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Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park (center, at the microphone), addresses a boisterous Feb. 22 press conference where several bills aimed at curbing gun violence — including his own measure for “universal background checks” — were unveiled. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park (center, at the microphone), addresses a boisterous Feb. 22 press conference where several bills aimed at curbing gun violence — including his own measure for “universal background checks” — were unveiled. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

In the Hopper: Amendment in trouble, gun legislation, biz bills

Amendment in trouble

Despite unexpected opposition from the Senate majority leader, Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, remains optimistic about his bill to permit governors, in a pinch, to pick their own lieutenant governors.

Senate File 2647 would put that question before voters in November as a constitutional amendment.

If it passes the Legislature and voters approve, Marty’s bill would do away with the line of succession that landed Senate President Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, in the executive branch as Gov. Mark Dayton’s lieutenant. Since early January she has held both that title and her old Senate job.

Marty said Sunday he expected the bill to be uncontroversial and attract solid Republican support. The idea already had public backing from House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. Even Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said in December the he considered it to be on the table.

Apparently it has fallen off.

“We don’t need a constitutional amendment,” Gazelka said Monday.

Repeating arguments that Fischbach’s lawyers used in court last month while successfully warding off a constituent’s lawsuit, Gazelka said lieutenant governors have doubled as senators seven times in Minnesota’s past. Four times, he added, they have cast votes as senators — something Fischbach, likewise, has done this session.

Gazelka said his current posture is no change of heart. Indeed, in a Dec. 19 interview with Minnesota Lawyer, he did not commit to the idea — even if he also did not reject it. “I just want to make sure we are doing it the right way,” he said then.

However, on Monday he said his opinion has been uniform. “I have always believed that the president of the Senate should be able to do both,” Gazelka said. Asked if he would discourage Marty’s bill from being heard in committee, Gazelka said, “I haven’t even thought that far.”

Ever the optimist, Marty sees that as an opening. He said Monday he continues to discuss his bill with GOP and DFL lawmakers and even expects to add a Republican co-author this week. He is “very hopeful” that Gazelka will reconsider.

“I’m going to continue,” he said. “I think it has got a very good chance of passing.”

Gun legislation

Advocates packed a Capitol press room Feb. 22 to tout four DFL bills that they hope will reboot some of Minnesota’s firearms laws.

One of them, Senate File 1261, would make pre-purchase background checks universal while a second, Senate File 1262 would allow domestic assault victims to seek firearms-related restraining orders that could result in abusers’ guns being temporarily seized.

A third measure, House File 3020, would launch a $100,000 pilot project to give communities resources to reduce gun-violence trauma.

The fourth, Senate File 2726, would permit the Department of Health to collect de-identified data on legal gun ownership and permits for research purposes. That is something that Nancy Nord Bence, executive director of advocacy group Protect Minnesota, says the department is now prohibited from doing.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said background checks are effective at preventing gun violence. “A background check will detect if someone has a criminally violent history or if you have particularly severe mental illnesses,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing that just makes common sense.”

Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, is a Ramsey County prosecutor who specializes in domestic abuse and sex crimes. He spoke for two bills on which he is a House co-author. Like other Democrats at the press conference, he called on GOP legislative leaders to put the bills up for hearings and votes this year.

“Americans die from guns at rates many times higher than any virtually any other country not at war,” Pinto said. “It is time that we take action to respond to what is a crisis.”

It is anything but clear that Republicans will comply with DFLers’ admonitions.

At a press conference Monday where GOP senators laid out their 2018 legislative priorities, gun legislation was not in the mix. The closest they came a bill was a bill from Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, to establish a safe schools fund aimed at “hardening targets” and protecting students.

Meanwhile, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, said in an interview that his committee will not hear “any far left or far right” firearms legislation this year.

“I want solutions that work,” Limmer said, adding that universal background checks are not among them. “Background checks don’t work when you have a madman committed to shooting up a room full of innocent people,” Limmer said.

Business laws

Two business bills pushed by the Minnesota State Bar Association are moving along at the Legislature.

The first is House File 2764. Though mostly technical, it makes three substantive changes, according to Jonathan Nygren, legislative coordinator for the state bar’s business law section. Boiled down, they include:

  • Authorizing “medium-form mergers.” It also clarifies the steps to do conversions (when a partnership converts into an LLC, for example) and domestications (when a business formed elsewhere opts to be a Minnesota company).
  • Allowing “exclusive form bylaws.” This would allow Minnesota corporations to require all of a corporation’s internal affairs to be decided by Minnesota courts, Nygren said. “We think that has value for business corporations,” he said.
  • Delegating authority for issuing shares such as restricted stock. “A board of directors could put guardrails around what type of shares there are and how many and their timing,” Nygren said. “So, for example, a CEO could issue those shares to employees.”

Versions of the bill cleared both the House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy and the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy committees. But one provision — standardizing fees to establish LLCs, LLPs and nonprofits at $60 — was trimmed from the Senate version, annoying its co-author, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.

Latz said the deleted section would raise some revenue and asked why it was removed. Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, said he had heard House members were opposing the fee hikes, so he eliminated them to focus on more important provisions.

When those objections were raised is unclear. No such complaints were registered during a Feb. 22 Civil Law committee hearing and the House Commerce Committee had to take it up as of Tuesday. Regardless, the revenue lost is minimal — about $7,200 from the state’s general fund, said Bert Black, legal adviser to the Minnesota Secretary of State.

The Senate passed its amended version unanimously and forwarded it to the floor for a possible vote. The House version — with fee changes still in place — must make a pit stop at Commerce before it hits the floor.

The other bill, House File 2743, stems from the state Supreme Court case, 328 Barry Avenue v. Nolan Properties Group. There the court ruled that a two-year civil statute of limitations began to run as soon as a defect — incorrectly installed windows — was discovered near the beginning of a big construction project.

Because it was a three-year project and the fix was not done when the project was nearly complete, the high court ruled that litigants waited too long to file, said Scott Andresen, a member of the bar’s construction law section.

The new law would delay triggering the statute of limitations until a project is substantially complete, or has been either abandoned or terminated. Without the changes, Andresen said, the ruling could force contractors to sue each other preemptively—even if fixes are likely—just to ensure that the litigation clock doesn’t expire.

“We are not trying to keep people from being able to sue within that window if they choose,” Andresen said. “We just are giving them an opportunity so they don’t have to sue each other within the project confines, if they can get it resolved within that time.”

The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote in Civil Law and moves onto the General Register for a possible House floor vote. Its Senate version, Senate File 2468, also passed unanimously in a Judiciary Committee voice vote Monday. It was forwarded to the Senate floor.

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