This session, I’m honored to chair the House Human Services Finance & Policy Committee. In the committee this week we’re considering several different proposals to improve supports for people with disabilities. You can follow along with our work on the committee’s webpage.
While it has required some patience to get here, and there have been frustrations, Minnesota’s vaccine distribution process continues to improve. The speed of the distribution – which started with health care workers and long-term care residents – has been limited by the supply we receive from the federal government. So far, 569,000 Minnesotans have received their first dose. There are now three permanent, large-scale vaccination sites, including the DECC, open for eligible Minnesotans to receive the vaccine, including those 65 or older. Educators, childcare workers, and school staff are also now receiving their first doses. More information on vaccine availability from health care providers and community sites is available here.
Many COVID-19 metrics are also headed in the right direction, with case counts and positivity rates falling. While this is all good news, we can’t let our guard down. Last week, the House Health Committee heard from Dr. Michael Osterholm, world-renowned epidemiologist and Director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Dr. Osterholm shared his concerns about a pair of highly contagious emerging variants of the virus, and stressed the need to continue physical distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding gatherings. I encourage you to watch his presentation here.
Yesterday, the committee discussed a bill to put in law the current requirement to wear masks in indoor public settings until the Centers for Disease Control or Minnesota Department of Health no longer recommend them. We received this presentation from MDH highlighting the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of masks to prevent the spread of the virus.
Minnesota’s current cannabis policy is broken and people across the state are asking for our laws to be updated. Our current policy results in significant inequities – Black Minnesotans are over five times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than those who are white, despite using it at similar rates. Many Minnesotans are also shut out of the medical cannabis program due to cost or an ineligible condition.
Last week, several of my colleagues announced legislation – of which I am a coauthor – to legalize adult-use cannabis in Minnesota. This is a thoughtful, responsible framework to create a new regulatory structure. Soon, House committees will begin examining this important issue.
It’s no secret that the hospitality industry has been impacted especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, House DFLers introduced legislation creating protections for rehiring and retaining workers who have been laid off as a result of the pandemic. It would help 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. 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.
This is one of several solutions put forward this session to meet the needs of workers, families, and small businesses hit hardest by the pandemic.
Please continue to stay in touch with your viewpoints, ideas, or if I can ever be of assistance. Thank you for the honor to serve at the State Capitol.