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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Shane Mekeland (R)

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Legislative update

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Dear Neighbor,

A recent special session is now in the books but the most significant issues remain unresolved, largely because House Democrats, at the insistence of the governor, broke a on a deal that had been negotiated by the four caucuses.

This issue centers on a bill that would release $841 million in federal CARES Act funding to local governments. The Senate overwhelmingly approved a clean CARES Act bill but, instead of following suit and sending that money on its way to local governments that need it, House Democrats and the governor insisted on adding extra funding for their projects to the bill. That broke a deal that had been agreed upon by House and Senate Republicans and Democrats, delaying and/or jeopardizing these relief funds.

The Pioneer Press reported: “There wasn’t much controversy from lawmakers about allocating the money to local governments; on Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Senate passed such a plan 62-4. However, it became mired in controversy after the Democratic majority in the House, at the urging of Walz, a Democrat, tacked on some $152 million in unrelated spending...”

The Star Tribune also reported: “The remaining roadblock stems from a late effort by the House DFL majority to add amendments funding other legislative priorities. Democrats tacked on a list of spending items...”

It is extremely disappointing that Democrats added unrelated issues and refused to pass the CARES Act bill we all agreed to. We recognize how important this funding is and will continue working to get the bill passed so we can get these funds in the hands of our local governments as quickly as possible.

Public safety

The death of George Floyd brought to a head some issues that need to be addressed regarding criminal justice and public safety in general. We need reform that will allow us to make improvements while continuing to fully support our various branches of law enforcement.

Provisions with bipartisan support were proposed during the special session, from the duty to intercede, to ]providing departments with greater recourse when officers violate laws and training standards. This is a good move and it should apply to other public employees.

But, instead of working to build consensus on these areas of agreement, the House majority pushed partisan proposals and rejected good faith offers that included bills they personally had written. It’s disappointing that, when they were given the opportunity to pass bipartisan bills, they took an “all-or-nothing” approach, deciding nothing was better than passing things that had full agreement.

Just another example of how the House majority is playing political games instead of helping to enact solutions on serious issues to help Minnesotans.

Overwhelmingly, constituents are telling me they do not want to bail out cities that allow themselves to be destroyed and they also do not want our police to be defunded or diminished in any way. In fact, I am hearing a massive outpouring of support for our law enforcement agencies and a swell of appreciation for their efforts to keep us safe. I also extend my personal gratitude for our peace officers.

Guidance for upcoming school year

A recent announcement from the Minnesota Department of Education  indicates schools will not receive guidance from state officials on how to plan for the upcoming academic year until late July.

As of last week, state officials have told school districts and charter schools to plan for three possible scenarios in the fall:

  • All children return to school buildings and in-person classes.
  • No children return to school buildings for in-person classes. Instead, all students will engage in distance learning.
  • Employ a hybrid of these two options with both in-person classes and distance learning. 

State officials say a final decision at the end of July on what to expect for the upcoming academic year. Waiting until late July to make a decision on the coming academic year is impractical for school districts across the state and brings a number of logistical concerns. It would be good to see some flexibility provided so local families and officials could work together and determine what is best for children in their districts.

Visitation guidance for long-term care facilities

To prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Center for Disease Control provided direction related to restricting visitation.

The Minnesota Department of Health indicates “The Minnesota Department of Health recognizes how the effects of isolation can have serious impacts on the health and well-being of residents in LTC facilities. At this time, we believe the risk of COVID-19 transmission in LTC facilities and the need for family, partner or close friend interaction can be balanced under certain conditions.” Click here for more information.

Youth sports set to resume

The Minnesota Department of Health has put forth guidance regarding resuming youth sports and strongly recommends the following timelines for all ages:

  • Games/scrimmages – both within teams and between teams:
    • June 24 or later for outdoor sports
    • July 1 or later for indoor sports
  • Full team practices for all sports
    • June 24 for indoor and outdoor sports

The guidance from MDH also outlines preferred times for games and urges teams to not share equipment, fans to social distance and travel to be kept to a minimum.

While the governor encourages teams to minimize travel, the reality is team tournaments are taking place right across our borders right now, welcoming scores of Minnesota athletes and their families to their cities. Until we are free of excessive restrictions in Minnesota, people will find alternative ways of participating in their normal activities, to the benefit of wherever that may be.

Concerns rise over identity theft for unemployment claims 

Area residents are urged to watch for identity theft related to unemployment insurance and report suspicious activities to local law enforcement. Reports have surfaced of people having unemployment insurance claims filed in their name. State officials have indicated they have not yet identified a data breach. Because of the heavy use of unemployment benefits and the many new grant and loan programs related to COVID-19, the current environment is ripe for scammers attempting to commit identify theft and fraud.

Individuals who notice something improper should:? 

  • File a police report – this is identity theft. 
  • Check your credit report – again, this is identity theft and bad actors may have applied for many forms of credit and programs. 
  • Closely monitor your credit card and bank accounts for any indication of suspicious activity.
  • Notify the state’s Unemployment Insurance office –?Individuals can notify the office and receive follow-up:??https://www.uimn.org/applicants/contact-us/ui-fraud.jsp.

On a quick side note to this. The fact that unemployment was expanded and fraudulent claims are now on the rise begs the question: What could happen if we go all in on mail-in ballots?

Look for more news soon, especially as we await any word from the governor on ending his emergency powers (or any ill-conceived notions about extending them) and/or another special session. As always, let me know how I can help.

Sincerely,

Shane

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