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MRA Report: Legislators have work left to do

I’m hopeful that the weather will be warm and the sun bright by the time this column reaches you, which it certainly isn’t as this is being written. It’s discouraging to see restaurant patios occupied by snow drifts rather than happy guests!  

My memories of the word “recess” include the playground next to the elementary school and pickup baseball games that had to be over in 15 minutes. Our state legislators take a recess, but for them it means going back home for 10 days over the Passover and Easter holiday. They returned to work on April 8 and left themselves just six weeks to finish their work for the year, absent a special session.  

More than 4,000 proposals (8,000 bills because a measure is usually duplicated in the House and Senate) were introduced so far in the two-year session, but only a handful will become law. The really key, big picture issues (not always the same as our priority issues) include:

Things done so far:

• Legislative funding agreed upon following the end-of-session veto in 2017.

• Funding agreed upon for the vehicle registration system work (MnLARS).

• State employee contracts ratified as previously negotiated.

• A state pension fund fix agreed to in the Senate.

The other big picture issues that need to be completed are:

• Uniform labor standards (preemption of local minimum wages and mandates) is in conference committee and, more importantly, in negotiations with the governor. The effective date of a state law and the impact on local ordinances that have already passed are major parts of this debate.

• Tax conformity adjustments necessitated by the federal tax bill passed in December 2017. This is a high priority and immensely complex. Restaurant operators and employees have an interest in this being done well and on time.

• A public works or bonding bill to fund construction and maintenance of public facilities and some local projects. Tourism related projects being considered include the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, a new parking ramp for RiverCentre in St. Paul and repairs to the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis.

• Elder abuse issues including fixing the investigation system and increasing penalties.

Some of the legislation we watch carefully is specific to our industry and not on the big picture list. One of those subjects is booze. The legislature combines all of the alcohol-related proposals that have support into a single bill called the Omnibus Liquor bill. The annual measure is less controversial in 2018 and more condensed than in a long time. Most of the provisions are to allow local units of government to issue liquor licenses that depart from a city charter or would not be allowed under the general statute. The most colorful provision this year applies only to liquor stores and would stretch Sunday opening times to 10 a.m., an hour earlier than current law allows, and would also allow off-sale retailers to stay open until 8 p.m. on Sundays that fall on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

The House passed its version of the bill on a 114-7 vote, sending it to the Senate, where Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) is the sponsor. Dahms’ version doesn’t include the Sunday sales changes.

The House bill is authored by Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia). The bill includes local measures that would:

• Allow tastings at stores where customers make their own beer or wine;

• Authorize a liquor license for Red River Event Center & Liquor Co.;

• Allow North Mankato to issue a liquor license to the Caswell Regional Sporting Complex;

• Allow Minneapolis to issue liquor licenses to Daniel del Prado’s forthcoming Colita restaurant; opening at 5400 Penn Ave. S.; to a restaurant at 4959 Penn Ave. S.; and to Nighthawks at 3753 Nicollet Ave. S.; and

• Allow Edina to issue a liquor license to Restoration Hardware, a high-end furniture store that serves food and drinks, at 6801 France Ave. S.

We are also engaged in an issue to help reduce the misrepresentation of pets as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The bill to prohibit “fake service animals” is making encouraging progress. The measure passed the House on a 125-0 vote. The bill is supported by a broad coalition of groups representing the business community, trainers of service animals and advocates for the disabled. The key provisions of the legislation are: 

• Makes it a crime for an individual to intentionally misrepresent an animal as a service animal. 

• The penalty for the first offense is a petty misdemeanor, which is similar in severity to a parking ticket and is not a crime. A second offense is a misdemeanor. 

• Permits a place of public accommodation to post a public notice stating that service animals are welcome and that it is illegal to misrepresent that an animal is a service animal. Other states that have passed similar laws report that this notice provision is the most helpful part of these new measures.

The Minnesota State Council on Disability is given permission to prepare a brochure detailing questions a business can ask to determine whether an animal is a service animal and guidelines defining unacceptable behavior. 

As this column is being written the bill is awaiting a vote by the Minnesota Senate and signature by Governor Dayton.

An important federal issue has received a great deal of news coverage and merits an explanation as to how it may impact restaurants in Minnesota. The massive federal budget bill that passed recently added a “rider” that amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to prohibit employers, managers or supervisors from taking gratuities earned by workers, regardless of whether an employer takes a tip credit. The move is a response to a proposed rule revision by the Department of Labor that allows back-of-the-house workers to share in mandated tip pools. However, the proposed rule and the recent congressional rider won’t have a big impact in Minnesota because of a state law that requires tip pooling to be entirely voluntary and provides a very limited role in administering tips pools for management. One impact may be to remove any uncertainty as to whether back-of-the-house team members can be included in a voluntary tip pool, such as in a fast-casual format restaurant. The rule change would allow such sharing and the rider language would prohibit employers, managers or supervisors from taking a share of such a pool. 

Dan McElroy is executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association and president and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, which also includes the Lodging and Resort & Campground associations.

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