What a wonderful surprise to see Paynesville native, Danelle Gournaris, at the Capitol this week. She testified on a bill to extend the expiration date of the Newborn Hearing Screening Advisory Committee to 2025 (HF 910) during an Early Childhood Education Committee meeting.
Congratulations to Paynesville seventh-graders Anna Eckmann and Jared Campbell, who qualified to compete in the state geography bee on March 29. Good luck to both of you!
In news from the Capitol this week:
Child care fraud
The issue of child care fraud continues to develop in St. Paul after a recent report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor detailed widespread fraud in a program established to help low-income families.
Earlier this week, Inspector General Carolyn Ham was placed on investigative leave for her role in this matter. Then, yesterday, bills to tighten up the Child Care Assistance Program were presented for discussion during a House committee hearing. One bill (HF 445), creates an independent Office of the Inspector General to prevent similar situations in the future. Another bill (HF 1680), which I personally introduced as the chief author, requires child care providers receiving CCAP payments to keep daily attendance records at the site where services are delivered. Think of it as keeping a log the same way truckers do. This bill would help in a number of ways, from improving child safety, to combating fraud and protecting taxpayers. My bill was well received by the committee and remains in the mix for possible enactment later this session.
It has been extremely concerning that some legislators have been dragging their feet on this issue and hearings on these bills have been put off until now. Families, taxpayers and good CCAP stewards deserve action and I hope this week’s hearings get the ball rolling because the fraud, waste and abuse that has been taking place is simply unacceptable.
Waiting with Sen. Jeff Howe and veterans advocate Jerry Kyser to present to the Property Tax Committee a bill (HF 1323) exempting veterans’ disability benefits from household income when calculating property tax refunds.
House approves bills
As for news from the House floor, here is a look at three of the most notable bills to receive approval this week (None are perfect, but all would bring improvements.):
Opioids: Last year, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a bill to fund a response to the opioid crisis out of our surplus. This week, we approved a package of legislation to combat the situation with appropriations for programs and resources to combat and educate citizens about opioids. The funding for these initiatives are paid for by increased fees on opioid manufacturers and wholesalers.
I supported this bill (HF 400) because these drugs reportedly were responsible for 395 deaths in Minnesota in 2017, with a 66-percent from 2010-16. Half of these deaths were caused by prescription opioids like oxycodone and the bill we approved should help turn this trend around.
Distracted driving: The House passed a bill (HF 50) which would bar drivers from holding a cellphone or other wireless communication device while driving, instead requiring drivers to use hands-free devices. If the bill is enacted, Minnesota would become the 18th state in the nation (along with Washington, D.C.) to require the use of hands-free cellphone for drivers who want to make a call.
I voted for this bill because it will help reduce the amount of distracted driving on our roads, something that has become a real problem. Department of Public Safety statistics show distracted driving caused roughly 20 percent of crashes on Minnesota roadways from 2013 to 2017, killing an average of 53 people per year in Minnesota.
Snow days: A bill (HF 1982) to forgive school districts for snow days racked up during this exceptionally cold and snowy winter has passed the House. The bill would allow school districts to count three canceled days in late January of this year toward its minimum 165-day requirement for classroom days. It also ensures hourly staff and companies that contract with districts are made whole, either via compensation or opportunities to make up for missed time.
I was a “yes” vote on this bill because it protects employees and districts themselves from suffering financial damages caused by acts of nature.