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Laine Vows to Bring Ill-fated Bills as 'Conversation Pieces'

DFL state Rep. Caroly Laine doesn't have high hopes that her legislative proposals will advance but wants ideas to get airing anyway.

When her party was in the majority, introducing bills was serious business for state Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL-District 50A). After all, she said, they might become laws.

Now, with Republicans in control of the state House and Senate, Laine said her proposals don't stand much of a chance of passing. But the three-term representative has a handful of bills she calls "conversation pieces" that she said she plans to introduce anyway.

Of the four legislators who represent Fridley at the state Capitol, Laine has co-authored the most bills so far, with two. (DFL-District 50B) is co-author on one so far. State (DFL-District 50) and (R-District 51) haven't signed on as co-authors of any bills yet.

School Counselors and Single-payer
Laine and Tillberry both back a bill to target increased student-support funding to public high schools with the greatest need for counselors. It's an issue Tillberry has been working on, with mixed success, for years.

She wasn't optimistic about the bill's future. "I can't foresee anything that requires dollars getting done," Laine said. "Still, you can make a point [about] the need."

Laine is also one of 18 co-authors of a Minnesota Health Plan bill that she said would let state government take a single-payer approach to covering administrative health-care costs.

She has a front row perspective on the state's struggle with rising health care costs from her seat on the Health and Human Services Finance Committee. She said the committee will likely do some of the "heaviest lifting" as the Legislature grapples with a projected $6.2 billion budget deficit.

"My job will be to say, 'Are you kidding?' [to budget cuts]," Laine said. "There is another way. It's called raising revenue."

Springbrook Nature Center
Laine has a handful of bills she said she's thinking of introducing. First is one that she succeeded in ushering through the Legislature in several recent sessions, only to have Gov. Tim Pawlenty veto it: funding for the city-owned .

"Chances are slim" for getting the bill to Gov. Mark Dayton's desk, Laine said, but it's important to "keep it out there." She said wetlands work like lungs in an urbanized environment.

The bill would spend about $2.5 million on Springbrook's visitor center and on improvements to what she called the "front 7 acres." That would take some of the stress of heavy use off of the nature center's sensitive wetland areas, she said.

The bill's first stop would be the House Capital Investment Committee. Laine said she has mentioned it to committee Chair Larry Howes (R-District 4B), but it's not certain the Legislature will produce a bonding bill that would include such spending measures this session.

Health Plan Transparency
The planned legislation Laine said is "my favorite" would broaden the scope of financial information that health plans have to provide to state regulators.

Current rules allow the state to see data related to plans' solvency, but in most cases, "solvency is not a concern," Laine said. Rather, the state should have access to more information about how the plans are spending public funds administratively, she said.

Government Shutdown
Laine said she intends to introduce a bill to ensure continued government operations in the case of a legislative impasse over the state budget. That's a response to discussion of the prospects for a government shutdown at the Health and Human Services Finance Committee on Jan. 14.

"It blew my mind," Laine said. "What are we talking about this for? ... A government shutdown is awful."

Firing Teachers
Laine said she is also planning legislation that would streamline the process for school districts to fire poorly performing teachers.

That difficulty is often given as a rationale for teacher-pay proposals that she said are "unfeasible" in school districts such as Columbia Heights that aren't among the state's most wealthy. 

River Regulations
Laine said she would consider supporting legislation introduced in the state House Tuesday to repeal the Critical Areas Act, a law meant to protect the Mississippi River as it runs through the Twin Cities.

She called a current state process of rewriting Critical Areas rules to restrict development along the river inappropriate for the northern suburbs. "It doesn't work in Fridley," she said, "because the houses [along the river] are already there."

Looking Forward
If she doesn't have hope of seeing her own ideas advance, what is Laine looking forward to this legislative session? "I suppose to the Republicans as a body coming together," she said. "When they were in the minority they stymied the majority" by preventing overrides of Pawlenty's vetoes.

Now, with DFLer Mark Dayton in the governor's office, the shoe is on the other foot. "They're going to have to compromise," she said.

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