Here are the highlights from this last week in St. Paul.
In the last week, we have started to hear many of our final committee omnibus bills and a few single issue bills on the House floor.
We have rounded the corner and are in the home stretch. Much of our committee work has been heard on the floor last week and will be continued to be heard this week.
We started the last week by passing two bills important to our roads.
We passed HF 837, which helped to deliver $105 million in federal funding ( aka the FAST Act) to jump start the repairs and construction of our roads and bridges. This was originally passed in our 2015 Transportation Omnibus bill, but as many of you know, Governor Dayton and the DFL refused to agree with us because House Republicans would not give in to the Governor's demands to raise the gas tax and to build the Southwest Light Rail Train.
This year, we were able to pass the FAST Act compliance bill and have sent it to the senate. It passed on Thursday night and is on its way to the Governor's desk.
We expect him to sign the bill.
We also voted on SF218 , which passed in the House. SF 218 puts a moratorium on MNDOT regulations. These regulations RESTRICT private land owners from mowing their own property and/or bailing hay in the ditches that run along our state roadways. MNDOT's policy was formed via rule making, with little, if any, public input. Our bill, SF 218 will provide time to allow lawmakers and other stakeholders to craft a ditch mowing policy that respects property owners and prevents departmental over-reach.
At midweek, we passed our main Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance bill, HF 888, which covers many areas. In this bill, we balance the task of protecting the environment with the needs of our farmers, landowners, small business owners and average Minnesotans. This bill has major reforms in the funding process of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency ( MPCA ). It takes MAJOR steps in making the MPCA more transparent and fiscally responsible. It also reforms the permitting process of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the MPCA. Both of these agencies have been overstepping their bounds and squishing private citizens. We have felt this crushing pressure, time-and-time again in our own district. I have personally added language in the bill that helps to reign-in the DNR's dealings with farmers who need to irrigate their land, and the hundreds of families who are facing radical landscape changes in the Sand Dunes State Forest.
A few other items of note: it allows for scopes to be placed on muzzle loaders, increases penalties on poachers who choose to steal from all of us by taking more game than they are allowed or hunting out-of-season. It also stops the DFL push to ban lead shot from being used in Minnesota. This is, in my opinion, a first step toward more sweeping gun control and would be a huge hit to the ammunition industry in Minnesota.
Also midweek, we passed a GREAT TAX RELIEF bill! HF 4 will bring $1.35 Billion in tax relief to Minnesotans in all stages of life. Some of the highlights include tax relief for our older folks on Social Security, tax relief for college students (the first credit of its kind in the nation ) appropriating $125 million in credits to help students with student loans and 529 college savings plans, $42 million in tax relief for farmers, and $35 million in tax relief for young families paying for childcare. In addition, there is $203 million in tax relief for small businesses - which will be exempt the first $ 200,000 in property values for business property taxes, $100 million in direct property tax relief for homeowners, renters AND first time home buyers. One final note: it also provides full funding for local government aid/CPA at current levels.
On Friday, we passed our primary Transportation Policy Bill, HF 861. This bill lays the framework for a 10 year, $6 billion dollar investment in our roads and bridges - without increasing the gas tax! It includes funding for counties and municipalities. Greater Minnesota transit will receive more than $2 million in increased funding.
What is more, this bill does not give the Met Council a funding increase. House Republicans are working hard to reform this out-of-control state agency that continues to expand its influence into other counties, like ours. I will not stop fighting this, and other bloated state agencies from overstepping into the lives of private citizens like you and your family!
Finally we passed our Omnibus Education funding bill, which increases the student funding formula, reforms the process regarding what is taken into account when schools face teacher lay offs, and reforms accountability and transparency in our education system. It puts parents, NOT GOVERNMENT, in the driver's seat.