A brief Friday morning floor session in the House has concluded as we near the end of another week in the 2016 legislative session. Only five full weeks remain before we are set to adjourn May 23.
The session's biggest bills are shaping up so they can be brought the floor for votes of the full House. The higher education omnibus bill that I have been working on as chairman of the House committee on that subject is positioned to arrive on the floor soon.
House proposals related to tax relief and transportation are waiting in the wings as the other bills catch up in the process. The tax bill includes a number of good provisions, such as one that would phase out the state's tax on social security benefits for seniors. The transportation bill invests $7 billion in state roads and bridges over the next 10 years without an increase in the gas tax.
The $900 million state budget surplus will play a role in those bills as we work toward the end of the session. We need to be careful with that funding, especially since the state's revenue has been down in recent months. The ag. economy in particular is struggling. The last thing we should do is overextend ourselves now and be left dipping back into the reserve accounts that just recently have been replenished to healthy levels.
Look for more news on those bills as things develop in St. Paul.
As for other news this week, House Republicans unveiled a package that would increase high-speed Internet access throughout Minnesota, particularly in underserved regions of Greater Minnesota.
The proposals total $35 million, including $7 million dedicated to improving broadband access for Minnesota students through new grant programs. Another important provision is included to help school districts statewide. They can receive up to $100,000 for equipment and operating costs to improve broadband connectivity.
Along with the $85 million a year of federal "Connect America Funds" coming to Minnesota, the House proposal allows us to take a significant step forward in improving currently underserved regions of the state.
We also passed a bill this week to affirm the legality of fantasy sports. Current law does not specifically state that fantasy sports are lawful, so this legislation ensures these games won't be barred in Minnesota as has happened in other states. There also are consumer protections in the bill.
Until next time, enjoy the nice weather this weekend. Let's hope farmers have good success to start the growing season.