill that requires universal background checks was approved by a Senate panel, but it too faces an uphill climb in the full Senate.

Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic officials are pursuing an alternative plan after lawmakers met Mayo's ambitious Destination Medical Center proposal with skepticism, the Rochester Post-Bulletin reports. Mayo is asking for $585 million in state money for improvements in the city of Rochester as part of a broader $6 billion 20-year plan.

School counselors

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would put more counselors in Minnesota schools. The state has one of the worst ratios: 771 students per counselor. The legislation would lower that to 250:1 in high schools; 350:1 in grades seven and eight and 450:1 in grades one to six, MPR reports.

Snowbird tax

Gov. Mark Dayton wants to tax "snowbirds" – people who avoid Minnesota income tax by living outside the state, typically in warmer climates – for more than half the year. The state stands to net an extra $15 million from the tax. But critics say it would drive away long-term visitors, and their money, MPR reports.

TicketMaster

The Senate Judiciary Committee considered legislation that would pull back the curtain on the secretive world of big-concert tickets sales. The bill would force sellers of concert tickets to publicly reveal how many tickets are held back from the public, the Associated Press reports. The bill's supporters say large blocks of tickets are frequently set aside for promotions by credit card companies, radio stations and others. The bill wouldn't prevent that, but supporters say it would help disappointed fans understand what happened.

Hospital drug thefts

Lawmakers are mulling how to bottle up a festering problem in hospitals - the theft of drugs. They are considering legislation that would require hospitals and other health care employers to report employees to the state’s professional licensing boards if they steal medicines intended for patients, the Star Tribune reported.

Hockey bill

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, introduced a bill he expects no action on – but he wanted to draw attention to the importance of the annual men's hockey game between the University of Minnesota and the University of North Dakota, the Pioneer Press reported. Next year the two teams will be in different conferences, so Winkler introduced a bill that offers the U of M $800,000 a year to preserve the tradition-rich matchup.

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