Legislative Update

The following information was shared with the library community via the MLA and ITEM Legislative Update Newsletter Saturday, April 27, 2019 by Sam Walseth, Capitol Hill Associates, in his role as the MLA-ITEM lobbyist.

Three Weeks Remain
 
After returning from their spring break, the House and Senate began the arduous process of moving their massive budget and policy bills off their respective floors. While leadership had hoped to make more progress last week, much work remains when they return to business this week. They’re working to have all of the budget bills passed and to have conference committees established by the end of business, which could be late into the evening, on Wednesday, May 1. This session is proving no different than every other one before it in that all of the major work is piling up at the end. They have three weeks to go before the state’s constitution mandates an end to the session on May 20.
 
Last week the Senate GOP started to dig in even harder against a gas tax increase saying “not a penny more.” The DFL is digging in on insisting the Provider Tax continue, which supports the Health Care Access Fund. The GOP wants a continuation of the health reinsurance program they put in place two years ago to stabilize rates in the individual insurance market. There’s potential for a trade on this front. The House DFL and Senate GOP tax bills, however, are light years apart. With no additional gas tax revenue to relieve the state’s general fund of recently enacted transportation obligations, it’s hard to see how increases are provided to E-12 and Higher Education.
 
There are several budget and policy items in the works of interest to the library community detailed below, including their status in the legislative process.
 
RLBSS & RLTA – Omnibus Education Bills
 
The House’s $900 million investment in education programs (HF 2400) includes a significant provision for regional library systems. At the request of the 12 regional public library systems, the House bill would adjust the distribution formula for Regional Library Basic System Support (RLBSS) and increase funding by $3.6 million in FY 2021 and $4 million in FY 2022 increase. The House bill also adds language to the Regional Library Telecommunications Aid (RLTA) to create more allowable uses for these funds. The House passed HF 2400 on April 23rd.
 
The Senate education bill (SF 7) by contrast carries neither provision. The Senate education bill does add $500,000/year to the schools Telecom Equity Aid, bringing the amount to $4.25 million/year. The Senate bill removes the financial incentive for schools to participate in telecom clusters, which could make maintaining school district membership in a cluster more of a challenge. The Senate E-12 bill will likely be passed off the Senate floor on Monday, April 29th.
 
Library Legacy – Omnibus Legacy Bills
               
House Legacy bill (HF 653) includes $2.5 million/year for the next two years for library legacy programming. The Senate Legacy bill (SF 836) includes $2.6 million/year for the next two years for library legacy.
 
The Senate Legacy committee heard a bill to fund $96,000 for libraries to buy telescopes and loan them out. Senate Legacy didn’t fund this request, but essentially added the $96,000 request (rounded up to $100,000) to the MLA request for $2.5 million/year.
 
The House Legacy bill also includes language tightening requirements to ensure Legacy recipients aren’t supplanting existing funds. The language is problematic and MLA and other Arts and Cultural Heritage recipients are working to ensure it isn’t included in the final Legacy bill.
 
Both the House and Senate Legacy bills await floor action this week. They’re typically the last of the budget bills to be passed off the floor.
 
Library Construction & Renovation – House Omnibus Bonding bill
 
House Capital Investment Chair, Rep. Mary Murphy, has advanced a robust bonding bill out of her committee. HF 2529 appropriates $1.5 billion in state bonding authority for many projects. As the chief library advocate in the legislature, Rep. Murphy has included $9 million in her omnibus bonding bill for the library construction and renovation grant program. She’s also upped the $200,000 limit on accessibility grants in the pool to $400,000. It’s unclear if HF 2529 will be taken up on the House floor.
 
The Senate has not advanced an omnibus bonding bill this session. Sen. Rich Draheim has introduced the MLA request for $10 million in library construction and renovation grants in SF 2725.
 
School Media Specialist Support – HF 247 & SF 2010
 
Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, a licensed school library media specialist by day, helped advance the cause of getting more licensed school media specialists into Minnesota’s schools. Her HF 247 received a favorable review in the House Education Policy committee which sent it to House Education Finance. House Education Finance reviewed the bill as well, but it didn’t get included in their omnibus education finance bill.
 
Sen. Chuck Wiger introduced the companion bill, SF 2010, but it wasn’t heard in the Senate Education committee this session.
 
Net Neutrality – Omnibus House Jobs bill
 
HF 136 by Rep. Zach Stephenson is the net neutrality bill that would require state and public agencies to only enter into contracts with internet service providers abiding by net neutrality principles. HF 136 was merged into the House’s omnibus Jobs & Economic Development bill, HF 2208, which the House passed on April 24. These provisions await conference committee action.
 
The Senate has not heard the net neutrality bill this session, SF 317.
 
Hennepin County Library Director Statutory Change – HF 2097 & SF 2267
 
Legislation aimed at eliminating a statutory requirement for the Hennepin County Library Director to have a graduate degree from a graduate school accredited by the American Library Association has advanced in both the House and Senate. This legislation is traveling as a stand-alone bill and resides on both the House and Senate floors and awaits floor debate in each chamber.