The first week of the 2016 legislative session is in the books and most of our work has been conducted in committee meetings so far.
Legislation pertaining to unemployment insurance benefits is one thing House Republicans worked to pass on the floor this week, but Democrats blocked our efforts. The divisive tone they took in doing so was noteworthy, especially since the legislation we were discussing would extend unemployment benefits for out-of-work Iron Range employees by an additional 26 weeks.
There seem to be misconceptions over exactly what the Democrats were objecting to because they keep referring to "tax cuts" that are in the proposal, but that isn't exactly the case.
What House Republicans propose is taking corrective action to right-size the state's overfunded unemployment insurance trust fund, which currently sits at a nearly all-time high $1.6 billion balance. The proposal credits approximately $270 million to employers and reduces their future obligation to the trust fund when the balance exceeds the fully-funded threshold per federal standards.
This is something Democrats themselves have authored, voted to approve and then claimed credit for in previous years. One can only hope the Democrats were just in a foul mood this week and this is not an indication they will continue on this partisan path and stand in the way of good legislation that Minnesotans are depending on.
The good news on this issue is House Republicans will continue working to help people impacted by unemployment on the Iron Range (seven of the 11 mines on the Range are idle). The Democrats' obstruction tactics may delay the process, but I am confident we soon will have resolution.
As for other topics, the higher education committee I chair is meeting and we will dedicate much of a discussion next week to a variety of subjects related to the University of Minnesota. Officials from the U will provide updates and engage in a Q & A during the hearing.
We also have been examining issues on the K-12 level of education. A top priority is to improve the process of licensing teachers in our state. The current system has many flaws, a contributing factor in teacher shortages our state is experiencing – particularly in Greater Minnesota. We made some progress in 2015, but more work in bringing common sense to the equation remains. I will circle back with more on that as things develop.
Until next time, stay in touch and your correspondence always is welcome.