Legislative issues update status
ST. PAUL - Status of some issues in the state Legislature: -- Baby product safety: Bills are moving through the Legislature to outlaw baby products made with certain materials, but face skepticism from some lawmakers. -- Biofuels: Lawmakers are c...
ST. PAUL - Status of some issues in the state Legislature:
-- Baby product safety: Bills are moving through the Legislature to outlaw baby products made with certain materials, but face skepticism from some lawmakers.
-- Biofuels: Lawmakers are considering increasing blends of biodiesel - a fuel made of plant oil and diesel - to 20 percent from the current 2 percent.
-- Bonding: The House and Senate have passed their own public works funding proposals, but have yet to agree on a compromise agreement. They cannot agree on how much to spend, ranging from the governor's $825 million proposal to the Senate-passed $965 million.
-- Bridge survivors: Bills to compensate survivors of the Aug. 1 Interstate 35W bridge collapse have passed the House and Senate, but they differ on whether limits should be placed on how much money victims could receive.
-- Budget: Legislators last year passed a $34 billion, two-year budget, but now must plug a nearly $1 billion deficit. Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to reduce most state budgets by 4 percent and take money some money out of surplus funds. Also being considered is closing what some consider tax loopholes.
-- Dangerous dogs: Bills that call some dogs dangerous are moving through House and Senate committees, but have not been heard by the full House or Senate.
-- Energy: An effort to influence a regional program controlling greenhouse gas emissions is moving through the Legislature, but faces intense scrutiny. A separate proposal requiring more environmental reviews prior to construction of ethanol fuel plants is not expected to pass.
-- Environment: Committees have debated requiring Minnesota vehicles to meet the same emissions standards as California, which are stricter than federal standards. The bill has mixed support.
-- Foreclosures: Bills to ease the current foreclosure crisis are moving through the Legislature, including one that would require home buyers in danger of foreclosure to meet with lenders in an effort to work out lower mortgage payments for up to a year.
-- Health care funding: Lawmakers soon will put together their alternatives to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's health care budget proposal, which cut $187 million and used another $250 million from a dedicated fund to help balance the state budget.
-- Health care reform: The House and Senate are considering similar versions of a health care reform proposal that would boost public health awareness, improve care of people with chronic health conditions, expand coverage of uninsured and force providers to post their costs for treatments. There is opposition to key parts of the reform.
-- Mesothelioma: Scientists from the University of Minnesota are moving ahead with studies of cancer deaths among Iron Range miners as legislators discuss how to fund the multi-year studies. The research follows a 2007 report of unusually high rates of mesothelioma among mine workers in northeastern Minnesota.
-- Minimum wage: The Senate approved a minimum wage increase last year, but supporters of the increase await final action by the House. One proposal would hike the minimum wage and then allow it to rise with inflation; another would raise the wage to $7.75 an hour from the current $6.75 in large businesses.
-- Mobile telephones: A bill has received tepid support to require drivers to use hands-free devices to make telephone calls from vehicles. Another measure spells out phone users' rights.
-- Mourning doves: An effort to overturn a mourning dove hunting season lost in committee and there have been no efforts to bring it back.
-- Northwest Airlines: Committees have heard reports on a possible Northwest-Delta merger, but the airlines will not say much until any merger deal is completed. If that happens, more committee hearings are expected to determine what lawmakers should do.
-- Outdoors funding: Outdoors, clean water and arts programs would get up to a $244 million a year boost if voters in November pass a 0.375 percent sales tax increase. It was the first major bill lawmakers passed this year.
-- School funding: Teachers and school advocates wanted lawmakers to increase state funding to classrooms this year, but a state budget deficit leaves little room for new spending. Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he would not take money from schools to solve the deficit, and DFL legislators say they also do not want to use school money to balance the budget.
-- Star lakes: Lawmakers are considering whether to create a new program recognizing lake associations for their water and shoreline improvements. Lake associations could seek a star lake designation for their volunteer efforts to enhance water quality and native vegetation growth.
-- Taxes: As lawmakers look for ways to fill a nearly $1 billion budget deficit, there is general agreement that no major tax increase will be needed. The major tax change this year could be requiring some Minnesota businesses with overseas operations to pay more taxes. Also, lawmakers passed tax breaks for veterans.
-- Transportation commissioner: Senators voted to toss Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau out of office after numerous allegations of mismanagement. However, she continues in her position as lieutenant governor.
-- Transportation funding: After years of debate, the Legislature put a transportation funding package into law, over Gov. Tim Pawlenty's objection. The $6.6 billion, 10-year plan to fund road, bridge and transit projects relies on gasoline, sales and other tax increases.
Transportation policy: Lawmakers are considering a host of transportation policy proposals, such as toughening the state's seat belt law, banning the use of text messages while driving and strengthening school bus safety measures.
-- Vermillion State Park: One committee voted against a land swap that would lead to the largest new state park in decades, but the issue remains in play. The Pawlenty administration has yet to announce how much the northeastern Minnesota park would cost.
-- Veterans cemetery: Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed creating a new military veterans' cemetery, the state's second. Lawmakers must approve a land transfer at Jay Cooke State Park south of Duluth for the project to move forward this year.