Short-lived win: A rare 2017 instance of a bill being defeated by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans turned out to be a temporary anomaly. The bill was quickly recalled and a Republican changed her vote.
The bill, authored by Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, would sign Minnesota onto an interstate compact for emergency medical service personnel licensure.
The idea, seemingly straightforward, is to enhance public safety by increasing U.S. access to paramedics, air ambulance services and the like, while encouraging member states to cooperate on uniform licensure, criminal background checks and industry regulation.
Backer said seven states have signed on, while eight others including Minnesota are considering it. Once 10 states are onboard the compact will launch, he said.
Backer characterized the compact as a way to deliver emergency medical service (EMS) to areas of the United States hit by disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes or floods. “If we get called, there is paperwork that has to be done before we can offer aid,” he said. “This would simplify the process and allow us to help other Americans in need.”
But the more committee members talked it over, the less they liked it. It faced opposition both the Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters union and the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association—a rare labor-management accord.
“Simply put, it’s wrong for Minnesota,” said firefighters union President Chris Parsons. “It’s a step toward removing Minnesota sovereignty over EMS services.”
Democrats agreed when it emerged in discussion that the Recognition of EMS Personnel Licensure Interstate Compact (REPLICA), would refuse admission to any state whose enacting bill contained amendments.
Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, further balked when he spotted a provision that legally immunizes the compact’s medical officers or governing commission members, should anything go wrong.
“We are just completely outsourcing our EMS without any recourse,” Lesch said. “We just don’t do this—the courts are always an option.”
Lesch offered a motion to kill the bill as improper. That failed 8-7, with Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton joining Democrats. Another vote to move the bill to the Government Operations and Election Policy Committee also failed 8-7, with Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, siding with Lucero.
With that, the bill was dead. But not for long.
Committee Chair Peggy Scott, R-Andover, called for a recess. Ten minutes later the committee reconvened and she recalled the bill, much to the chagrin of Lesch who accused Scott of twisting arms to change the vote.
Scott denied that. Nonetheless, O’Neill did change her vote and a motion for reconsideration passed. Then Scott abruptly ended the meeting.
The adjournment was so sudden that both Lesch and Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, said later that they thought Scott mistakenly believed the bill passed out of the committee, rather than merely being approved for reconsideration.
That was not true. Scott said on Feb. 14 that she knew the bill did not pass and would need to be voted on again before it goes any further.
She also said she has since learned that testimony offered during the Feb. 9 meeting was incorrect, and that the bill can be amended without disqualifying the state from compact membership.
She agreed that the bill has problems and will need tweaking in the coming weeks before it moves forward.
Going to pot: Here’s something we didn’t used to know: Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, and Rep. Jon Applebaum, DFL-Minnetonka, have all had occasion to smoke marijuana. Alas, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, has not.
Yet all are unified in their belief that anyone who wants to chill out with a big, fat spliff should have that opportunity. (Also, none of them smokes the stuff these days.)
Those were among the details that emerged during a Feb. 10 State Office Building press conference at which Liebling, Metsa and Applebaum all said they would offer bills to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota. That would put Minnesota in league with Colorado, Washington and California on the pot front.
Applebaum, an attorney and deputy minority DFL House leader, and Metsa later offered bills numbered consecutively as House Files 926 and 927. Applebaum’s bill would legalize marijuana through legislative action. Metsa’s would put the question to voters as a constitutional amendment.
Liebling said that she, too, would offer a bill to put the question to voters, but as of Feb. 15 she had not done so.
Liebling, whose Rochester district is home to many Mayo Clinic physicians, admitted she has heard from some doctors who oppose her idea. Further, she said, she does not think marijuana is entirely harmless—particularly when used by people with psychiatric problems.
Yet prohibition is more harmful than the drug itself, she said, particularly for people of color. She cited 2008 FBI arrest statistics showing that black Minnesotans were arrested for marijuana-related offenses 9.8 times more often than whites. Yet blacks are only slightly—1.5 times—more likely to use the drug, she said.
“That is pretty astonishing,” she said.
Asked whether legalizing pot is a good look for Democrats politically, Metsa said it isn’t about politics—it’s about action.
“This is about being out there and not being afraid of our own shadows,” Metsa said. “People want us to take on big issues.”
While their bills each have several DFL co-sponsors, neither has Republican support. Both were referred to the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee and await further action.
Nonprofit statute: A legislative push to “harmonize and modernize” nonprofit corporation statutes has moved most of the way toward legislative passage.
Lowe, an executive council member on the Minnesota State Bar Association’s business law section, presented the House bill to the Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee in mid-January.
There she said that, among its changes, the legislation would permit nonprofit corporate board members to vote electronically.
“Many of our nonprofit directors do this anyway,” Lowe said. “It’s the modern world and it is the way that people interact when they are on boards of directors. But our statute doesn’t allow for that.”
Much of the bill’s language deals with “conversions.” Its changes would, for example, make it easier for an out-of-state nonprofit company to move its headquarters to Minnesota, Lowe said.
“Now when that happens, it takes a great deal of legal fees and mechanisms,” Lowe said. “So the conversions that we are recommending are meant to ease that process.” The changes would not, however, impact the state Attorney General’s nonprofits oversight function, she said.
The Civil Law committee passed the bill in a unanimous voice vote, and it moved from there to the House floor. It passed there, 127-0, on Feb. 2.
It received its second Senate reading on Feb. 9. However, the bill was not taken up during the Senate’s Feb. 15 floor session, so it still awaits that body’s final debate.
Correction: Due to a transcription error, the first of three votes described in this story was initially reported as having two Republicans joining Democrats. Only one Republican voted with Democrats in that instance. The second vote—to move the bill onto the next committee—did have two Republican votes as reported.