For more information contact: Bennett Smith 651-296-6422
The Capitol is a busy place this time of year with floor sessions, committee hearings, and constituent visits. Here are a few updates on the final weeks.
Urban Agriculture Funding in Final Ag Bill
Currently my bill for urban agriculture is still being funded in the Agriculture Finance Conference Committee Report. This bill would provide competitive grants to urban farmers statewide with a priority for low-income communities of color and Native American Indian communities. This is exciting news because this will be the first initiative of its kind in Minnesota. I encourage you to call Republican Agriculture Committee Chair Rep. Rod Hamilton to thank him for the good work he has done with me on this issue at 651-296-5373. Governor Dayton’s office would also benefit from a call supporting this portion of the Agriculture budget at 651-201-3400.
KARE 11 Shines Light on Toxic Lead
I was pleased to see KARE 11 News shine light on an issue I’ve been working on for years – toxic lead poisoning in Minnesota kids. Every year there are 700 Minnesota kids that suffer permanent neurological damage from toxic lead. There were several bills addressing toxic lead this year at the legislature, including one of mine, and not even one of them received a hearing in committee by Republican committee chairs. My bill would have provided a tax credit for lead removal from homes and forced landlords to provide information to renters about toxic lead in their homes.
You can watch the KARE 11 Investigates story here:
The session deadline is rapidly approaching on May 22 and several budget bills remain unresolved. Here is a summary of some of the issues with those bills, all of which I have opposed.
Despite a budget surplus, the Republicans are choosing to underfund our schools. Educators, administrators and school districts have testified that a modest 2% funding increase is needed just to stay afloat with costs of inflation and student growth, yet Republicans are choosing to underfund our schools with much less.
The Republicans are proposing a higher education budget that’s nearly $200 million less than what Governor Dayton requested. This will continue to lead to program cuts, staff layoffs, increased tuition and skyrocketing student debt. The University of Minnesota said if the Republican budget becomes law, students would see a tuition increase of up to 5% each of the next two years. As it stands, we currently already have the 5th highest student debt in the country.
With recent local government gains for workers, House and Senate Republicans are working to pass statewide "preemption" which would prevent our local cities from raising wages and improving benefits for workers beyond state standards. This measure would roll back paid sick time for 150,000 workers and prevent other Minnesotans from gaining better benefits and higher wages. Unions, faith groups, and Minnesota workers have all rallied in opposition to this legislation because it undermines local democracy and endangers the economic security of Minnesota’s working families.
The House Republican education proposal completely cut pre-K. In contrast, Governor Dayton’s plan would provide opportunities to more than 17,000 four-year-olds in more than 260 school districts. Thanks to last year’s funding, 3,300 kids are already learning in voluntary pre-K and the program has been applauded by district officials around the state, including Minneapolis.
The Republican transit plan cuts funding for bus service and light rail which will harm Minnesotans who rely on transit for school, work, and daily life. Their plan includes a 10% cut to bus service, halts Southwest Light Rail, and prevents future investments and planning for transit improvements around the state. The transit cuts in the Republican budget will seriously affect our ability to move forward. If you or your family depend on transit and would be harmed by reduced service, I encourage you to call Rep. Paul Torkelson, the Republican Chair of the Transportation Committee. Tell him how important dependable transit is to our community by calling him at 651-296-9303.
Republicans, Democrats, and transportation leaders agree we need an additional $600 million a year to preserve and maintain our roads and bridges, but the Republican transportation plan continues to underfund and neglect our transportation system. They are forcing transportation to compete against funding for schools, nursing homes, and support for our most vulnerable people. We need a transportation system that works in every corner of Minnesota and supports a 21st century economy.
Despite the fact that housing costs are the major portion of most working families’ budget, so far this year, the MN legislature has not addressed that reality at all. The current Republican conference committee proposal does not increase funds for affordable housing and totally ignored the Governor’s budget request to help stabilize the living situation for homeless families with children in school. There are more than 9,000 Minnesota children identified as homeless or highly mobile—contributing to absenteeism and dropping out of school.
Despite the threat of veto by Governor Dayton, the Republicans in the House and Senate majorities are choosing to prioritize private schools over public schools. The Republican Tax bill includes $60 million in private school vouchers. These are the wrong priorities for us, with 95% of Minnesota students attending public schools.
Public schools see each of our students equally - whether they have a learning disability, a physical disability, or any other uniqueness they bring to the classroom. Meanwhile, private schools have the ability to pick and choose which students to teach. It's our responsibility to ensure ALL Minnesota children have access to a quality education, which is why strong public schools should be a top priority.
Cinco De Mayo - Saturday
This weekend people from all over the Twin Cities will be gathering to celebrate Cinco de Mayo on St. Paul’s Westside (and in Minneapolis on Lake Street on Sunday). If you are looking for more information about the official festivities in St. Paul, you can see the website here. Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Minneapolis May Day Parade - Sunday
This Sunday is the Annual May Day Parade and Festival at Powderhorn Park. The parade starts near Little Earth. I never miss it! You can find details here via In the Heart of the Beast Theatre. Happy May Day!
Stay in Touch
You can always contact me if you have questions or concerns at 651-296-0294 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
State Representative – District 62A
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