Thursday, May 13, 2010

Update from Senator Ortman

Homeless Shelter and

Food Shelf Tax Check-Off

Early this session, Arthur Nguyen, a student from Johnson Senior High School in St Paul, introduced a great idea to a number of legislators at the Capitol. Arthur and his guidance councilor Dan Kennedy proposed a voluntary check-off box on Minnesota's income tax form to donate money to homeless prevention and local food shelves. MinnPost covered Arthur's proposal in this article, below:


I co-authored the bill, and although it did not get enough traction to move through the Senate on its own, I had an opportunity in the tax committee to amend it onto the Omnibus Tax Bill. I am so pleased that Arthur will see this generous, thoughtful and much needed idea earn Senate support.


These are extraordinary times in our state and nation. Homelessness and hunger are a growing problem. The economic recession, high housing costs, prescription drug costs, unemployment, and low wages have had a strong impact on people's financial struggles. In 2008, over 2.2 million Minnesota families visited food shelves. Record numbers are being reported for 2009 with more than 64 million pounds of food being delivered and served to those in need. This is an 18 million pound increase from 2008. This amendment is a voluntary tax donation in order to raise revenue for an important cause. Up to $300,000 per year will be donated; 50% will go to food shelves, and 50% to homeless shelters. There is a three year sunset on this checkoff. Please also see this MinnPost article on the provision's inclusion in the tax bill.


Indeterminate Sentencing

After thirty years in prison, Ming Sen Shiue, one of this state's worst sex offenders, is going to trial to determine if he should be civilly committed to a secure state rehabilitation facility, or if he should be released on parole. In 1981, Shiue was convicted of kidnapping his high school teacher Mary Stauffer and her eight year old daughter, and murdering a 6-year-old boy who witnessed the abduction. The Star Tribune discussed Shiue's trial and his impending release from prison here:


Minnesota's rehabilitation program for sex offenders at Moose Lake Corrections Facility currently houses 552 offenders. The cost to house an offender here is close to $400 a day, about four times more per day than in a regular prison. This begs the question, why are we spending so much more money treating people who will never be capable of functioning in society? The most obvious solution is best; we should lengthen the sentences for offenders like this so they're never considered for either parole or treatment. Governor Pawlenty has proposed that convicted sex offenders should face a state prison sentence of 25 years, which is more than double the current penalty. This solution would keep the offenders off our streets without the added expense of a treatment program.


This session, Senator Linda Berglin introduced a bill to create a new review process for sex offenders at Moose Lake. It would allow a three judge panel to consider release upon the petition of the offender. I offered two reasonable public safety precautions as amendments on the floor. The first, supported by the County Attorneys Association, would provide a notification not only to the local law enforcement but also to the county attorney of the county to which the sex offender was being released. It is a common-sense provision for proper public safety communication between agencies of different counties.


On April 15, 2010 the amendment passed 38 -26 with bi-partisan support from 17 Democrats. Senator Berglin immediately progressed the bill to stop its passage. On April 19, 2010 the Berglin bill was taken up again. You will not believe what happened! The vote on my amendment to notify county attorneys was reconsidered. Numerous members changed their votes and the amendment failed 32-34! A total of five Democrats switched their votes from yes, to no. These are convicted, dangerous offenders. We should be looking first to protect our citizens. A vote against this amendment is a vote against public safety, plain and simple.


Patient Privacy


Over the past several months, I have heard from a number of individuals who have concerns about the use of their full social security number on Medical Assistance liens. In an age of destructive and expensive identity theft, this privacy oversight needed to be corrected. I introduced a bill to protect patients' privacy by only requiring the last four digits of the SSN on the lien. While the bill was not heard in committee, I was able to offer an amendment to include this provision in the Health and Human Services Omnibus Bill on the Senate floor. The inclusion of this provision in the HHS Omnibus bill is a great step forward in privacy protections for Minnesotans. The bill, including the privacy amendment, passed successfully through the Senate on Wednesday evening.