Laying Down the Laws

THE BEST THAT can be said of the 1996 session at Minnesota Legislature is that the whole mess may sort itself out in November. In the meantime, here is a summary of what happened to laws covered in this space over the past three months:


AIDS: A law giving hemophiliacs who got the HIV virus from blood products an extended window for suing passed and is likely to be signed into law. A measure requiring HIV-testing of alleged sex offenders at victims' request failed.

Airport: As expected, lawmakers voted to expand Twin Cities International instead of building a new airport in Dakota County. Northwest Airlines lobbyists were among those toasting the decision, since it puts the company in a better position to maintain its near-monopoly over local gate slots.

Blue laws: Legislators never got around to passing a "housecleaning" bill that would have eliminated more than 250 obsolete statutes; thus, a ban on carrying "dirks [and] daggers" and a provision against coming to court with "hot and angry words" are still the law of the land.

Corporate Welfare: A proposal to require businesses that get some kinds of state assistance to pay at least a poverty-level wage ($7.28 an hour) passed and is headed for a gubernatorial veto. Another measure, which requires a minimum of $8.01 an hour for jobs created under the Minnesota Investment Fund, is likely to be signed.

Energy assistance: The Legislature appropriated $1 million for the low-income heating assistance program, which lost more than $20 million in federal dollars through Congressional action. It also created a $9 million "contingency fund" to cover the (likely) possibility that the program will be cut again this year. At the federal level, Sen. Paul Wellstone is still trying to pry loose emergency funds.

Fusion: Confronted with a court decision requiring the state to let candidates be nominated by both a minor and a major party, the Legislature took the most restrictive approach possible and severely limited the standards regarding "minor party" status. (If you don't qualify, you're simply a "political organization.") The New Party is likely to take the state to court over the matter.

Juvenile records: The Legislature gave the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension the green light to continue putting together a juvenile-crime database, a process that worries privacy advocates due to its potential for errors and abuse. Skeptics were able to convince lawmakers that records of arrests should be deleted if no conviction follows; they also made sure the BCA can't give juvenile data to employers and landlords based on a person's release form.

Minimum wage: Legislation to increase the state minimum to $5.35 per hour by September 1997 passed both houses and was vetoed by Gov. Arne Carlson.

Northwest Airlines tax break: An amendment reducing Northwest's operating costs by changing the laws dealing with leased airplanes passed and is on the governor's desk.

Nuisance neighbors: A bill allowing people to sue their neighbors for being prostitutes or drug dealers, or keeping a disorderly house or an illegal gun, passed both houses and is headed for the governor's signature.

Online privacy: Rep. Steve Kelley's (DFL-Hopkins) attempt to keep services like America Online from selling customer information without first getting people's consent created something of a national stir; soon, lobbyists from online companies descended on the Capitol and got the Senate to merely require a privacy study. That didn't satisfy Kelley, and the measure died.

Shield laws: Though lawmakers conducted a hearing on whether to protect journalists' unpublished information (on the occasion of the Minnesota Daily/Hennepin County controversy), no legislation was ever introduced.

Vouchers: Gov. Arne Carlson's pet proposal to have state funds subsidize private-school tuition was dead on arrival, but is likely to rise again next year.

Wetlands: The outcome of the long fight over Minnesota's wetlands law could have been worse. A bill passed by both the House and Senate will allow local authorities--and, by extension, road builders and developers--to drain more swamps than they can under current law, but swampbusters were not able to get rid of key statewide standards. Now the critical question is how they will be interpreted at the local level.

Welfare reform: Legislation establishing a 30-day waiting period for public assistance applicants new to the state, and a work search/workfare program called MNJOBS, passed the House but stalled in the Senate; it was finally tacked on to a bill dealing with Lyme disease and passed 63-1.

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