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Dayton rebuffs call for special session

Kevin Featherly//May 31, 2018

Dayton rebuffs call for special session

Kevin Featherly//May 31, 2018

Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, meets with the media Wednesday morning to call for a special session to help fix the state’s troubled elder-care abuse investigations system. Gov. Mark Dayton later rebuffed her, calling it “a political stunt. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, meets with the media Wednesday morning to call for a special session to help fix the state’s troubled elder-care abuse investigations system. Gov. Mark Dayton later rebuffed her, calling it “a political stunt. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Just as Gov. Mark Dayton was poised to wrap up his final bill signings and vetoes as governor, a new challenge over legislation long-since quashed surfaced.

Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, called on Dayton Wednesday to convene a one-topic special session to deal with the state’s troubled elder-abuse investigation system.

Housley offered legislation this year that established rights for elder-care patients to make abuse complaints while also requiring notification of family members when complaints get made. Among other provisions, it also appropriated $1.3 million to hire nine new ombudsmen to deal with complaints.

All that disappeared on May 23 when Dayton vetoed the nearly 1,000-page supplemental budget bill. But Housely—who happens to be running for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Dayton’s ex-lieutenant governor, Tina Smith—wants to it resurrected.

“I am not going to stop just because session ended and the governor vetoed the supplemental bill with elder care in it,” Housely said. “I am going to continue to work in this off session.”

She said the issues facing elderly patients in assisted living facilities are critical and time-sensitive and can’t wait for the next legislative session.

Be that as it may, Dayton won’t cooperate. At a Wednesday press conference, he brushed off Housley’s call for a special session.

“They should have sent me a separate bill and had a bill that the advocacy groups could support,” Dayton said. “I think it is a political stunt on her part.”

Groups like the AARP objected to what they considered water-down provisions in the elder-care legislation, which they suspect were meant to placate companies running the centers. For instance, Dayton said in his May 23 veto letter, the vetoed language didn’t require licensure of assisted-living facilities. Minnesota is the only state in the nation without that requirement.

Nor did the vetoed omnibus bill provide private rights of enforcement for elderly and vulnerable adults in long-term care facilities, the governor said. And it failed to give the elderly basic public rights of action to avoid eviction from care facilities, he wrote.

“Now she is going to run around the state pretending she did something,” Dayton said of Housely shortly after her special session request. “She didn’t.”

On Thursday morning, Dayton signed a public pension-stabilization bill that eliminates $3.4 billion in unfunded liabilities. He said it was the last bill he would ever sign as governor.

Bonding bill OK’d

On Wednesday, Dayton vetoed four bills and reluctantly signed the Legislature’s $825 million bonding bill. Over the week, he signed 17 bills into law.

The bonding bill provides $20 million to the Department of Corrections for asset preservation—roof repairs, door replacements, new pipes and the like—around the state. The agency also gets $16 million for long-delayed plumbing and ventilation upgrades at the St. Cloud state prison and $1.9 million to renovate DOC’s Moose Lake facility control room.

A $2 million allocation to expand Willow River’s boot-camp-like Challenge Incarceration Program, included in the Senate’s bonding bill, disappeared in conference committee negotiations. It would have increased statewide prison capacity by about 45 beds.

The Department of Human Services, meanwhile, receives $128 million in the bonding bill to distribute as grants; they will jump start regional Minnesota mental health crisis centers. It also gets $6.7 million to replace the roof, install new air conditioning and perform hazardous materials abatement at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center. And it gets $2.2 million to make improvements to a sweltering kitchen at DHS’ St. Peter Regional Treatment Center.

One element absent from the final bill was a $16 million request to expand Community Preparation Services at St. Peter’s Minnesota Sex Offender Program. The Senate had granted half that amount, but it was snipped from the final bill.

Acting DHS Commissioner Chuck Johnson identified the project as his agency’s top bonding priority. Offenders are being court-ordered into the transitional treatment program at an accelerating rate and there is no space to accommodate them, he said.

Dayton was asked about that Wednesday. He responded with a jab at legislators. “It’s just again turning their back on the problem and sticking their head in the sand,” he said.

Vetoes and signings

One decision that attracted social media attention Wednesday was Dayton’s veto of a critical infrastructure protest bill, the House version of which was authored by Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove.

In a mid-April interview, Smith described it as attempt to hold accountable anyone who “trains or encourages or instructs someone to go cause damage” to critical infrastructure.

“If you commit the damage yourself, you are already held liable,” Smith said. “This simply adds that if you instruct or train someone to do that, then you are going to be held liable.”

Dayton Wednesday called that an “absolutely Nixonian” idea. “If you are in a discussion with someone who goes off and does something, you can be charged with a conspiracy,” the governor said.

Three statutes on the books that offer prosecutors ways to punish people who damage or conspired to damage critical infrastructure, he said, so there is no need for a “guilt by association” bill.

Dayton also vetoed three other bills. One, House File 3422, would have undermined the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s authority with respect to wild rice sulfate standards, he said. Another, Senate File 2809 would have restructured the Metropolitan Council’s governance without full stakeholder consensus.

The other, House File 3463, would have imposed unfunded mandates on the Public Safety Department and the embattled Minnesota Licensing and Registration System.

Of the bills Dayton signed in recent days, several are of note to attorneys.

  • Senate File 3673 (Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove) prevents those committed as sexually dangerous or sexually psychopathic from being fully discharged unless a judicial panel determines they no longer need treatment or supervision. It was prompted by a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision granting Kirk Alan Fugelseth, 51, full discharge from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. DHS acting Commissioner Johnson was concerned the ruling could allow offenders to skip the transitional step of provisional discharge.
  • Senate File 2578 (Sen. Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth) modifies controlled substance schedules. Among its key provisions, it creates a gross misdemeanor offense for adults who sell kratom, an herbal compound derived from plants related to coffee. It has been used without FDA approval to manage chronic pain and opioid withdrawal symptoms—and for recreational purposes. The same bill strikes references to “hazardous substances” from DWI statutes. It fixes a legal loophole that several years ago overturned a woman’s conviction for huffing a chemical known as “Dust-off” that was not on the list of “hazardous substances” under Chapter 5206 of the Minnesota Administrative Rules.
  • House File 3660 (Housely): This bill relates to the state’s water contamination settlement with 3M, creating an account to manage the $725 million the state has left over after paying attorney’s fees. The bill prioritizes clean drinking water for affected east metro areas residents. After that, settlement money can be used to restore resources and rectify other environmental problems caused by the contamination. Only when both those goals are achieved could any money be used to improve water quality elsewhere in the state.

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