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Capitol Chatter: Unionization measure on track for passage

The victim: Rep. Nick Zerwas of Elk River laughs as he holds up two bags of vegetables Friday that replaced his candy stash that had filled his Minnesota House desk drawer. Don Davis | Forum News Service 1 / 2
The culprit: Rep. Deb Kiel of Crookston bags up candy that filled the desk draw of Rep. Nick Zerwas of Elk River before the Minnesota House goes into session Friday. Don Davis | Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL — An effort to allow child care workers and personal care assistants to join unions appears on the verge of a partisan victory.

Republicans oppose the Democrat-written measure, saying self-employed people such as those two groups should not be unionized. Democrats like the concept because, they say, it would allow the workers to negotiate better deals with the state.

The bill would apply to family child care providers, those who run day cares in their homes and receive state subsidies. Also included would be individuals who provide services covered by Medical Assistance (Minnesota’s term for Medicare).

While Republicans claim that money from the state would be used to pay union dues, Democrats counter with the argument that the providers can decide how to use the money the state pays them.

No one would be forced to join unions.

The measure awaits a full House vote.

The Senate Finance Committee discussed the bill Friday, but did not vote on it. It will come up again soon.

"Freedom loving daycare providers need to get down here next week," Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, tweeted.

Gov. Mark Dayton tried to allow the unionization on his own, but it was struck down by the courts. Democrats took over the House and Senate this year and immediately brought back the plan.

Court not as open

Minnesota open-government activist Rich Neumeister complains that the public, most of the public anyway, will not be able to attend a Minnesota Supreme Court hearing Monday.

The hearing is at Roseville High School, one of two-a-year visits justices make to schools so students may learn about the judicial process.

The Monday issue is of special interest to Neumeister because it involves a lawsuit filed by the Timberjay newspaper of Tower, which claimed the St. Louis County school district contract with a company hired to manage a construction contract should be public. The state Appeals Court ruled last fall that the contract must be made public, but the decision was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Neumeister’s complaint is that, unlike most court hearings, the general public will not be allowed in to the Roseville hearing.

"While it is commendable that the court has chosen to hold this hearing on a public access matter before a segment of the public, the public is ill-served if the court can pick and choose the individuals who can and cannot attend," the open-government advocate wrote on his blog.

A court spokesman confirmed that most people will not be able to attend the hearing.

"The auditorium will be filled with over 600 students, faculty, the parties and guests, news media, etc.," John Kostouros said. "In other words, the room is full."

However, Kostouros added, the courts will provide live webcasting of Monday’s hearing and a recording will be available on the Supreme Court Web site.

After Neumeister’s complaint, he received an invitation from one of the lawyers involved to attend the hearing.

A sweet theft

Don’t ask Rep. Deb Kiel of Crookston to swipe something for you.

Before the House went into session Friday, while the House chamber was nearly empty, Kiel sat at the desk of Rep. Nick Zerwas of Elk River, summarily emptying a drawer of his infamous stash of candy. In its place, she placed bags packed with fruits and vegetables.

But if this was supposed to be a quiet caper, Kiel failed. More than a dozen news reporters and photographers, waiting for a briefing about a minimum wage increase bill, watched the whole episode from the House gallery.

After the briefing, some reporters stayed in the gallery to see Zerwas’ reaction.

The victim walked into the chamber, toting a bag of Lay’s potato chips, candy bars and a couple cans of carbonated beverages. When he opened the drawer, expecting to top off his storehouse of sugar-based goodies, he saw the veggies.

Zerwas picked up a couple bags of the healthy food, held them up and began a long laugh. Then, he took the veggies to a back room to share with other lawmakers.

All the while, Kiel was trying to contain her own laugh while talking to House officials in the front of the chamber, keeping her back to Zerwas to conceal her amusement.

Hollywood helps Franken

The Hill newspaper reports: "A slew of Hollywood celebrities, including Tim Meadows, Carl Reiner and Lily Tomlin, have donated this year to Sen. Al Franken’s re-election campaign."

The Minnesota Democrat also got help from Minnesota’s Garrison Keillor, as well as "MacGyver" star Richard Dean Anderson and songwriter Paul Williams.

The former "Saturday Night Live" star’s campaign recently gave away a dinner with late-night television host Conan O’Brien.

Franken already has more than $2 million built up for his 2014 re-election campaign.

More online time

Minnesota education officials are giving school districts more time to complete online testing after glitches have slowed tests in Minnesota and other states.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius sent a memorandum to districts with her decision, saying it will ensure enough time for all students to complete all required tests.

"Every student deserves a fair and accurate assessment of their performance," Cassellius said. "And every teacher, every school and every parent should have confidence in the information the tests provide."

Solar efforts progress

Several bills in this legislative session require state projects to use solar panels made in Minnesota when possible.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said the provisions are being promoted by the "Iron Range syndicate." Indeed, Iron Range lawmakers are pushing the issue because one of the state’s two solar panel makers is in their area.

Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, said lawmakers need to create jobs, "and it’s extra hard in northeast Minnesota."

The solar measure is needed for Minnesota firms to compete against Chinese firms that make cheaper panels, Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, said.

Republicans like Garofalo, however, said the provision could force the state to buy more expensive panels.

Blog to help

A new Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development blog is designed to give "practical guidance for aspiring entrepreneurs and new business owners."

The weekly blog, at, will deal with topics such as how to organize and register a business, licensing, regulations and financing.

"This new blog is just one tool we are using to connect those hoping to start a small business with the expertise and resources we offer at DEED," department Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.