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State Representative JoAnn Ward

231 State Office BuildingState Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
651-296-7807

For more information contact: DJ Danielson 651-296-8879

Posted: 2016-03-22
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Legislative Update

Legislative Update - March 22, 2016


Dear Neighbors,

The 2016 Legislative Session is now in its third week. I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on some noteworthy items taking place here in St. Paul. One topic in particular has garnered significant attention this far in session, and I hope to provide some insight in this update.

Unemployment Insurance

Last week, the House passed a bill extending unemployment benefits for laid-off steelworkers on the Iron Range. Taconite mining operations on the Iron Range are largely idled, with over 2,000 steelworkers having exhausted all unemployment benefits available to them. As these families struggle to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, the economic impact invariably spreads elsewhere in the community, leaving others to experience hardship.

While a bill providing these extended benefits passed, it did so with a certain amount of controversy. At the insistence of the House Majority, a provision was also included in this bill to provide a sizable cut in unemployment insurance taxes for businesses. I think attaching such a provision to a bill providing this much needed aid could set a questionable precedent, but it was important for us to move forward with this so we can get this relief passed just as quickly as we can. Yesterday, the Minnesota Senate passed a clean, standalone bill just providing the unemployment benefit extension as, I’d argue, we should have done in the House the first day of session. This now goes to a House/Senate conference committee and hopefully a resolution can be reached soon.

Helping Our Veterans

Last week, a package of bills was introduced to provide a hand up to our state’s veterans. Often, when veterans return home they face a multitude of challenges, including housing, employment, and health care – especially in the area of mental health. We should always be looking for ways to help them, and I’m privileged to serve on the House Veterans Affairs Division where we are consistently striving to do this. The proposals introduced last week include:

  • Increased access to mental health services: Funds and allows the Soldiers’ Assistance Fund to cover court-ordered mental health and substance abuse counseling for veterans.

  • Financial relief while transitioning to a veteran home: Creates a tax credit for veterans who are staying in private nursing homes to help ease the financial burden while they wait for a bed in a veteran’s nursing home.

  • Expanding health coverage for veterans and guardsmen: Creates a feasibility study for providing health insurance to veterans and guardsmen to extend coverage beyond the health insurance programs provided by the federal VA and the Department of Defense.

  • Reducing domestic violence: Expands opportunities for veterans to participate in the Change Step Program for veterans who need domestic abuse counseling and education.

  • Ending veteran homelessness and honoring those who have served: Increases funding to address veterans homelessness and provides additional money to reimburse veterans service organizations for providing honor guards at veterans’ funerals.

  • Increases support for veterans who have struggled to reintegrate: Similar to drug courts, Veterans Courts provide problem-solving treatment and therapy instead of punitive court sentencing. These courts better recognize both the service and struggles many veterans experience.

I’m hopeful we will be able to move forward with these on a bipartisan basis. It’s crucial for us to recognize the sacrifices of veterans by thanking them for their service not just with our words, but with the public policies we enact as well.

Election Judges Needed

Washington and Ramsey Counties are seeking individuals to serve as Election Judges during the state primary electionAugust 9 and the general election on November 8. Election judges and election judge trainees are the officials who staff polling locations and ensure the rights of voters are protected on Election Day. Election judges must be 18 years old, and trainees at least 16. Other qualifications include: U.S. citizenship, Minnesota residency, possession of voting rights, ability to read, write and speak English and completion of training (minimum of two hours). Additionally, potential judges are asked to be able to: communicate clearly with voters, enjoy helping others, be available to work long hours and show attention to detail.

For more information, those in Washington County can click here, and those in Ramsey County can click here.

As the session continues, I hope you will feel free to contact me any time with questions, comments, or if I can be of assistance to you. I can be reached by phone at 651-296-7807or email at rep.joann.ward@house.mn.

Sincerely,

JoAnn Ward

Minnesota House of Representatives  ·   100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Saint Paul, MN   55155   ·   Webmaster@house.mn