The 2018 legislative session started with some hope for bipartisan progress but it ended with mixed results. Here’s a list of what got done, what didn’t get done and what I’d like to see done in the future.
(Jamie volunteering at her son's school field day.)
What Got Done
The Bonding Bill
Yesterday Governor Dayton signed the public infrastructure bonding bill. This bill will create thousands of jobs and help improve and repair our state’s public universities, roads, bridges, dams, wastewater treatment systems, and other vital infrastructure.
The bonding bill is unique in that it requires a super majority of support in both the House and Senate. The first version of the bill initially passed the House but failed to pass the Senate. The final version of the bill totaled nearly $1.5 billion for public infrastructure and passed both houses.
Although I was excited to support projects for the University of Minnesota, Century College, State Parks and Second Harvest Food Bank, the bill also included some borrowing against future lottery proceeds dedicated to the environment. I believe this is a misuse of those dedicated funds and goes against what Minnesotans voted for when that dedicated funding source became law.
Pensions Bill Signing Today
After years of effort, I’m happy to report that we finally passed a bill to shore up Minnesota’s pensions. This bipartisan fix will require workers and employers to chip in a bit more but will result in a more secure pension system. Many who dedicate their careers to public service — including teachers, police, firefighters, and state workers — relied on guaranteed pension when they went in to the field. It would be unconscionable to go back on these commitments made to public workers.
What Didn’t Get Done
Supplemental Omnibus Finance Bill
Dubbed “#OmnibusPrime” by Capitol watchers on Twitter, Republican leadership pushed a nearly1,000 page omnibus bill encompassing nearly every policy and budget goal from the legislative session, including agriculture, rural development, housing, state government, public safety, transportation, environment, jobs, energy, housing, health and human services, and more.
This strategy of legislating is extremely problematic. First, our State Constitution requires that “no law shall embrace more than one subject.” It is my belief that the intent behind that constitutional requirement is not followed when the “single” subject seems to be “laws you could make.”
Second, this nearly 1000 page bill was released near the very end of session making it nearly impossible for anyone to read through it before the vote was taken. Legislators should be given an opportunity to carefully read everything we are asked to vote on, and more importantly, the public should be given time to read bills so they have an opportunity to give legislators feedback.
Finally, this giant bill included many things that were agreed on with bipartisan support. By not allowing those bills to move through the legislative process on their own, they did not become law. As an example, the funding needed to offset the 7% cut in federal funding for disability services. Governor Dayton would have signed a standalone bill but instead this important funding item was included in the omnibus bill that included hundreds of things the Governor does not agree with. People with disabilities should not be used as bargaining chips but unfortunately that is how things played out this session and the Governor vetoed the huge bill.
Education and Tax Bill
Months ago dozens of school districts across Minnesota reported they were facing immediate budget deficits that could result in teachers and support staff being laid off, along with significant cuts to school programs. As a result, Governor Dayton called for $138 million in emergency funding to increase resources for every Minnesota school district by $126 per student.
Since Governor Dayton indicated he wouldn’t sign a tax bill without this education funding, Republican leadership combined their tax bill that had already been vetoed with what amounted to budgetary shifts and gimmicks within existing education funding, so little was done to help schools. Again, Governor Dayton vetoed this bill citing a lopsided tax bill that favored corporations over working Minnesotans and gimmicks that amounted to little new education funding.
Again, with Governor Dayton’s veto, both emergency funding for education and tax conformity were not achieved this session.
Fighting for You
I’d like to share a few areas that I believe there is broad agreement about that should be taken up immediately next session. I am not afraid to take on tough issues and demand change in the way our legislature has functioned in recent years.
First, I will advocate strongly that we work on a tax conformity bill that can be acted on immediately when we reconvene in January.
Minnesotans know that there is an opioid epidemic. This year there was a simple plan put forward by a bipartisan team of lawmakers who both lost children to an overdose: ask pharmaceutical companies who profit from opioid sales to chip in a penny-per-pill to help fund education and treatment programs. Unfortunately, Big Pharma hired dozens of lobbyists and spent lots of money fighting this. In the end it was blocked by Republican leadership despite strong bipartisan support.
Last summer the Star Tribune released a devastating report showing widespread and uninvestigated elder abuse in nursing homes and care facilities. As a result, AARP and other groups came up with a package of legislation to address this problem. Again, large amounts of lobbying dollars were spent on behalf of the nursing home industry, and while not all nursing homes are bad actors, their industry was able to stop meaningful action to keep our loved ones safe and secure.
Far too many Minnesotans are killed by distracted drivers. While deaths and injuries from drunk driving are going down, those caused by distracted driving are on the rise. Many states have a simple mandate: cell phones must be hands-free while driving. This is a proven method to curb distracted driving accidents and save lives. Despite the chief author of this bill being a Republican, Republican leadership refused to allow a vote on the bill on the House floor. Minnesotans expect us to take action to make our roads safer and I will keep working on this issue.
These issues, as well as many others, were not addressed in a meaningful way. They have broad bipartisan support among Minnesotans and legislators, but 2018 House and Senate majority leadership blocked us from voting on these measures.
Local Event Reminder:
The Roseville Citywide Garage Sale starts today and runs through June 2nd! You can find more info here.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who has reached out since my dad passed away two weeks ago. It is an extremely difficult time for my family but we feel very supported by our community.