Amid discord and divide in Washington D.C., Minnesota stands out as a national leader. As one of the only divided state legislatures in the country (Alaska being the other), the DFL-led House and Republican-led Senate found compromise and delivered on a two-year state budget. Balancing the budget in a bipartisan way wasn’t the only thing we got done- Republicans and Democrats together fought to keep Minnesotans safe, protect workers from stolen wages, and to address the opioid crisis that is devastating families across the state. Many of these new laws went into effect on July 1. A few other significant pieces of legislation I authored and co-authored for our state and community also went into effect.
Locally for our community, I garnered bipartisan support in the House and Senate to take the first steps towards building a new bridge across the Mississippi River between Ramsey and Dayton. Everyone in the northwest suburbs knows that a new river crossing is needed, but no progress has been made on this issue for almost 20 years. Even with competing regional projects among our split state legislature, I fought for its funding in the final transportation budget bill and was successful. The Minnesota Department of Transportation will begin the highway corridor and bridge improvement planning study for the new river crossing soon.
One new law that that I authored took effect earlier this month and will help victims of sexual assault by getting rid of the “marital rape exception.” This antiquated decree was used to shield perpetrators from prosecution in certain instances if they were married to the victim. Jenny Teeson is one of the brave Minnesotans who shared her experience with me of being drugged, raped, and videotaped by her former husband. When she sought justice, the legal system said her case could not proceed because of the old law. Every Minnesotan deserves justice when they are the survivor of a crime, and I am proud to have carried the bipartisan bill to move this law out of the 19th century and recognize rape is a crime regardless of marital status.
Minnesotans also deserve justice when they aren’t being paid for the hours they work. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry estimates approximately 40,000 Minnesota workers pursue wage theft claims annually, and nearly $12 million dollars a year is lost in stolen wages, as a result of underpayment of minimum wage, nonpayment of overtime or mandatory breaks, misclassification of employees, and others. The new law I helped pass went into effect earlier this month increases protections for workers and classifies wage theft as a felony. This is a major victory for Minnesotans to ensure all workers are paid the wages they’ve earned.
Regardless of party affiliation, Democrats and Republicans found common ground on a solution that holds Big Pharma accountable for the opioid crisis, which impacts families in every corner of the state. In 2017, there were more than 2,000 visits to Minnesota emergency rooms for opioid-involved overdoses, with 422 Minnesotans losing their lives. Since 2010, the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths has steadily increased each year. Despite massive profits and responsibility for the growing crisis, pharmaceutical companies have strongly opposed being part of the solution. The new law creates new registration fees on manufacturers and distributors to raise approximately $21 million annually for an Opiate Epidemic Response Account to help with prevention strategies that can reduce the number of senseless deaths and overdoses. The new law also includes reporting requirements for the grants to help measure outcomes and identify best practices that could be adopted statewide. Other remaining resources will be distributed to Minnesota counties to reimburse them for significant child protection costs as a result of families being impacted by the opioid crisis.
I remain committed to working past partisan gridlock and divisive politics to get the job done for Champlin and Coon Rapids families. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with ideas, questions, and feedback. Your stories and experiences help shape my work for you at the State Capitol.
Representative Zack Stephenson represents House District 36A, which includes the cities of Champlin and Coon Rapids. Rep. Stephenson encourages his constituents to share input and ideas with him at the Capitol anytime at 651-296-5513 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.