We’ve continued to make terrific progress in getting the vaccine to Minnesotans, and in fact, we’re first in the nation for percentage of the vaccine distributed. Minnesota has administered 88.55% of vaccine doses it has received, surpassing every other state.
In anticipation of receiving an even greater volume of the vaccine soon, Governor Walz announced that all Minnesotans, age 16 and older, will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination beginning Tuesday, March 30. Providers will be directed to keep prioritizing older Minnesotans, those with underlying health conditions, and those in frontline jobs. Following that, they will have the flexibility to give appointments to others eligible.
As the recent surge on the Eastern Iron Range has illustrated, we aren’t out of the woods yet, but every single day we inch closer to putting this crisis behind us.
Here’s a reminder about the Virtual Town Hall & Community Conversation tomorrow at 10 a.m. Rep. Dave Lislegard from Aurora and his constituents will also join us for the event. We look forward to giving a brief update on our work at the Capitol and answering questions from across the region.
The event will be held virtually on Facebook Live. Hibbing Public Access TV will also broadcast the event on Mediacom cable channel 7, and I thank them for helping bring this to a broader audience. The event is nonpartisan and all of our Iron Range constituents are welcome to join us. We’ve received numerous, thoughtful questions already, but if you’d still like to submit one, you can do so here.
I’ve had several public hearings this week on bills I’ve authored. HF 1169 would extend a grant for an existing state pilot for the Rock ‘n’ Read project, using untapped funding from the prior 2019 grant. Rock ‘n’ Read is an innovative program that helps develop student reading skills through music, technology, and fun. It uses singing to improve the reading ability of students in grades 2 through 5. As a music teacher, I know how valuable music instruction is for brain development, helping activate neurons in more areas of the brain. We know how big of a struggle it has been over the past year for Minnesota learners, exacerbating already wide opportunity gaps. This funding will be critical to helping struggling readers who are now even farther behind due to the pandemic.
Yesterday, the House Capital Investment Committee held a public hearing on HF 1823, a bill to invest $22 million for a new public safety center to serve Hibbing and the surrounding region. The current facility is terribly out of date and doesn't serve the citizens or our dedicated police officers, firefighters, and paramedics as well as it should. The new facility will help ensure residents have the modern, effective public safety infrastructure they deserve. I was honored to have Hibbing Mayor Rick Cannata join me for the bill presentation.
Today, the House Transportation Committee will held a hearing on my bill to direct MnDOT to include, in its ten-year capital projects list, the expansion of Highway 169 from Taconite to Pengilly to a four-lane divided highway to complete the Cross Range Expressway. This is currently a dangerous stretch of road resulting in too many tragedies, and considering how competitive highway funding can be among projects, we need to start planning now for the road’s future.
I’ve introduced legislation once again to address the ongoing safety concerns from the Canisteo Mine Pit. The bill would fund $5.5 million to mitigate the imminent threat to public safety, property, and regional water quality from the rising water at the pit. Every year this issue goes ignored, the more dangerous it becomes for local residents. I spoke with WDIO about the urgency to this problem now.
I also continue to make progress on my legislation to rework Chapter 12, Minnesota’s emergency management law. I had a productive meeting yesterday with members of the Walz administration sharing concerns from our region and I have another meeting scheduled for next week. Additionally, I’m chief author of bipartisan legislation to help relax restrictions on businesses as COVID-19 metrics improve and the risk level drops. As part of this effort, I continue to push the administration to improve communication with businesses and help develop alternatives, like plexiglass instead of six-foot social distancing requirements which many establishments find problematic.
This week is Heroes Week in the Minnesota House. It’s great to say “thank you” to the frontline workers and others who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they deserve action from lawmakers to protect their health, safety, and economic security. Last night on the House Floor we passed a series of bills to meet the needs of workers, families, and first responders who have sacrificed the most to protect all of us.
Earned Sick and Safe Time: All throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesotans have been asked to stay home when they’re sick to prevent the virus from spreading. For over 900,000 Minnesota workers, mainly in the service industry and often in low-wage positions, paid sick days aren’t available. Our Earned Sick and Safe Time bill would ensure, 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 to stay home when sick or take a family member to the doctor.
Rehire and Retention Protections for Hospitality Workers: When COVID-19 emerged, many hospitality workers and those in related industries lost their jobs due to no fault of their own. While things are turning around, many people are still avoiding travel and large events due to the ongoing pandemic, and many of these workers haven’t been able to return to their jobs. I supported legislation that would help these workers by requiring employers to provide eligible workers information about available job positions for which they qualify, and rehire employees based on a preference system of qualifications and seniority. The bill applies to workers employed by hotels, airports, and event centers, as well as the facilities attached to them, including restaurants, bars, and retail. Those working in related services, including maintenance, security, ticketing, ground-handling, and food and beverage would be eligible as well.
Worker’s Compensation for First Responders: Last year, lawmakers enacted legislation to ensure health care and public safety workers would be eligible for workers’ compensation if they contracted COVID-19 or were exposed to it on the job. This provision is set to expire on May 1, and while many of these frontline workers are getting vaccinated, unfortunately many of them are still vulnerable. Last night, I voted to extend this deadline until December 31, and nurses, doctors, paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, correctional officers, and child care workers who looked after their children would all benefit.
The past year has been incredibly difficult for Minnesota students. Students, educators, and families have shown great resiliency through this challenging period, but it’s no secret that student achievement has been deeply impacted. Our learners deserve our investment to help ensure they can catch up and be better prepared for the future.
Earlier this week, I supported a comprehensive Summer Learning Package that invests in summer programs, tutoring, field trips and hands-on learning, mental health services, and other critical tools students are counting on. Additionally, the bill recognizes the declining enrollment many districts have experienced over the past year, and includes funding to help ensure students will be held harmless and educational programming won’t suffer due to the pandemic.
Please continue to contact me with your input, ideas, or if I can ever be of assistance. It’s an honor to represent you.