In the Spotlight

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Abortion, Welfare Rules Highlight Spending Plan
by Amy Radil
March 21, 2000
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Highlights of the Bill

Health and Human Services
   It would prohibit a woman from receiving an abortion unless she provides informed consent, which means she must have received specified information at least 24 hours before the abortion is scheduled to occur.
   In another provision, welfare recipients who fail to follow job hunting rules for six months may be forced to forfeit their checks after a fair hearing process. In the end, lawmakers adopted an amendment on a 116-12 vote that would require counties to monitor children in families that have gone under a 100 percent sanction to make sure they had adequate food and clothing.

   A late-coming amendment would require the Department of Agriculture to develop plans and timelines for moving the department outside the Twin Cities by June 30, 2003, when its current lease expires.    About $10 million is spent on other agricultural initiatives in the bill over the next three fiscal years, including about $3.6 million for ethanol funding.    Other provisions include expanding the state meat inspection program, increasing funding for the pseudorabies program and increasing funding for one-on-one assistance for Minnesota farmers who face crisis by a natural disaster or financial problems.

Environment and Natural Resources
   The bill requires the director of the office of long-range planning to study the possibility of spinning off several divisions of the Department of Natural Resources into a freestanding state agency. They would be the divisions of fish and wildlife, forestry and enforcement.    Another amendment that was adopted would prohibit the DNR from opening state parks later or closing them earlier than scheduled. Some lawmakers believe the DNR closes small parks first during budget shortfalls.

   Carlton County would get $79,000 for expenses incurred during several homicide trials that have been held there in recent years. Ramsey County would receive $250,000 for a domestic abuse pilot project.    The bill also would match $3.8 million in federal disaster relief funds, increase fines for petty misdemeanors and misdemeanors, and create a felony for offenders convicted of a fourth or subsequent DWI charge. The Office of Ombudsman for Corrections also would be eliminated.

State Government
   The most controversial piece of this portion would increase the governor's salary to $150,000 from $120,303, while expanding ethics and conflict of interest rules to include the governor. This could limit his ability to make money from some outside sources.
   The bill also would scale back offices in his administration, trimming $9.5 million total in state government spending. That includes a $2 million reduction for the state planning agency.
   It also would eliminate the Office of Technology and Office of Citizenship and Volunteerism.

Economic Development
   One provision would cap fees paid by the mutual fund industry at $25 million. Another would exempt unspent gift certificates from being turned into the Commerce Department as unclaimed property. A third would extend the application period for Upper Red Lake tourism business loans by six months.

Source: Associated Press
After a marathon 13 hours of debate, the Minnesota House approved a 300-page bill Monday containing a multitude of policy and spending provisions. Among its most controversial items are a total benefit cutoff for welfare recipients who don't comply with the program, and the "women's right to know" bill, which requires that specific information be presented to a woman seeking an abortion. House leaders say they folded many bills into one to save time, but they concede the bill will be a tough sell in a House-Senate conference committee.

A WIDE MAJORITY of representatives found something to like in the massive House legislation, leading to a final vote of 85 to 42 in its favor. The bill includes $21 million in one-time aid to nursing homes to put toward workers, possibly in the form of employee bonuses. It also expands eligibility for the state's senior drug program and extends program benefits to disabled people under age 65. The bill contains language addressing health, agriculture, the environment and crime, to name a few. Republican Phil Krinkie of Shoreview says its very magnitude could make it unwieldy in a House-Senate conference committee.

"I think it's going to be a very difficult bill to conferee," Krinkie predicted. "I don't think there's any doubt about that, just because it contains so many different issues."

While the bill saw endless floor debate and a landslide of amendments, Krinkie says combining so many subjects was intended to save time in the long run. "The Speaker said earlier that he and Majority Leader Moe had earlier in the year decided this would be a better approach than having 10 separate conference committees meeting."

Legislators are hoping to accomplish their work ahead of schedule this session, so they'll have time to reconvene after Governor Jesse Ventura has considered their bills, and possibly override some gubernatorial vetoes. One of the most visible items in Monday's bill is a provision to sanction welfare recipients up to 100 percent, meaning a total cutoff in benefits, if they fail to comply with job search requirements for several months.

Republican Kevin Goodno of Moorhead, who chairs the Health and Human Services finance committee, sponsored the controversial bill. Goodno says his bill would not allow payments to be cut off until the recipient has had a face to face meeting with a caseworker and a fairness hearing. "We put numerous safeguards in place to insure that the people who are sanctioned under this bill are those people that have had the opportunity to comply with the employment plan, have the ability to comply with the employment plan, but choose not to," Goodno said.

Critics say the sanctions could still be applied mistakenly, and would harm a poor and vulnerable population including children. Minneapolis DFLer Greg Gray says he's not worried about the state doing too much to help people get off welfare."We talk about whether the state is being too compassionate, which is a sin," Gray said. "I hope we're guilty of when this is all said and done, but we don't focus enough, certainly in this bill we don't, on what happens to the kids."

Thanks to an infusion of federal welfare money, the entire House package emerges with a savings to the state of about $28 million. The bill would add $90 million in federal welfare funds to the state's general budget. Critics say such a move could get Minnesota in trouble with members of Congress for not putting the money to its intended use. Governor Ventura wants to use the federal money to build affordable housing.

The House bill also contained the so-called "women's right to know" legislation, which requires distribution of printed materials to inform women about the risks of abortion. While the "right to know" language passed with little comment on the House floor, representatives also deleted language to create a bust of Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, a Minnesota native, for display at the Capitol. DFLer Steve Trimble of St. Paul says the group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life lobbied against the Blackmun statue because of the Justice's role writing the "Roe v. Wade" decision.

"I just find it sad that this has become something the MCCL is out in the hallway saying they're going to look at this as an important vote," Trimble said during the debate. "I'm not asking for a plaque that says Roe versus Wade was great."

Another major provision in the bill would provide a seven-year felony penalty for anyone caught driving while intoxicated for a fourth time. Opponents say the number of new felons would require building more prisons, which the legislation doesn't fund. Instead the bill instructs the Department of Corrections to study an array of housing options for the DWI offenders and report back to legislators.