Much of our work recently in House committees has been reviewing Governor Walz’s budget proposal, while moving some key legislation to help our state recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. In the House Agriculture Committee, I’ve chaired a series of hearings examining the proposed budget for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and their important work including meat and dairy inspections, lab services, pesticide and fertilizer management, Agricultural Growth, Research, and Innovation (AGRI) Grants, and much more. Follow along with our committee’s work on our webpage here.
In a previous update, I discussed my legislation to – in partnership with the Department of Employment and Economic Development – invest $6.85 million in a new fire hall in Cloquet to replace the current facility, which is no longer able to keep up with the area’s needs and is sorely outdated. It would house full-time and paid-on-call firefighters in the Cloquet Area Fire District. This week, the House Workforce and Business Development Committee held a hearing on the legislation, and I thank Chief Matt Ashmore for joining me.
Also this week, the House Labor, Industry, and Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing about my bill to streamline the process for getting a “veteran” stamp on a driver’s license or ID card. Many veterans don’t have discharge paperwork handy, so this bill would allow a DD-214 form or other official document from their personnel file to be used for this purpose.
Many workers in hospitality and related businesses have been hit particularly hard by the COVD-19 pandemic. We need to find solutions to ensure they can put food on the table and pay the bills while not jeopardizing their health or the health of others.
One such solution, a bill to require Earned Sick and Safe Time for Minnesota workers, is moving through the committee process. The bill would require, at a minimum, one hour of paid Earned Sick and Safe Time for every 30 hours worked, up to at least 48 hours per year. Many of our lowest-wage workers are already the least likely to have access to any paid time off, and as we’ve learned with COVID, if you’re sick, it’s important to stay home.
I’m a co-author of a separate bill to help many hospitality workers who had been laid off due to COVID find a pathway back to their jobs. Under the bill, employers would be required to provide eligible workers with information about available job positions for which they qualify, and to rehire employees based on a preference system of qualifications and seniority. The bill applies to workers employed by hotels, airports, and event centers, as well as the facilities attached to them, including restaurants, bars, and retail. Those working in related services, including maintenance, security, ticketing, ground-handling, and food and beverage would be eligible as well.
After some initial bumps in the road and confusion, COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Minnesota is improving. As of Tuesday, nearly 600,000 Minnesotans have received their first dose. If you’re 65 or older, you can use this tool to find a location and make an appointment to receive your vaccine either at a community clinic (there are several options in Moose Lake, Cloquet and elsewhere) or at the larger-scale site at the DECC in Duluth.
Good news came yesterday from Washington, too, with the White House signing a contract for 200 million more doses. The speed at which the state can administer shots is tied directly to the supply we receive from the federal government, so this will help more Minnesotans get vaccinated. Case counts and positivity rates continue to trend downward, too, so there are many reasons to be optimistic. Still, we can’t take our eye off the ball, especially with new, more contagious variants emerging. Be sure to continue wearing a mask around others, practice social distancing, and get tested if you think you need one.
We recognize the month of February as Black History Month. In the Minnesota House, our first Black representative was J. Frank Wheaton from Minneapolis, who served a single term from 1899-1900. The first Black senator wasn’t elected until 1972 when Sen. Robert Lewis of St. Louis Park earned a seat in the other body. Almanac at the Capitol on Public TV had a neat story about him and his milestone this week.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your viewpoints, feedback, or if I can ever be of assistance. My email address is email@example.com and phone number at the Capitol is 651-296-4308. Feel free to be in touch any time.