Monday, January 05, 2009

They're Baaaaaaaaaaaaaack! I probably used that one last year, but if it's not broke (well, the state is broke), then don't fix it. The 86th Legislature convenes tomorrow in what promises to be one of the more painful legislative sessions in the state's history. Staring at more than $5 billion in revenue shortfall for the remainder of this fiscal year through the fiscal year 2011, a number of large decisions loom. From all indications, pretty much everything is going to be on the table when policy is discussed this session. From my angle, I cannot see how all of the work gets done within the confines of the regular session which is slated to end on May 18.

As for the Poltergeist reference, the blonde child actress featured in the movie--Heather O'Rourke--passed away at age 13 after appearing in all three editions of the movie. Kind of creepy when you think her main acting credits came in a movie about ghosts.

Committees Named. The committee structure for the coming biennium have been developed, but the members for each committee have not been formally named. As reported in an earlier edition, the Senate has combined the Education Policy Committee with the E-12 Finance Division, which will be chaired by Senator LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Thief River Falls). While this is going to make for a full slate of meetings for the Senate E-12 Finance Division, it probably makes sense to have policy and funding more closely aligned this year than in the past. As everyone knows, policy more often than not carries a price tag and it may be instructive to have any proposed policies and their costs discussed in the same context and time frame throughout the session.

The House will retain its dual committee status with the Education Policy Committee chaired by Representative Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) and the K-12 Budget Division chaired by Representative Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville).

I will post the committee memberships when they are published.

Thoughts about Franken. I happened to be driving listening to public radio when the live coverage of Al Franken's Monday afternoon press conference came over the airwaves. As per usual, these kinds of things get me thinking.
I remember reading Franken's "Lies (and the Lying Liars who Tell Them): A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" (It was a Christmas present. You folks know I would never read anything like this if it weren't. You can stop laughing now.). In that book, Franken takes on a number of pundits--particularly Minnesota's own Sara Janacek--regarding the Wellstone memorial and its effects on the 2002 mid-term elections.
What I was thinking today was, if the Wellstone Memorial would have been held after the election, there wouldn't have been a media feeding frenzy dissecting ever little utterance and gesture and audience reaction that occured at the event and Republican momentum (of which there was a substantial amount already) would have probably been stunted a bit, allowing Walter Mondale to probably (I stress probably) win the US Senate race, which would have likely made the 2008 US election over an open seat.
I've met Al Franken a couple of times and I think, if his election holds, he will tackle this job seriously (In a side note, he does understand SEE's issues regarding the referendum quite clearly and also understands the federal government's short-changing of school districts with special education funding). I don't see any Saturday Night Live cameos in his future (okay, maybe one). Franken was on a mission in the pursuit of this seat. I don't believe the pursuit was as much about Norm Coleman's record as it was about Paul Wellstone's legacy and how Franken believed Wellstone's memory was besmirched by the coverage of his memorial service.
Type III Issue. I don't have to tell any of you how the Department of Public Safety's interpretation of last session's Type III driver requirements has given school districts throughout the state Excedrin Headache #547. I am happy to report that Senator Rick Olseen's (DFL-Harris) efforts to bring together stakeholders on this issue throughout the fall to fashion a workable compromise have borne fruit and a bill will be introduced this week and will be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee next week.
I'm not going to go into it here, but if anyone of you wants to see me at my most un-Scandinavian, just ask me how I feel about the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's interpretation of last year's legislation that caused all the consternation. Remember that when we left last session teachers, coaches, and other school personnel whose primary duties did not include the transportation of students were exempt from the major requirements of this legislation. And that is what everyone believed up until late June when DPS decided they were not exempt.
Needless to say, the relatively late interpretation by DPS caught school districts by surprise and forced them to scramble to adhere to the law. Further, it made every one of us who worked on the bill throughout the 2008 session and were assured that teachers, coaches, and others were exempt from these requirements look like we didn't know what we were talking about.
I will post the committee roster for the Senate Transportation Committee later this week and I would urge you to contact members and urge them to support Senator Olseen's bill. Obviously, more details to follow.

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