Challenges remain forseasoned lawmakers

Chris Vetter

University-area voters sent a veteran crew of lawmakers to this year’s legislative session, ready to tackle issues ranging from environmental protection to the school’s budget.
Although all the legislators embraced different areas of interest, they each gave close attention to issues that affect the University and its student body.
Although none of the University-area legislators serve on higher education committees, five of them head important committees in their respective chambers, and all of them have served at least seven years in office.
The six legislators who represent the University area are all members of the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party. Throughout the recently completed session, they all supported increased funding for higher education and making the state’s welfare laws tougher on those who abuse the system.
And with a special session looming in the next few weeks, their jobs are far from done.
Here is a look at these legislators and their accomplishments during the last year:
East Bank Campus
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, District 59B

Kahn, an outspoken environmental advocate for most of her 25 years as a lawmaker, led a failed legislative charge to move the University’s Southeast Steam Plant off the Mississippi River.
“I’m trying to save the University from itself,” Kahn said in floor debate earlier this session. Kahn, who was joined by Gov. Arne Carlson and Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, wants the University to move the steam plant off-river because of the environmental threat it poses to the river and area residents.
Even though University officials told legislators they would not relocate the steam plant, Kahn moved forward with plans to allocate $15 million to the University for moving the facility. That money was removed from a bonding bill on May 19 when legislators concluded that the University would not move the plant despite the financial offer.
“The big disappointment this session is not getting anything done about the steam plant,” she said.
Kahn has traditionally been concerned with environmental issues, and during her last term in office, she received a 100 percent rating from the Sierra Club, an environmental protection group, because of her environmentally friendly voting record. During last fall’s campaign, she rested confidently on her solid environmental record.
While Kahn was involved with the steam plant, she also introduced a bill calling for a study of industrial hemp usage. Hemp, which can be used to make clothes and rope, is a member of the same plant family as marijuana, and is illegal to grow in the United States.
Although the Senate passed the hemp study legislation, the session ended before the bill was discussed on the House floor, killing the bill.
Kahn also chaired the Government Operations Committee, which authorized $550 million for state employees’ salaries and other administrative costs.
Last, Kahn introduced a bill that died in the House Tax Committee that would have allowed the state to buy the Minnesota Twins for $100 million and then sell shares of the team to the public.

Sen. Larry Pogemiller, District 59

Pogemiller heads the Senate K-12 Education Committee, which provides funding for all public elementary, middle and high schools in the state.
Funding for K-12 education in the state remains a big question. The more than $6 billion 1998-99 biennial K-12 spending bill has been held up by Carlson, who called a special session of the Legislature to resolve the issue. Carlson insists that the bill include $150 million in tax credits for families who want to choose which schools the children attend. Most legislators oppose school choice tax credits.
The Harvard-educated senator introduced a compromise voucher plan called “Common Schools of Excellence,” which would give extra money to schools with impoverished students if those students made significant academic progress.
However, the plan died in conference committee because House representatives did not support the voucher plan.
While the K-12 funding bill has occupied most of Pogemiller’s time, he joined Kahn in an effort to move the University’s steam plant. However, the bill he introduced died in the Senate.
Pogemiller, who campaigned last fall to bring more funding to the University, only played a limited role in higher education policy because of his involvement with K-12 education.
He did vote for several bills involving higher education issues. However, one bill, which provided constitutionally mandated support for lower-income students, was voted down by Pogemiller and other members of the Senate.

St. Paul Campus
Rep. Mary Jo McGuire, District 54A

Heading into the session, McGuire expressed the need for new leadership in the House of Representatives. The body elected a new speaker, Rep. Phil Carruthers, DFL-Brooklyn Center, last summer. McGuire was the only University-area legislator not serving as chair of a full committee during the past session.
She did serve as chairwoman of the House Data Privacy Subcommittee, which reviewed a bill to allow students access to teachers’ evaluations.
McGuire’s subcommittee passed the bill unanimously, but the legislation was later killed before gaining a hearing in the Senate.
Traditionally a proponent of crime prevention measures, McGuire also sponsored the anti-stalking bill that passed both houses and was signed by Carlson earlier this month.
The law strengthens the original anti-stalking law, which she also sponsored, by simply requiring that a lawyer prove an offender committed an act of stalking. The old law required proof that the offender committed the act of stalking with harmful intent.
“Generally, this was a good session,” McGuire said.

Sen. John Marty, District 54

Marty was one of the most visible University-area legislators this year.
Although he chaired the Election Laws Committee, which passed a law making it easier to vote by mail, Marty spent most of his time on other issues. He made good on his campaign promise to strongly oppose public funding for a new baseball stadium and hockey arena. He also supported tougher drunken driving laws.
Public money should be used for new schools and education, not for new stadiums, Marty said. He criticized legislators for supporting plans to spend millions to renovate or rebuild the 24-year-old St. Paul Civic Center, while many Twin Cities students attend dilapidated schools twice as old as the arena.
Marty is still a vocal opponent of a publicly financed baseball stadium for the Twins. Marty’s leadership might have contributed to the failure of any stadium bill to pass through the Legislature.
Even though the stadium bills were stopped, Marty said the session was disappointing.
“I was very frustrated,” he said. “Our priorities are all wrong. We are willing to spend hundreds of millions on new stadiums, but trying to help wages of University faculty was not a priority.”
The key issue Marty supported this year was a plan to reduce the blood alcohol level for arresting drunken drivers from the current level of .10 to .08. The bill also increases penalties for offenders who exceed a .20 blood-alcohol content and sets the level for people under the age of 19 to .04. The bill also requires tougher sentences for repeat drunk drivers.
While the .08 blood-alcohol level was killed in the conference committee, the other changes passed. The bill was sent to Gov. Carlson, who will likely sign or veto the bill this week.

West Bank Campus
Rep. Lee Greenfield, District 62A

Greenfield chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, which is a perfect fit for Greenfield, who has been involved in human services issues for many years. He campaigned last fall to work on effective welfare reform and pass a universal health care plan.
During the session, his committee passed a $5.3 billion bill providing funding for the state’s health programs, medical assistance and nursing home care.
The bill later stirred controversy when the Defense of Marriage Act was attached to it. The act, known as DOMA, defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The bill allows the state to withhold marital benefits, such as tax deductions, from gay couples in Minnesota.
Greenfield was only one of three legislators that chose not to support the marriage act and later voted against his own bill because of the provision.
“It is a totally unnecessary provision,” Greenfield said. “I don’t know why one wouldn’t want gays to have the right to marry.”

Sen. Carol Flynn, District 62.

Flynn, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said she had a frustrating year.
“I don’t feel like I accomplished much,” Flynn said. “There is a continued failure to fund transit.”
Flynn’s committee attempted to raise the state gas tax 5 cents per gallon to pay for improved roads and better bus and transit systems. The bill passed in the Senate but died in the House.
The committee also passed a bill to increase speed limits on freeways within the Twin Cities area from 55 mph to 65 mph, and increase speeds outside the metro area from 65 mph to 70 mph.
Flynn opposed the speed limit increase, fearing that more deaths would be caused by careless drivers.
“I’m certain of it,” Flynn said. “There is no question in my mind that more fatalities will occur.”
The bill has advanced to the governor, who might not approve it because it does not contain funding for 75 new state troopers that he requested.
Another of Flynn’s key bills this session was legislation that would make the Metropolitan Council an elective body. Council members, who decide policy on growth within the Twin Cities, are currently appointed by the governor.
Although the bill passed through both houses, Gov. Carlson vetoed the measure, killing it for the year.