The 91st Legislature has begun the 2019 session at the Capitol in St. Paul and we are settling into our new roles for the new biennium. I am pleased to be back representing District 33A in western Hennepin County.
As for committee assignments this biennium, I have been selected as the lead Republican on the House Property and Local Tax Division, along with serving Ways and Means, State Government Finance, and the Subcommittee on Local Government. Most of our committee efforts thus far have been to conduct informational hearings, where state agencies and other presenters have been providing overviews of issues within a respective panel’s purview.
This also is the time of the session when numerous bills are authored and introduced to the legislative process. A number of measures I have drafted pertain to taxes and I may touch on them in an ensuing email. Today, I would like to touch on two other bills I have authored:
*FAMILY LAW (H.F. 46) This bill modifies custody and parenting time presumptions. The goal is to update our antiquated standards to help better match the times. This is an era where both parents are working and juggling busy schedules and they should be on equal footing.
Too often children are used unfairly as leverage in divorce settlements and gender stereotypes often place fathers at an enormous custodial disadvantage. I have heard firsthand examples from men who are limited to spending 10 percent or less of their time with their child, yet officials at every step of the process indicate that their custody timeshare is appropriate given they are the father and the kids are young.
While this may frustrate fathers and they are able to articulate their disagreements with the current custodial structure, this is really about children and the benefits they reap for having their father firmly in their lives. We often decry the erosion of the nuclear family and the negative impacts that has on children, yet in many cases government hinders equitable contact between children and their parents. We owe it to our children to do what’s in their best interests and my bill would help us improve in that regard.
*TRANSPORTATION PLANNING (H.F. 68) The Met Council is a body of appointed members with the authority to levy taxes and no accountability to voters. It currently manages long-range transportation planning functions for the seven-county metropolitan region. My bill would transfer those responsibilities from the Met Council to the Department of Transportation, which is subject to legislative oversight. This would bring more accountability and transparency to the process, protecting taxpayers.
HEALTH CARE UPDATE
A press conference took place this week to urge the new DFL House majority and Gov. Tim Walz to not raise health care costs on Minnesotans by restoring the sick tax – a 2-percent tax levied on most patient services in Minnesota. This tax applies to a wide array of procedures such as baby deliveries, chemotherapy treatments, routine doctor visits, emergency room visits, and more.
In recent months, many legislators and aspiring legislators expressed a desire to reduce health care costs, yet estimates show restoring the sick tax instead of allowing it to expire on Jan. 1, 2020 as scheduled, would cost Minnesotans $600 million more next year alone.
This would be another big blow to the individual market, and a missed opportunity to lessen the burden for those people who do not have employee-based health insurance. Also, by not sunsetting this tax, we remove incentive for insurance providers to seek new efficiencies in the private market that ultimately benefit consumers.
With a $1.5 billion state surplus, along with numerous potential avenues to reduce waste, fraud and abuse within our state system – such as Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) estimated to be a loss in the hundreds of millions of dollars – it is unnecessary to extend this tax. This is especially true at a time we say we are striving to achieve the opposite goal of reducing health care costs.
Look for more news from the Capitol soon. Until then, stay warm during what looks to be setting up as a more seasonably cool weekend.
Rep. Jerry Hertaus