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House, Senate, GOP release State Fair poll findings

The Minnesota State Fair has come and gone, leaving attendees with the lingering memories of concert music and exotic fried foods. The state’s political class got a shot at all that and then some, with a trio of surveys spelling out what was on people’s minds at the Great Minnesota Get-Together.

As is tradition, the House and Senate asked visitors to participate in their annual voluntary surveys. This year, the legislative chambers were joined by the Republican Party of Minnesota, which used its booth to gather input on topics raised through its “Solution Center” concept.

The House poll asked some 7,600 Minnesotans a series of questions based on issues that have come up in recent legislative sessions, or could become topics of discussion in 2015. On the question of imposing a 5-cent-per-gallon sales tax on gasoline, with proceeds going toward “help[ing] fund the backlog of highway and bridge needs around the state,” 54 percent of survey takers said “yes,” 40.5 percent said “no,” and 5.5 percent had no opinion.

That positive finding would be a good sign for advocates of increased transportation funding, which has been floated but quickly scuttled in each of the previous two sessions. A package last year that combined a 5 percent wholesale gas tax — roughly 12 cents per gallon, or more than twice the amount in the House survey — with a metro-area sales tax for light rail and bus funds passed out of one committee, but went no further, thanks to stern opposition from business groups like the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

A number of the poll’s queries covered public health, including one asking if the state should regulate electronic cigarettes “the same as tobacco cigarettes.” Nearly two-thirds (66.4 percent) of respondents answered “yes” to that question, with 22 percent saying “no” and 10 percent undecided. The Legislature passed new regulations on e-cigarettes during the 2014 session, outlawing the practice of “vaping” inside daycare facilities, public schools and other buildings operated by the state, including on public college campuses. The new law stopped short of wholly incorporating e-cigarettes into the Clean Indoor Air Act, which would have banned their use on private property like stores, bars and restaurants.

Most leading supporters of the strict medicinal marijuana law that passed earlier this year were steadfastly opposed to talk of the legislation being a first step toward full legalization. Nevertheless, fair-goers were given the chance to weigh in, and a 48 percent plurality said Minnesotans over age 21 should not be allowed to purchase marijuana for recreational use; another 43 percent supported the idea and 9 percent were unsure.

On the perennial question of allowing Sunday liquor sales, which was snuffed out by DFL Senate leaders this year, 64 percent of respondents approved, with 27.5 percent opposed and 8 percent undecided.

The Senate’s survey captured the opinions of just over 5,000 Minnesotans who stopped by the upper chamber’s exhibit. Like its House counterparts, the Senate broached the issue of marijuana, asking if Minnesotans who qualify for medical cannabis should be allowed to smoke the plant form of the product. As passed, the law only allows for ingesting cannabis via a pill or an oil; smoking was explicitly prohibited as part of a deal reached to gain the sanction of law enforcement organizations which had opposed earlier forms of the bill. That firm exclusion was found to be generally unpopular, as some 46 percent of respondents approved of smoking as a form of treatment, while another 20 percent said it should be allowed only if the patient could not gain relief through the existing options. About 28 percent believed smoking should be outlawed in all circumstances.

Both the House and Senate asked their respective crowds about a proposal to require a 60 percent super-majority from the Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, and both sides narrowly favored the idea. Nearly 52 percent of House respondents liked the concept, as did about 55 percent of the Senate survey pool.

As for the GOP, more than 2,000 people participated in a poll that asked them to rank issues in order of importance. “Protecting rights and privacy” placed first on that list, with more than 20 percent of the vote. That description covers a variety of issues and proposals that have surfaced in recent years, and in 2014 lawmakers created a permanent Legislative Commission on Data Practices in an attempt to balance both individual rights of privacy and how much government information should be made available to the public.

“Family budgets first,” which asserts the state has unfairly spent Minnesotans’ money, came in second on the Republican fair survey, and “Healthcare solutions that work” ranked third. In an accompanying statement, RPM chair Keith Downey said the party had been gathering feedback at its convention and other functions, and would incorporate the results into its “Solution Center” package. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt took the results as a sign that Republicans want “effective government solutions.”

“Single-party, Democrat rule of state government hasn’t served Minnesotans well — from Obamacare to childcare unionization,” Daudt said.

About Mike Mullen

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