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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Peggy Bennett (R)

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Legislative News from Rep. Peggy Bennett

Friday, March 19, 2021

Dear Friends,

This week, House Republicans attempted to move forward on four time sensitive and common-sense bills that would assist workers, employers, law enforcement, and children who have fallen behind in school due to the lack of in-person learning. Unfortunately, the House majority voted against giving these bills consideration on the House floor.  I was saddened by that because, at the least, they merited a debate.
I have been very frustrated by the lack of action on the House floor on time sensitive issues like these.  They should not be delayed so they can be used as potential "leverage" at the end of session to get omnibus bills passed.  All these initiatives deserve to go forward as single-issue bills, which is why we brought them forward this week.
Here is a review of the proposals we wanted to approve:
I supported a pair of bills providing tax relief to those who received Unemployment Insurance (UI) and business owners who accepted a federal loan during the pandemic.
The federal government is not taxing these relief dollars, and neither should the State of Minnesota. Hurting Minnesotans are rushing to get their taxes done to get their federal refund and help pay their bills.  Without this conformity, the state of Minnesota will take a good chunk of the refund these hurting families are expecting and need.
The UI tax relief bill targets those who lost their jobs last year and who are now finding they have big tax bills because of the extra relief money they received. It targets those workers who were most hurt by the pandemic restrictions by excluding the first $10,200 of unemployment pay from income tax in the year 2020. This legislation conforms to what the federal government has already done and assures that the $600 and $300 federal relief unemployment bonuses will not be taxed by Minnesota. 
The second bill addresses pandemic impacted business owners who accepted Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and used those funds for business expenses, such as employee wages or rent. Congress ultimately forgave the loans and made them free from federal taxation. The Minnesota Senate recently approved the state PPP Tax relief proposal with a strongly bipartisan vote of 55 -12.
Minnesota should not be taking a cut of the federal dollars sent specifically for relief for our Main Street businesses and Minnesota workers. While state government is swimming in billions of extra dollars due to a projected surplus and billions in allocated federal dollars, Minnesota families and Main Street businesses are hurting.
The SAFE Account, legislation that sets aside $35 million to pay for mutual aid agreements if needed in a public safety emergency, was also brought forward this week.  This emergency fund will allow law enforcement to have the resources to respond to potential public safety emergencies anywhere in the state. 
Responding out-of-town agencies should not have to wonder if they're going to get paid for helping out their neighbors during a time of crisis.  This legislation is especially time sensitive with the upcoming high-profile trial taking place in our state.  Whether this trial takes place in Minneapolis, or gets moved to a different city, we want to make sure the people and businesses in that area are safe.

Our final bill introduced this week focuses on our kids and their school districts. With $2.6 billion set to arrive in Minnesota from a federal COVID-19 aid package, we want to have money made available immediately for in-person summer school opportunities so districts can begin to plan for it. This proposal defrays the costs of in-person learning, funds student mental health as well as early learning scholarships, and allows the flexibility of local control so schools can meet the needs of their students. Many children have fallen behind significantly in their academics because of the pandemic related school shutdowns and we want to make sure the opportunity is there this summer to help them catch up if they need that.
We have been very busy with committee work this week with another committee deadline looming in just a few weeks. The committees I sit on - Education Finance, Education Policy, and Early Childhood Finance and Policy - are hearing more bills and the committee chairs are forming their omnibus bills. I can tell you that I am not looking forward to those omnibus bills!
Omnibus bills are those big, bloated bills filled with many individual proposals. As I've mentioned before, I find omnibus bills - no matter which party uses them - to generally be a very poor and sloppy way to legislate. These huge bills force legislators to vote for legislation they do not support and vote against legislation they do support. Omnibus bills are a way for legislators to get very controversial legislation passed into law that would normally not be able to pass on a straight up or down vote as a standalone bill. In addition, these bills lack transparency for the public by hiding the true votes of their legislator, and they are a big reason for the gridlock we find at the end of sessions.
It is very tough to have to weigh a bill vote by trying to decide how much "good" is in the bill and how much "bad" to let through. I have authored legislation in the past to get rid of omnibus bills and voted (unfortunately unsuccessfully) with likeminded legislators to get rid of them this session.  I will continue to work on reforming this poor way to legislate.

Have a good weekend,