ST. PAUL - The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is putting up $1,000 for anyone who can find a voter fraud case in the past decade that could have been avoided by a proposed constitutional amendment requiring voters to show a photographic identification card before casting ballots. The ACLU thinks it is a safe bet.
"There is no voter impersonation fraud in Minnesota," declared Minnesota ACLU Executive Director Charles Samuelson.
The Republican-supported voter ID bill is expected to pass a Senate committee Wednesday and appears likely to go on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Democrats appearing with Samuelson on Monday said the proposal would especially hurt young voters, the elderly and rural Minnesota.
Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, said college-age voters move often and would be forced to obtain new driver's licenses to be allowed to vote in each new area.
Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, said voter IDs would "suppress turnout in rural Minnesota." He said 10 percent of his northern Minnesota district voters vote by mail, such as with absentee ballots, and cannot present a photo ID in those cases.
"I fail to see what voter ID would do other than frightening senior citizens," he added.
While several cases of convicted felons voting illegally have been uncovered, Samuelson said the ACLU has not been able to find a single conviction of other voter fraud in state history. The amendment would not prevent felon voting because criminals may have photo IDs such as driver's licenses.
Trust land change?
Minnesota schools are losing millions of dollars a year because land used to raise education money is not well managed, supporters of a new school land trust system said Monday.
The state holds 2.5 million acres of school land and 3.5 million acres of mineral rights, mostly in north central and northeastern Minnesota, that was set aside at statehood to make money for schools. It has earned $23 million annually in recent years, about $26 per student.
Two Utah officials told legislators that they used to earn $18 million from their school trust land, but now have $1.3 billion.
Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said money would be made by allowing lumbering and mining on the land.
The Department of Natural Resources manages the land now, but a bill would turn over management duties to an independent commission.
Besides mining and lumbering money, the commission could sell land and use that money for other investments. The commission would be charged with the job of making the most money it can.
"These lands are for the children of Minnesota," Rep. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, said.
Cigarette tax hike eyed
Two Rochester Republicans want to increase cigarette taxes $1.29 per pack.
That would double the tax.
Sen. Carla Nelson and Rep. Mike Benson said Monday that the higher tax would, first, pay off $700 million of more than $1 billion the state has borrowed from local school districts. Once that is paid off, the new funds would be used to lower statewide business property taxes.
As a side benefit, Nelson said, higher cigarette costs would result in less youth smoking.
The lawmakers are bucking their party, which does not support tax increases.
"Get beyond the word 'tax,'" Nelson said, calling the bill "good policy."
Licensing could change
Some Republican lawmakers want to make sure government licensing really is needed.
As it is, they say, licensing laws often prevent people from entering a profession.
Sen. Chris Gerlach, R-Apple Valley, and Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, on Monday announced a bill that would forbid new licensing requirements unless it can be proved that Minnesotans could be harmed without licensing.
Supporters of the bill said that oftentimes a lower level of regulation, such as registration with government, is just as effective and costs less.