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Rep. JoAnn Ward (53A) - Legislative Update
The start of the 2016 Legislative Session is just four weeks away. To be sure, transportation, a bonding bill, and the state budget surplus will garner much of the attention. There are, however, other important issues which I hope can gain traction during the upcoming session.
Paid Family Leave
This week, Gov. Mark Dayton announced that his supplemental budget proposal will include six weeks of paid parental leave for all Minnesota state employees. I applaud this decision which will positively impact many Minnesota families by saving the average state employee $6,200 in otherwise lost income.
As you may know, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not have mandated paid family leave. This often results in many workers choosing between their family and their jobs, especially with many new mothers returning to work well before they may be fully able. The number of dual-income families and single working parents has grown significantly in Minnesota, and this is a good step to provide them economic security. This, in turn, supports a stronger, more stable society.
Last week, the DISCLOSE (Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections) Act was released. The DISCLOSE Act would, through an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, finally provide some transparency for the sources of the untold sums of dark money in our political campaigns. This is a simple, but important reform of Minnesota’s campaign finance system which eliminates a loophole that exempts political groups from reporting spending on “issue based” communications. This means that even if they advocate for or against a candidate, unless a communication explicitly contains the words “vote for” or “vote against," disclosure is not required.
Since the 2010 Citizens United U.S. Supreme court decision, Minnesotans have been inundated by television ads and fancy literature pieces paid for by outside spending. Sources of spending by candidates and political parties require disclosure and scrutiny, but the sources of money funneled into organizations such as Super PACs have been able to evade this. While the DISCLOSE Act won’t stop these types of expenditures – which are independent of any candidate or their campaigns – it will provide sunshine on who is paying for them, and voters have a right to know this information. If a majority of both the House and Senate approve of this measure, the amendment will appear on the ballot for consideration during this November’s general election.
I heard from quite a few constituents during the 2015 session about the need to enact a strong requirement for buffer strips along rivers and streams. Phosphorous and nitrate levels have risen to alarming levels and buffers are a proven method to mitigate the harmful effects of this runoff to one of our most precious natural resources: our drinking water. Last session, the Omnibus Agriculture, Environment, and Energy Bill included a provision requiring vegetative buffers and for the DNR to establish a map of the waters subject to this.
Gov. Dayton, however, citing a disagreement with agricultural interests, has ordered the DNR to halt the mapping effort. This is a disappointing development as our water quality challenges become more serious and there has been little progress made in combating them. With the current situation in Flint, MI, water quality is rightfully on the minds of many. I hope we can enact smart policy here in order to maintain safe drinking water for future generations.
Early Childhood Report
The Educator Policy Innovation Center just released a report providing more evidence for the need to enact universal pre-K in the state of Minnesota. While we have made great strides in expanding availability of pre-K for young learners, further investment is necessary to ensure that this is available for all parents who choose to enroll their children in it. According to this report, Minnesota ranks 41st out of all 50 states in access to high-quality pre-K.
Universal pre-K would make tremendous progress toward closing the achievement gap by making sure more children don’t fall through the cracks and end up behind their peers when they begin school. This was a signature priority of Gov. Dayton during the last session, and I expect him to renew his push for this in 2016.
With the session just around the corner, your input will be vitally important to help guide my decision making at the Capitol. It’s an honor to serve you, and I hope you will stay in touch with your viewpoints about issues important to you.