For more information contact: DJ Danielson 651-296-8879
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2016 legislative session concluded on May 23 without reaching a final agreement. A “Special Session” has been pending but may not happen, so I felt now would be the time to send you an update on what we did and did not get done during the regular 2016 session. In general it was a very disappointing session with major missed opportunities. Now, with the unacceptable police-related violence we’re witnessing in our state and nation, it is very difficult to wait for the 2017 MN Legislature Session to try to remedy that and other issues on a state level. However, I want you to know that I’ve been in conversation with MN Governor Dayton, with the MN Commissioner of Public Safety, with numerous community leaders and also other elected officials to clarify these issues and to prepare potential state legislative responses going forward. I would greatly appreciate learning yourthoughts and ideas on these and all our state’s many challenges. To review the regular 2016 session’s challenges:
When legislators gathered in St. Paul on March 8, 2016, Minnesota’s financial footing was strong with a forecasted budget surplus of almost a billion dollar--about $900 million. Minnesota’s overall economy was stable. Yet, families across Minnesota and America, including so many in our South Minneapolis neighborhoods, have been struggling just to meet basic daily needs. I was hopeful that we could address some of those needs.
While we did have some modest victories during the regular 2016 session, major potential victories were lost with thelegislature’s failure to come to an agreement on major transportation, bonding, renewable energy, the environment, affordable housing and health care reform--plus the Governor’s decision to veto the tax bill, after finding a drafting error that would have cost the state $100 million annually. In general, the DFL-led Senate and the Governor were willing to invest much of the nearly $900 million surplus in Minnesota’s transportation and public infrastructure, modest middle-class tax relief and local government aid increases, and restoring previous budget cuts to education. But the Republican-led House refused to hold public hearings on many of these major pieces of legislation until the last minute, and their hasty, disorganized approach to the people’s work resulted in these major bills having critical drafting errors or not being passed at all because of their unrelenting opposition to funding for transit projects in the metro region.
The vetoed tax bill would have provided some modest tax relief for Minnesota families, students, veterans, farmers and others--including expanded child & dependent care and working family tax credits; a new student loan tax credit of up to $1,000; deductions and credits for contributions to 529 Savings plans; and a military pension exemption. But other important fair tax opportunities promoting income equality, energy, housing and job-creation were left out. Unless a special session is called by the Governor and legislative leaders, these tax changes are not happening in 2016.
Nowhere was the lack of meaningful action more evident than in the Legislature’s failure to adopt a comprehensive, long-term state transportation plan. Without question, when the session convened in March 2016 there was broad consensus about the need to solve our transportation problems once and for all by adequately funding infrastructure improvements like fixing roads, bridges, highways, transit (including buses), rail, ports, and airports. As long as these improvements included affordable and improved bus and transit in our urban core, they had my full support. However, another year has passed without meeting this critical challenge.
That lack of progress was made much worse by theLegislature’s failure to also agree on a “bonding” packageto improve other parts of Minnesota’s public infrastructure. The “Capital Investment” or bonding bill would have funded key investments in our schools, colleges, affordable housing, wastewater treatment plants, parks and other public institutions. The legislature ran out of time to reach agreement minutes before the final adjournment deadline onMay 23.
Other key missed opportunities that many Minnesotans had expected their legislative leaders to effectively address in 2016 included help with college affordability, improved K-12 educational outcomes/equity for our children, getting the secret money out of politics, policing and criminal justice reform, REAL ID with the drivers-licenses-for-all provision, urban farming funding and paid family leave/earned sick time for all. Although a “Special Session” would be needed to address and resolve these other issues, there were four issues I was particularly pleased we successfully addressed in the 2016 legislature:
I was pleased we took positive action related to racial disparities/racial equity. The final Omnibus Supplemental Appropriations Bill included an“equity agenda” which allocated $35 million to various nonprofit organizations that primarily serve low-income people of color and American Indians. The goal of this funding is to help equalize economic opportunities. Some of the groups or program areas that will benefit include: Youth at Work; Women in High-Wage, Non-Traditional Jobs; Economic Disparities in Southeast Asian Communities; Emerging Entrepreneur Program; White Earth Nation Integrated Business Development; Pathways to Prosperity; Capacity Building Grant Program; Somali Youth & Community Resiliency; Ujamaa Place; Enterprise MN; YWCA St. Paul& Minneapolis; EMERGE Community Development; Twin Cities RISE!; Metropolitan Economic Development Assn; CLUES (Latino Communities United in Service); Centers for Independent Living (CILS). However, this funding was a small fraction of what was needed and I was very disappointed that four other equity bills I sponsored were NOT included in this list: urban agriculture grants that created jobs and more secure land tenure; renters’ right-to-know toxic lead exposures in housing; phasing out use of toxic crumb-rubber in schools yards and playgrounds, and East African youth and elders services. They will be top agenda for me next session!
I was also pleased that the Legislature reformed Minnesota’s drug sentencing laws to ensure that low-level, nonviolent addicts get more opportunity for the drug treatment they need, while dangerous drug traffickers receive stronger criminal sanctions. For example, we established a non-waivable mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a firearm in connection with a 1st or 2nd degree drug sale offense, but at the same time expanded the availability of diversion for certain less serious offenses in order for offenders to obtain drug addiction treatment. This rebalancing of our state’s sentencing structure as it pertains to drugs was long overdue and an important beginning.
A victory I am pleased to report is my bill to fundhousing for victims of gender violence in our emerging immigrant communities. Two years of strong citizen-led community organizing helped create and fund this program which will be one of the first of its kind in the U.S.—a demonstration project that we can build on.
A very important economic development victory was funding the Neighborhood Development Center’s business incubator and job creation programs for the Midtown Global Market and Plaza Verde.
Unfortunately, for the last two years, I have to report thatnearly the entire state budget has been negotiated behind closed doors – a terrible process that shuts out Minnesotans, handing over power to a small group of legislative insiders and well-connected special interests. This must change. We need to get our work done on time and in an open and transparent manner so that all Minnesotans can have a say in the process.
I am particularly proud of the people in our District 62A who called, wrote or came to meet with me at the State Office Building--despite the extremely limited access to our beautiful Capitol building that is undergoing major renovation. Others arranged to meet with me out in our district’s neighborhoods. I was especially pleased by the broad and consistent efforts many put forward to draft, amend, and try to pass the urban agriculture legislation and the Real ID with drivers’ licenses-for-all bills--even though we were not successful in this 2016 session.
Thank you for taking time to review this information about the work of the 2016 Legislature. While talk of a Special Session is still a small possibility, I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that while I share your disappointments with the regular 2016 session, I continue to be focused on going forward with your continued support and activism. It is truly an honor and a privilege to represent and serve you in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Please feel free to contact me at either my office (651) 296-0194 or my personal cell-phone (612) 237-7156 to meet or talk further.
Karen Clark, State Representative
PS: Don’t forget to apply for your property tax and family tax credits if you have not done so by August 15, 2016.
Vina Kay of Voices for Racial Justice honored Rep. Clark as one of six MN State legislators earning an A+ as a “Champion for Racial Equity” on their 2016 MN Legislative Report Card
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