Greetings from the Capitol, where local members of the Minnesota Association of Counties and sugar beet farmers from the Red River Valley from just west of us were among visitors to my legislative office. Other highlights this week included a visit to outgoing University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler’s house and a Convention of States rally at the Capitol Rotunda. Pete Hegseth appeared at the latter.
As for news from the Legislature, a bill has been moving through the committee process that would extend by three years the “reinsurance” program House Republicans led to enactment during the last biennium. Our state’s reinsurance successfully lowered premiums on the individual markets two years and became a nation-leading program.
What makes this interesting is that, back when they were in the minority, House Democrats hammered this reinsurance program at every turn. They said it was a proposal “borne straight from the insurance industry,” and was a giveaway to insurance companies. In fact just one House Democrat voted for the reinsurance bill in 2017, and former Gov. Mark Dayton withheld his signature as he allowed it to become law.
Fast-forward to this year and House Democrats have done a 180-degree turn by authoring their own legislation to extend the program. It is good they finally came around on this issue, even if the wild criticisms of reinsurance they made in this video compilation make some members of the new majority cringe.
This isn’t the only example where good ideas from the last biennium are being looked at once again. Minnesota had been an outlier in fully taxing Social Security until we made progress in 2017 and nearly 284,000 senior citizens received tax reductions. Around 72,000 of our seniors no longer pay any state income tax on their social security. Bills are now being heard in committees that would take another step in reducing Social Security taxes. It was a good idea when Republicans had the majority and I will continue to support these efforts to support our seniors.
In other news, it was disappointing to learn this week that Gov. Tim Walz is proceeding with efforts to challenge the Enbridge Line 3 replacement pipeline. The petition for reconsideration he is filing challenges the unanimous decision by experts at the Public Utilities Commission to grant the certificate of need for the pipeline. This deteriorating pipeline needs to be replaced and I was hoping the governor would honor the due process that has taken place and not stand in the way of this project getting underway. Now more delays will be seen as things play out in the courts. We can only hope justice prevails and work commences soon.
On a final note, this week we received a report on an investigation into widespread problems with Minnesota’s new license and registration system for motor vehicles – MNLARS. The failings of this program caused longtime State Auditor Jim Nobles to use his subpoena power for the first time in order to get to the bottom of this debacle, which has led to endless vehicle licensing headaches for Minnesotans.
The upshot of the auditor’s report is that “Ultimately, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Office of Minnesota Information Technology Services (MNIT) must share the blame for the system’s deficiencies. The project’s total amount of funding (more than $100 million) and time (nine years leading up to the 2017 release) should have been sufficient to successfully complete this project.”
The auditor lists numerous recommendations for improvements in this system. You can read them and the full report at this link.