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In the Hopper: Real ID, employment applications, cop training

Real ID: A bill to allow Minnesota to issue federally compliant Real ID drivers’ licenses moved forward last week, but not without controversy.

The two-track bill authored by Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, was approved Jan. 23 in a divided voice vote of the House Ways and Means Committee. That sends it to the General Register—the parking space where bills go to await floor votes.

Smith’s bill would give Minnesotans a choice. They could either opt to apply for a Real ID that allows them to board commercial airliners and visit military facilities and power plants, or they could continue to use a “non-compliant” licenses—just as they do now.

But that is not the controversial part. The bill also contains language to prohibit undocumented migrants from obtaining the non-compliant version.

Bentley Graves, director of health and transportation policy at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of the bill, House File 3. He said that because Minnesota is one of only three states that have failed either to make Real IDs available or to apply for federal deadline extensions, the state’s business community is finding it difficult to access military facilities where some do business.

Bentley also spoke in favor of granting undocumented workers driving privileges.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, expressed dismay that the undocumented worker provision is in the bill, despite opposition from the Chamber.

She said that allowing undocumented immigrants to drive is a no-brainer, especially in rural agricultural areas where workers have no choice but to drive to work because there is so little available housing.

It’s a question of public safety, she said. Licensed drivers are both trained and insured, she said. “So it is frustrating that it is attached to this bill,” Hausman said. “It becomes one of those distractions that puts us further behind a solution.”

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, agreed but was more scathing. “We have seen this over and over with this Republican majority,” she said. “It just can’t just seem to do the right thing. Keep the issues separated.”

Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, right, takes testimony during a Jan. 23 House Ways and Means Committee meeting. To his right is Committee Administrator Craig Stone. The committee, on which Knoblach serves as chair, was the last stop for the Real ID bill prior to a House floor vote. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, right, takes testimony during a Jan. 23 House Ways and Means Committee meeting. To his right is Committee Administrator Craig Stone. The committee, on which Knoblach serves as chair, was the last stop for the Real ID bill prior to a House floor vote. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Republicans on the committee did not respond to either Hausman or Liebling, and committee Chair Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, quickly called for a voice vote.

As amended, the House bill sets the state’s cost for implementing Real ID at $25.4 million over the next three years. However, a $60,000 appropriation intended to ease implementation was deemed unnecessary and withdrawn.

The bill’s Senate version, Senate File 166, sponsored by Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, awaits action by the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.

 

Try and try again: For at least the third time, Sen. Scott Dibble is trying to make it illegal for businesses to ask job applicants to fill out forms that reveal whether they are unemployed.

Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said that Senate File 185 is an attempt to stop businesses from discriminating against the unemployed. He has been unsuccessfully trying to get the same bill a hearing for at least three sessions now, he said.

The idea came to him in the midst of the Great Recession at the end of the last decade, he said.

“It really was a function of a phone call I got from a constituent who was unhappy that she was asked to check [on a job application] whether or not she was employed,” Dibble said. “She is fairly sure that her application was just tossed away.”

Dibble set about doing research and found a number of online job application forms include a check-off box asking about job status. He later then learned that a few states have barred the practice.

Dibble acknowledged that the question about job status might be appropriate to ask at some point in the hiring process, preferably in an interview. But it shouldn’t be on job applications forms where the information can be used to toss the application aside.

“It can’t be the basis of discrimination or refusal to hire,” he said.

The Senate bill is co-authored by Sen. John Marty, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Kari Dziedzic, and was referred to the Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee on Jan. 19. It has yet to be taken up.

The House version, HF 312, was authored by Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis.

Dibble is skeptical that his bill will get a hearing. He suspects it has been “quietly torpedoed” by business interests over the years. But he said he will not stop trying.

“It seems like a no-brainer and non-controversial,” he said. “But I have fairly strong circumstantial evidence that the Chamber of Commerce has put in a quiet word to the powers that be that they don’t want to hear this. So it hasn’t gotten its hearing.”

Dibble recently confirmed his candidacy for the 5th District congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, if Ellison becomes chair of the Democratic National Committee.

 

Cop training: A bill to increase funding for peace officer crisis intervention training has been introduced by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center.

The bill, HF 346, would direct the commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget to distribute 99 percent of a traffic-fine surcharge account to the Peace Officers Standards and Training Board to finance police training.

Currently a $75 surcharge is collected on citations for moving vehicle offenses. A $12 surcharge is collected on parking violations.

One percent of that money goes to help train agents who deal with fish and game issues, while 39 percent goes toward training cops on the beat. The rest goes into the state’s general fund. The Cornish bill would divert 99 percent of that money to police training.

“Part of the bill says that the money has to go to crisis intervention teams dealing with mentally disturbed people and dealing with suicidal people,” Cornish said.

Currently the POST board’s police training fund equates to just $312 per officer statewide, a number that has fallen from well over $400 per officer in non-inflation-adjusted dollars in the late 1980s, Cornish said.

Local police agencies pay the costs of their own training and get reimbursed by the POST board. But because the fund is so small, POST board Executive Director Nathan Gove told the Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee, his agency can reimburse only 8 percent of those costs.

He said the cost for 40-hour crisis intervention training alone in the metro area is roughly $600 per officer for one week’s tuition.

“So we have fallen real short in reimbursing for training,” said Cornish, the Public Safety committee’s chair. If the bill passes, he estimates it would increase the training fund by about $18 million per biennium.

The bill has garnered strong bipartisan support, attracting 20 House co-authors from both political parties. The bill got its first reading on Jan. 19, and was referred back to Cornish’s committee. A Senate companion bill has not yet been offered.

Cornish worries a little that once the bill gets moving, DFLers will try to add amendments to “solve all of the police socioeconomic problems in the state.”

However, he said, that probably won’t work. “We’ve got the votes to keep it clean,” he said.

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