Congratulations to Cold Spring native and ROCORI graduate Cody Haakonson for earning a position as an officer with the Paynesville Police Department. I have a deep appreciation for the outstanding services our local peace officers provide and Officer Haakonson is a welcome addition.
One other quick side note before we get to legislative news: Saturday is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, hosted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. This event happens twice per year to help people safely dispose of unused medications and help prevent misuse of them. Visit www.takebackday.dea.gov to find a disposal location near you.
As for work at the Capitol, the House has spent many hours this week discussing at great length a number of proposed omnibus bills to establish a new state budget for the next two years. It has been a good opportunity to not only dig deeper into issues that have been discussed in committees that I serve, but also to hear more about areas outside of my core responsibilities.
Here is a quick rundown of some more noteworthy bills (each of them passed, mainly on party lines with Democrats in support):
Let me start by saying I am pleased an amendment I offered to protect voluntary prekindergarten funding was successfully added to the K-12 omnibus finance bill on a resounding 125-4 vote. The amendment states school readiness plus program revenue must be used to supplement – not supplant – existing state, federal, and local revenue for prekindergarten activities, removing the 2019 sunset date.
As good as it is to see that provision in the bill, there are other measures that are not only unacceptable, but border on the absurd. For example, a sex ed. mandate contradicts current law that emphasizes abstinence and lets Planned Parenthood write the sexual health curriculum. The learning materials – if we can call them that – may be better described as pornography that could be presented to our children by unlicensed, uncertified activists brought into our schools to teach sex ed.
This is beyond wrong and I have received a significant amount of input from constituents urging me to oppose this proposal and I can’t overstate just how much I do reject it. I supported amendments House Republicans offered to remove this section of the bill, or even to allow schools to opt out of sexual health curriculum mandate, but House Democrats blocked both of those amendments.
Another non-starter for me with the bill is that it also removes automatic denial and revocation requirements for teachers convicted of fifth-degree domestic assault. Democrats also blocked an amendment to include stays of adjudication in education-related background studies, aimed at closing a dangerous loophole that previously allowed sex offenders to drive a school bus.
As for the actual finances in the education bill (HF2400), it increases K-12 funding by $900 million but manages to increases the funding disparity between metro schools and schools in the rest of the state by 4 percent. This is another major reason I cannot support this bill in its current form. We are counting on the Senate to weed out these objectionable provisions in a conference committee before the bill comes back for final approval.
The health and human services omnibus bill (HF2414) raises taxes on health care by an estimated $2.5 billion over the next four years, cuts nursing homes by $68 million and allows child care fraud to continue.
It is concerning that the bill comes up woefully short in its failure to address widespread child care fraud in our state. The majority has resisted acting on this subject even though non-partisan reports prepared by our Legislative Auditor which confirmed child care fraud is pervasive. I have joined other House members in authoring legislation to address this issue, but so far the majority has refused to give those proposals the due consideration they deserve. This is a disservice to families who need child care assistance and taxpayers who are being defrauded.
The tax bill (HF 2125) contains a number of new taxes that total more than $3 billion over the next four years, including regressive taxes that disproportionately impact middle- and lower-income Minnesotans and new taxes on businesses that will increase the cost of goods and services and hurt wage growth for Minnesota employees.
The $3 billion in new taxes within this bill is part of a broader budget proposal by House Democrats that will raise taxes on Minnesotans by over $12 billion during the next four years including a 70% gas tax hike, billions in health care taxes, and over $2 billion in new taxes on Minnesotans paychecks to pay for their Paid Leave proposal.
Look for more from the Capitol as these and other finance bills continue to develop. While I oppose each of these omnibus packages in their current form, I truly hope improvements can be made in the conference committee process so they are worthy of broad, bipartisan support when votes on final approval take place.