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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Fue Lee (DFL)

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Legislative Update - February 17, 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

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Meeting with constituents for Minnesota Nurses Association Day on the Hill

Legislative Notes

I have introduced HF 993, a bill to provide a tax credit for small businesses that employ low-income members of communities of colors.

Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) Bill (HF 778)

This week the Government Operations & Elections Policy Division committee heard HF 778.

Two weeks ago the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor issued their report on the handling of U.S. Bank Stadium suites by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA). The Legislative Auditor reached a number of conclusions, including:

  • The Authority gave a significant number of free suite tickets to people who had no connection to marketing the stadium; many were family and friends of the Authority’s commissioners and staff.
  • The Authority’s commissioners and executive director did not violate a law when they gave free tickets to family members and friends, but they did violate a core ethical principle.
  • The Authority failed to comply with state law by not maintaining a record of who received tickets to its stadium suites.  However, state law does allow the Authority to keep certain marketing information private after it is created.

Under HF 778, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (the body responsible for managing U.S. Bank Stadium) would be restructured. Some of the changes include:

  • The Chair is selected by the Authority from the appointed members and receives no more compensation than all other members.
  • Regulates the use of the Stadium Suites controlled by the Authority. Board members may only use the suites for marketing purposes or conducting oversight of the Authority responsibilities.
  • The Authority must recover the costs associated with food, parking, tickets and use of the Stadium Suites prior to January 1, 2017.

During the committee hearing, my DFL colleagues and I offered two amendments:

  • To implement the recommendations of the Legislative Auditor and requests the Legislative Auditor review the management structure of the Authority, with specific attention to the need for a full time Executive Director and a full time Chair. This amendment failed on a 7-11 roll call vote.
  • To specify that an individual may not give a public official a gift in the form of preferential admission to an event held in a publicly owned event or entertainment facility, if the purpose for giving the gift is due to the recipient's status as a public official. This amendment failed on a 7-10 roll call vote.

The amendments were offered to implement the recommendations of the Legislative Auditor and address a loophole in the gift ban law that allows the owner of a business that employs a lobbyist to give a gift to a public official without violating the gift ban if the gift is paid for by personal funds.

The bill passed our committee on a 17-1 roll call vote and was referred to the State Government Finance Committee. I supported the bill because I believe that the residents of our District have contributed substantially to the financing of the stadium and we deserves more accountability and transparency from the Authority.

You can find the House Public Information Services coverage here

This week in Education Innovation Policy we heard bills that will: require cultural competency when dealing with minority students (HF 341); establish an education partnerships grant program to close the achievement gap (HF 734); require a report on the cost and benefit of our special education system (HF 998); and change school discipline policies (HF 905).

HF 341

Under HF 341, cultural competency is required for our literacy instruction policies and staff, student dismissal policies, individualized education (IEP) teams, early intervention services, and special education evaluation.

I co-authored this bill because the diversity of our students’ cultures, native languages, and socioeconomic backgrounds should be understood by our staff and reflected in our policies. We cannot close the disparities in education until we address the over-enrollment of minority students and English learners in special education, dismissal of more minority students than other students with disabilities, and placement of more minority students in settings other than the classroom.   

This bill was laid over for possible inclusion in a future bill. 

HF 734

I am a co-author of HF 734 and this bill establishes an education partnerships grant program to fund programs that form networks of support services in neighborhoods experiencing poverty.

In this bill, the Northside Achievement Zone and St. Paul Promise Neighborhood will each receive $4.1 million per year in ongoing funding. Programs in Northfield, Red Wing, and St. Cloud will each receive $675,000 per year in ongoing funding. A program from Austin, MN will receive $100,000 in ongoing funding, and new programs will be able to apply for grants from a pool of $100,000 in 2018 and $300,000 in 2019.

This bill was re-referred to the Education Finance committee.

You can find the House Public Information Services coverage here.

HF 998

In 2013, the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor conducted an audit on Minnesota’s special education requirements and found that it exceeded federal minimums. HF 998 was introduced as a result of this audit to require the Commissioner of Education to solicit proposals to undertake an analysis of the economic and educational effects of conforming Minnesota’s special education laws to the minimum federal requirements. It also requires a report to the legislature that considers both student outcomes and cost efficiencies.

Many of our neighbors have reached out to me expressing concerns for this bill. This bill seems to be setting the stage for a roll-back of what Minnesota requires schools to provide to students with special needs. For me, I support special education services and policies that empower students and parents. I believe we must do more, not less, to meet the obligations of our students with special needs.

This bill was laid over for possible inclusion in a future bill.

HF 905

This past year the Minnesota Supreme Court heard a case involving a high school student who accidentally brought a knife to school after forgetting that it was in her purse. She was expelled for the rest of the school year for violating the school’s weapons policy. The student challenged the district in court and the state Appeals Court ruled in her favor, and the Supreme Court upheld their ruling. In siding with the student, the Supreme Court interpreted the definition of “willful” in current student dismissal laws to mean a student may only be dismissed or removed if they make a deliberate, intentional decision to violate a school policy.

Under HF 905, it eliminates the requirement that a violation or conduct that subjects a student to dismissal or classroom removal be willful. This would mean that a student could be dismissed or removed for “careless or reckless violations.” Proponents of the bill argue that current language sets a high burden of proof for districts to dismiss students.

For my part, I believe that this is the route towards zero tolerance in our schools and will disproportionately impact our students of colors and students with special needs. As we continue to discuss this issue, we should review the meaning of the word “willful,” and not eliminate it from statute.

This bill was laid over for possible inclusion in a future bill.

You can find the House Public Information Services coverage here.

I encourage you to contact me with any questions, comments, concerns, or ideas on any legislative topic. Also, I am available during select hours on Monday and Friday mornings most weeks for in-district meetings, if Northside residents aren’t able to make it to the Capitol. If you would like to send me a message or set up an in-district meeting, you can reach me by phone at 651-296-4262 or by email at rep.fue.lee@house.mn. I look forward to hearing from you!