Legislative Notebook: Senate approves transportation policies
ST. PAUL – Minnesota Senators approved a bill 48-19 Tuesday that sets state transportation policies over some rural lawmakers’ concerns about a provision banning parking in bicycle lanes.
“Bike lanes are not standard throughout the state,” Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said.
He said many of the lanes outside the Twin Cities metro area are along the edge of roads and blocking them would eliminate the bulk of parking options. Members unsuccessfully tried to amend the provision to only apply in Minneapolis.
Transportation and Public Safety Committee chairman Scott Dibble said allowing parking defeats the purpose of the bicycle lanes as a safe route for riders.
“A vehicle parked in that lane can create extremely dangerous situations,” he said.
Some lawmakers wondered why various transportation projects in their areas were not included.
“I am reluctant to stick those specific projects in statute,” Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said.
Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, did add an amendment to the transportation bill requiring the re-routing plan for U.S. Highway 53 near Virginia to be one of two generally accepted paths rather than a third, referred to as the westerly option.
Tomassoni said that route would skip some towns in the area and make many trips along the road longer, including for emergency vehicles, school transit and business access.
The road must be moved because a mining company that owns the land plans to use it.
Lawmakers also accepted an amendment that would keep speeding violations on Interstate 35E in St. Paul from downtown to West Seventh Street off driving records if drivers are ticketed for going less than 10 miles per hour over the limit.
The speed limit there is 45 mph, and lawmakers have worked for years to raise it.
The bill also names Officer Tom Decker Memorial Highway along Minnesota Highway 23 and clarifies some state laws, such as that school bus drivers are prohibited from operating cell phones when the bus is on the road, even if it is stopped.
Health bill passes
Minnesota representatives spent more than nine hours debating how to spend $13 billion on health programs in the next two years.
“This budget reflects the priorities of Minnesotans,” House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said during debate that ended late Monday. “We have to keep steady pressure on this area of the budget.”
Democratic legislative leaders ordered a $150 million cut in the budget, most of which funds health programs for the elderly, disabled and poor. Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, wrote into the bill an added surcharge on Minnesota hospital receipts to help fill in for the cut.
Republicans complained the bill did too little to help nursing homes, despite a 3 percent funding increase with 75 percent of the new money going to employee raises.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, summarized reaction to the DFL-written bill: “I’m stunned.”
“Democrats are handing out more money in every single budget area except this one, except human services,” Daudt said.
A few amendments were added to the bill, including one on a 71-62 vote that would require abortion clinics to be state licensed. Supporters said it is needed to keep patients safe.
Drug test lawmakers
Minnesota representatives voted to test themselves for drugs and alcohol.
On a 119-12 vote, they agreed with Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, that lawmakers should be tested “to the extent practicable” and must provide evidence of a negative test before receiving any pay or expense reimbursements.
Representatives tacked the provision onto another amendment by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, that would require such tests before Minnesotans receive welfare payments.
The Drazkowski amendment, with lawmaker provision attached, passed 83-49. It was on an overall health-care funding bill.
While representatives approved the provisions, they are not included in Senate or Gov. Mark Dayton proposals.
The full health care funding bill, spending $13 billion the next two years, passed late Monday.
Article by Don Davis and Danielle Killey of Forum News Service