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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Erin Koegel (DFL)

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Legislative Update - April 7, 2017

Friday, April 7, 2017

Dear Neighbors,

You may have heard about something that happened on the floor of the House earlier this week. During a debate on a very important issue, it was brought to the attention of the body that some members were in the retiring room (right off the House Floor, behind the Speaker’s desk) playing cards.

I was extremely upset by the scene because some of my colleagues were speaking very passionately on a provision in the bill that they felt was unjust. The Majority Leader was upset that Minority Leader, Rep. Melissa Hortman, called out the members of both parties that were ignoring the ongoing debate. The next day, the Majority Leader distributed theHouse of Representative’s Code of Conduct. I would like to bring attention to one sentence in the code of conduct:

“Be Respectful of the House of Representatives as a fundamental institution of civil government.”

You sent us sent here to do an important job and I assume you expect us to take our job seriously. You expect us to be respectful of the House of Representatives as a fundamental institution of civil government. Ignoring debate and saying the “speeches weren’t that good” and “amazingly repetitive and boring,” as one of my colleagues was quoted saying in the Star Tribune, does not reflect a respect for the House of Representatives as a fundamental institution of civil government.

We often hear around here that government should operate like a business. Well if I was at work playing cards, at the very least I would be reprimanded or written up.

“Be Respectful of the House of Representatives as a fundamental institution of civil government.”

This was about some of our colleagues not taking being taken seriously on a very serious issue. People expect us to respect and do the job they sent us here to do and I think we all should treat it with the high level of respect it deserves.

Health and Human Services Bill

Today, we take up the last of the omnibus budget bills, the Health and Human Services Bill. Previously, I’ve discussed how budgets reflect values, and this is another area highlighting where the values of the Republican Majority appear to conflict with the needs of our community. Because they prioritize large tax breaks for the wealthiest among us and giveaways to insurance companies, many Minnesotans are left behind in this bill.

Perhaps most disappointingly, the bill doesn’t include a pay raise for direct care workers. Minnesota is facing a home care worker crisis, with an aging population and stagnant wages for the hardworking Minnesotans taking care of our seniors and disabled. Absent an increase in wages for these folks, these positions will continue to see turnover, as well as fewer workers providing these services.

Many times this session I’ve had the chance to meet with and hear from those advocating for this increase. One of these is Jayna, a direct service professional in Coon Rapids, who told me that she feels like this work is her calling and what she was meant to do in life. While the work is rewarding, she often works 14 hour days in difficult and exhausting conditions. As the single mother of a son in high school, her low wages are forcing her to make the hard decision between doing work that she loves and supporting her family.

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I also heard from Erik, of Coon Rapids, who lives with his mom and stepdad. He has hemophilia, but doesn’t let his disability get in the way of volunteering in the community through his day program at Lifeworks. He fears that if he lost his PCA services, his mom would have to quit her job to stay home with him. Additionally, as a very social person, if he had to stay home all day, his emotional and mental health would suffer.

I’m so grateful for the leadership of Jayna, Erik and others who both do this work and depend on this work, and feel it’s unconscionable that we can’t do better for them. I remain hopeful we can reach a different result before the end of session.

Next week, there will be no activity at the Legislature as we take a weeklong recess to observe Easter and Passover. When we return, House/Senate conference committees will be considering the differences in each body’s version of the various budget bills, after which Gov. Dayton will get to weigh in by signing of vetoing them. I encourage you to keep in touch with your viewpoints on the issues that matter to you.

Sincerely,

Erin Koegel

State Representative

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