Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are more than halfway through the 2019 session and the pace quickens! Last Friday was the deadline for policy bills to be heard in either the House or the Senate to stay alive and next Friday is the deadline for finance bills.
As these bills move out of committee, we are beginning to hear some of the larger bills on the floor of the House. This week I wanted to fill you in on some of these bills as well as some of my local bills and a Legislative Auditor’s report.
Distracted Driving Legislation
On Monday, the House passed legislation to address distracted driving by banning the use of cell phones and handheld devices while driving – unless they are operated in a hands free mode. Distracted driving has become a serious problem in our state and too many Minnesotans have lost their lives in accidents caused by it. I supported this bill, which I believe is an important first step in our efforts to prevent distracted driving and needless traffic deaths.
The House also approved legislation to help address Minnesota’s growing opioid crisis by creating an Opioid Stewardship Advisory Council to fund education, intervention, treatment, training, and prevention efforts. These programs would be funded through registration fees on opioid manufacturers and distributors, making sure they are doing their part to help solve this problem.
Opioid abuse is having a devastating effect on communities around the state. In fact, in 2017 there were 395 opioid-related deaths in Minnesota – up 18 percent from 2016. Also, deaths from opioids have increased by 66 percent from 2010-2016. I also supported this legislation, which I believe will improve the state’s efforts to combat this crisis and, most importantly, help save lives.
Each bill must now also be approved by the Senate in order to go to the governor for a chance to become law.
Two of the bills I am authoring this year had hearings in front of House committees this week.
The bipartisan bill I'm authoring with DFL Rep. Mike Freiberg to make daylight saving time the permanent, year-round time in Minnesota is working its way through the committee process. We presented it and testified as the bill was approved by the Government Operations Committee on Tuesday. It can now come before the entire House for a vote.
On Wednesday, Grand Rapids Children’s Discovery Museum Board Chair Ray Nikkel and Executive Director John Kelsch were in St. Paul to help present a bill to provide funding for the Grand Rapids Children’s Discovery Museum (CDM) to make improvements to their exhibits, educational programs, and facilities. These dollars come out of Minnesota’s “Legacy” fund, which is a constitutionally-dedicated fund for preserving our state’s arts and cultural heritage, water sources, and parks and trails.
And on Thursday, Ray and John joined me again to testify in support of a bill before the Education Finance Committee to provide funding to enable low income families from across Northern Minnesota to access the CDM.
Childcare Fraud Report
In addition to developing budgets, our role as legislators is to oversee the spending of your tax dollars. To aid in the effort, the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) conducts periodic audits of agencies and programs.
Last week, the OLA released a report regarding the misuse of taxpayer dollars in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which is a state program to help low-income families afford childcare. The report detailed widespread fraud in the program, and indicates that a lack of internal controls at the Department of Human Services allows this fraud to go on and makes prosecutions difficult.
Legislators are authoring a handful of bills this year to hold fraudulent childcare providers accountable, prevent future fraud, and help restore integrity and accountability within the program. Instead of ending up in the hands of fraudsters, we must make sure this funding is going to its intended purpose of helping low-income Minnesotans afford childcare.
I enjoyed my conversation with folks from the Leech Lake Boys and Girls Club during their visit to the Capitol this week.
Please Contact Me
As always, please contact me if you have any questions or concerns on any legislative issue. I value your input and enjoy hearing from you.
Enjoy your weekend as we get our first hints of Spring!