Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Here is an update from St. Paul.
Fireworks Freedom Act
Every Fourth of July, we celebrate America: the land of the free and the home of the brave. Unfortunately in Minnesota, we aren't fully the land of the free thanks to our fireworks ban—something that I am working on changing at the legislature.
Earlier this month, the House passed the Fireworks Freedom Act on a bipartisan vote which would amend state law to allow aerial and audible device fireworks to be sold in Minnesota. This change would be consistent with what our neighbors Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota sell in their states—many times to Minnesotans who are crossing the border to purchase fireworks and bring them back across state lines to use illegally.
The prohibition on fireworks isn't working in Minnesota and what's more, it's costing our state money. It's estimated that Minnesota loses roughly $5 million a year in sales tax revenue when people buy fireworks in a neighboring state. Plus, every summer you inevitably hear kids shooting off bottle rockets and families blowing up fireworks to commemorate our country's independence. In fact, it may very well be that you are one of the thousands of Minnesotans breaking the law every year by launching fireworks during your celebration. The ban isn't effective and is a waste of time and resources for local law enforcement.
A similar legalization bill passed a few years ago and was vetoed by Governor Dayton. To address some of the governor's concerns, as well as the concerns of other people surrounding the legalization of fireworks, the Fireworks Freedom Act includes a number of key provisions. For instance, for people worried that full legalization would lead to year round noise complaints, the legislation limits the selling of fireworks each year from June 1 to July 10 when demand is highest around Independence Day. Furthermore, only adults would be allowed to legally purchase fireworks.
Additionally, local control is a key component addressed in the Fireworks Freedom Act this time around. If a local government sees a strong local opposition to fireworks in their community, they can prohibit aerial audible and display fireworks from being sold. They could also charge a limited annual license fee to stores who want to sell them to bring in additional revenue.
I am hopeful that by addressing these key concerns surrounding the Fireworks Freedom Act, we can get this bipartisan initiative signed into law this year and end the ineffective prohibition on firework sales.
Let's Invest in Roads and Bridges
Last week, the Senate DFL laid out their budget targets for 2016 which includes expanding state government spending while devoting less than four percent of our $900 million surplus to transportation. Continuing to push for a regressive gas tax increase that would skyrocket our gas tax to the second highest in the nation is unnecessary when we have a significant surplus. It would be especially costly for people in my district who can commute more than one hundred miles a day for work.
Additionally, Senator Al Franken and Governor Dayton's MET Council Chair urged legislators this week to use state funds on Southwest Light Rail, a project that has grown in cost by nearly 50 percent from $1.2 billion to $1.77 billion.
Roads and bridges are a priority that everyone has agreed is important this session, so let's actually invest in them. Ninety-eight percent of Minnesotans rely on our roads and bridges every day, and for the amount of money that Democrats have proposed spending on one train in Minneapolis, we could repave six lanes on every interstate in Minnesota, fund four years of Metro Transit bus operations, invest in the new small cities road and bridge funding program and fund local projects across the state like improving the eight mile stretch of Interstate 35 from Harris to the Chisago-Pine County line.
House Republicans have put forth a plan that uses existing revenue and a portion of the surplus to help fix 15,500 lane miles of roads and 330 bridges statewide without taking more from taxpayers.
Last week, the House passed bipartisan legislation to create a new vehicle category for autocycles which have three wheels, requiring a Minnesota driver's license instead of a motorcycle license to operate. They will continue to be categorized with motorcycles for registration and insurance purposes.
Currently, if a person purchases an autocycle but does not previously have a motorcycle license, their three-wheeled vehicle cannot be accommodated on any Department of Motor Vehicle's motorcycle test courses.
It's a common sense change to state law, and hopefully it can be signed into law this year.
You may recall that last year, the legislature passed changes to buffer laws to help avert Governor Dayton's disastrous initial proposal of 50-foot buffer zones around all state waterways. Instead, working with farmers, state leaders and others, a bipartisan compromise was reached that accelerated existing law relating to buffers.
During the interim, the Governor and DNR took a small phrase out of the law passed and tried to use it to apply the statute to private ditches, something that went against legislative intent and the deal that was struck regarding buffers.
On Thursday, the House passed language to clarify the law to identify that the most recent public water inventory and public ditches are subjected to buffers under the law, not private ditches. It also shifts buffer jurisdiction from state to local agencies should they so choose, and reinforces that the Department of Natural Resources only role will be to conduct mapping. Finally, it ensures fair compensation for farmers by basing land on property values prior to buffer installation.
These small changes will protect landowners subject to buffer laws and give more control to local governments.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family on a matter of state government. I am here to serve you!
Have a wonderful weekend.