Education, Met Council targets of 2012 bills
Bills aim to change teacher hiring, layoff practices
by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
State lawmakers will be working this session on legislation dealing with education, the Metropolitan Council, corporate law and other areas of human endeavor.
House Education Reform Committee Chairwoman Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, proposes an aggressive agenda for her committee.
The committee will be looking at the so-called “Last In, First Out” layoff rule, which requires school districts to terminate recent hires over older teachers in times of layoffs.
Critics argue such an approach is “quality blind.”
Erickson’s committee also will consider innovative delivery of education.
She seeks to establish multiple long-term school district pilot projects in which educators can try new things.
“The sky is the limit,” Erickson said.
Dayton is reform-minded in terms of education, she explained.
“The governor and I work very well together,” said Erickson. “He really does engage well with (Senate Education Committee Chairwoman) Senator (Gen) Olson and I.”
As for other proposals, Sen. Ted Daley, R-Eagan, is pushing a bill requiring that novice teachers must pass a basic skills test before being allowed to teach.
“Unfortunately, something happened when it got to the governor,” Daley said of Dayton vetoing his bill last year. The legislation will immediately be brought back this session, he said. A teacher can take the test over if they fail, Daley said.
Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, says his bill would prohibit the use of education funding shifts as a budgeting tool.
“In my mind, we didn’t balance the budget,” Brown said of the last session when the state delayed millions of dollars in payments to school districts.
Rep. Bruce Barrett, R-Shafer, is proposing legislation to change the status of Chisago County, in terms on education funding, into a metro county.
He points to stark differences in per pupil school funding between metro school districts like Minneapolis and other school districts as unfair.
Barrett argues for a shift away from the concept of school funding based on the number of poor students to the concept of poor school districts.
Met Council reform
Rep, Peggy Scott, R-Andover, looks to pursuing perceived reforms to the Metropolitan Council. She describes the Met Council as staff-driven organization with an act-first-and-explain-later mentality.
“There’s a lack of accountability,” she said.
Scott said she hears complaints from local governments and private businesses about the council.
“It tells me there’s a problem,” she said.
Senate Local Government and Elections Committee Chairman Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, will be looking at Met Council reform, too.
A body that levies taxes ought to be accountable to voters, Vandeveer said.
He argues such accountability is currently lacking in the Met Council.
Vandeveer is considering legislation that would have counties within the Met Council region appointing county commissioners to the council.
“That’s the wild card,” he said of whether Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton would accept the change.
Still, Vandeveer expects the legislation to advance.
Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka – noting that former Anoka lawmaker Charlie Weaver was a driving force behind the creation of the council — said it would make more sense to him to make the council a state agency rather than tinker with council membership.
Abeler agrees with some of Scott’s and Vandeveer’s concerns. When inexperienced people sit on the Met Council, the agency is really staff-driven, Abeler explained. But he questions whether any governor would accept the potential loss of the power that might come with Met Council reform.
Governors name Met Council members.
“Pawlenty liked it,” he said. “(Democratic Gov. Mark) Dayton likes it,” said Abeler of having the power.
Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee Chairman Chris Gerlach, R-Apple Valley, said one item his committee will address early in the session is the public benefit corporation.
Gerlach described a public benefit corporation as a hybrid between profit and nonprofit corporations.
In a public benefit corporation, investors invest with the idea of making modest returns on their dollars.
For these modest returns, investors are rewarded in knowing the corporation is engaged in part in activities with a public benefit, Gerlach explained.
Under the proposed legislation, liability protection is extended to public benefit corporation board of directors against shareholders intent on greater earnings, Gerlach said.
Gerlach is co-authoring the legislation with the Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville.
His committee will also be looking at occupational licensure, Gerlach said.
Some occupations have needless licensing requirements that serve only to close off the marketplace to immigrants and other new Americans, Gerlach said.
He is looking at removing occupational licensing from some jobs, as long as removal does not pose a danger to the public, he said.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, is considering proposing a right-to-work constitutional amendment, which if approved by voters, would ban forcing people to join unions or paying union dues as a condition of employment.
The proposed amendment would not affect the legal status of unions — people have a right to form unions, Thompson explained.
But Thompson argued the recent proposed child care provider unionization vote shows that unions can be used as political tools.
“I’ve not counted votes,” he said when asked whether the right-to-work amendment could pass the Senate.
Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, looks to decreasing perceived prohibitive environmental regulations blocking business development.
“We’re going to continue in that direction,” he said of making the state friendlier to business. Gazelka noted that Republicans and Dayton had found common ground in business permitting reform and speculated that more common ground and be found.
Business permitting reform is his top piece of legislation, explained Gazelka.
Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine, looks to make state government more efficient.
He mentions legislation for use of advanced technology in preventing waste, fraud and abuse.
Specifically, he looks to the application of advanced technology in human services to improve the identification and rejection of improper Medicaid payments before payment is made to the provider.
“It can prevent the (unnecessary) checks from going out the door,” Sanders said.
Sanders believes millions of dollars can be saved.
T.W. Budig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.