The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 17, 2014

What did 2014 Legislature do for you? Here's what

(Continued)

OFFICE BUILDING

Lawmakers signed off on a new office building for state senators that became a political wedge issue for Republicans. They repeatedly attacked Democrats and Dayton for what they characterized as an opulent project. The proposal that ultimately passed scaled the project back a bit. It's cost $90 million — with $77 million covered by taxpayers — and will move ahead unless a longshot lawsuit stops it.

OIL SAFETY

The North Dakota crude shipped through Minnesota will come with extra safeguards. Lawmakers established a railroad and pipeline safety account to pay for emergency personnel training and response in the event of a spill. Railroad operators would have to provide training in dealing with oil and hazardous substances. There are also pollution control preparedness plans. The money comes from annual assessments of rail and pipeline companies.

TAX RELIEF

Is this an election year? Just look at all that tax relief. Lawmakers took advantage of a strong financial position — a projected $1.2 billion surplus — and agreed to send about half of that back to citizens (and voters). Some of the tax relief came in the form of income and property tax breaks, like refund checks typically distributed in October. Some other money undid 2013 changes that boosted business sales taxes, leading Republicans to accuse Democrats of political opportunism.

TRANSPORTATION

Advocates for big spending on transportation didn't get it this year, as lawmakers quailed at a proposed tax hike that would have raised about a half-billion dollars. The problem with that? It would have bumped the cost of a gallon of gas by more than a dime. And legislators chose to send much of a projected budget surplus to tax cuts and cash reserves. Some tiny consolation prizes made it into the borrowing bill.

WOMEN'S ECONOMIC SECURITY

Watch for updates to workplace protection laws. Parents can be able to take 12 weeks of pregnancy/parental leave when they give birth or adopt. That's up from six weeks. Nursing mothers are assured of private space to express milk. "Familial status" was written into employment practice law to keep women from being passed over for promotions by a boss who thinks their family will get in the way of their work. And companies with state contracts above $500,000 must prove they pay men and women the same money for similar work.

UNSESSION

Dayton pushed to give the state's law books a good spring cleaning, purging outdated or duplicative laws. His goal was to speed up service delivery and reduce permitting wait time in the process. His administration came forward with more than 1,000 ideas — many so obscure they'd long been forgotten — and his tally of wins was at 925 as of Friday.

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