At the Capitol, a short session and partisan divisions stymied a lot of legislation. But most of the MSBA agenda—including family law reforms and a series of technical changes to other laws—was enacted.
The end of the 2016 Minnesota legislative session brought to mind William Shakespeare’s line about how it’s better to be three hours too soon than a minute too late. The 2016 session was the shortest in recent memory, and the compressed timeline—coupled, of course, with the partisan divide in state government—made it difficult for lawmakers to resolve major issues like taxes, transportation, and bonding. Negotiations gained steam in the final hours, though, and there was frantic activity in the House and Senate on the last night of the session as the Legislature sped toward its midnight adjournment deadline. At one point someone on the Senate floor shouted, “Cover the clocks!” but it was too late.
When the dust settled, the House and Senate had failed to agree on a bonding bill and transportation funding, although they did pass a supplemental budget bill and a tax bill. But Gov. Mark Dayton refused to sign the tax bill, citing a costly drafting error related to charitable gambling. When this issue of Bench & Bar went to press, negotiations about a potential special session were ongoing between the governor and legislative leaders.
THE MSBA AGENDA
One of the casualties in the vetoed tax bill was an MSBA-supported provision that would bar the location of a taxpayer’s attorney from being considered in domicile determinations. Despite that, the MSBA still had a very successful session. Numerous bills supported by various sections of the bar made it through the legislative committee maze and were signed into law. Our successful initiatives this year included the latest in a series of family law reforms as well as four technical bills that were rolled into HF1372 (Chapter 135), which functioned as an omnibus MSBA vehicle.
Pet Trusts: With the support of the MSBA’s Animal Law and Probate & Trust Law sections, Minnesota became the last of the 50 states to create a pet trust statute. The new law is contained in Article 1 of Chapter 135. Effective May 23, 2016. (Chapter 135 has an August 1, 2016 effective date, but Article 1 was made effective immediately by a provision in Chapter 187.)
Probate Code update: Article 2 of Chapter 135 incorporates several updates to Minnesota’s Probate Code that were suggested by the Probate & Trust Law Section, including:
- allowing arbitration in cases involving guardians and conservators;
- defining “governing instrument,” a frequently used term in the Probate Code;
- clarifying a surviving spouse’s entitlement when there is a premarital will;
- allowing courts to reform the terms of a governing instrument to reflect the transferor’s intention, and to correct mistakes to achieve certain tax objectives;
- protecting beneficiaries of a revocable trust from being cut out of a specific gift of property if the trustee is required to sell that property to pay medical expenses;
- allowing affidavits from attesting witnesses;
- increasing specific dollar amounts in the Probate Code that haven’t been increased in many years.
- Effective August 1, 2016.
Receivership and ABC Cleanup: Article 3 of Chapter 135 modifies the statutory chapters dealing with receiverships and assignments for the benefit of creditors. These statutes were created by legislation brought forward a few years ago by the Business Law Section and the Real Property Section. This year’s changes incorporate some technical cleanup suggestions from those sections. Effective August 1, 2016.
LLC Clarifications: Article 4 of Chapter 135 comprises suggestions from the Business Law Section to improve Minnesota’s new LLC statute. The updates include:
- prohibiting LLCs from converting directly to public benefit corporations;
- granting the board of a board-managed LLC the authority to transfer assets to wholly owned subsidiaries and to grant security interests in the LLC’s asset-secure loans;
- modifying terminology regarding conversions and domestications to avoid issues with states that use other terminology in their LLC statutes;
- specifying the fees payable to the Secretary of State for certain filings.
- Effective retroactively from August 1, 2015, except for the public benefit corporation conversion provision, which became effective May 23, 2016.
Family Law: The 2016 session marked the end of a years-long process of family law reforms. Legislation passed in 2014, 2015, and this year was the product of many hours of intense study, discussion, and negotiation among a broad group of stakeholders that included the MSBA’s Family Law Section and the Legal Services Advocacy Project, which also provided essential lobbying efforts. There were two significant parts to this year’s family law reforms.
1. Modifying the parenting expense adjustment with a new formula that rounds out the “cliff” at 45 percent parenting time. (See Chapter 189, Article 15, Sections 17-21.) Effective August 1, 2018.
2. Creating a child support advisory task force. The goal of the task force is to create a forum away from the Capitol to study and discuss child support issues, and, when appropriate, suggest well-vetted changes to the Legislature. (See Chapter 189, Article 15, Section 22.) First report due February 15, 2018.
Obsolete Laws: The final piece of the MSBA agenda was a Real Property Section proposal to repeal some obsolete statutes. These changes were included in Chapter 158. The repealed statutes are Minn. Statutes 386.23, 507.37, and 557.07.
OTHER NOTABLE NEW LAWS
ADR: Chapter 167 requires courts to provide information about ADR processes to parties in family law cases. Effective for cases filed on or after August 1, 2016.
Assault: Chapter 93 clarifies 4th degree assault of a peace officer with bodily fluids or feces by removing the requirement of an accompanying physical assault. Effective for crimes committed on or after August 1, 2016.
Bias: Chapter 189 increases the maximum penalty for felony assault motivated by bias against a person’s perceived race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, or national origin (see Article 4, Section 14). Effective for crimes committed on or after August 1, 2016.
Body Cameras: Chapter 171 regulates police body camera data. Effective August 1, 2016.
Construction: Chapter 133 limits retainage to 5 percent and allows work to be suspended if undisputed payments are not received. Effective for building and construction contracts executed on or after August 1, 2016.
Courthouse Security: Chapter 189 supplies $1 million for a courthouse security grant program (see Article 4, Section 2). Funds are available until June 30, 2019.
Criminal and Juvenile Justice: Chapter 116 expands the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Information Group and redefines its mission. Effective August 1, 2016.
Disability Discrimination: Chapter 159 modifies the Minnesota Human Rights Act by adding provisions related to architectural barrier violations. The new law regulates notice letters and creates affirmative defenses. Effective May 23, 2016.
Digital Assets: Chapter 135 incorporates a modified version of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (see Article 2, Sections 2-20 and 33). Effective for fiduciaries acting under a governing instrument executed before, on, or after August 1, 2016.
Drug Sentencing: Chapter 160 represents a compromise agreement that thoroughly overhauls Minnesota’s controlled substance laws. Various effective dates but mainly August 1, 2016.
Estate Recovery: Chapter 189 limits medical assistance estate recovery claims (see Article 19, Sections 15 and 16). Pending federal approval, effective retroactively for services rendered on or after January 1, 2014, and for claims not paid prior to July 1, 2016.
Identity Theft: Chapter 121 increases the statute of limitations to five years for identify theft crimes involving eight or more direct victims and losses to direct and indirect victims that exceed $35,000. Effective for crimes committed on or after August 1, 2016, and for prior crimes if the limitations period did not expire by then.
Interference: Chapter 175 sets a three-year gross misdemeanor penalty for interfering with a body or scene of death. Effective for crimes committed on or after August 1, 2016.
Juror Compensation: Chapter 189 doubles the juror per diem and mileage reimbursement rates (see Article 4, Section 3). Effective July 1, 2016.
Marriage Licenses: Chapter 152 eliminates the five-day waiting period for marriage licenses. Effective August 1, 2016.
Orders for Protection: Chapter 176 eliminates the OFP respondent filing fee. And Chapter 141 removes the mandatory hearing requirement for OFP extensions if the petitioner only seeks limited relief (unless the court declines the requested relief or the respondent requests a hearing). Effective August 1, 2016.
Revenge Porn: Chapter 126 makes it illegal to, without consent, solicit sex for another person or disseminate private sexual images. Effective August 1, 2016.
Patent Trolls: Chapter 89 prohibits bad faith patent infringement claims. The new law prohibits private causes of action but allows the attorney general to bring civil actions. Effective August 1, 2016.
Sex Trafficking: Chapter 189 adds sex trafficking to the sexual abuse definition in the Maltreatment of Minors Act (see Article 15, Section 24). Effective May 29, 2017.
Spousal Maintenance: Chapter 132 allows courts to reduce, suspend, reserve, or terminate spousal maintenance if the recipient is cohabiting. The law lists factors courts must consider and it bars motions brought within one year of a spousal maintenance order unless the parties agree or it would create extreme hardship. Numerous suggestions from the MSBA’s Family Law Section were incorporated into this new law. Effective for modification motions brought on or after August 1, 2016.
Surrogacy: Chapter 189 establishes a legislative commission to study surrogacy (see Article 13, Section 66). Report due by December 15, 2016.
Tax Debt: Chapter 100 incorporates tax debts into debt settlement services regulations. Effective August 1, 2016.
Theft: Chapter 152 expands the five-year felony for damaging or stealing energy transmission or telecommunications equipment to include components used to generate, transmit, or distribute electricity. Effective for crimes committed on or after August 1, 2016.
Tort Liability: Chapter 87 protects local governments from tort liability related to surplus equipment donated to nonprofits. Effective August 1, 2016.
Transfer-on-Death: Chapter 189 allows transfer-on-death designations for watercraft (see Article 3, Section 27). Effective August 1, 2016.
Trusts: Chapter 158 adds missing verbs to the definition of “qualified beneficiary” in Minn. Stat. 501C.0103 (see Article 1, Section 197) and clarifies that the list of non-judicial settlement items in Minn. Stat. 501C.0111 is not an exhaustive list (see Article 1, Section 198).
Vehicular Homicide: Chapter 109 increases from 10 to 15 years the maximum sentence for impaired criminal vehicular homicide that occurs within 10 years of certain other driving offenses. Effective for crimes committed on or after August 1, 2016.
Work Comp: Chapter 110 adopts recommendations from the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council. Various effective dates.
The full text of new chapters of law can be found at www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/laws
BRYAN LAKE is the MSBA’s lobbyist. He has worked with members and staff to promote and protect the MSBA’s interests at the state Capitol since 2009.