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As we prepare to break for the Easter/Passover holiday, the House and Senate are continuing to assemble the state budget.
This week on the House floor, we are debating large "omnibus" bills, which package all of the funding items for a particular issue area into one bill. I want to highlight three of those omnibus bills here: Higher Education, Public Safety, and Environment & Natural Resources.
THE HIGH COST OF COLLEGE TUITION
Minnesota has a world class higher education system, but continued underfunding has strained the system and made costs of college out of reach for far too many students and their families. Many young people are delaying major life events such as starting a family and buying their first home due to the burden of student loan payments, and Minnesotans carry the 5th highest amount of student debt. Despite a $1.65 billion surplus, the majority's Higher Education bill comes in millions less than what is needed to prevent tuition increases.
In our community, Century College would see a cut in their financial support from the state, leading to a lower quality education for our students. Our students and their families simply deserve better.
I voted no on the Higher Ed omnibus legislation.
PROTECTING THE RIGHT TO PROTEST
There were several good provisions I supported in the Public Safety bill, including cracking down on sexual predators and child pornography. But after hearing from so many constituents in opposition to the more radical anti-protest language in the bill, I ultimately could not vote for the final legislation.
Peaceful protest is the bedrock of American democracy, and this anti-protest legislation would've increased the penalty for certain protests from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. For context, that would mean protesters would be subject to harsher penalties than offenders who beat their spouses. It was a poorly thought-out provision, and I hope to vote for a clean version of the Public Safety bill without this language in the future.
ENVIRONMENT & NATURAL RESOURCES
Because I serve on the Environment & Natural Resources committee, I have paid especially close attention to this omnibus finance bill.
Our environmental tourism and natural resources are part of what makes Minnesota such an incredible place to live. And if I were serving in the majority, we would have used this opportunity to preserve our lakes, trails, and parks.
Instead, the current majority used the omnibus bill to erode the institutions that protect some of Minnesota's greatest assets. By gutting the Environmental Quality Board, allowing corporations to write their own environmental impact statements, and making it easier for polluters to damage the environment, this bill puts special interests over peer-reviewed scientific evidence. I think that's wrong, and I'm going to work to make sure the bill improves going forward.
With almost all of these omnibus bills, we expect Gov. Dayton to use the power of his veto to help us negotiate a better deal for Minnesotans. But as we move forward in this process, I will, of course, keep you updated.
Rep. Peter Fischer