Thanks to the people at the joint apprenticeship center in St. Paul for being so welcoming during a recent visit. I learned a lot and it was interesting to see the quality of training they conduct at the facility. I look forward to taking on issues related to that field, especially with the Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Committee which began meeting this week.
Great news from St. Paul: A bill I authored to close a loophole in prosecuting sexual misconduct cases cleared its first committee hurdle in the Minnesota House on Wednesday!
It is legal under current law for someone in a position of authority – such as a school teacher, coach, volunteer, etc. – to have sex with a student who is age 18. My bill (H.F. 491) raises the age of consent from 18 to 21 if the victim is a secondary student and the perpetrator is a school employee or contractor and in a position of authority over the student.
We are looking at amending the bill to clean things up before its next committee stop. For instance, we may add language to differentiate between traditional college students older than age 18 and high school students the same age taking college classes.
As an 11-year ROCORI school board member, I am proud that my first bill hearing was on a subject designed to protect students. Sexual contact between a teacher and student may be against a school’s policy, but right now it’s not a chargeable offense and that’s what I’m looking to change. This isn’t a partisan subject, it’s a common-sense safety issue that’s about doing what’s right to protect our children.
Child care fraud
The subject of fraud in the Minnesota’s Childcare Assistance Program has been an ongoing discussion in St. Paul. Over the last eight months, House members have submitted to the Department of Human Services four data requests seeking information surrounding the alleged fraud of CCAP funds, yet DHS has failed to fulfill any of four separate requests.
This week, legislators submitted another data practices request to new DHS Commissioner Tony Lourey in the hopes a new administration will be more cooperative. The request concerns the allegations of upwards of $100 million of CCAP funds – which are administered by DHS – being allocated to fraudulent childcare facilities and possibly going overseas to terrorist groups.
Legislators also are calling on DHS to release internal communications and a private investigative firm's report that was conducted at taxpayer expense to see if it sheds light on the scope of fraud within the CCAP program and what the DHS Office of the Inspector General is doing in response.
In October, DHS hired private investigative firm PFM Group to conduct an investigation of OIG’s own fraud investigators, who were investigating the allegations of fraud within DHS. Rep. Franson’s December 17 data request seeks the information from PFM Group’s report.
Fraud to any degree in our public programs is unacceptable, but concerns are raised to a whole new level when dollar amounts reach $100 million being robbed from the people this program is designed to help and need it most – parents and kids.
It will be interesting to see what the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor reveals when it issues a report on the fraud, likely sometime in the next month.
Finally, I recently attended a Legislative Civility Caucus lunch, featuring a Better Angels skills workshop. We are working to reach across the political divide and exercises we conducted were helpful in understanding other people’s points of view. Three bullet points explaining our mission include:
These things are easier said than done, but I think we all could do better if we at least make an effort to break down ideological barriers at a time when partisan walls seem to be thicker than ever.
Until next time, your feedback always is welcome. Let’s cross our fingers the forecasts calling for a weekend warm-up prove to be accurate.