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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL)

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Rep. Michael Nelson - Legislative Report - June 11, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


We’ve had a couple of weeks to catch our breath after the end of the incredibly productive 2013-2014 legislative biennium.  I still have a hard time believing the breadth and scope of what was accomplished over the past 18 months on behalf of Minnesotans.

Before we dive into that, let’s remember where we were as the 2013 legislative session was about to be convened.

Minnesota faced a billion-dollar deficit and still owed our children’s schools another $1 billion that the GOP borrowed to fill their budget gap. Property taxes skyrocketed in the decade prior as Local Government Aid was slashed – in 2012 alone, they increased by $375 million on homeowners, small business owners and farmers, thanks to Republicans eliminating the Homestead Value Tax Credit (they were able to make sure big corporations kept their big tax breaks, however).

The 2011-12 legislature promised a laser-like focus on jobs. What it produced was givebacks to the wealthiest Minnesotans and tax breaks to corporations. Nothing on the jobs front.

Republicans also had cut aid to our kids’ schools and took a scissors to the social safety net. And who got stuck bearing the hardship the most? Minnesota’s middle class.

But they did give us two highly divisive constitutional amendments that divided Minnesotans.

In November 2012, voters understandably chose a different path.

It proved to be the right choice. We’ve gone from budget deficits to budget surpluses. We’ve gone from skyrocketing property taxes to the first statewide property tax decline in 10 years.

The 2012-13 legislature made historic investments in education – $725 million from early childhood to post-secondary. It rejected a decade-long cycle of deep budget cuts and dishonest shifts and gimmicks to pass a fair and balanced budget that will finally put Minnesota on sound fiscal footing and deliver key investments for a stronger middle class.

We paid the billion-dollar debt owed to our schools in full.

Just take a look at some of the things that were accomplished:

E-12 Education

  • Invested $525 million in Minnesota’s E-12 education system, providing needed funding for schools to reduce class sizes and boost student achievement.
  • Fully funded all-day, every day kindergarten for every Minnesota child for the first time in state history.
  • Invested in early learning scholarships aimed at closing the achievement gap.
  • Paid back the IOU owed to our schools.
  • Required school districts to adopt strong anti-bullying policies.
  • Fully funded reduced price school lunches for students whose parents were struggling to pay for them.

Higher Education

  • Froze college tuition for students at U of M and MnSCU schools after a decade of historic tuition increases and rising debt, and provided significant new resources to the state grant program.

Middle-Class Tax Cuts

  • The legislature put middle-class Minnesotans first with the $1.2 billion surplus, providing $550 million in tax cuts to more than 2 million Minnesotans.
  • Delivered more $400 million in property tax relief by restoring the state’s commitment to cities, counties and school districts.
  • Thanks to $178 million in direct property tax relief, property taxes are going down statewide for the first time in a decade – homeowners in particular are seeing more than a $161 million decrease in property taxes (after direct relief).

Balanced Budget That Puts Middle-Class First

  • Reversed 10 years of “all-cuts and gimmicks” budgeting with a responsible plan that asks wealthiest Minnesotans and corporations to pay their fair share to make investments in priorities Minnesotans broadly share – education, job creation, and property tax relief.
  • Due to the growing economy and honest budget, this legislature turned a budget deficit into a $1.2 billion surplus.
  • The legislature added $150 million to our budget reserve and has a $600 million expected surplus into the future, producing the first structurally balanced budget in more than a decade.

A Stronger Economy and Job Creation

  • Raised Minnesota’s minimum wage in stages to $9.50 for large business and $7.75 for small businesses by August 2016. More than 350,000 Minnesotans will get a raise. No one who works hard and puts in 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty.
  • Enacted the Women’s Economic Security Act, which aims to close the gender pay gap, strengthen workplace protections and flexibility for pregnant mothers, and expand employment opportunities for women in high-wage, high-demand professions. When women have equal opportunities to succeed, it means stronger families, stronger communities, and a brighter economic future for our state.
  • Focused on makes critical investments to grow our economy in Greater Minnesota, such as broadband infrastructure, economic development resources, and farm-to-food shelf legislation.
  • Invested in proven strategies to support job creation: the Minnesota Investment Fund to encourage small businesses expansion, the Minnesota Trade Office to help Minnesota small businesses compete globally, and key workforce development investments to help address our state’s “job skills” gap.
  • Cut $346 million in taxes for small businesses – one of the largest tax cuts for small businesses in state history – by reducing the rate employers pay to fund the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
  • Approved more than $1 billion for public works projects, which will create thousands of new jobs.

Health and Human Services

  • Prioritized nursing homes and long-term care provider by providing them with a much-needed funding increase.
  • Funded cost-preventive mental health initiatives for adults and children, such as expanding school-based mental health services and mental health crisis response services.
  • More than 200,000 Minnesotans have obtained high-quality, affordable health insurance through MNsure, many of them for the first time in their lives – and at the lowest rates in the nation. We’re not going back to the days of denials for pre-existing conditions or having your coverage dropped when you get sick.
  • Expanded access to quality care by implementing the Medicaid expansion option as available under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), covering 35,000 previously uninsured Minnesotans and saving the state billions.
  • Invested in cost-preventive mental health initiatives for adults and children, such as expanding school-based mental health services and mental health crisis response services.
  • Passed limits on the sale of e-cigarettes to youths passed, along with prohibitions from smoking them in government buildings, hospitals and elsewhere.
  • Allowed some Minnesotans to use marijuana to relieve extreme seizures and other medical problem.
  • Newborns will continue to be screened for more than 50 serious, rare, hard to detect, important to treat early, disorders. Parents will be informed of their rights to opt out of these services.
  • Naxalone, an antidote to opiate overdose, will be more widely available and can be administered by people other than just doctors and paramedics. Those calling emergency responders to save the life of someone overdosing will not be subject to prosecution themselves, eliminating a disincentive to get help.

Public Safety

  • Spurred by recent transportation accidents and spills of crude oil, invested more than $11 million to improve response to railroad and pipeline crude oil incidents. First responders will get funds for more training and equipment, and the number of state railroad inspectors will grow from one to four or five. Some crossings along oil train routes will be improved.
  • Required drivers that hit something to stop and determine what (or who) they hit, eliminating an incentive to leave the scene and later claim a lack of knowledge as a defense in court.
  • Authorized the use of electronic monitoring devices to increase the safety for domestic abuse victims.
  • Those subject to orders for protection (restraining orders) for domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking are required to surrender their guns and will not be allowed to purchase a new gun.
  • Strengthened existing law on the misuse of private, sensitive data by public employees by tightening training and procedures, clarifying what constitutes a breach or misuse of data, improving investigations and reporting the results of those investigations, and increasing personal accountability on the part of those who break the law.
  • Required smartphones to have “kill switches,” software or hardware that allows the owner to disable the phones if they are lost or stolen.
  • Shielded some criminal records held by both public agencies and the courts from certain background checks to help reformed offenders get a second chance to become productive members of society and gain access to housing and jobs.
  • Eliminated some barriers for tenant-victims in breaking a lease if necessary for their safety in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
  • Provided compensation, post-release services, housing, transportation and subsistence, and medical and dental health care costs to those who have wrongfully convicted.
  • Synthetic drugs, items such as bath salts and products sold under names like K2, will be more difficult or impossible to buy at retail stores under a new law.

Marriage Equality

  • Made Minnesota the 12th state to give everyone the freedom to marry the person they love.


  • Invested nearly $70 million to bring water from South Dakota into southwest Minnesota.
  • Funded grants to local governments to conduct aquatic invasive species prevention and intervention activities, especially at public boat landings.
  • Banned the use of lead or mercury in wheel weights, counterweights used in the auto manufacturing industry, and mercury thermometers, and triclosan in personal care products.


  • Passed a bill that allows online voter registration and online applications for absentee ballots.
  • Approved increased funding to aid homeowners with problems paying for propane to heat their homes after a shortage prompted high prices and passed legislation to prevent propane price gouging.
  • Passed legislation that will subject dog breeding facilities to oversight and regulation.

That is quite a record. Even more needs to be done for our families, students, workers, seniors and our local communities to put the damage of the past decade behind us. But the 2013-14 session was a good start. I’m happy to report that we’re on the right path again.

We’ve witnessed the disaster that is government in gridlock. And over the past 18 months, we witnessed something else – real progress.