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Minnesota House approves State Government, Elections, Veterans Budget

Friday, April 16, 2021

St. Paul, MN - This evening, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed their proposal for the State Government budget bill, including provisions from the State Government Finance and Elections Committee as well as the Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee. The legislation funds the state’s constitutional offices, internal service agencies, and various boards, councils, and commissions. In addition to funding the state government, the bill also contains policies and funding to protect and strengthen Minnesota’s elections. The bill passed on a vote of 68-62.

“As our state addresses and recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the investments in this bill facilitate the responsive state government Minnesotans deserve,” said Michael Nelson (DFL – Brooklyn Park), Chair of the House State Government Finance and Elections Committee. “Minnesotans hold elections in high regard, as seen by our consistent leadership in voter turnout. Following a safe, transparent, and secure election in 2020, our proposal strives to engage even more Minnesotans in the right to have their voices heard when exercising their civic duty.”

Among the policy proposals in the bill are measures to restore the voting rights for ex-offenders, and automatic voter registration. The bill also allows the Attorney General’s office greater ability to prosecute and prevent voter intimidation. Outside of elections, the legislation provides a process for state government agencies to produce Racial Equity Impact Notes on proposed legislation, and establishes a Racial Equity Impact Assessment Working Group to study and make recommendations on the content of these notes and the process for creating them.

“As challenging as COVID-19 has been for all of us, our servicemembers continue to bravely serve, while many veterans continue to face challenges,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL – International Falls), Chair of the House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. “This bill lays out a vision to tackle some long-term issues impacting the wellbeing of our veterans, including veteran homelessness, suicides, and encounters with the criminal justice system. We’ve struggled to solve many of these problems for too long, and this legislation will improve the outlook for all veterans in our state.”

The legislation includes $6.33 million in solutions to address veteran homelessness, including housing vouchers and wraparound services for veterans who aren’t eligible for housing services through the VA. The bill invests in veteran suicide prevention, including outreach, training, and marketing efforts to raise awareness as well as an intensive review of records of veterans who have died by suicide to identify trends and warning signs. The Veterans Restorative Justice Act is also part of the bill, which creates alternative sentencing options for veterans who commit certain crimes resulting from service-related trauma. The measure builds upon the Veterans Court model to help eligible veterans receive chemical dependency or mental health treatment as opposed to incarceration. To ensure veterans living in Minnesota’s five veterans homes can continue to receive high quality care, the bill increases funding for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs by 6.6%.

“Minnesotans expect and deserve an effective state government that works to meet their needs, not arbitrary cuts from Republicans in the middle of a pandemic,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman. “Our state government budget funds critically-important services, strengthens our democracy and elections, and works to end veteran homelessness and suicide.” 

Additionally, the State Government budget bill provides support to the State of Minnesota’s public pension funds, including the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS), the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA) and the Public Employees Retirement Plan (PERA).

“In the era of Citizens United, and mere months after the Trump/Republican-led insurrection of our nation’s capital, it’s become clear we can no longer take free and fair elections for granted,” said Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. “At this pivotal moment in history, with voting rights under assault by Republican politicians, billionaires, and big corporations, Democrats in Minnesota are passing legislation to protect and strengthen our democracy for all Minnesotans so people historically left behind have a voice in their government.”

A spreadsheet of the investments made in the State Government budget bill can be found here. A video recording of today’s floor debate is available on the House Public Information YouTube channel.

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