ST. PAUL — Rural Minnesota legislators say the most-heard needs from their constituents is lack of affordable child care, and now senators have approved legislation they hope helps.
On Monday, senators overwhelmingly approved three bills written to help reduce regulations home-based child care providers say could drive them out of business.
"In rural Minnesota, the lack of child care has become a crisis," Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said.
Julie Seydel, an Anoka County care provider and public policy director of the Minnesota Association of Child Care Professionals, said 94 percent of the home child care providers say they are thinking about closing. But if the bills become law, many of them would remain in business, she said.
"These three bills, I think, will provide some needed relief," Seydel said.
State rules and lack of pay already have cut the number of providers from 11,000 to 8,500.
Seydel and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said the No. 1 problem with home-based child care is an existing state rule requiring family members ages 12 to 17 to undergo a criminal background check, including being fingerprinted and photographed.
"This is frightening for them," Kiffmeyer said, and makes the youths feel like criminals.
The bill provides for a simpler background check for young people. However, youths considered part of the day care staff still would undergo the more extensive check.
Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, said he is concerned that easing the background checks for youths could allow some dangerous people near children. Kiffmeyer, however, said the Human Services Department considered her bill a good balance between safety and privacy.
A Weber bill would allow a home day care center the opportunity to staff at a lower level when caring for older children, but increase staffing when toddlers and infants are there.
"It gives them flexibility to fit market needs," Weber said.
Legislation by Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, would relieve child care providers from taking state-mandated training meant for other types of facilities dealing with people with disabilities.
The House has yet to take up the legislation.
Session winding down
Minnesota legislators have until midnight May 20 to pass bills, and a sense of urgency is descending on the Capitol.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Monday that there is not time to send bills to Gov. Mark Dayton for him to veto, then rework the bills so they can get his signature.
So, Gazelka said, the House, Senate and Dayton must all agree on bills that still are in progress. "It takes time to work through the issues we don't agree on."
He said most spending legislation will be wrapped into one bill, with issues such as public works funding, pension reform, opioid abuse prevention, taxes and elder care moving separately.
Also moving on their own are policy measures, such as those easing regulations on child care providers. The problem with many of the policy bills is that they have not been debated in committees in both chambers.
Gazelka said a proposed constitutional amendment to dedicate some sales tax receipts for roads and bridges may not have a future. No Democrats would vote for it, and some Republicans are opposed, he said.
Also, a bill requiring drivers to use hands-free devices when using mobile telephones "is losing some steam." He said it may be like the Sunday liquor sales effort and take a few years to pass.
Negotiations are likely to begin this week on legislation making major changes in state tax laws and for overall state spending.
Infrastructure crime passes
Minnesota legislators recall a North Dakota oil pipeline protest, and say they want to avoid the same thing.
However, Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, said his bill to expand penalties for critical infrastructure damage goes well beyond pipelines. It also includes things like electric utility facilities, airports and oil refineries.
The measure would make people responsible for recruiting protesters who then interfere with infrastructure just as guilty as protesters themselves. The bill passed the Senate Monday 37-28, and a similar bill awaits House action.
Utke said his bill does not affect federal 1st Amendment rights to assemble.
He said the constitutional provision guarantees that people have a right to "peaceably assemble." The legislation, he said, only applies to illegal assemblies because many people could be affected if service is interrupted.
The House and Senate Monday approved a slightly changed wild rice water regulation bill than they earlier approved, sending it to the governor. The bill eliminates existing standards for sulfate levels in water serving wild rice growing areas. The House accepted a Senate proposal to spend $500,000 for wild rice. Dayton says he opposes the bill.
House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, and other Democrats have fled a protest against Republican Reps. Cindy Pugh and Chanhassen and Kathy Lohmer of Stillwater after they posted inflammatory material on Facebook about Muslims. Democrats also protested Education Policy Chairwoman Sondra Erickson of Princeton for comments she made about American Indians.
It remains unclear when the Senate public works funding bill, financed by the state selling bonds, will be available. The governor released his $1.5 billion plan earlier this year and the House unveiled a $825 million bonding bill last week. A House committee passed its bill Friday, over Dayton administration objections that the bill spends too little.