This may come as a bit of a shock. In spite of the overwhelming media attention devoted to the Vikings stadium debate, most of our time and energy at the Capitol this year was actually spent on other topics. Here are some of the issues addressed during the now-concluded 2012 legislative session that you may not have heard much about.
SENIOR SCAM PROTECTIONS. Channel 4's Don Shelby and Special Agent Jim Arlt of the Department of Public Safety, both now retired, originally called attention to the problem of online and telephone scams that target senior citizens. The problem has grown exponentially since, making it one of AARP's top legislative priorities. With overwhelming bipartisan support, much bipartisan assistance, and by working with wire transfer businesses like MoneyGram, I was able to pass the first new law aimed at protecting seniors and others from these sorts of scams. There remains work to do, but we're making good progress.
ROADS AND BRIDGES AND COLLEGE FIXES. Not sexy, but necessary, the state's public works bill will make repairs to roads, bridges and college buildings across Minnesota, including some much-needed fixes at Inver Hills Community College. There is also funding for flood mitigation, which includes a flood wall in nearby South St. Paul.
BUDGET TURNAROUND. We started this two-year legislative session 18 months ago with a $6.4 billion state budget deficit, the largest in Minnesota history. We now have a modest surplus. While not completely out of the woods, there are hopeful signs ahead.
$250 MILLION SAVED BY MORE COMPETITIVE BIDDING. A more competitive bidding structure for health insurance contracts put in place by Health Commissioner Cindy Jesson yielded over a quarter of a billion dollars in savings for the state budget.
CAPITOL RESTORATION. Minnesota's historic State Capitol, widely considered the most beautiful Capitol building in the country, is crumbling before our eyes. After considerable study and refinement, the legislature approved the first $44 million for restoration work on this 107-year-old landmark.
EDUCATION. As a non-budget year, there wasn't any change in funding for early ed, K-12, or higher education institutions. But a proposal to make it easier for school districts to pool resources - and hopefully get more bang for their tax dollars - passed into law with nearly unanimous support. Another new law, which was spurred by a $254,000 payout to a former employee in the Burnsville school district, will require greater disclosure of reasons when school districts enter into legal settlements with former employees. Also approved was a modest expansion of the state's highly successful program that allows students to take college courses - and earn college credits - while still in high school.
TCF DEAL. With overwhelming bipartisan support, we finally resolved the beer dispute at TCF Stadium. While I was the chief author of the compromise, which is expected to bring in up to $2 million more each year to the U of M, I credit several colleagues on both sides of the aisle as well as the U's President Kaler and Board of Regents for this success.
THE OTHER STADIUM. The St. Paul Saints steadily and quietly plugged along in a successful effort to replace Midway Stadium. They still have some non-legislative steps to take, but it looks like they will be able to move ahead.
HUNTING AND FISHING. A bipartisan law was signed by Gov. Dayton that preserves and enhances hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities and activities, with funding from a modest additional fee on hunting and fishing licenses. I was taken aback at the level of support among hunters, anglers and conservation groups for the additional fee.
VETERANS. With a startling unemployment rate among returning veterans, we took several steps to help vets with job training, education benefits, and employment opportunities.
The fact that all these other things got done at the Capitol this year is not to say that the stadium debate didn't get legislators time and attention. It clearly did, and it passed. But a lot of folks from our area and from across Minnesota came to the Capitol for other reasons, and their voices were heard, too. The media may not have focused on that, but I did.
As always, I appreciate comments and questions. Feel free to post them below, email me at Rep.Joe.Atkins@house.mn or just give me a call at 296-4192.