Minnesota has a part-time Legislature by name, but task forces and commissions are meeting in preparation for the 2016 session.
A number of important meetings – including the Legislative Water Commission, the Legislative Commission on Data Practices, the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement, the Joint House Education Finance and Policy Committee – and more will meet this week. Click here for a complete list of upcoming House meetings.
Legislators also have visited sites all across the state in recent months. As a member of the House Capital Investment Committee, I joined other representatives on two 3-day bus tours to hear presentations and to review public works projects being proposed for the 2016 bonding bill. Those sites included the Duluth Steam Plant, the Soudan Mine, Hibbing Community and Technical College, the state prison at Rush City and many others. Projects totaling over $3 billion are vying for inclusion in this bill which will be somewhere around $1 billion.
Here is a roundup of some other items:
Nov. 3 school levy votes
Levy referenda for Centennial and Forest Lake school districts will be put to voters this Tuesday, Nov. 3. Click here for a newspaper article with overviews of what the two districts are proposing. School board elections are being held in the White Bear Lake and Moundsview districts. City elections are occurring in Lino Lakes, Circle Pines and White Bear Lake. I urge local citizens to head out to the polls and participate in this important process.
REAL ID a hot topic
A new set of federal identification standards is in the process of implementation and Minnesotans have expressed a number of concerns, ranging from data privacy to their ability to board commercial aircraft.
Ten years ago, Congress set REAL ID nationwide standards states must meet with driver’s licenses and identification cards in order for citizens to use them in boarding commercial aircraft or entering certain federal facilities. In 2009, Minnesota joined a number of others by prohibiting compliance with the law – mainly over data privacy concerns.
The first three phases of REAL ID already in effect apply to secured federal facilities, restricted areas and nuclear sites. The fourth and final implementation phase is set to take effect no sooner than Jan. 1, 2016 and the Department of Homeland Security will provide states with 120 days' notice in advance of implementation for flying.
Expect this issue to be a hot topic during the 2016 session as solutions are explored. For now, regardless of what action is or is not taken to modify state law, the enhanced Minnesota driver's licenses and identification cards will serve the purpose. Information on obtaining enhanced IDs is at this link. More information from DHS is available here.
MNsure rates rising
This year's open enrollment for MNsure is underway, but people are facing rate increases as they sign up. The MN Dept. of Commerce and MNsure announced 2016 insurance prices will rise for individuals, families and small businesses that purchase insurance coverage in the individual and small group markets.
While many factors contribute to increases in health insurance premiums, these increases are at least partly due to Obamacare's mandates and the price tag for MNsure ($150,000,000 and counting). Now average individual market increases range from 14.2 to 49 percent higher than last year. Many individuals and families will see increases larger than 49 percent.
The largest carrier in MNsure - Blue Cross Blue Shield (43 percent of MNsure market) - has the largest average increase (+49 percent). This year's increase follows double- and triple-digit increases for parts of the state in the last two years.
Housing is very affordable in the Twin Cities
A column I submitted to the local press discusses how the Twin Cities compares to other major metropolitan areas on housing affordability. Housing in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area has a rating of 3.2, which means that average housing prices are 3.2 times the average income in the area. Anything below a 3 rating is considered Affordable according to the report by the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. Cities like San Diego and San Franciso are rated 9.0, meaning housing prices are 9x average income! They're rated Severely Unaffordable! Click here to see more.