The pace is quickening and evening hearings have begun.
The state budget is a major focus
Budget committees are now going over the Governor’s recommendations (in the Health and Human Services Budget there are about 200 change proposals and that doesn’t count the ideas legislators want to have considered). Our main responsibility in the first year of the two year term (biennium) is establishing the state’s two year budget for all areas (education, higher education, health and human services, taxes, transportation, environment and natural resources, etc.).
While the state is projected to have a $1.4 billion surplus, that doesn’t go far when the overall budget is about $45 billion and an estimated $1.3 billion in inflation isn’t included in the projection. While we try to be as efficient as possible, the state also wrestles with rising utility and other costs beyond its control.
Governor Dayton’s budget is the starting point of discussion. I endorse his priorities of increased funding for education, health and human services (particularly improvements in mental health, helping more people with disabilities achieve greater independence, and affordable health coverage), and clean water and other environmental investments. Attached is a summary of his major recommendations by area. I welcome your feedback on what you support (or don’t) in his proposals.
25% Discount for people buying insurance on their own – Feb 8th deadline
If you don’t have employer based coverage or Medical Assistance, Minnesota Care, or Medicare, you are buying your health insurance on your own. We just passed one year of premium assistance for all in this situation who also didn’t qualify for federal premium help. It will have the state pay 25% of the health insurance premium. If you’ve already purchased insurance, it will happen automatically starting around April 1 with retroactive benefits back to January 1. If you are uninsured, you have until February 8th to buy qualifying insurance. The best approach is to go to the MNsure.org website or call their help number (1-855-366-7873) if you have questions.
Northern Metals and pollution issues
Sen. Kari Dziedzic, Rep. Fue Lee, and I convened a meeting with city, park, and state Pollution Control officials to consider what options may be available for using community mitigation funds from the proposed court settlement with Northern Metals. Northern Metals has been found to violate its permit, has had part of its operation shut down and is looking to relocate outside the metro area. We reviewed the public suggestions, agreed that some of the funds should focus on health issues and, as much as possible, include benefits that will serve and be valued by the entire area, not just selected private property owners.
We also discussed the need to develop and implement a fine particulates reduction plan, as this area is disproportionately impacted by industrial and transportation impacts that contribute to poor air quality and the health impacts that come with it. I am hopeful that this can be the catalyst for an ongoing effort that expands far beyond this court settlement and has a long term impact in improving the quality of life in our area.
Listening sessions draw a crowd
Thanks to all who took the time last Saturday to attend our listening sessions and share their priorities and concerns. All were able to list a topic of concern and the most popular areas of interest were health care, the environment, the proposed bill to limit and penalize protests, and education. There were many other areas of interest as well. It was great to see so many people turn out. Thanks for your patience as we added chairs to handle record crowds. We’ll have another one at Van Cleve Park on the 11th at 1 p.m. to hear particularly from Southeast area residents.
You’re invited – the President’s Day Capitol Tour
My annual tour will be special this year – you’ll see an amazingly renewed and restored Capitol with more spaces to accommodate the public. The restored artwork, uncovered skylights, and a totally new foundation level have impressed even the most jaded skeptics.
More importantly, we can now have people with disabilities fully participate, have equal restrooms for men and women (and a nursing room for new moms!), and no longer risk interior flooding, electrical overloads, or exterior falling marble. As a member of the Capitol Preservation Commission it was an honor to be part of a small group guiding this and I’m glad to share how I and local businesses contributed to the project.
Sen. Kari Dziedzic will again join us as the Senate schedule allows. We’ll share how you can participate in shaping the decisions made within these beautiful spaces. The tours are on the morning of February 20th. Because of size limits, we need to have reservations in advance. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 651-296-4219 for details on times, parking, etc.
Have a great week! Some controversial bills are moving forward through the committee process and I’ll highlight some of them next week.