Monday, May 21, 2007

The Lights Turned On and the Curtain Fell Down. Session 2007 is coming to an end and we have, anticipating a Governor's signature, an education bill. After disparaging all things Minneapolis for about an hour, the House rejected a motion not to concur with the Senate amendments to HF 2245 on a vote of 87-46, approved a motion to concur on a vote of 86-48, and passed the bill on a vote of 94-36. The bill will now head to the Governor where it awaits an uncertain fate. All indications are that he will sign it, but one can never know completely what is going on in this building.

My one prediction going into the session is that there would not be a special session. I always thought that was the one thing that all involved parties wanted to avoid at all costs. It looked very shaky last week and over the weekend, but things came together and it now appears--and let me stress appears--that a special session can be avoided.

I will be looking over the bill and data runs very closely tomorrow and there should be several e-mailings with data and summaries before our meeting on Thursday. We will be joined on Thursday by freshman Representative Terry Morrow (D-St. Peter) and freshman Senator Sandy Rummel (D-White Bear Lake). They will share their impressions of the legislative session and what it was like to be a freshman legislator in such a hectic year.

Before I sign off, I really want to compliment Representative Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport) for an absolutely great statesmanlike speech on the House floor during the debate on the education bill. Bud represents a wide range of districts and some did better under the bill than others. He did not laud that situation, but pointed out how difficult it is to legislate in the current system of education aids and levies and how frustrating can be when trying to put together the education bill. He sent out the call for reform. Sounds like a great stepping off point for the next phase of our work with PS Minnesota.
Ain't It Hot, Hot, Hot. The E-12 funding bill passed the Senate floor by a vote of 51-15 about an hour-and-a-half ago and HF 2245 is now on the House floor. Most--and when I say most, I mean almost every comment--of the discussion is all about the imbalance in the bill due to the heavy special education costs in Minneapolis and several other districts. Those of you in the other districts can rest easily because Minneapolis is the sole target of the invective being ladled out against the bill.

You should have received the updated runs, but don't take them to be completely accurate at this point. I am certain they are 99% correct, but there may be an isolated miscue. Kudos to the entire House and Senate staff for getting all of the summary documents together. They did tremendous work in a limited amount of time.

I'll give a final update after the House vote, but everything points toward the session ending easily by the midnight constitutional deadline. About the only thing that could de-rail that would be a eruption of rhetoric about the magnitude of Mt. St. Helen's. Hey wait. That's what's happening. Seriously, the end is in sight.
It's Late Afternoon and We Have a Need for Action. The teacher mandatory health pool legislation passed the Senate about two hours ago on a vote of 43-23. Senator David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) moved to send the bill back to conference committee because the amendment offered by Senator Betsy Wergin (R-Princeton) providing districts with an opportunity to opt out of the pool was removed in conference committee. That motion was defeated on a vote of 38-28.

It's now in the hands of the Governor. I have written a letter that I will be delivering shortly to the Governor outlining our organization's opposition to this measure and urging his veto, but, if you are so inclined, you should also call the Governor's office and urge him to veto this stinker.

The Governor's office phone number is 651-296-3391.

His e-mail address is:
The Data is Coming! The Data is Coming! We are starting to distribute data relating to the final version of HF 2245--the omnibus E-12 bill. You should have received an e-mail from me about an hour ago and Deb Griffiths is now distributing additional documents. Many of these documents provide the same information, but versions may read differently in terms of style, so we believe it is helpful to get out as much information as possible.

In another matter, HF 464--the teacher health care pool--just passed the House on a vote 0f 83-51. The bill does contain the reserves requirement and requires approval by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, but it still isn't a particpularly good bill. Representative Tom Emmer (R-Delano) moved that the bill be sent back to conference committee to re-insert the amendment offered by Senator Betsy Wergin (R-Princeton) that provided an opt-out provision. That motion failed on a vote of 82-51 and the bill then proceeded to final passage.

Stay tuned in today. We are going to try and keep you in the loop to the greatest extent possible.
For Those of You Watching At Home. HF 464--the mandatory statewide education employee health insurance pool--is currently on the House floor and the debate is quite interesting.
A Rumour of a Bill. Philip Caputo wrote his classic Vietnam-era memoir A Rumour of War and I will now author a brief 2007 Legislative Session-era classic A Rumour of a Bill. It appears--and let me stress the word appears--that negotiations on the education bill have reached a successful agreement.

Some of what I have heard is a bit troubling. A 1% increase in the general education basic formula for the second year of the biennium has supposedly been inserted into the bill and that should provide some succor to those who were nervous about a flat second year. There has reportedly been some backing away from the full funding of special education, but that budget category will still be getting the lion's share (and it's a pretty big lion) of the new revenue. It also appears that the meager nod toward all-day kindergarten has gotten a bit more meager (is more meager an oxymoron?).

Anyway, stay tuned. There will be material coming out throughout the day and Deb and I will try to get as much information to you as possible.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hey Insomniacs. It's 11:50 PM on Sunday, the 20th of May. The Senate has gone home for the evening while the House continues to debate a number of funding bills. Earlier this evening, the conference committee on HF 464 (the mandatory education employee health care pool) met and finished that bill. Unfortunately, the "opt-out" amendment that Senator Betsy Wergin (R-Princeton) put on the bill in the Senate yesterday was struck from the bill during the conference committee's deliberations and the bill will go to the House floor relatively "naked." The Loeffler amendment that was attached in the House yesterday (and supported by SEE) is still on the bill as is the amendment offered by Representative Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) that protects school districts in the event the pool goes under. It is expected that the bill will pass both the House and Senate, but I believe it is important that each of you should voice your concerns--yay or nay--to your legislators.

But this is the calm before the storm that will be Monday, May 21. The Legislature must adjourn at midnight tomorrow evening and it is going to be a mad rush to get all of the funding bills and the tax bill passed prior to the witching hour.

Rumors are running rampant about the changing face of the education bill. There has been no indication that there will be a major departure from the current framework of the bill, though reports floating through the hallways indicate that attempts are being made to put more money into the second year of the biennium. The Governor is reportedly trying to get funding to expand the QComp program. How this all shakes out is going to be very interesting and tune in tomorrow for reports.

Until then, I can only urge you all to get to bed. You've got to work in the morning.
We Were Sent Home. Around 11 PM last evening, we were informed that the E-12 conference committee would not be meeting. There is no indication whether or not the panel will be meeting today, although the House is in session this afternoon after meeting late into the evening on the "sales tax increase and dedication" constitutional amendment. At this point, it appears that the conference committee would meet solely to distribute the final copy of the bill. MDE staff was working last evening on language issues they would like to have included in the final bill, but they were uncertain as to how the process would unfold. Stay tuned. I will provide an update later this afternoon or this evening.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Roaring Silence. I'm sitting here in Room 112 of the Capitol waiting patiently for the E-12 conference committee to reconvene. They met for a brief time at 2 PM, but had to recess before any business was completed due to budget negotiations between the Legislature and the Governor and bills that had come up on the House floor. It's hard to tell when they will be back, but rest assured I will let you know what is happening.

No decision has been made by the House on whether or not to concur with the Senate amendment to HF 464 (the mandatory--optional thanks to the Senate--statewide health insurance pool). Word in the halls make it sound like it will be going to conference committee. Stay tuned.
Saturday. . .Not in the Park. . .and it's Definitely not the Fourth of July. Here I sit on the last Saturday of the regular session and it's already off to a rousing start. The Senate brought up HF 464--the mandatory statewide teacher health insurance pool--just about an hour ago. After describing the bill and the slight change in parliamentary course, Senator Betsy Wergin (R-Princeton) offered an "opt-out" amendment under which 15% of the members of any bargaining unit could force an election as to whether or not their bargaining unit should or should not join the statewide insurance pool. Of course, a majority of voters in the bargaining unit would make the final decision as to what the bargaining unit would do. The amendment passed on a 35-29 vote. The bill then passed on a 49-16 vote. The bill now goes to the House, which will likely vote not to concur with the Senate amendments, forcing a conference committee.

The E-12 Conference Committee will be convening at 2 PM (a half hour from now) to update the education community on what is transpiring in the budget negotiations between the Legislature and the Governor. Don't hesitate to call me at 612-220-7459 if you have any questions. I will be updating the blog throughout the day.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Quiet Friday. It was a quiet Friday on the E-12 front and it wasn't particularly raucous anywhere at the Legislature. The day was rather perfunctory, with a few minor bills and conference committees receiving final passage.

Saturday promises to be another story. A number of major funding bills are still hanging, including the E-12 bill (and rumor has it that the bill is not being universally well received by the House DFLers, putting its eventual passage there in question). The Governor receives very little in way of his initiatives in the current version of the bill and certainly wants at least a few of them. The trouble, of course, is money (or the lack thereof) and the main legislative negotiators are trying to make the Governor "buy" his programs with "his own money." So, stay tuned.

The health insurance bill will come up on the Senate floor tomorrow and it appears that either the Scheid amendment (which is on the Senate bill that was sent to the House) or the Loeffler amendment (which is on the House bill that was sent to the Senate yesterday) will be on the bill when the Senate passes it tomorrow. These amendments provide vital protections for school districts as the mandatory statewide health insurance pool is developed and, perhaps, implemented and these protections must remain in the bill. So, a phone call or two couldn't hurt.

I will be updating the blog several times tomorrow, as things are bound to start happening. Maybe bound is too bold a prediction, but things should be shaking tomorrow.

Again, call with questions or comments.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

We're all about Health Insurance Today. HF 464--Education Minnesota's statewide health insurance pool--has been on the House floor for the past five-plus hours and the discussion is as illuminating as ever.

There is good news in that the amendment we informed you about yesterday--offered by Representative Diane Loeffler (DFL-Minneapolis)--was adopted on a voice vote. This amendment, while it doesn't go quite as far as the amendment offered by Senator Linda Scheid (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and adopted in that body, it does provide many of the same safeguards as that amendment. Under the Loeffler amendment, the Minnesota Department of Commerce will have the authority to review, approve, and regulate after approval the proposed self-insured pool. Further, if Education Minnesota decided to establish a self-insured pool, it must have sufficient reserves before it can begin operations.

I want to thank all of you who contacted your State Representatives urging adoption of the Loeffler amendment. I heard from a number of legislators that they had received the message and were impressed with it.

Progress on the larger budget picture is moving forward, backwards, or sideways depending upon your perspective. It appears that the Senate will recall HF 2245--the E-12 budget package they passed yesterday--from the House and bring it back to the Senate floor for further consideration and possible amendment. How much change will be undertaken has yet to be seen. Legislative leadership has been meeting with the Governor in an attempt to put together a "macro" budget package. The E-12 bill passed by the Senate yesterday had very few of the Governor's initiatives and also capped QComp. Clearly, the Governor would like to change this situation, but it is my guess that the Legislature will force him to "buy" his programs with new money, as opposed to re-channeling money currently in the bill toward them.

And let's not forget that the tax bill remains out there.

It's a few minutes before 6 PM and although I'm no Eugene O'Neill, it may be another Long Day's Journey into Night as the session lurches toward an ending.

In another matter, I had Deb Griffiths distribute a data run I prepared and you should have received it. Given the data I was working with, it was difficult to make it make sense. I am continuing to work on presentation instruments that will provide you with an accurate description of the bill's financial effects. Call or e-mail with any questions. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Step One Complete. The Senate has just passed HF 2245--the vehicle bill for the legislature's education package--on a vote of 47-17. The House will be coming back shortly and this will be one of the first things on the evening's agenda. I will keep you posted. Check back for surprises.
We're on the Senate Floor. Not literally of course. I'm sitting in the lobbyist room watching the proceedings on HF 2245--the new vehicle for the House/Senate agreement--on the television monitors. Senator Tarryl Clark (DFL-St. Cloud) has just described the bill and is now taking questions. Due to the way the bill was put together, a number of the questions are quite pointed and discussion as to why the bill was put together outside of the conference committee process is taking place. The bill was agreed upon in the wee hours this morning and was available for review at around 5:00 AM and some are complaining that they haven't had time to review the bill.

Because this bill is not a conference committee report, it can be amended. I am aware that there will be an amendment to take care of some oversights and technical issues which should pass, but I doubt any other changes will take place. The bill will then go to the House, where there will have to be a successful motion to concur with the Senate amendments to prevent another conference committee.

So, if you have access to watch this discussion, tune in. It's going to get wild!
We Have Soup. Or at least a recipe. Whether or not it's a recipe the Governor will not send back remains to be seen.

Rather than finish the education bill in conference committee, an amendment has been prepared that will be attached by the Senate to a House file and, after final passage of the bill--HF 2245--by the Senate, it will go to the House for final approval and then onto the Governor for either signature or veto.

Confusing enough for you?

The highlights of the bill (amendment) are:
  • 2% increase in the general education basic formula for 2007-2008 school year. 0% increase beyond that.
  • Full funding of special education formula for 2007-2008 school year and beyond. $180 million increase in 2007-2008 and 4.6% thereafter.
  • Approximately $150 million in one-time money spread over the next two school years for technology purchases and deferred maintenance.
  • 9-member PS Minnesota Task Force comprised of 8 legislators and a representative of the Commissioner of Education.
  • No property tax relief.
I'm going to be here all day, as the Teacher Health Insurance pool is up on the House floor today along with a raft of appropriations bill. So check back often. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

'til Tuesday. Staying with the musical theme, we'll turn to that mid-80s stalwart 'til Tuesday featuring the great Aimee Mann, as we hit move, appropriately, to Tuesday. 'til Tuesday's biggest hit was Voices Carry and I sincerely wish voices were carrying around here because the silence is deafening. There are negotiations taking place, but there does not appear to be a final budget target for the E-12 conference committee and the rumor running around the Capitol today was that the conference committee may not meet again and instead, a bill may be negotiated and attached to another piece of legislation and sent to the Governor. That's "six-of-one/half-dozen of the other" if a bill has been negotiated by both parties. If the bill has not been negotiated, it is what is called a "scud" and would not be a good way for the DFL-controlled Legislature to handle business for the first time that they have had control of both bodies since 1999.

It should be very interesting, but until something becomes more clear, I will adhere to the words of another great pop culture icon, Sergeant Schultz from Hogan's Heroes, "I know nothing."

Call with questions or comments.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Monday, Monday. Can't trust that day. . .to get anything substantive done. I might as well make plays on words using 1960s song titles, because not anything else of consequence is happening these days. In the words of the Bard of Avon: "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time;"

Well, the last syllable of recorded time for the regular session is 168 hours from tonight (5/14) at 11:59:59, so things have to get moving a bit. Big bills are moving on the floors of both the House and Senate, including the constitutional amendment for a 3/8 cent increase in the sales tax for outdoor and cultural purposes and the transportation finance bill that includes a five-cent gas tax increase. A number of finance bills, some on a second trip through conference committee due to the Governor's veto, are in conference committee.

All this adds up to a monster Seven Days in May, after which things may go nuclear in a political sense. There are enough bad puns in this blog, so I'll give everyone a chance to answer a couple of trivia questions. Congrats to Mark Redemske, Superintendent in Maple Lake, for identifying Todd Rundgren and the album Something/Anything as the participant and source for the title "One More Day (No Word)."

First, "Monday, Monday" was a big hit for the Mamas & the Papas. Name the only member of the group that is still alive. Second, the mega co-stars for 1964's Oscar-nominated Seven Days in May (Sorry, no winners) was the second of three times these actors teamed up at the top of the bill. Name either of the other movies in which these two thespians labored next to each other. One of the films was very, very good. The other was very, very not-so-good.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Education isn't Working on this Weekend. Hey, everybody loves a play on words for the title of that great 1980s hit by Loverboy. Unfortunately, the result of this particular play on words is going to be one hellacious week of work starting next Monday. It's going to be about 180 hours of madness with conference committees going full blast.

Yesterday, the Senate put an amendment on HF 2294 that increased income taxes by approximately $450 million and used that revenue to buy down property taxes and then passed the bill. The House concurred with those amendments today and repassed the legislation. It is now on its way to the Governor where it faces a certain veto.

Whatever one feels about the legislation and its probable demise, work will begin in earnest on Monday, as the boundaries of the Legislature's possible action has now been defined by the Governor's recent actions. One of my boldest predictions prior to the Legislative Session is that there would not be a special session. In recent weeks, I have wavered a bit in that prediction. Things can get done on time, but a lot of stuff is going to have to fly around and land in the right place to ensure that occuring.

Again, call with any questions or comments at 612-220-7459.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

One More Day (No Word). Or so the song goes. More about that later.

There is still no movement on the E-12 conference committee. Rumours abound as to when the conference committee will once again convene and it may be yet today. It appears that the education bill will somehow be linked with the tax bill and sent to the Governor in one package. At one point, it was conjectured that the Higher Education funding bill and the Transportation funding bill would also be lumped into this "mega-bill" in order to put the tax increases together with the Legislature's key spending increases in order to provide a level of greater transparency.

Transparent or not, the Governor had to go back to the cabinet to get a new veto pen because his first one ran out of ink and we are probably just getting started.

I will keep you posted as things begin to happen (hopefully soon).

Now, back to the title of this entry. I have no idea if anyone is reading this blog, so here is a trivia question. First prize is lunch at Ulcer Gulch, the snack bar on the second floor of the Capitol that operates during session hours. The pre-packaged sandwiches are delicious, but I am ticked they ran out of beef-and-cheese combo sticks.

The title of this entry comes from a monumentally important, I would say seminal, album (a double album no less) from the early 1970s. Name the artist and the album. A hint is that this individual played all of the instruments on three of the four sides of the double album set and is still recording today. Have fun and, please, give me an answer so that I know someone is reading this.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

This Pace Makes a Snail Look Like a Sprinter. Nothing really substantive to report from the past few days as there have been no formal meetings of the full E-12 Education Conference Committee.

The Early Intervention working group met for about an hour-and-a-half on Friday morning in an attempt to work out language differences that exist in the two bills on the Americorp reading program. Both bills contain the program, but there are language differences that need to be resolved.

Representative Greiling is in control of the gavel and the next meeting will occur when she calls it. By all reports, she is reluctant to call a meeting without the overall budget target being set. With two weeks left in the session, the target will have to be set shortly (obviously), but given the Governor's vetoes of three funding bills (the bonding bill, the economic development bill, and the state departments bill) has made things a bit more complicated. On the one hand, it appears the Governor is using the budget bill vetoes to direct dollars toward certain budget areas (perhaps, but not undoubtedly, education). Further, the Tax conference committee worked on both Friday and Saturday and what is contained in that bill certainly will have the largest effect on what the results of the session ultimately looks like.

Again, feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you might have as the session heads into the homestretch.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Nothing to Report. The conference committee has not been meeting this week. Representative Greiling has the gavel--in other words, she will call the next meeting--and will call a meeting once a budget target for the conference committee has been set. Working groups on several broad non-funding related issues are meeting periodically and I will provide you with pertinent details of those meetings.

Keep tuned in. The longer the conference committee is not meeting, the more that will need to get done in a increasingly brief (is that an oxymoron?) period of time. In other words, this is the calm before the storm.