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Chamber scorecard touts 2011 victories

Charley Shaw//July 13, 2011

Chamber scorecard touts 2011 victories

Charley Shaw//July 13, 2011

Tom Hesse

Teacher licensing and enviro permit reforms were key wins for business lobby

On Monday the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce released its legislative scorecard for the first session since Republicans swept control of the Legislature in last year’s elections. Predictably enough, the ascendance of the GOP saw more of the statewide business group’s issues advance than in the past. In one sign of the times, this year’s scorecard tracked more bills supported than opposed by the chamber.

The scorecard paints the picture of a Legislature thoroughly in synch with the business lobby. None of the Senate Republicans voted out of step with the chamber. But in the House, several otherwise perfect scores among Republicans were broken by a vote in favor of a floor amendment by Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, to remove early childhood education provisions from the K-12 education finance bill.

Only six of 72 House Republicans voted 100 percent with the chamber’s positions. Some GOP members bucked the chamber on alternative teacher licensure and repealing the nuclear moratorium. The 2011 chamber scorecard mostly tracks votes from the floor, though it also includes committee votes in the House and Senate on prevailing wage legislation. In its commentary on the scorecard, which can be found on the chamber’s website, the group mentions its disagreement with Republican legislators over health care exchanges. But the issue didn’t receive a committee vote. Tom Hesse, the chamber’s vice president for government affairs, discussed the scoring in a Tuesday interview with Capitol Report.

Capitol Report: What was the most surprising thing a student of the Legislature could learn from poring over the scorecard? Is there anything that tells a story about something that happened in the last session that’s unique?

Tom Hesse: I wouldn’t characterize it as a surprise, but one thing that shows a sign of hope maybe is there was good bipartisan support on ideas of reforming how the state delivers services. We started off the year with votes on alternative teacher licensure and environmental review and permitting reform. Those both had strong bipartisan votes. After that, we saw some interest on a bipartisan basis in changing how we deliver services. We didn’t resolve a lot of those issues yet, and we hope those can become part of the debate that’s ongoing.

CR: Some bills on the scorecard were controversial and well-known, like the vote on the Dayton tax plan. Were there any sleeper issues that people might not be as familiar with that figure prominently on the scorecard?

Hesse: I guess I put prevailing wage reform [in that category]. It did move through committees of both bodies of the Legislature and moved to the floor in the Senate. I think it was still in Ways and Means in the House. We spent a fair amount of time on that issue and made some progress.

CR: There were a number of tort reform-related votes that occurred at the end of the session. There was the Rep. Pat Mazorol amendment and the Rep. Steve Simon amendment. Those were all areas of civil law and tort reform. What do those votes tell us about how the issue fared this session?

Hesse: The Senate moved all the various tort reform bills off the floor with at least a couple weeks left. The House took a different approach and bundled them up more or less into an omnibus tort reform bill that was discussed on the floor on the last day. We generally just ran into timing issues. We fully expect to pick up those bills next session when the Legislature reconvenes. One of the votes in the Senate, on the pre-judgment interest rate [the Mazorol amendment], it passed 64-1. There was strong bipartisan support for changing Minnesota’s statute of limitations, for example. We are hopeful we can continue to make progress with the House and the governor.

CR: One thing that definitely dinged a lot of House Republicans was the Buesgens amendment that took out early childhood education provisions. Does the scorecard reflect disappointment with Republicans over early childhood education in the House?

Hesse: On that vote, you need to review the commentary that accompanies it. We were interested in making progress on some early childhood issues. The whole idea was to provide some scholarships to families that are lower-income families that have their children go to quality child care settings. I think there’s good data behind that issue. We thought it was an important vote to score. Some thought that if the Buesgens amendment did not pass, the whole education finance bill would be in jeopardy. Some who were supporters of early childhood issues ended up voting for the Buesgens amendment and against early childhood issues. We note that in the commentary. We hope that people don’t look at just pluses and minuses on the scorecard but also review the commentary for more of the context for the individual votes.

CR: I noticed with some interest there were a number of DFLers from greater Minnesota who voted in favor of the repeal of the virtual coal moratorium. That sounds like there’s some complexity to that issue. It doesn’t necessarily break down along partisan lines. Tell me a little bit about what the takeaway is from the voting on that particular issue.

Hesse: Another example of bipartisan changes that the Legislature tried to make. The example here is more and more people are recognizing that energy costs are really important to economic development, whether you’re dealing with a business in the metropolitan area or a paper mill in northern Minnesota, a mine in northern Minnesota or a variety of activities around the state. One of our main sources of base-load power is coal. The virtual coal moratorium we tried to remove this year. Because we want to make sure the Public Utilities Commission can debate all types of base-load power when they make future resource plans. I think on a bipartisan basis people agreed those options need to be on the table.

CR: Are there any differences from the 2010 scorecard? Do you notice a difference in the issues that you have to score or voting trends?

Hesse: It’s really difficult to compare one Legislature to another, especially given the major change in the makeup of the Legislature that came with the last election. The last two-year period we did not have many votes, if any, on tort reform, for example — whereas this year, we were able to move tort reform bills through the committee process and onto the floor, and in the Senate’s case, off the floor.

In some respects the change in the makeup of the Legislature made moving some bills a lot easier than others. Last year we were able to move the first round of permitting reform through the Legislature. We just picked up with part two this year.

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