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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL)

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Legislative Update- April 29, 2019

Monday, April 29, 2019
Dear Neighbors,
 
I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend, and a happy holiday. The Legislature returned on Tuesday from our Spring Easter/Passover recess, and the House has approved several bills to balance our state budget and improve the lives of Minnesotans. Here’s an update from St. Paul:
 

Energy and Jobs Budget

The House approved the Jobs and Economic Development bill on Wednesday, which contained a number of bills that I’ve authored this year. Here are my three favorites:
  • Creating a student loan advocate in the Department of Commerce to police the worst abuses in the student loan industry
  • Net neutrality in Minnesota
  • My Clean Energy First bill 
I’ve talked about Clean Energy First before, but it is a practical and pragmatic plan to fight climate change in Minnesota. Clean Energy First is a simple proposition, if we’re going to build new energy resources, they should be carbon-free if at all possible. But that simple proposition has a big impact. That is because Minnesota’s fossil fuel power plants are mostly old and nearing the end of their useful lives. According to public filings with the PUC, power plants accounting for 95% of Minnesota’s utility-sector carbon emissions will retire and need to be replaced in the next 20 years. So Clean Energy First, by ensuring that new power construction is clean, ensures an orderly and affordable transition to a 100% clean energy future.
 
Climate change prevention has increasingly become a top concern for many Minnesotans, and I hope my colleagues will recognize this and act to make these bill become law.
 

E-12 Budget

Late on Tuesday, the Minnesota House approved historic investments in our state’s E-12 public education system. The budget bill is great for Anoka-Hennepin, as the district will see $31 million in new state funding. This funding will help prevent future property tax increases and will make sure that schools in Champlin and Coon Rapids will be able to deliver quality education to our kids.
 
Additionally, the House DFL E-12 education budget includes new investments that would:
  • Increase the per-pupil funding formula by 3% in 2020 and by another 2% in 2021.
  • Keep students, teachers, and staff safer while in school. 
  • Address Minnesota’s special education funding shortfall.
  • Protect access to voluntary Pre-K programs for 4,000 children.
  • Enable schools to hire additional student support staff, such as licensed counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses.
  • Expand students’ ability to earn college credits and develop skills through career and technical education programs.
 

Health and Human Services Budget

On Thursday, the House approved the Health and Human Services budget. This bill was a difficult decision for me.  On the one hand, the bill contains a number of provisions I strongly support. Most important, it takes meaning action to control the rising costs of prescription drugs, and in particular targets price-gouging by large pharmaceutical companies. The bill will also help control the cost of health insurance for middle class families. 
 
On the other hand, I feel that the bill could be doing more to protect against waste and fraud in government spending, in particular relating to the child care assistance program. The Legislative Auditor recently released a report showing that while fraud problems in the program are not as extensive as earlier reported in the media, there is significant fraud in the program. I think even one dollar of fraud is unacceptable.  Republican members of the House offered a number of amendments to the bill attempting to address this issue, and I voted for those amendments. Unfortunately, those amendments were not successful. But I promised voters that I would not vote the party line and would exercise my own independent judgment. I also promised to fight hard to stop waste and fraud. My votes today were in keeping with those promises.
 
I know that the Senate’s Health and Human Services bill contains more provisions to stop fraud and increase accountability. I am hopeful that those provisions will be in the final bill.
 

Keep in Touch

We’ll continue to discuss, vet and negotiate budget bills in the House. This week on deck, we’ll take up Higher Education, Public Safety, Environment, and State Government Finance.
 
Please continue to contact me with questions, input, or to let me know if I can provide any assistance.
 
Sincerely,
Zack Stephenson
State Representative