This past week, state Sen. John Marty held a town hall meeting to give Roseville-area constituents his personal take on the 2012 legislative session.
Marty's rap: The session was "mired in social issues and ethics scandals." He took particular umbrage with time spent on the Vikings stadium proposal, the so-called Right To Work legislation and Photo ID bill. But he contended there were some improvements for health and human services programs.
The following is a statement from Marty on the results of the 2012 legislative session:
Frustrating Lack of Progress
When the 2012 legislative session began in January, the legislative majority promised bipartisan cooperation to create jobs and support policies that would boost Minnesota’s economy. Unfortunately, the lengthy session was mired in social issues and ethics scandals.
According to the Legislative Reference Library, the current legislature passed the fewest bills into law since 1869, even though it was the second longest biennial session in state history. I was disappointed that the majority spent so much time on divisive legislation and constitutional amendments.
Health and Human Service Reversals
The most positive outcome of the 2012 legislative session were the fixes to some of the Health and Human Service program cuts in the 2011-12 budget. Many of these cuts were extremely harmful to the elderly, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable people.
After it was clear how devastating some of these cuts were, the 2012 legislature restored some of the cuts to Emergency Medical Assistance, Medical Assistance for Employed People with Disabilities, Adult Foster Care, and to the wages of personal care attendants.
The problems have not been adequately addressed, but it was a big victory that reversed some of the cruelest cuts.
Unfortunately, the proposal to subsidize a new billion dollar stadium for the Vikings became the top legislative priority for many politicians.
Minnesota will be building a spectacular new stadium on the site of the current Metrodome. It will be nice for people attending the games, but more importantly, in the eyes of some, it will be what Pioneer Press sports columnist Charley Walters called, a "cash cow" for the Vikings, and "could be worth an annual profit of at least $30 million to the team and perhaps as much as $40 million...about triple the Vikings' estimated annual profit in the Metrodome."
After Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf spent several million dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions, perhaps it was inevitable.
I won't go into more detail here, but if you are interested, click here to read a letter that I wrote to my legislative colleagues spelling out the reasons I opposed the legislation, along with a subsequent Forbes Magazine article. Note: Since that letter was written, the stadium proposal was modified, so the final size of the public contribution breaks down to $7236 in taxpayer money for every ticket to every game for the next 30 years – an enormous amount, but somewhat less than the figure in the memo.
The legislature passed legislation to amend the state constitution to require voters to present photo identification prior to voting. The amendment now goes on the November ballot for voter ratification.
Although this may sound reasonable to many who have a current driver's license, the reality is that many people do not have such documentation. Many people do not have checking accounts; they do not drive; they have never traveled outside of the country; some have lost their homes and are now homeless. These people would lose their constitutional right to vote.
In the bill that the Republicans passed last year that was vetoed, you would need a drivers license (or the non-driver state ID) showing your current address to vote. Under that proposal, no student ID would be acceptable and there is no way for a friend or neighbor to vouch for your identity.
If your wallet was stolen or lost in the last two or three weeks before the election, there would be virtually no way that you could vote, because you could not get a new driver's license quickly enough.
Supporters claim this legislation will prevent voter fraud. However, there are only a tiny number of ineligible voters voting in Minnesota; virtually all of them are former felons who have completed their prison terms, but whose voting rights have not yet been restored.
And this photo ID requirement won’t stop the .0001 percent of voters who were ineligible because they were felons – your driver's license doesn't indicate felony status.
For those who are concerned that there are non-citizens voting (there is no evidence of any who are), many non-citizens have driver's licenses, and driver's licenses don't show one's citizenship status either.
In other words, the photo ID proposal would not stop a single person from voting illegally. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has been working to improve election laws to prevent the handful of voters who are ineligible from voting, but the photo ID doesn't help.
Requiring a photo ID for voters would disenfranchise thousands of legally registered voters, and it would cost millions for the state and cities to implement.
Seniors who move to an assisted living facility would need to have someone take them from the facility to a local driver's license bureau to get a non-driver's photo ID showing their current address in order to vote. If they move into such a facility in the month before an election, the processing time for the ID is too long, and they would be unable to vote.
Homeless people, many of whom served their country during the Vietnam War, Gulf War, or even Afganistan or Iraq would be denied their right to vote – they don't have a current address long enough to get a driver's license showing that address.
The same would be true for women fleeing abusive husbands, temporarily living in battered women's shelters. They would lose their right to vote.
Furthermore, this photo ID requirement would prevent many of the 500,000 people who register on Election Day from voting and will make it even more difficult for overseas, military and absentee voters, to vote.
Last year, the legislature passed legislation to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex couples from marriage. If voters ratify this amendment in November, this would be the first time in history that the Minnesota Constitution would be used to limit the rights of people. Normally the constitution is used to guarantee rights to the people that government cannot take away.
As the author of legislation that would allow couples to make their own choice of marriage partner without interference by the state, I can’t think of a more intrusive thing for government to do than step in, as it currently does, and tell churches whom they can and cannot marry.
Decisions as to whom one should marry ought to be left to individuals. Government should treat all people equally in terms of civil law; it should not interfere with personal religious beliefs.
My interest in strengthening families is behind my support for allowing same-sex couples to marry. There are many LGBT families in Minnesota, and allowing them to marry would be good for their children – it would strengthen their family ties, not weaken them.
“Right to Work”
The so-called "Right to Work" (RTW) constitutional amendment pushed by Republicans was anything but a right to work. Fortunately, the proposed amendment was not adopted by the legislature.
In 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King described the purpose of "Right to Work" laws as efforts "to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights." Dr. King called "Right to Work," a "false slogan" and a "fraud."
King recognized that unions play a critical role; they have provided better public health and safety standards and have worked to make the economy work for everyone.
When this bill was heard in a Senate committee, hundreds of workers packed the hallways of the capitol outside of the hearing room to express strong opposition to a bill that would take away their rights. They understand that the proposal has nothing to do with any right to work. To them, RTW means "rob the workers."
Fortunately, this deceptive amendment did not pass. Now, we should start talking about a true right to work: Everyone who wants to work should have a right to a job – a job that pays a living wage.