The legislative session has a constitutional deadline to adjourn tomorrow at midnight, but there are many unresolved issues that remain before that set time arrives. As this weekend continues, legislators will be at the Capitol working to complete several remaining issues. I hope the legislature will be able to complete this work on time.
Governor Dayton has proposed a compromise budget offer to address the urgent needs facing Minnesotans. Governor Dayton released a spreadsheet detailing the compromise Tax Bill offer to cut taxes for over 2 million Minnesotans, and simplify tax filing for individuals, families, and businesses. Governor Dayton also sent a letter to Legislative Leaders, offering compromise solutions for the Budget and Tax Bills in these final hours.
Taxes and Emergency School Aid Funding
The House passed the final conference committee report for the tax bill earlier this week, which was then sent to the Governor’s desk. The bill did not improve in the conference committee process, and continues to prioritize long-term tax benefits for corporations, instead of lifting up Minnesota families. Minnesotans making more than the state’s median income would receive $1.23 per week in tax cut savings from the Republican tax bill. Governor Dayton has been very clear that delivering Emergency School Aid was his first priority, and he vetoed the tax bill as a result. Minnesota has a modest budget surplus and schools facing projected budget shortfalls that will be forced to lay off teachers, support staff and cut important programming for students. We need to be investing in our students. These are important priorities for both Republicans and Democrats, and I am cautiously optimistic a compromise on a tax bill and emergency education funding can be reached by Monday.
There was a push this session to change both legislative and statewide sexual harassment policies, including a measure from the Republican House Majority Leader to effectively nullify a long-used "severe or pervasive" legal standard to determine if a sexual harassment case could be heard in court. Over the last several decades, judges had interpreted that standard so narrowly that cases rarely made it to trial. I thought it was a bold step forward to change the culture of sexual harassment, and it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House (121-4). Sadly the measure failed in the Senate, and because it has been strongly opposed by some businesses it seems as though it will not resurface this year.
Opioids and Elder Abuse
The conference committee finalizing the omnibus supplemental budget bill took up articles relating to the ongoing opioid epidemic and the issue of elder abuse last night. The bill doesn’t go far enough by letting big pharmaceutical corporations off the hook for paying for the addiction problems they helped create. Furthermore, it only passes a task force for elder abuse, instead of meaningful changes to make senior care providers crack down on the problem.
Earlier this week the House passed a bonding bill to fund approximately $825 million in capital investment infrastructure projects throughout Minnesota. I supported the bill, which included improvements for flood mitigation at the DeCola Ponds. The bill also includes funds to help construct a new 50 meter competition pool in the city of New Hope. That project would help to serve the entire Northwest Metro region. The Bonding Bill creates thousands of jobs while improving state infrastructure assets at the same time, and it’s important to make these investments now while interest rates continue to be low. However, the Senate bonding bill failed on Wednesday, and I hope we will see an improved larger bill come back to the House floor for a vote before we adjourn.
A House and Senate conference committee, with five members of each chamber, is hashing out differences in each area of the state budget. The Governor is certainly weighing in as well, and he has identified at least 63 provisions to which he has strong objections. One area of unresolved disagreement is the DFL proposal to expand affordable health care for Minnesotans with the MinnesotaCare Buy-In. This would allow people to take advantage of premiums less expensive than on the private market, and with access to a vast network of quality doctors. I support this initiative as an option to improve the health insurance market.
Hands-Free Cell Phone Use
On Wednesday, DFLers renewed the call for debate and a vote on the ‘hands free’ cell phone bill on the House floor. This bill has earned broad bipartisan support and would ban handheld cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle. With numerous co-authors from each party and the support of 80 percent of Minnesotans, this bill deserves to be heard and voted on. Unfortunately, the effort was blocked by Republican leadership in yet another display of putting politics ahead of Minnesotans’ safety.
Secretary of State Steve Simon called on the legislature to release $1.5 million in federal funding for Minnesota’s election cybersecurity. The federal law requires the legislature and Gov. Dayton to accept the funds before they can be delivered. I support setting aside politics and authorizing the state to receive these funds. This is necessary funding to protect our elections and I hope we find a resolution for this issue without delay.
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