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Home / Politics / Prefiled House bills take up drones, school ‘smut’
The first 279 House bills of the 2014 legislative session are already on record, thanks to a pre-filing deadline earlier this month. Many of those bills find legislators eager to peel back last year’s new business taxes, while another stack bears witness to members’ best efforts to push pet capital investment projects to the front of the line.

Prefiled House bills take up drones, school ‘smut’

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, is one of the sponsors of a House bill that would use the state’s expected budget surplus to increase general fund reserves. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, is one of the sponsors of a House bill that would use the state’s expected budget surplus to increase general fund reserves. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The first 279 House bills of the 2014 legislative session are already on record, thanks to a pre-filing deadline earlier this month. Many of those bills find legislators eager to peel back last year’s new business taxes, while another stack bears witness to members’ best efforts to push pet capital investment projects to the front of the line.

Other proposals broached in the pre-filings stray a bit further from the beaten path. The category of lower-profile bills include measures that would regulate the use of drone technology, grow the state’s budget reserves and remove pictures or drawings of naked people from the sex education material in public school classrooms.

Though these bills are unlikely to take center stage this session, they give some insight into lawmakers’ priorities and suggest some of the issues that might crop up once the opening gavel sounds.

H.F. 1982

In the minds of this bill’s supporters, a surplus is a terrible thing to waste. With a projected $825 million surplus as of the November forecast report, debate has centered on whether the state should spend that money or, alternatively, use the windfall to cut taxes.

This bill offers a third option, and would see the state begin socking the excess funds away for a rainy day. Under H.F. 1982, chief authored by Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, the state would set a “target amount” of $2 billion for the budget reserves. That’s roughly twice the level the state currently has in the bank, and it comports with a recent recommendation by Minnesota’s Council of Economic Advisers reported in the November forecast. The bill also proposes that the desired amount of reserves be adjusted annually to keep pace with spending levels.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, a co-author of Erhardt’s bill, said the proposal is an attempt to get the public sector off the “roller coaster” that has roiled the state’s finances for several years. By saving money during good times, Davnie argued, Minnesota can avoid having to make the difficult choices of what programs to cut when tax revenues fall, as happened during the recent economic downturn.

“Too often,” said Davnie, “what we don’t do is have the prudent conversation of what our budget reserves should be.”

The likelihood of prudence giving way to politics is already on Davnie’s mind: Especially in an election year, many more legislators will be interested in finding ways to spend the money or give it back through tax cuts.

It’s hard to get the average voter excited by saying, ‘I increased the budget reserves,’” Davnie said. “The politics don’t sing on this one.”

Should Erhardt’s bill begin to gain traction, he can expect to gain a supportive voice from Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) Commissioner Jim Schowalter, who met the November forecast news by saying increased reserves has typically been his preferred use of a surplus. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has also spoken in favor of increasing budget reserves.

H.F. 1994

Once thought of as a futuristic tool deployed only by the United States military, and only against foreign fighters, the use of unmanned surveillance drones has begun to hit closer to home. Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, said he is aware of at least a dozen instances in which Minnesota police forces have used aerial drones in the course their regular duties.

Johnson’s bill, which he also entered last session, would set a strict statewide policy on when and how law enforcement drones could be used. Under the legislation, police would be allowed to use drones to prevent a terrorist attack or to help handle a situation involving “imminent danger to life or serious damage to property.” Aside from these emergency scenarios, all other drone flights would require the police agency to obtain a warrant, an element that Johnson — a former Isanti County Sheriff’s deputy — said is only a minor impediment to police work.

“It’s only going to be two or three extra sentences in a search warrant,” Johnson said.

The bill’s resurfacing this year is partly a result of encouragement Johnson received from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, which reached out to him after the 2013 session. Law enforcement officials are seeking guidance on the issue, according to Johnson, and want to have black-and-white boundaries regarding unmanned drones.

The proposal has a pair of DFL co-authors, Reps. Tom Anzelc of Balsam Township and Jason Metsa of Virginia, who both said the issue boils down to a matter of privacy in their eyes. Anzelc observed that his constituents are generally supportive of the role of government, but are also wary of the possible intrusion into people’s private lives.

“It just feels, to me, inherently wrong that privacy can be invaded — either by the government or other forces in the society,” Anzelc said.

H.F. 1997

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, is not particularly comfortable talking about some of the examples of educational materials that he has found inappropriate. It would be easier, he said, and more vivid, if he simply showed the pictures.

Gruenhagen’s proposal would remove the current exemption for public schools from the state obscenity law. Presently, schools are among a protected group of organizations that are permitted to show “sexually explicit” content to minors. But the two-term Republican said he is deeply troubled by some of the explicit sex education material he has collected, some of which was being presented to children as young as 10.

“If you saw the pictures of some of the curriculum that has been available in some classrooms, the average person would be concerned,” he said.

Gruenhagen spent 16 years serving on the Glencoe-Silver Lake School Board, and said that in his experience, the instructional resources have grown more explicit over the years, and are being given to younger and younger children. He plans to meet with House research staffers prior to the session to help refine his proposal, and will also begin reaching out to his caucus members and Democrats in an effort to gain co-authors.

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One comment

  1. You didn’t mention DFL 59A Rep. Joe Mullery’s bill to require taxpayer funded housing for Level 3 Sex Offenders. HF 2140.

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