The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 27, 2014

Reporter's Notebook: Cornish finds a gun control bill he likes


The Mankato Free Press

---- — It’s not very often that Tony Cornish supports a gun-control bill. After all, this is the legislator whose truck has a decal of a hand grasping a rifle with the caption “From my Cold Dead Hands!”

But the Republican from Vernon Center says he’ll vote for a bill that takes guns away from people accused of domestic assault.

When the bill was first written, a suspect’s guns could be taken away without a hearing and stored by law enforcement. These provisions, and others, stirred up fears that false allegations would lead to gun seizures, Cornish said.

Since then, he and others have worked with the bill’s sponsor, St. Paul Park DFLer Dan Schoen, to modify that language.

“And now it balances the protection of gun owners with the ability to protect spouses from domestic violence with guns,” Cornish said.

For example, a judge must decide that there is a credible threat of harm to a spouse before guns can be taken. There’s also an improved process for having guns returned, Cornish said, that involves a third party storing them instead of law enforcement.

He said he’ll vote for the bill, even though some gun owners will still view it as too much compromise.

But the situation in Vermont, where he said gun advocates are up in arms over a similar bill without these changes, is “a prime example of why it’s better to work together like we did,” Cornish said.

“The best advice is to water them down and protect the rights of gun owners before they pass,” he said.

If that sounds like something other than a full-throated endorsement, well …

“There’s a large belief in the gun community that these laws don’t do a lick of good,” Cornish said.

Torkelson gets tax duty

Rep. Paul Torkelson, a Republican from Hanska, will be one of five House members to work with the Senate on a tax-relief bill worth about $100 million.

Torkelson is pleased to be serving on the committee. Even more, though, he's “just pleased that there’s tax relief at all coming out of the Democrat majority.”

The committee’s job is to combine the House and Senate versions of the bill into one version. As a member of the House, it will be Torkelson’s role to support his chamber's position.

One difference between the bills is that the House is seeking one-time property tax relief while the Senate is seeking to allow more types of local governments (like special sewer districts) to be free from the sales tax. The Senate’s approach is longer-term, while House members, up for election this fall, want to show immediate impact.

Torkelson said he hopes the final bill doesn’t have a lot of long-term costs.

“I’m all for tax relief and the more the better but we do have to be prudent,” he said.

Both bills have some long-term sales tax relief, including a clarification to the sales tax exemption passed last year. The exemption doesn’t apply to local governments' purchases of goods or services that are “generally provided by a private business,” such as for city-run liquor stores.

To take a more bewildering example, if City Hall is rented out for private use, then some percentage of it is subject to the sales tax, Torkelson said.

“It’s really complicated and difficult for a small town to deal with,” he said. At some point, a relatively small exemption becomes more trouble than it’s worth.

DUI exemption in question

A bill to specify that lawmakers do not have legal immunity from drunken-driving arrest during session received a setback March 27 when it was tabled by the Senate judiciary committee. Its Senate sponsor, Mankato DFLer Kathy Sheran, is looking for a way to revive it.

A similar version passed the House on April 10.

The judiciary committee chair, Ron Latz of St. Louis Park, is unlikely to help. He’s sent out at least two press releases over the past two weeks explaining his position — that the state Constitution’s exemption from arrest only applies to civil, not criminal, cases. Thus, he argues the bill corrects a misperception, not an actual problem.

Sheran said she is looking for a similar bill in the Senate to attach the DUI immunity bill to, but she’s not yet found a bill that’s similar.

Failing that, she has asked Latz to articulate his approach — that education, not legislation, should be the goal — in a bill of his own.

Dan Linehan can be reached at dlinehan@mankatofreepress.com or 344-6355.