Saturday, February 5, 2011

Budget - Spending + Tax Cuts = Prosperity?

When this session started, there were many questions that I thought had the potential to become major themes in this years legislative story line: Will one time cuts be restored? What areas will see the most severe cuts? Are we headed for a government shut down? And so on. All of those are still valid questions facing our state throughout this session, but there is one question that's not being discussed but may be one of the most important we can consider.

When facing such a massive deficit, cuts are inevitable. But the real question lies in how these cuts are being discussed and presented to the public. Are we focusing solely on numbers or are we discussing exactly what programs will be impacted due to these subtractions?

For a great perspective on this problem, I encourage you to read Bob Collins' piece on this very issue.

I was further concerned when I saw this video of a DFL Senator trying to get permission to ask a number of Republican senators a question about what exactly is in the bill rather than simply talking numbers and vague generalities.

Can the governance of Minnesota be boiled down to a simple math equation? Or do the people directly impacted by such cuts deserve more specific debate and consideration?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Collin Peterson Joins GOP in Seeking to Redefine Rape

Is rape still rape even when it's not committed by force? If the proposed "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" (HR 3) clears the US House, the answer will be "no." 

There are already federal laws in place that restrict taxpayer funding for abortions in cases other than rape or incest. Polls have consistently show that the majority of Americans (from both camps of the abortion issue) support such exemptions. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 81% believe that abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest. This new law would seek to further such restrictions by redefining exactly what types of rape or incest are valid.

In this bill, "rape" would be changed to "forcible rape"- a term that is not clearly defined, but would likely exclude such instances as being drugged and raped, statutory rape, incapacitated to the extent that one is unable to consent, rape through coercion or threats (to the victim or their family), or being unable to consent due to developmental disabilities. I also fear that it will put greater burden on victims. In many cases, it is hard enough to prove that you were raped, now you must prove that it was done with enough force to justify the term. I guess "no" means "no" unless you don't put up enough of a fight to actually prove that you meant what you said in the first place.

Incest exemptions would only qualify for victims who are minors. If you are 18 or older, it will be treated as a consensual act between adults. Hypothetically speaking this could exclude girls who were victimized throughout their childhood as long as they didn't get pregnant until after their 18th birthday.

Mother Jones points out that this bill restricts tax benefits from being used to cover abortion services. This means your HSA money cannot be used and any expenses you incur will not be deductible. Tax credits offered to purchase healthcare plans would not be able to be used for any policy that has abortion coverage.

As expected, the DCCC has already posted a petition encouraging people to "denounce Republicans' extremist legislation." But it should be noted that although this bill was authored by a Republican and primarily supported by Republicans, it also currently has ten Democratic co-sponsors, including the 7th District's own Collin Peterson.

I shouldn't be surprised. I really shouldn't. These days even Tony Sutton seems to think that Collin Peterson is a Republican. But it's still frustrating. If you want to take a stand on abortion, that's fine. But don't go after victims of rape and incest in the process.

If you feel as strongly about this as I do, especially those of you in the 7th CD,  I encourage you to contact Rep. Peterson.

GOP Legislator Defends Bill By Pointing Out That It Would Eliminate Jobs

After all the talk about jobs, it's becoming abundantly clear that the only jobs the GOP cares about trying to create/preserve are private sector jobs. They have no problem throwing hard working public employees under the bus. Today I found an interesting example of this while reading an article about the proposed repeal of state firearm background checks in Session Weekly.

H.F.161 is already considered controversial for a number of other reasons, including the unexpected manner in which it was introduced, and is opposed by many in law enforcement. The bill's author Rep. Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) claims that these checks are simply redundant to the required federal checks. During a committee hearing, Bloomington Police Sgt. Mark Elliott disagreed with that assertion and pointed out that there are two provisions where Minnesota would reject a permit (those charged with a crime of violence and in a pretrial diversion program and gross misdemeanors such as stalking, child neglect, and crimes committed benefiting a gang) that would otherwise be allowed under the federal process.

But the statement that really caught my eye in the article was this one:

Drazkowski said a sheriff in a county with a population of 21,000 said this bill would save 30 minutes to one hour of staff time per week. “If you extrapolate that up to some of the metro counties, you’re looking at a full position or positions that will be able to be eliminated by the cities and counties in those jurisdictions because of the elimination of this redundant mandate.”

Drazkowski's defense of this controversial bill? It could save us money by eliminating jobs.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

More Than Just a Voter ID Bill

There's been a lot of discussion over Minnesota's proposed voter ID bill (H.F.210). Yesterday the issue elicited a large number of responses as MPR's question of the day. Those for it argue that we'll never be guaranteed fair elections without it and those opposed say it's nothing but voter suppression. But we do ourselves a disservice if we are only discussing the voter ID aspect of this bill. There are many other questionable provisions it contains. The Uptake has a good summary of what is in the bill that I wanted to highlight here.

  • Changes documents allowed to register
  • Requires Department of Public Safety to provide free IDs to those that need them
  • Any voter who cannot provide a photo ID must cast a provisional ballot
  • Establishes provisional voting guidelines
  • Failure to check citizenship or age box on voter registration causes form to be deficient
  • Prohibits voters from receiving assistance at the ballot from a guardian, conservator, or any paid individual who provides health care (a big hurdle for the disabled)
  • Allows political buttons to be worn in the polling place as long as they are not designed to influence votes on a candidate/question on that ballot (a wink to the Minnesota Majority if ever there was one)
  • Repeals the designation of incumbents on judicial ballots
  • Requires at least two electronic rosters in every precinct unless it has fewer than 100 voters.
  • Any precinct needing more than two rosters would have to get them at local expense.
  • Initial costs for each precinct's two machines paid for by the state. Subsequent costs and maintenance would be covered locally (bill says this would be covered by the cost savings of using the new system)

Apart from the obvious measures that deter voters by placing additional hoops for them to jump through in order to vote, here is my biggest problem with the bill: Is it cost effective? Do the minute number of actual voter fraud cases in the state of Minnesota justify the expense that will be incurred by this bill?

A large portion of that expense comes not from having to provide free IDs (in order to avoid an illegal poll tax) but from having to purchase two electronic rosters for every precinct in the state with more than 100 voters. Overall, the cost requirements for the state, though not listed, must easily be in the millions. This bill clearly says that the state will pay for the machines but contains no appropriation lines that indicate just how they will be paid for. And for the large precincts that would need additional machines beyond the two covered by the state, what would be their cost?

The electronic rosters create a whole slew of additional problems when considering our rural districts. The bill creates minimum standards of network response times, which could be challenging for some precincts. Apart from that, think about the scene when you go to vote. What appears to be the average age of most poll workers? In all the precincts I have ever lived in, I would be comfortable saying 60-70 yrs old is probably an accurate average age of the poll workers I encounter. Many people in that generation are not nearly as comfortable with computers as younger generations are. For some, it will be a big leap to go from  flipping through a binder and asking someone to sign on a line to helping them to use electronic equipment. What will be the necessary training? Will it be above and beyond what is currently required in order to address the new technology? How will you ensure that these workers are not only able to facilitate use of this equipment, but to troubleshoot any problems they may encounter?

Some say it's worth it to prevent fraud. I would encourage you to read MinnPost's article on that issue from last session. In that article David Schultz, professor of government ethics and election law at Hamline University, discusses studies that he and other organizations have done. The conclusion? "There is no evidence that voter fraud is a problem that has affected any recent elections, including in Minnesota."

The article goes on to say, "The most comprehensive study so far on voter fraud largely dismisses its existence. A report by the bipartisan United States Election Commission concluded there was "little polling place fraud," including voter impersonation, "dead" voters, noncitizen voting, and felon voters. The main abuses were absentee-ballot fraud and efforts to intimidate voters on Election Day. None of this will be cured by photo IDs when voting."

So, what are we really paying for? Is it worth it?