Legislative Update

The following information was shared with the library community via the MLA and ITEM Legislative Update Newsletter Friday, April 20, 2018 by Sam Walseth, Capitol Hill Associates, in his role as the MLA-ITEM lobbyist.

There are four weeks left of the 2018 legislative session and as expected all the major decision-making will come down to the last weekend (May 18-20). The state’s constitution prescribes Monday, May 21 as the last day, but it also stipulates that the legislature cannot pass bills on a day prescribed for final adjournment (when they adjourn ‘sine die’). Therefore, midnight on Sunday, May 20 is the last chance for the legislature to pass bills. 
 
The House and Senate are currently in the process of assembling their omnibus supplemental spending bills that encompass change items across all of state government. In the ensuing week or so we’ll see the House and Senate produce a tax bill aimed at addressing conformity issues with the new federal tax law. 
 
2018, being the even numbered year in the biennium, is the traditional year for a bonding bill. The bonding bill process has always been a backroom ordeal, making it difficult to track progress on any one proposal. Don’t expect to see a lot of public process on the bonding bill. It will emerge amidst a global deal in the final hours of session. 
 
What’s specifically at stake for MLA-ITEM?
A public employee pension bill aimed at improving the solvency of the various pension funds is in the mix. The Senate didn’t hesitate to move this bill out and approved it 66-0 in March. House GOP leadership will hold the bill until the last days of session as bargaining leverage for the infamous ‘global’ negotiations yet to come. 
 
The supplemental budget bill could impact Regional Library Telecommunications Aid (RLTA), broadband funding and force school districts to implement ‘academic balance’ policies; legislation birthed from a culture war dust up in Edina schools last fall. Funding for library construction and renovation grants are at stake in the bonding bill.
 

RLTA (Regional Library Telecom Aid)

The Governor’s supplemental E-12 bill notes the potential for $350,000 in unspent Regional Library Telecommunications Aid (RLTA) in the current fiscal biennium. Instead of re-purposing these funds for Regional Library Basic System Support (RLBSS), the administration decided to recommend transferring any unspent RLTA funds to the school Telecommunications Equity Aid (TEA) program.

MLA has been working with the House and Senate to keep these public library funds in the public library fiscal world.  Despite testimony from the MN School Boards Association (MSBA) saying they want the funds for TEA, the House Education Finance committee is recommending keeping unspent RLTA funds in public library budgets. The House doesn’t go quite as far as MLA had requested in terms of using the funds for general operating purposes. The House supplemental E-12 budget bill would have the MDE Commissioner work with the regional library systems to re-purpose unspent RLTA funds next March on a variety of broadband and technology expense in a more flexibly manner than the limitations of the federal e-rate program (which RLTA is tied to). 
 
The Senate acquiesced to the MSBA position and their supplemental E-12 bill calls for cancelling unspent RLTA funds back to the state’s general fund and then the bill appropriates $440,000 for TEA. The bill doesn’t make a direct link between unspent RLTA and TEA in how it’s written, but Senate E-12 Chair Carla Nelson confirmed the move and her intent when I testified on behalf of MLA asking to keep the funds in RLTA. Chair Nelson said while she hoped to address library funding issues in the next budget session, she needed these funds for TEA in this non-budget/supplemental session. 
 
MDE has informally said they support MLA’s request to keep the public library RLTA funds in the public library fiscal world. The issue will be sorted out in the supplemental budget conference committee that will organize in the next week or so and will work until the end of session. 
 

Bonding

Library construction has been a mainstay of the bonding bill for many cycles. Governor Dayton proposed $2.5 million for library construction and renovation grants. We’ve had some positive attention this session in the House with the Kimball folks coming forward with a great story and request. Thanks to Rep. Jeff Howe for his continued advocacy for library projects. Hopefully, we’ll see an agreed to bonding bill emerge in the last night or two of session that includes funding for libraries. Broadband

Broadband

Governor Dayton has proposed an additional $30 million for community broadband funds. The House and Senate supplement bills include $15 million for broadband. Senate Jobs Chair Jeremy Miller spent $15 million of his $17 million on broadband, showing strong support in the Senate. Senator Rich Draheim offered an amendment that would require oversight of broadband service providers and internet speeds. Sen Draheim proposed that providers be required to disclose on their billing statements the average speed they are receiving during the billing period. However, the amendment was withdrawn in the spirit of solely focusing on funding the fund this year, without policy changes, as had been the position of the Rural Broadband Coalition.

In the House, Chair Pat Garofalo also spends $15 million on broadband, but he earmarks $750,000 for satellite providers. The funds are to be spent on 1,000 unserved consumers to aid in satellite equipment installment as well as to lower monthly subscription fees for one year. The Rural Broadband Coalition was disappointed at the amendment, especially since the satellite providers only are only required to meet speed goals of 25/3.

Net Neutrality

Talk of state actions to curb the impact of the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules have been quiet since January when two DFL law-makers announced they would push legislation to address the issue. However, earlier last week Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL Cottage Grove) and Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL Brooklyn Park) introduced legislation (SF 3968 and HF 4411) that would require internet providers doing business with the public sector in Minnesota to abide by net neutrality provisions. The session process is well past policy bill deadlines and the GOP majorities weren’t likely to take up these bills anyway. However, we may see these members make an attempt to offer this legislation as a ‘floor’ amendment in their respective bodies if they can find a bill that is germane to this issue.