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Legislative Audit Commission
Topic Selection Subcommittee


March 20, 2006

Members Present:

Representative Sondra Erickson Senator Sheila Kiscaden
Representative Rick Hansen         Senator Ann Rest
Representative Tim Wilkin Senator Claire Robling

The Topic Selection Subcommittee meeting was called to order by the Chair, Senator Claire Robling, at 6:10 p.m.   Senator Robling indicated that the subcommittee had voted at its last meeting to recommend watershed management and the administration of human service programs as topics for evaluation, and had generally agreed—but not formally voted—to recommend that the Legislative Auditor be asked to conduct a follow-up evaluation on eligibility determination for the MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance programs.   She then asked Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles to present the remaining topics under consideration.

Mr. Nobles began by discussing the proposal for an evaluation of the state’s prevailing wages requirement.  Representative Hansen indicated that scoping of the topic would be very important and, if the topic was selected, the Legislative Auditor should ensure that all of the affected interests are given an opportunity for input.  Mr. Nobles then discussed the proposal to evaluate post-employment financial obligations to former public employees; and there was general agreement that it would be helpful to the Legislature to have a report that brought together information on all public pension and health insurance post-employment obligations.  Mr. Nobles then discussed the proposal for an evaluation of hospital care for the uninsured and Senator Kiscaden indicated that she thought the Department of Health should be asked to conduct the study since it has a health care economics unit that collects much of the data that would be needed.  Several other members pointed out that the topic scored high on the survey of legislators and indicated that the topic should be approved for the Legislative Auditor in case the Department of Health does not conduct the study.  Mr. Nobles then discussed the proposal to evaluate the state’s use of nonprofit organizations to deliver services.  He said that OLA has conducted several investigations that pointed to financial problems and weak accountability in some nonprofits that receive money from the state, and he thought the proposed evaluation would be an opportunity to make a more comprehensive examination of the financial relationship between the state and nonprofit organizations.  Representative Wilkin said he thought it was an important topic and should be pursued.  Mr. Nobles then discussed the proposal to evaluate human service block grants and reported that representatives of the counties had indicated that they were more interested in the bigger study of overall human services administration.  Mr. Nobles then discussed the proposal to evaluate volunteer firefighter pension plans and reminded subcommittee members that the State Auditor has done considerable work on issues related to these plans and that the plans are also under the oversight of the Legislative Pension Commission.  Senator Rest acknowledged that other offices were involved but said a study by the Legislative Auditor would be helpful and bring attention to problems that have been discussed but left unresolved for years.  Mr. Nobles then discussed the proposal for an evaluation of design-build contracting and indicated that the proposal ranked low in his assessment because there are few projects to evaluate and the process is generally not controlled by the Legislature.  Representative Hansen agreed, but said he would appreciate Mr. Nobles looking into the problems occurring in the construction of the Wakota Bridge project.  Mr. Nobles then discussed the proposal to evaluate JobZ and indicated that he and his staff had scored it low because a lawsuit is pending that could result in the program being ruled unconstitutional.  Senator Rest agreed that if an evaluation is approved it should be set aside until the lawsuit is resolved, but she thought it was an important topic that should be pursued.  Mr. Nobles then discussed the proposal to evaluate the Minnesota Historical Society and indicated that the society faces problems because it has invested significantly in history buildings and sites that are not attracting large numbers of people.  He added that although the society receives money from the Legislature, it has considerable independence from the state and is governed by its own board of trustees.  He suggested that it might be more appropriate for the board to address the issues in a strategic planning process.   Mr. Nobles then noted that the final two topics—prison population projections and the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco—ranked low as topics for evaluation among legislators and OLA staff, and he did not discuss them further.

Senator Kiscaden suggested the last four topics on Mr. Nobles’ list—JobZ, Minnesota Historical Society, population projections, and the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco—be dropped from further consideration.   Senator Rest noted that she was interested in an evaluation of JobZ but was willing to defer the topic for consideration in the future.  Senator Rest then moved that the subcommittee recommend for approval to the Legislative Audit Commission the following topics for evaluation by the Legislative Auditor:

  • Watershed Management
  • Human Services Administration
  • Prevailing Wages
  • Financial Obligations to Former Public Employees
  • State Use of Nonprofit Organizations to Deliver Services
  • Volunteer Firefighter Pension Plans
  • MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance Eligibility Determinations
  • Hospital Care for the Uninsured

The motion was approved on a unanimous voice vote.  Mr. Nobles then indicated that he and his staff would continue to develop background information and further define the scope of the topics selected by the subcommittee in preparation for the full commission’s consideration of the topics.   He reiterated the understanding, however, that the MinnesotaCare and MA eligibility determination topic would be considered a follow up to the previous evaluation and would be conducted later in the year.  Mr. Nobles also said he would talk with officials at the Department of Health about their ability and willingness to conduct a study of hospital care for the uninsured. 

Senator Robling adjourned the meeting at 6:53 p.m.

Senator Claire Robling, Chair

Shelly Watterud, Recording Secretary



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