Greetings from the House as we make our way into the final few days of the 2020 legislative session with Monday’s deadline to adjourn right around the corner.
As our work continues, the biggest headlines this week have surrounded Gov. Tim Walz announcing Wednesday he is lifting the state's Stay at Home order effective Monday, and also is laying out plans to allow the re-opening of bars, restaurants, churches, and other businesses in the coming weeks.
These are much-needed steps forward and I want to thank the citizens who have been vocal in recent days and weeks. Your voices are playing an important role in re-opening the state, but we are not finished because some uncertainty does remain. While more retailers will be able to open Monday, the governor said his commissioners will be working on plans to allow churches and bars/restaurants to open June 1.
The thing we need to be careful of is the June 1 date is not an iron-clad grand re-opening and there is some vague language in an executive order the governor issued on this subject Wednesday:
So, while there is reason for optimism, we need to recognize words like “limited and safe reopening” included in the order leave some wiggle room. The best thing businesses can do is work with DEED and do their part to prepare as best they can.
In other news this week:
Local decisions would better serve 2020 grads
A group of legislators sent a letter to Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker of the Minnesota Department of Education this week, urging her to rescind the recent guidance banning graduation ceremonies statewide. The letter follows guidance Ricker issued on May 8, removing the careful planning conducted by school leaders and parents regarding safe graduation ceremonies.
A universal order does not seem appropriate when we have so much variation between schools across our state. This approach ignores the thoughtful deliberations and plans schools have already put in place to protect students and guests. It is time to trust our local officials to know what is best for their communities.
There seem to be a lot of questions and rumors circulating regarding authority the Minnesota Department of Education has regarding their guidance letters. A department spokesperson addressed the issue of whether penalties would be possible for holding an in-person ceremony:
"We’d like to dispel this rumor that schools will receive financial penalties from MDE if they choose to go against public health guidelines and hold an in-person graduation ceremony. Just like when other public health guidance is issued, the Department of Public Safety tries to take an educational approach to all those who do not adhere to public health guidelines. Simply put, the consequence of holding an in-person ceremony is public health and the spread of this virus. Like stated in the public health guidelines, COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that can cause serious illness and even death, especially the elderly and those with underlying conditions, and is still spreading throughout Minnesota. Staying home is a crucial way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to collectively protect our community.”
In any case, congratulations, Class of 2020!
Omnibus ag. bill
An omnibus agriculture bill approved by the House this week focuses on providing resources to farmers in crisis, farm and grain bin safety, and retail food handlers (PPE for small grocery providers).
The bill provides an additional $40,000 to support rural mental health outreach and expands allowable uses to include suicide prevention training and adolescent mental health awareness programs. Farm suicides and mental health crises have been on the rise over the last decade.
The portions related to farm safety were spurred by the surge in grain bin deaths in Minnesota over the last year. The appropriation is for $125,000 and modifies the existing farm safety program to include outreach and development. Of the appropriation, $75,000 is to be used for grants to farmers to improve grain bin safety, with the remaining $50,000 to be spent on outreach regarding farm safety and the development of a device-based application that would be used to alert people in the event of an emergency and shut down augers. House Republicans members were very skeptical of the device-based app, both in terms of practicality and purpose.
Farmer-lender mediation bill
The House approved a bill this week extending the deadline for mediation to occur and prevents lenders from taking action on affected property to Dec. 1, 2020. The goal is to protect farmers who are in dire financial straits to seek a remedy before their land or assets are acted upon by creditors.
Stay tuned for more as developments occur in the final days of session. And, as always, your input is welcome.