Happy Easter as we bring another week to a close in the 2016 session.
Most of our focus in the House so far has been related to committee work as we prepare bills for final discussion and votes from the full body. One issue that has made headlines is legislation to provide an unemployment insurance extension for the Iron Range.
Seven of the 11 mines on the Range have been idled this year, leaving thousands of workers without jobs. Legislation the House passed today extends unemployment benefits for these employees by an additional 26 weeks. Also included are corrective measures regarding the state's overfunded unemployment insurance trust fund, which currently is carrying a nearly all-time high $1.5 billion balance. The legislation credits approximately $258 million to employers who have paid in to the fund and reduces their future obligation to the trust fund when the balance exceeds the fully-funded threshold per federal standards.
All this could have been signed, sealed and delivered sooner, but Democrats in both the House and the Senate delayed enactment. It is good to see resolution finally was reached and the legislation is now on to the governor for his enactment, which he has indicated he will provide.
Another interesting issue of late pertains to a proposal to re-open the currently mothballed Appleton prison. The state faces a significant shortage of prison beds and the plan would have the state lease and operate the private Appleton facility, which remains in operational condition after having been closed a handful of years ago. This approach appears to be the most common-sense, efficient option available. It would mitigate a shortage of beds, take stress off counties that are housing state inmates, save taxpayers the expense of new construction and also provide good jobs in Greater Minnesota.
Most of our time at this point of the session is being spent in committee meetings. This week we received an update from the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and University systems this week regarding an overview of their requests to help fund projects. We also this week discussed legislation related to parks and trails that would potentially be of value to facilities in our district, including Fergus Falls and Parkers Prairie.
Another committee meeting featured discussion over a bill that would prohibit the DNR from stocking muskies in five lakes in our state, including some in our area. This bill is in response to concerns raised by citizens who live near the lakes and do not want muskies to be stocked.
Please stay in touch and I will keep you posted as things develop.