Today was a milestone of sorts. I actually passed a bill out of the Senate today. The bill has moved through the committees and the house and barring unforeseen consequences, the governor will eventually sign the bill into law. So what kind of bill did I pass today? Universal health care coverage? Increased school funding? Economic stimulus? An end to poverty as we know it? Not exactly. The bill reads as follows:
Bill Name: SF2755
1E Requiring the commissioner of public safety to grant a variance to move the
office of deputy register of motor vehicles in New Prague.
That’s it. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. The bill was necessary because the Deputy Register of Motor Vehicles in New Prague is moving their office across the street. Main street New Prague is also the county line between Scott County and LeSeur County. Since the register moved from one county to the next (across the street), a change in statute was required. Nothing glamorous, but typical of the many types of bills the legislators must deal with each and every session.
The other senators, noting it was my first bill up for a vote, quietly recorded their votes unanimously……on the red side (no votes!)……..then waiting for my surprised reaction, they all had a good laugh before recording 65 green votes (and zero no votes) before the roll call ended. Apparently the freshman senator had been officially initiated into the Senate.
I will always remember my first bill. Other bills will follow. I have authored or carried bills relating to energy conservation, the Dan Patch line, assessments regarding alternative learning centers, eminent domain, flood insurance, and others in my 5 weeks since taking office. There is still time to tackle those other bills regarding health insurance, long term care, poverty, education funding, consumer protection, the economy, school readiness……..
To give you an idea as to how fast things are moving at the Capitol this past week, I moved a bill through committee this past Thursday without even being there. It was one of those days where I typically have a day full of committees, but we fell further behind with some extended debate on the Senate floor. We knew there would be some serious discussion about compensation for the 35W bridge victims and survivors, but a few other seemingly simple bills stalled on the floor in extended discussion as well. All of this compacted the committee schedules that afternoon. I had instructed my legislative assistant to let me know when my Senate version of the Dan Patch RR bill came up in the transportation committee so I could step out of my Commerce committee to make my arguments. We weren’t sure we would be up in an hour or later that evening. We had good testifiers ready to go on the bill. The mayor of Savage was ready to testify as was Northfield resident Kevin Allin, a commuter with a long time interest in the Dan Patch commuter line, along with Judd Schetnan representing the Metropolitan Council. Lucy Morgan, my LA, steps into my committee meeting and says the Dan Patch bill is up now! I quickly excused myself from Room 123 of the Capitol and headed down a floor to Room 15 where the Transportation committee was meeting. When I stepped into the room I could see they were heading into recess until 6pm. Minutes before, the committee chair calling my name, noting my absence and the non-controversial nature of the bill, called on Senator Ann Rest to quickly present the bill. She did. No questions were asked, and the bill passed out of committee in about 2 minutes.
I thanked Senator Rest. I thanked my testifiers for driving up to the Capitol that day. While we didn’t get a chance to speak to the bill, we achieved our goal for now. We will continue to make sure we repeal the “gag order” to study a commuter rail from Northfield to Minneapolis. If this bill is eventually signed into law, we will once again see discussion and planning for transportation options, other than Hwy 52 or I35, south of the metro area. We are all optimistic about this first step. While the actual Dan Patch line may be 20 or 30 years from reality, on this day we were able to fire up the engine and yell, “All aboard!”
The Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, which I serve on, has been putting in some extra hours this past week. We regularly meet on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons….but this past week we added some additional meetings on Tuesday evening and Friday morning. We will be meeting Monday morning and Tuesday evening again this week. Many of the committees have fallen behind because of the extra time put into the Senate floor sessions in February and early March. Prolonged debate on the Outdoor Legacy Act, the Transportation bill, the non-confirmation of Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau, and most recently, some extended discussion about the bonding and tax bills have put many committees behind schedule. Even the committee chairs have said this is not your typical session.
The Commerce and Consumer Protection committee has been dealing with some controversial issues recently. The Wireless Protection Act needed several days of testimony from cell phone consumers and Wireless providers before it eventually passed out of committee. This week we are working on a mortgage foreclosure deferment bill which is encountering stiff resistance from the banking industry. An interesting tug of war between trial lawyers and insurance companies took place last week as the committee listened to testimony from a variety of interests as the “bad faith” bill was forwarded to the Judiciary committee without recommendation. This bill offers some recourse for consumers who have difficulty seeing eye to eye with insurance companies about claims following catastrophes such as hail storms. It will be interesting to see what the final version of this bill might look like should it make the floor of the Senate.
The Education Finance committee still meets 3 days a week, but our early testimony was devoted to bonding initiatives that may or may not have ended up as part of the bonding bill passed by the Senate last week. This committee really gears up during the odd numbered education funding years.
The Energy, Communication, Utilities, and Communications committee (my 3rd committee) has heard some interesting proposals as well. I presented a bill there last week which will allow the strategic planting of trees as a direct expenditure for utility companies wanting to use funds for the Conservation Improvement Program. That bill will go to the floor probably next week.
I have enjoyed bringing bills before the various committees. In addition to the Tree Planting bill, I carried the Senate version of a bill sponsored by David Bly that would allow a pilot program for Alternative Learning Centers to evaluate average yearly progress (AYP) using other criteria besides federally and state mandated tests. I will also be presenting bills related to notifications regarding flood insurance and a bill allowing continued discussion of the Dan Patch RR line just to name a few.
The committees are working hard to hear as many bills as possible before the first deadline. This means additional hours for most legislators. I am enjoying the work and every day I look forward to the breadth and diversity of issues that come before the often overlooked committees where most of the real work of the legislature takes place.