Capitol Update for May 9, 2008

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This week’s update from lobbyist John Tuma:

Judith Naughton Ireland … “a deeply religious woman, gentle, dedicated to her church and the care of her family.”*

On Sunday May 11th, Minnesota will reach its 150th birthday, interestingly enough, on Mother’s Day.  In recognition of this historic coincidence, it is worth reflecting on one of Minnesota’s most influential mothers, Judith Naughton Ireland.  Judith was a simple immigrant with roots from Kilkenny, Ireland, where she met and married a widowed carpenter named Richard Ireland.  In the midst of the Irish potato famines in 1849, they mournfully departed their homeland and sailed to the United States with their six children and the four orphaned children of Richard’s sister.  The family eventually worked their way across America by covered wagon and steamboat to arrive at the Jackson Street Levy outside of St. Paul in 1852.  Devoutly Catholic, they were welcomed in the once bustling fur trading town with many French Catholic connections.

Judith was the pleasant balance in the family to her stern disciplinarian husband.  Her love of education and belief in her children helped shape this great state’s image forever.  One of her sons became Bishop John Ireland, one of the most dominating figures in Minnesota’s early history.  Her daughter Ellen became a sister in the order of St. Joseph of Carondelet and is credited with being the driving force behind the creation of many of our Catholic schools, including the College of St. Catherine.  Judith’s adopted orphan daughter Ellen Howard also became a nun and was later known as Mother Celestine, Mother Superior of St. Agatha Conservatory.  The conservatory was a nationally renowned music education institution built mostly from money the sisters received from railroad baron James J. Hill.  That conservatory building on Exchange and Cedar Street in St. Paul now houses the offices of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and our former Government Relations chair, Gary Botzek.

Judith was a loving and dedicated mother who had an enormous influence on this 150 year old state.  Minnesota salutes all of our dedicated mothers as they continue to influence the direction our beloved state.  What does this dedicated Catholic mother of 10 have to do with the pending conclusion of the 85th session of the Minnesota Legislature?  Well, nothing really, other than that our lobbying team needs your prayers during this hectic last week of session.

We also need some sort of miracle before the end of this session in order to see the passage of the Minnesota Clean Car Act (SF481/HF863).  Our chief authors, Senator John Marty and Representative Melissa Hortman, are in the process of trying to execute what is the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass in football in the legislative session by trying to pass a major policy bill so late in the session.  We expect floor action on the bill early next week in the House and the bill is finally scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee next Monday.   It has been languishing in that committee since March 18th.

With the legislative session winding down quickly, we only have a few days to pass the bill, and it will be a close call for our Clean Car proposal.  Helping us with momentum was the fact that this week Arizona became the 14th state to pass the clean car proposal which requires more fuel-efficient cars that pollute less.  Apparently, Arizona leaders are not buying into the auto manufacturers’ latest argument that states do not need the clean car standards because of the new tougher federal fuel mileage standard known as the CAFE standards.  The CAFE standards were increased but they are nowhere near as good as the California standards for fuel economy and more importantly global warming pollution.

Almost out of a scene from his Terminator movies, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger swaggered into the board meeting of the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, our largest opposition to the Clean Car standards, and confronted them on their false claims regarding CAFE.   I’m sure in a cool steely fashion he informed the overpaid suits around their opulent board table that “the train has left the station” and with regards to their California Clean Car deadlines, “while you’re whining, you should be creating new technologies. That’s how you meet the date.”**

The Clean Energy Minnesota lobbying team has affectionately called the Clean Car bill the “Lazarus bill,” because it has died several times through the process, but somehow has been called back to life.  It would be fitting that it would pass on a legislative Hail Mary pass.

This session, of course, has been dominated by the nearly billion-dollar budget shortfall and the search to find a final overall resolution to the budget between the governor and Legislature.  The governor has been inserting himself as the legislature moves into the final week, threatening vetoes and vetoing several policy bills.  Reports from those who have been involved in the negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders seem to vary widely from those saying we are near settlement to those convinced it will all fall apart.

MEP inserted itself into the final budget debate, making it clear to leaders that both the Central Corridor light rail line between St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Lake Vermilion State Park near Tower are critical environmental investments.  These two items have become part of the key unfinished pieces to these budget negotiations.  The governor has demanded the park be part of the negotiations and the Legislature has demanded inclusion of Central Corridor.  MEP provided a formal statement to the leaders indicating that it is not appropriate to play these two critical investments against each other and they should move forward in the best interests of the state.  Now that our position is clear, it is time to take out the rosaries and hope for the best as the key leaders negotiate the final global agreement.

On a somewhat brighter note, the Green Solutions Act intended to move the state towards a global warming pollution cap and trade system is making progress.  Our chief authors, Senator Ellen Anderson and Representative Kate Knuth, completed their conference committee on Friday, reconciling all the differences between the House and Senate bills.  We were hopeful at the beginning of session that this legislature would provide a solid endorsement for a regional global warming pollution reduction system through this bill.  Unfortunately, the bill was weakened through the process.  Nonetheless, the final product was well put together.  The bill establishes a process by which the legislature can participate in the development of the regional cap and trade system with our neighboring states.  It also funds two studies that will help develop the parameters of an effective global warming reduction program.  Certainly not the bold endorsement of cap and trading we desired, but still a step in the right direction.

As the 2008 legislative session moves into its final week of activity, we are hoping for a few good Mother’s Day presents.  It would be a real good Mother’s Day present from our legislature to give the mothers of our state a new park to take the family to in those new clean cars that do not guzzle gas or pollute our air.  Get ready for some fast action this week, and don’t forget to give your mother something good for Minnesota’s Sesquicentennial Mother’s Day.  Maybe I’ll get my mom an old Schwarzenegger movie.  What do you think?

*Reflected Glory, The Story of Ellen Ireland, by Patricia Condon Johnston, Minnesota History Quarterly, spring 1982, page 14
**Schwarzenegger challenges automakers to meet Calif. Rules, 5/8/2008, 9:24 p.m. ET by SAMANTHA YOUNG, The Associated Press

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