Month into session, progress at the Capitol

MARSHALL – Barring something drastic – or a surge of spontaneous, drawn-out floor drama – don’t expect a special session at the state Capitol this year.

The fact that this is an election year might very well play a factor in legislators’ desire to flee St. Paul ASAP this spring, but that notwithstanding, things are reportedly going smoothly so far in the session – smoothly enough to put legislators on track for a timely adjournment in May.

“Things are moving right along,” said Republican Rep. Chris Swedzinski of Ghent. “Right now we’re facing some policy deadlines, and we’ve really just been crunching to get bills through different committees and getting things heard.”

One big hurdle that’s already been cleared is the passage and signing of an omnibus tax bill. Already, less than a month into this shorter-than-usual legislative session, Gov. Mark Dayton last week signed a wide-reaching tax bill into law that will provide substantial tax relief to many Minnesotans. The bill uses some of the state budget surplus to reduce taxes on families and businesses, increases funding for public schools, and simplifies the state tax code through federal conformity.

Under the bill, the gift tax has been eliminated and the estate tax has been simplified. Also, all three business-to-business taxes have been repealed – the tax on electronic, farm and commercial equipment repair, the tax on warehousing and storage services and the tax on telecommunications equipment.

The House is also moving forward on a second tax bill it says will make further reductions in property taxes for homeowners, renters and farmers.

In addition to property tax relief, this House tax bill, introduced Wednesday, includes tax relief for small businesses. The bill provides a property tax cut for small businesses with property value less than $1.1 million by excluding all commercial and industrial property with a value less than $150,000 from the statewide general property tax.

The bill includes sales tax reforms that provide additional sales tax relief to businesses. The bill also provides tax relief to active military members by extending the active military income tax subtraction to National Guard service members in the Active Guard Reserve.

Swedzinski is carrying two provisions in the second House tax bill – one that would provide sales tax forgiveness for donated construction materials related to the Marshall-Lyon County Library, and one that would expand the existing motor vehicle sales tax exemption for road maintenance vehicles, including snow plows and dump trucks for cities and counties.

“If they’re taking care of the roads with this equipment, why should they have to pay a sales tax,” Swedzinski said. “It’s a common-sense thing.”

Some of the current issues and bills making the rounds at the Capitol include anti-bullying legislation, e-cigarettes, raising the minimum wage, funding for the 5% Campaign, medical marijuana and Sunday liquor sales, which passed by the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

Minnesota is one of 12 states that doesn’t allow in-store liquor sales on Sunday. Sixteen states have repealed bans since 2000, and all four states that border Minnesota allow Sunday sales.

Swedzinski is against liquor stores opening on Sundays, saying that the bill goes too far, but recently proposed his own bill – the Brau Brothers bill – that has made its way into the omnibus liquor bill that would allow cities to approve sunday sales and tap room openings on Sundays for breweries.

“I think this bill finds some common ground,” he said. “Thankfully, I’ve found a lot of support from my colleagues.”

Swedzinski also said that he has met with Gov. Dayton on “Drake’s Law,” which would stiffen the penalties for repeat drunk drivers.

“We had a long conversation about ‘Drake’s Law,'” he said, “and the governor’s staff is currently reviewing it. We’re working very hard to get that to happen.”

One big mountain left to climb during the 2014 session is the construction bill. Since this is a bonding year, legislators and the governor need to bang out a bill that will allocate funds to construction projects across the state. Two of those projects are in Marshall – the regional amateur sports center and MERIT Center expansion – and are among many projects looking for funding assistance.

“We’re moving into some of the policy issues and bonding negotiations; I know leadership and the governor are trying to make sure we can iron out a general agreement and have a (bonding) bill around the $850 million mark. We have to set priorities, and obviously the Marshall projects will be part of the negotiations.”