Legislative Recap

Image by Fibonacci Blue. Retrieved from Flickr. Used under Creative Commons' licensing.
Image by Fibonacci Blue. Retrieved from Flickr. Used under Creative Commons’ licensing.

For your convenience, here is a recap of the last legislative session written by Elaine Keefe, our MLA/MEMO lobbyist representing our library and school media issues at the State Capitol.

On July 7, 2014 at 3:59 p.m., Elaine writes…..below is a summary of the 2014 legislative session affecting libraries.  Most of this information has appeared in previous reports. This summary will enable you to have all of it in one place.

Library Construction Grants:  Library Accessibility and Improvement Grants were re-named Library Construction Grants, and $2 million was provided in the bonding bill for these grants.  This is the most that we have ever received for this grant program (in the 2010 legislative session the Legislature allocated $2 million, but the funding was line-item vetoed by Governor Pawlenty).  The bonding bill also clarifies that renovation includes remediation of conditions hazardous to health or safety, and includes three earmarks: $570,000 for the Jackson County Library, $257,000 for the Perham Library and $50,000 for the Bagley Library.  In a separate appropriation, the city of Cosmos received $600,000 for a new municipal building that will include the public library.

Telecommunications Equity Aid (TEA):   The MLA/MEMO platform asked for an increase of $6 million in TEA.  We had excellent hearings on our bill in both the House and Senate.  The House Education Finance Committee included a $5 million increase for TEA in its budget bill.  However, the Senate provided no increase, and neither did the final omnibus supplemental budget bill.  The top priority for the House was an increase in the general education formula, while the Senate’s top priority was funding for early childhood programs.  In the end, there was simply not enough money, and TEA was left out of the final bill. I do think we did a good job

Library Services Task Force:  A proposal by MDE to create a task force passed, except that the language was changed to require the commissioner to consult with various stakeholders, including representatives of MDE, regional public library systems, multi count, multitype library systems, public libraries in the metro area and Greater Minnesota, library media specialists, the Office of Higher Education, the Association of Minnesota Counties and the League of Minnesota Cities.  They are charged with looking at “increasing service delivery and collaboration between library governance systems, options for changing current library procedures and library governance systems to increase collaboration between library systems, and ensuring equitable and cost-effective access to library services statewide.”  A report must be issued by February 1, 2015.

E-Books: The MLA/MEMO platform asked the state to investigate the wide variance in pricing for e-Books for libraries as compared to individuals, and to explore possible remedies. This will be addressed in the Library Services Task Force mentioned above.  The charge states that “In addition to addressing physical library services, the commissioner also must consider how to increase access to emerging electronic services.”

Exception to the 20 Hour Minimum:  The Legislature passed a provision authorizing MDE to grant a public library an exception to the requirement that it be open at least 20 hours per week to receive Regional Library Telecommunication Aid if requested by the regional library system for one of the following reasons:

1) short term closing for emergency maintenance and repairs following a natural disaster
2) in response to exceptional economic circumstances
3) building repair or maintenance that requires public areas to be closed
4) to adjust public service hours to respond to documented seasonal use patterns

This was proposed by MDE in its education policy bill after it was recommended by the regional public library systems.

General Education Formula:  The general education formula will increase by $25 per pupil. This is the primary source of funding for school library media programs.

Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grants:   $20 million in one-time funding was provided to the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) for grants to expand broadband to unserved and underserved areas. Eligible applicants include businesses, local governments, nonprofits, Indian tribes, cooperatives and LLCs formed for the purpose of expanding broadband access. Among many factors that the Department of Employment and Economic Development may consider in prioritizing applications is whether the applicant will “offer new or substantially upgraded broadband service to important community institutions including, but not limited to, libraries, educational institutions, public safety facilities and healthcare facilities.”

Data Privacy:  A bill was passed requiring vendors handling confidential government data to abide by the data practices act as if it were a government entity, regardless of whether the vendor’s contract includes notice of this requirement. We supported the bill, which was introduced in response to a Minnesota Supreme Court decision in the Timberjay case, where the court ruled that the vendor was not obligated to follow the data practices act unless it was specified in the contract.

Maintenance of Effort (MOE):  As part of Governor Dayton’s unsession effort to repeal outdated laws, MDE proposed to repeal most of the library MOE language in 134.34 and replace it with a cross reference to the language in the 2011 tax bill that reduced all MOE requirements to 90% of the 2011 amount and froze them at that level permanently. While MDE saw this as merely clearing out obsolete language, we had hoped that eventually we could undo the freeze and return to the previous law, which would be far more difficult to accomplish if the language in 134.34 were repealed. After I testified against this provision in both the House and the Senate, and many of you contacted your legislators to express concern, MDE agreed to withdraw the language on the condition that we agree to work with them over the interim to come up with an agreement for the 2015 legislative session.

Tax Bill:  Three provisions of interest to public libraries were included in the final tax bill:

1) The deadline for cities and counties to certify their levies is changed from September 15 to September 30.
2) Local government aid is increased by $7.8 million. A House proposal to index LGA to inflation was NOT adopted.
3) A sales tax exemption was adopted for building materials purchased and donated by a private entity for construction of an addition to a city library facility before July 1, 2015. This is intended to benefit the Marshall Library.

2015 Legislative Session:  The 2015 legislative session begins on January 6, 2015.

Elaine Keefe
Capitol Hill Associates
525 Park Street, Suite 310
St. Paul, MN 55103
office 651-293-0229
cell 612-590-1244