I hope you’ve been able to stay warm this week with the bitter cold weather. With nearly every school district in the state was closed, families were on the lookout for creative child care solutions. Here at the State Capitol, it meant we had an above-average count of children spending time with us, as legislators and staff alike had extra company with them.
With plenty to get done between now and adjournment in May, House leadership chose to move ahead with important work, and committees were quite productive. Despite the weather, several visitors came to the Capitol this week including Minnetonka Fire Chief John Vance.
Student Loan Debt Counseling
Since entering the Legislature in 2015, one of my highest priorities has been to make college more affordable and help more Minnesota students get a degree without the crushing debt. Minnesota students carry some of the highest debt loads in the nation, both in the number of students with debt and the average amounts. Serving as Vice Chair of the House Higher Education Division, I’m committed to solutions on this issue.
This week I introduced a bipartisan bill, HF 550, which would help address student debt. Under the bill, the Office of Higher Education would work with a non-profit organization to launch a program to provide repayment counseling to Minnesota postsecondary students to help them better understand their loan and repayment options, manage their payments, and develop a workable budget based on their income, expenses, and other debt. We have to do better at delivering a great education without breaking the bank, and this bill is just one piece of that puzzle.
This week the House Public Safety Committee held “Gender-Based Violence Prevention Week,” hearing bills aimed at ending sexual assault and other crimes in Minnesota. Measures included: requiring law enforcement agencies to have clear policies for addressing sexual assault reports, ending the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women endemic, repeal of the so-called “marital rape” exception, and others as part of a bipartisan, comprehensive effort. Last year, the Star Tribune published a series highlighting some flaws in our criminal justice system as it relates to these crimes. Bill authors and the committee were clear that these reforms should focus on victims and survivors. Those who have endured trauma deserve justice.
Ending the Opioid Crisis
In the past week, the Minnesota House took a pair of significant steps toward ending our state’s persistent opioid crisis. Recognizing that our Native communities have been hit especially hard by this crisis, the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee held a hearing at the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwa. The committee listened to tribal representatives describe their struggles and offer ideas for how we can best partner to address them.
I know that this tragedy is hurting families in all parts of our state. A parent of a recent graduate from one of our local high schools shared with Senator Cwodzinski, Representative Kotyza-Witthuhn, and myself that his daughter has attended twenty funerals in less than ten years. Each death was related to addiction. It's difficult to comprehend the depth of pain and loss that this story reflects.
We have a responsibility to come up with sound solutions. As part of the solution, bipartisan legislation was introduced to create the “Opioid Stewardship Advisory Council.” The council would deliver education, treatment, and recovery strategies funded by fees paid by pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. There’s a desire on the part of both parties to take action and on Wednesday, the bill passed its first committee stop.
Please keep reaching out with your viewpoints and ideas. I value your input, so be sure to call or email me any time.