Monday, May 04, 2009

Conference Committee Work Continues. I'd like to say things are just humming along, but the E-12 conference committee continues to proceed in fits and starts. It's not their fault, as major decisions cannot be made in any of the conference committees dealing with budget matters until an overall spending/revenue target is established by legislative leadership.

That doesn't mean the E-12 conference committee has been slacking off. Today's session dealt largely dealt with discussion of the special education law and rule revision/repeal that is contained in both bills, albeit with slight differences in language. This effort was facilitated by the Minnesota School Boards Association and stakeholders from the advocacy community. Legislatively, Representative Jerry Newton (DFL-Anoka) and House legal staff in the person of Lisa Larson worked to take the stakeholder group's agreements and fashion it into legislation. The legislation was introduced as HF 1701, authored by Representative Newton, and SF 1800, authored by Senator Lisa Fobbe (D-Princeton). After it was heard as an individual bill, the language was folded into each body's version of the omnibus E-12 bill.

There are several provisions in this legislation that should prove helpful to school districts throughout the state. Perhaps the most important provision is the proposed prohibitiion on the Minnesota Department of Education's (MDE) ability to make rules outside of specific authority as instructed by the Legislature and then, only through the formal rule-making procedure. One of the frustrations of the education community over the past decade has been the informal promulgation of policies with the power of rule emanating from memoranda prepared by MDE staff. If the proposed legislation passes, this will be prevented and all policies will have legislative input.

That is how it should be. In fairness to MDE, there have been instances when lack of clear policy direction from the Legislature has left them in the uncomfortable position of having to "guess" where to go in policy terms. This legislation should help create a stronger communication link between the various parties in the policy development and implementation system, which should result in both better policy.

I will keep you informed as to the conference committee's progress tomorrow.

Type III Bill Signed. Lost in all of the hubbub was the Governor's signing of the Type III legislation that will lessen some of the regulations placed on drivers of Type III vehicles after an interpretation of last year's legislation by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety required that drivers of these vehicles receive physicals, submit to pre-employment drug testing, and receive training (including behind-the-wheel training).

Under this bill, which passed the Senate 64-0 and the House 132-0), individuals who operate these vehicles who are not hired "solely" to drive. In other words, teachers, coaches, and other staff who are clearly part-time drivers with other non-driving duties will no longer need to take a pre-employment drug test or a physical. They will still need to receive training and a behind-the-wheel test.

The bill was effective the day it received the Governor's signature--April 23--so the new regulations (or lack thereof) are in effect.

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