The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 13, 2014

Minn. lawmakers give taste of 2014 session bills

BRIAN BAKST
Associated Press

---- — ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Lawmakers itching to get proposals in the pipeline introduced them Monday well ahead of the 2014 session, giving each other and the public a taste of the debates in store.

A whopping 278 bills landed more than six weeks before the Legislature formally convenes. Committees can start discussing the bills without taking action.

Many measures deal with repealing or modifying taxes, several advocate for hometown public works projects, and some would address nagging problems with Minnesota's health insurance marketplace. Others seek to regulate consumer interactions, from massage parlors to liquor stores to Internet-based lottery tickets to e-cigarettes.

The introduction deadline applied to the House only. The Senate won't start accepting early bills until mid-February. The session must conclude by mid-May.

Here's a glimpse at some of the proposals:

TAX REPEALS

A host of legislation would scrap newly enacted taxes. The bills have bipartisan authors but all go after taxes passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature in the waning hours of last year's session.

Gov. Mark Dayton has already indicated that he would dump new business taxes on warehousing centers, telecommunications equipment and farm machinery repair. But he can't do it without legislative approval.

An $825 million budget surplus would help offset the lost revenue from the tax repeals.

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SUNDAY LIQUOR SALES

People who want to do away with a ban on Sunday liquor store sales are gearing up for a new push, even though lawmakers have debated — and defeated — the repeal effort for years.

Some bills seek to scrap the ban entirely. One bill would give communities the right to decide if liquor stores stay closed on Sunday.

Minnesota is among a dozen states that still have the so-called blue law, and Dayton has said he would sign a repeal bill.

But opposition will be strong from a collection of liquor store owners who doubt it would enhance profits and a union for delivery professionals who don't want to give up a built-in day off.

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CELLPHONES

There are bills attempt to regulate when a cellphone can be used and what happens if a smartphone goes missing.

Under one proposal, it would be illegal to use a phone while driving through a construction work zone, even if the phone has a hands-free attachment.

A separate plan would require smartphones sold in the state to come with a "kill switch." The technology makes it easier for people to remotely disable phones that are lost or stolen. The rationale is that such a feature would cut down on device theft, but some argue it would make phones more expensive or harder to get in Minnesota.

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MNSURE

Some lawmakers are seizing on woes with MNsure, Minnesota's health insurance exchange, by pressing for change.

One bill would require insurance premium rates for 2015 to be published no later than Sept. 1, well ahead of the next open enrollment period. The premiums are likely to be a flashpoint in the November election, so the timing of the rate information could get caught up in campaign-year politics.

Another bill would prohibit MNsure employees or contractors from having access to personal data if they have criminal fraud or theft convictions in their past.

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LOTTERY SALES

Minnesota's $500 million-a-year lottery could encounter new restrictions.

Players could soon be able to purchase popular scratch-off tickets via the Internet, and Powerball and Mega Millions tickets could be broadly available at gas pumps and ATMs. But one bill would stop the expansion of electronic ticket sales from going forward.

A bill pending from last year would require buyers to purchase tickets inside a store.

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E-CIGARETTE REGULATION

The spread of electronic cigarettes could face some regulatory curbs.

A bill would clarify that the devices are to be treated similarly to traditional regulatory tobacco products. As such, they would be prohibited in schools, explicitly illegal to sell to children and subject to local control ordinances.

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ELECTION LAW

It is, after all, an election year. So, there will certainly be attempts to change voting laws.

One would allow Minnesota residents who are 17 years old to vote in a summer primary election if they will turn 18 by the general election that fall.