Capitol Update for April 27, 2007

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John Tuma recognizes history being made at the Capitol in this week’s update:

“May her memory save us from all pettiness, all unworthy ambition, all narrowness of vision, all mean and sordid aims… so may there be none in us, as she fought ever, without malice and without hatred, so may we fight.”
The plaque in the Capitol Rotunda memorializing “Mrs. Andreas Ueland 1860-1927”

This quaint and almost hidden plaque honoring Clara Ueland is affixed to the northwest corner of the Rotunda amongst the many memorials to the Civil War.  It is one of only two memorials recognizing a woman within the State Capitol.  Mrs. Ueland is one of the persistent heroes of the Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Movement in the early 1900s.   Clara’s widowed mother came to the Minnesota frontier in search of a new future in 1867.  Clara was only seven years of age at  the time and despite her poverty showed herself a very determined student.  Like many learned women of her time, she became a teacher.  She raised eight children in a devoted marriage to a Norwegian immigrant, Andreas Ueland, who through hard work and dedication became a probate judge in Minneapolis.Clara joined the long struggle for women’s suffrage in Minnesota in the early 1900s and was quickly recognized as a leader within the movement.  She demonstrated great poise and grace as the movement persisted through several failures at the State Legislature.  The Women’s Suffrage Movement was finally victorious in our state at the ratification of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution on September 8, 1919, making Minnesota the 15th state to recognize the equal rights of women to vote. At the time of this great victory, Clara Ueland was the president of the Minnesota Women’s Suffrage Association.  She recognized that the battle was not completed and led the effort to transform her association into a new organization to encourage women to engage in their newly won civic responsibilities.  That organization is known as the Minnesota League of Women Voters and Mrs. Clara Ueland was elected its first president.  Of course, “The League” is a very active and valuable member of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.  Clara continued to work tirelessly for women’s issues until her tragic death when she was struck by a truck crossing the street on her way home from a full day of lobbying at the State Capitol in 1927.

I tell you this historical tidbit because it occurred to me on Monday of this week that I was witnessing something historic at the first meeting of the 2007 Environment, Natural Resources and Energy Conference Committee.  As Sara Rummel of Clean Water Action, Molly Schultz, my reliable MEP team member, and I watched the beginning formalities of the conference committee, I noted to both of them how nice it was to have the conference committee chaired by Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul) and Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis).  Because the two chairs are, in their own right, well-respected legislative leaders, it had not dawned on me until that moment that it may never have happened before in the Environment and Natural Resources arena that both chairs were women.

So, I did some checking and in fact it is a first-time occurrence that the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Conference Committee has been chaired by two women.  The only other woman chair was former Senator Jane Krantz, who is now an MEP board member.  After the 1998 election, MEP Executive Director Steve Morse, who was then Chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division, left the Legislature to go to the DNR.  Senator Krentz then took over his role as Chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division.  She chaired the conference committee in 1999 with then Representative and now DNR Commissioner, Mark Holsten. 

I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence–and my guess is that Clara Ueland would gently and persistently argue otherwise–that this year’s Environment and Natural Resources Finance Conference Committee has a more distinct focus on issues pertaining to health of both humans and the environment.  With one of MEP’s top priorities, the Clean Water Legacy, focused on our water quality to protect human health and habitat, it is refreshing to have the committee leaders focused on these issues as well.  Of course, as a man I’m only guessing, but I believe that Clara Ueland is looking down with a big smile and would be quite pleased with the work of Sen. Ellen Anderson and Rep. Jean Wagenius. 

Joining our two groundbreaking chairs on the conference committee for SF2096 is a good cross-section of the Legislature.  On the Senate side, the additional conferees are Sen. Dennis Frederickson (R-New Ulm), long-time Republican conference committee member and chief author of the Clean Water Legacy Act; Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL – Grand Rapids), chair of the Game and Fish Subcommittee; Sen. Satveer S. Chaudhary (DFL – Fridley), chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee; and Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (DFL – Minneapolis), a history maker in her own right as the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the Legislature.  On the House side, the conferees are Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson), chair of the Energy Finance and Policy Division; Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL – South St. Paul), chair of the Watersheds, Wetlands & Buffer Protection Subcommittee and by far the greatest champion in the Legislature on restoring and defending wetlands; Rep. David Dill (DFL – Crane Lake), chair of the Game, Fish and Forestry Division and proud to tell you he’s within spitting distance of Canada; and Rep. Dennis Ozment (R- Rosemont), long-time conference committee member and former chair.

Word is that conference committees have been told to pick up the pace and try to finish their work next week.  As the legislative pace continues to quicken, the good news is that there are several of our issues still in play for the end of session, now less than a month away.  Outside of the conference committee starting, there was additional big action this week at the Capitol on the Protect Our Great Outdoors agenda:

Dedicated Funding.  The 15 member citizen group charged by Governor Pawlenty to recommend reforms in conservation funding and oversight has indicated it finished its report this week.  Among other things, it will recommend the adoption of the constitutional amendment dedicating a portion of the sales tax to outdoor funding.  The details about this report will certainly have some bearing on the direction legislation takes on this issue.  One of the striking facts reported in the Star Tribune is that the major conservation agencies budgets will have declined by $100 million or 18% when adjusted for inflation between the years 2001 to 2009.

The Senate dedicated funding bill (SF6) snagged its fishing lure on a pretty big rock on the shore of the Senate Tax Committee.  We knew Tuesday’s Senate Tax Committee would be our biggest test yet in the Senate.  On the motion recommending that SF6 be passed and re-referred to the Senate Rules Committee, the committee voted 5 in favor and 7 against.  The vote was a voice vote, however, the chair asked for a showing of hands when he was not able to discern which side prevailed.  As best I could tell Chairman Tom Bakk did not indicate a vote, but did indicate he had concerns during debate.  I would not read too much into this.  Those voting in favor were the bill’s author Sen. Larry Pogemiller (DFL – Minneapolis), Sen. Dan Larson (DFL – Bloomington), Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL – Minneapolis), Sen. Mee Moua (DFL – St. Paul), and Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL – Newport).

Despite the negative vote, the bill is still technically alive.  Chairman Bakk has the authority to bring the bill up for a new hearing at any time.  My guess is that this matter will be part of the discussions between Senate Majority Leader Pogemiller and Tax Chair Bakk as they move toward the final resolution of the session.

On a positive note, the House of Representatives took its first action on their dedicated funding bill (HF2285) authored by House Majority Leader Anthony “Tony” Sertich from “da range” city of Chisholm. The bill received a public hearing in front of the Joint Committee of Environment and Natural Resources and the Game, Fish and Forestry Division in the afternoon on Tuesday after the Senate vote.  On Wednesday, the Game, Fish and Forestry Division took up amendments and the final vote.  All amendments were defeated on essentially party-line votes and the bill passed with a positive recommendation on a party-line vote, except Rep. Denny McNamara (R- Hastings) who did join the majority to support final passage.  Though it is not scheduled for a hearing in the full Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee yet, we expect word on that soon. 

Global Warming Mitigation Act.  The Global Warming Mitigation Act continued to move forward in the House in a very unusual manner on Thursday in the House Finance Committee.  Our global warming provisions are in Rep. Hilty’s Omnibus Energy Policy Bill, which was scheduled to be taken up in an 8 a.m. Finance Committee hearing.  Our vote count indicated that it could have a difficult time in the committee, but Rep. Hilty seemed confident we would have the votes.  To our surprise on the morning of the hearing, none of the Republicans showed up because they were invited to the Governor’s mansion for a breakfast.  Finance Chair Lyndon Carlson (DFL – Crystal) was a little reluctant to act without Republican members present, but well after the time passed by which they were told Republicans would arrive at the committee, he chose to move forward. 

Therefore, the bill moved forward with recommendations to pass and was referred to the Ways and Means Committee.  Chair Carlson indicated he had amendments from Republicans and the Ways and Means Chair Loren Solberg (DFL – Grand Rapids), indicated he would accommodate possible amendments in Ways and Means despite a rule not to take up policy there.  Of course Republicans also have an opportunity to offer amendments on the floor.  Our concern is that the Republicans may make this a partisan issue.  The good news is our preferred strong bill in the House continues to move forward and has survived what  was perceived to be our most difficult committee hurdle, albeit in an unusual way. 

(Special thanks to Sara Rummel for her assistance in researching the history of Clara Ueland.) 


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