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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R)

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Legislative notes

Monday, June 22, 2020

Dear Neighbor,

The Legislature concluded a one-week special session early on Saturday morning and it was an unusual event to say the least. 

For starters, every other special session I have participated in began with a set agenda. We were at the Capitol to work on an established, agreed-upon set of issues and then adjourn. 

This time, there was no pre-determined agenda, other than we all knew the governor wanted to call a special session to extend his emergency powers another 30 days. That ended up happening due to the House majority’s unwillingness to put the brakes on the governor, bringing us to 120 days under his unilateral decisions. 

It is time to end the emergency powers, restore balance at the Capitol and safely re-open our state. But that is unlikely to happen as long as the House majority is OK with crushing our economy and failing to protect vulnerable citizens.

Another way this special session was different is I have never seen a governor intercede and thwart an agreement after it had been reached by the leaders of all four legislative caucuses. That is what happened to a bill dispersing $841 million in federal relief for local units of government. 

All four legislative caucuses had reached a compromise on the best way to distribute this funding. The Senate passed the bipartisan proposal with overwhelming support. Things fell apart when the governor urged the House majority to add unrelated spending to the bill that had not been agreed upon, breaking the deal and causing the funding to be stalled.

The Pioneer Press reported: “There wasn’t much controversy from lawmakers about allocating the money to local governments; on Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Senate passed such a plan 62-4. However, it became mired in controversy after the Democratic majority in the House, at the urging of Walz, a Democrat, tacked on some $152 million in unrelated spending...”

The Star Tribune also reported: “The remaining roadblock stems from a late effort by the House DFL majority to add amendments funding other legislative priorities. Democrats tacked on a list of spending items...”

We recognize how important this funding is and will continue working so we can get these funds in the hands of our local governments as quickly as possible. Without legislative approval of a CARES Act bill, the governor has discretion to spend the money on his own, again circumventing legislative due process.

Public safety

The death of George Floyd brought to a head some issues that need to be addressed regarding criminal justice and public safety in general. We need reform that will allow us to make improvements while continuing to fully support our various branches of law enforcement.

Provisions with bipartisan support were proposed during the special session, from the duty to intercede, to banning chokeholds and providing departments with greater recourse when officers violate laws and training standards.

But, instead of working to build consensus on these areas of agreement, the House majority pushed partisan proposals and rejected good faith offers that included bills they personally had written. It’s disappointing that, when they were given the opportunity to pass bipartisan bills, they took an “all-or-nothing” approach, deciding nothing was better than passing things that had full agreement.

Small-business grants

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is beginning to accept applications to the Minnesota Small Business Relief Grants Program recently approved by the Legislature.

This program will provide $10,000 grants to small businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees are eligible. Half of the funding will go to businesses in Greater Minnesota and half to businesses in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area, as required by law.

The application period runs from Tuesday, June 23 to 5 p.m. Thursday, July 2. To be eligible, businesses must have a permanent physical location in Minnesota and be majority owned by a permanent resident of Minnesota. Businesses must be able to demonstrate hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Additional eligibility requirements and application information can be found online at DEED’s Small Business Relief Grants page.

Guidance for upcoming school year

A recent announcement from the Minnesota Department of Education  indicates schools will not receive guidance from state officials on how to plan for the upcoming academic year until late July.

As of last week, state officials have told school districts and charter schools to plan for three possible scenarios in the fall: 

  • All children return to school buildings and in-person classes.
  • No children return to school buildings for in-person classes. Instead, all students will engage in distance learning.
  • Employ a hybrid of these two options with both in-person classes and distance learning. 

State officials say a final decision at the end of July on what to expect for the upcoming academic year. Waiting until late July to make a decision on the coming academic year is impractical for school districts across the state and brings a number of logistical concerns.

Visitation guidance for long-term care facilities

To prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Center for Disease Control provided direction related to restricting visitation.

The Minnesota Department of Health indicates “The Minnesota Department of Health recognizes how the effects of isolation can have serious impacts on the health and well-being of residents in LTC facilities. At this time, we believe the risk of COVID-19 transmission in LTC facilities and the need for family, partner or close friend interaction can be balanced under certain conditions.” Click here for more information.

Youth sports set to resume

The Minnesota Department of Health has put forth guidance regarding resuming youth sports and strongly recommends the following timelines for all ages:

  • Games/scrimmages – both within teams and between teams:
    • June 24 or later for outdoor sports
    • July 1 or later for indoor sports
  • Full team practices for all sports
    • June 24 for indoor and outdoor sports

The guidance from MDH also outlines preferred times for games and urges teams to not share equipment, fans to social distance and travel to be kept to a minimum.

Concerns rise over identity theft for unemployment claims 

Area residents are urged to watch for identity theft related to unemployment insurance and report suspicious activities to local law enforcement. Reports have surfaced of people having unemployment insurance claims filed in their name. State officials have indicated they have not yet identified a data breach. Because of the heavy use of unemployment benefits and the many new grant and loan programs related to COVID-19, the current environment is ripe for scammers attempting to commit identify theft and fraud.

Individuals who notice something improper should:? 

  • File a police report – this is identity theft. 
  • Check your credit report – again, this is identity theft and bad actors may have applied for many forms of credit and programs. 
  • Closely monitor your credit card and bank accounts for any indication of suspicious activity.
  • Notify the state’s Unemployment Insurance office –?Individuals can notify the office and receive follow-up:??

As always, let me know if there is anything I can do to help and I will keep you in the loop as things develop over the summer. The governor could very well call another special session in mid-July to extend his emergency powers by another 30 days, or even sooner if he wants to get serious about finishing work left on the table from the last special session.