Dear Family and Friends,
This week the legislature focused on passing a number of “unsession” bills geared toward fixing last years’ initiatives passed by the Majority. In addition to legislation, the Governor offered his State of the State address on Wednesday in the House Chamber. The minority offered its own state of the state evaluation in a press release the same day.
Governor’s State of the State – The State of the State Address was a little disappointing. It’s unfortunate that our governor and the DFL leadership in the legislature do not recognize how important job creation is in our state. Under this governor, we are ranked 47 out of the 50 states in tax and job-friendly policies for small businesses as well as job creation. We can’t continue down the road to bigger and bigger government and more taxes as our governor wants to and think we’re going to have strong job creation; we need to change that. Unfortunately, his message consists of simply making government bigger. We in the Republican Party want to see entrepreneurs, families, and individuals left with opportunities to grow and expand their businesses as well as create jobs without government being looked to as the job creator.
GOP State of the State – Prior to Governor Mark Dayton’s State of the State address, the Senate Republican Caucus released its own evaluation of the condition of the state. The Republicans primary message was that the state of the state is strong despite all the uncertainty in the economy caused by Gov. Dayton’s roller coaster tax policy. Last year they raised taxes by $2.1 billion, this year the legislature is adjusting a few of them back because of the efforts pushed by myself and conservative colleagues to repeal some of those taxes. The question Republicans raised is whether the path the Governor has chosen will keep Minnesota strong for the next decade and provide opportunities for our citizens to prosper. Republicans have introduced many bills providing solutions to healthcare concerns, education and other areas impacting Minnesotans, but little attention has been given and few in the current legislative leadership have listened to Republican solutions.
Online Voter Registration – In 2013 Secretary of State Mark Ritchie unilaterally implemented electronic voter registration. Bipartisan opinions have stated his actions exceeded his authority. This week a bill was passed on the floor, 41-24, in favor of authorizing his electronic registration system and validating all Minnesotans registered under the prior system. The bill allows for electronic voter registration at any time except during the 20 days immediately preceding the election. Applicants must have an email address and a driver’s license or state ID number or last four digits of their social security number. The language prohibits anyone from submitting an electronic voter registration on behalf of any other individual. IP addresses will be logged and any evidence of suspicious activity must be forwarded to law enforcement. Republican proposals to detail website security and require a report to the legislature were rejected. Supporters say it is time to embrace the convenience of online registration. Tools can be properly developed to replicate the current in-person/mail registration process. While the idea itself seems worthy the details are important. The Secretary of the State (SOS) bypassed the thorough legislative process required to create a good system. Opponents say the SOS’s current system should be shut down until proven secure. With all the recent web site data privacy breaches and problems with government web sites, like MNSure, adding safeguard requirements would have been prudent, but it was rejected by the Majority.
“Unsession” Bills – MnDOT’s “Unsession” Bill came to the floor on Thursday making numerous technical changes, updates, and deletions of obsolete provisions. As a result of reduced reporting requirements, this bill is expected to save $4,000 in FY 2015 and $39,000 in FY 2016.
Healthcare and E-Cigarettes – An E-Cigarettes bill will come up in Finance Committee next week. It would modify certain provisions relating to the use or sale of tobacco products to include reference to e-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) containing nicotine. It will also modify the definition of smoking, tobacco products prohibitions in public schools, municipal license of tobacco, tobacco related devices and similar products, ban on self service sale of packs and exceptions, effect on local ordinance, and sale of tobacco and tobacco delivery products to children. A number of my constituents have encouraged me to oppose the new regulations as it will limit the available options for Minnesotans trying to quit smoking. As one constituent said, “E-Cigarettes have killed zero Minnesotan’s.” Others have shared stories with me about how they are helping them kick their smoking habit. What do you think? This bill will soon be coming up for consideration.
Pension Bailout Bill – The pension bill that passed is a bailout for Duluth and St. Paul pension funds at the cost of all the taxpayers across Minnesota. This was the wrong direction to take; the taxpayers that are working hard should not be having to bailout two pension funds as this bill intends to do. We could’ve put the $21 million into other areas of the government, such as improve some reimbursements for those who care for the elderly in our nursing homes, our rural schools, or just keep it on the bottom line, as I advocated for on the Senate Floor this week. This bill will commit the hardworking state taxpayers to $21 million every year to continually bail out these two funds that are being merged into the statewide TRA fund because of officials’ mismanagement and poor performance. That is why I, as well as others, voted against this bill – we think it is an improper use of the hard-working taxpayers’ dollars.
This is just an overview of some of the exciting pieces of legislation working their way through the Legislature. Nevertheless, Minnesotans remain my top priority and it continues to be a pleasure to serve District 12.
Senator Torrey Westrom
Minnesota Senate – District 12
107 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155