The 2009 legislative session is off to a brisk start

Published 3:00 pm Saturday, January 10, 2009

The 2009 legislative session officially began on Tuesday, Jan. 6. The session is scheduled to run through May 18, and there is quite a lot of work to be done in that time. For that reason, several committees got right to work this week on a few important issues that have been on everyone’s mind.

Although the state’s budget deficit likely will be the largest issue of 2009, the governor’s budget proposal is not set to be released until the last week in January. Legislative committees will thoroughly review his budget after it’s released, but until then, there is not much specific budgeting that can be accomplished. His budget proposal generally serves as the base from which House and Senate committees work to finalize their own budget plans.

One of our Senate committees held an informational hearing this week regarding the 2008 elections. Members heard from a variety of Minnesotans about their particular experiences on Election Day — both good and bad. The purpose of the meeting was to provide members with information to use as the committee considers far-reaching election reform proposals later in the session.

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Much of these ideas for reform have been prompted by the ongoing U.S. Senate recount and some of the issues that process has brought to light. It’s always our goal to ensure all Minnesotans are able to vote with ease and accuracy, so it’s important to review the previous election to determine if any changes must be made in order to achieve this goal.

Another Senate committee heard from officials this week about the upcoming conversion to digital television. As you’ve heard, all TV signals will be sent digitally beginning Feb. 17, and homes without compatible sets, cable or satellite service will be required to use a converter box to continue to receive channels.

Recently, the federal government has announced they are out of money to provide coupons to homeowners wishing to purchase these converter boxes, and a few other issues have been raised as well. The Senate committee wants to get a handle on how this conversion will affect Minnesotans and how prepared we are to deal with the change.

In the next few weeks, the Senate DFL Party will begin work on its priority bills for the session. We’ve determined that the first substantial bills will be focused on job creation, reform and accountability, and money-saving mandate reductions for local governments, schools, and other bodies.

I am vice chairman of the Economic Development and Housing Budget Division, which will spend much time working on the job-creating legislation this year. I look forward to that challenge. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the recent economic downturn, it’s that growing jobs and putting Minnesotans back to work are the best things we can do to spur rapid and long-term economic recovery for our state.

On a related topic, that committee also will be considering a potential extension in unemployment benefits that could help the many Minnesotans who currently are looking for work.

Aside from the jobs committee, I also serve on the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee; the Business, Industry and Jobs Committee; the Capital Investment Committee; and the Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee. Please feel free to contact me anytime with questions related to these or any other issues at the Capitol. You may reach me at 651-296-9248;; or Room 317 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155.