It’s been a particularly busy week at the Legislature, as we’ve worked to meet today’s deadline for passing budget bills out of committee. Over the next two weeks, our budget bills will be reviewed in the House Ways & Means Committee (on which I serve) and then on the House floor. They’ll then go to conference committees with the Senate before the session finally adjourns in May. We still have a long way to go; please keep in touch.
House Budget Framework and Bills
Our House budget bills have been crafted based on the budget framework that was announced just after my most recent legislative update. Our framework aims to support those most impacted by the pandemic – students, workers, families, and small businesses – and to help all Minnesotans thrive once it’s behind us. At the start of this week, I joined several House DFL legislators to announce a few key components of our budget. I describe my own committee’s budget proposal below and will describe more in coming updates.
Investing in Early Care and Learning
For the first time, the House budget framework includes a public budget target for early childhood, my area of jurisdiction as a committee chair. In hearings this year, our committee has found that providing high-quality?early care and learning to the low-income young children who need it most will cost approximately $1 billion. The budget bill that we passed yesterday takes great strides toward this goal, investing nearly $600 million in state and federal funds to support families and providers (our most important teachers), expand supply, and bring needed evaluation and reform to this critical sector. Our investments complement those in the Workforce & Business Development Committee budget; the chair of that committee, Rep. Mohamud Noor, joined me in issuing a statement about our efforts in this area.
Strengthening Minnesota’s Sexual Conduct Laws
I’ve heard from many constituents outraged by the recent ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court that under our current criminal sexual conduct (CSC) statutes, the definition of “mentally incapacitated” doesn’t include people who become intoxicated after voluntarily consuming alcohol. This is one of many legal loopholes that can make it difficult or impossible for survivors of sexual assault to pursue justice. I’m a co-author of the legislation that would close these loopholes and strengthen Minnesota’s CSC statutes.?I work outside of the Legislature as a?prosecutor?of gender violence,?including domestic assault and sexual exploitation; this issue is a particularly high priority for me. We need to ensure that Minnesotans who experience sexual assault can get justice.
Supporting Minnesota Workers
Even as we’ve been working on the budget, the House has passed several bills to protect and support Minnesota workers. One recent example is Earned Sick and Safe Time. This legislation ensures all workers earn, at a minimum, one hour of paid Earned Sick and Safe Time for every 30 hours worked, up to at least 48 hours per year. Minnesotans could use this time to stay home when they’re sick, care for a family member, or seek support after experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
We also approved a bill from my seatmate Rep. Kaohly Her that prohibits employers from requesting job applicants’ pay history. Since women – especially women of color – are often paid less than men, employers who use pay history to evaluate applicants and determine compensation for new hires may perpetuate gender- and race-based discrimination. Halting this practice is a critical step toward closing the wage gap and ensuring that all Minnesotans receive equal pay for equal work.
In addition, we passed legislation to help hospitality and service sector workers who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Under this bill, certain hotels, airports, event centers, and related businesses would be required to rehire these workers based on a preference system of qualifications and seniority and to provide information about available positions to workers who were laid off.
Finally, we voted for a measure that would allow frontline workers to continue receiving workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 or are exposed to it on the job. We passed similar legislation last year, but it’s set to expire on May 1. This bill extends the deadline until December 31.
Getting Students Back on Track
COVID-19 has created so many challenges for students and exacerbated educational disparities. We recently passed a summer learning plan that aims to help students catch up and recover. The bill provides funding for summer programs, tutoring, hands-on learning, mental health services, and more. My own particular involvement has been on behalf of summer pre-school, to help young learners get caught up and ready for kindergarten. These critical investments will help meet students’ academic and emotional needs and close the opportunity gap, ensuring that all students have the tools to succeed.
Vaccine Eligibility Expanded
All Minnesotans who are 16 years old or older are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. If you’d like to receive alerts when there are vaccination opportunities nearby, I encourage you to register for the COVID-19 Vaccine Connector. You can sign up online at mn.gov/vaccineconnector or call 833-431-2053. You can also contact your healthcare provider, local pharmacy, or use the state’s Vaccine Locator Map to search for providers in your area.
This doesn’t mean that everyone will be able to make an appointment immediately. The state doesn’t yet have enough vaccines for every Minnesotan who wants one, but vaccine shipments from the federal government are expected to increase over the coming weeks. Opportunities to get vaccinated will increase accordingly. Minnesota is also launching programs to deliver vaccines directly to BIPOC communities, including mobile vaccination units that will hit the road soon.
Again, please continue to keep in touch; email works best these days, but a call can work too. And thank you for the honor of serving our community.
State Representative, District 64B
503 State Office Building
Subscribe to my email updates: www.house.leg.state.mn.us/64b
Follow my office on Facebook: facebook.com/repdavepinto