There has been plenty of activity at the State Capitol. Work to address COVID-19 (which I address below) has taken center stage, and we are working on plenty of other important issues, too. I highlighted a number of these initiatives in my “Legislative Lingo” column last week in the Shoreview Press.
In recognition of guidance from health officials to limit public events, I’ve decided to cancel the next Chat with Kelly on March 22. Please know I deeply value input from community members and encourage you to be in touch directly with your opinions, ideas, and feedback. The preferred way to communicate is to either email me with your concern or contact me so we can set up a time to talk on the phone.
This week, legislators of both parties and Governor Walz quickly came together to deliver $21 million in emergency aid to address COVID-19, or the coronavirus. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is equipped to test for the condition and has response plans in place in coordination with hospitals, clinics, and other health providers. The House of Representatives is also working closely with the Senate and executive branch to quickly address this issue as it develops.
To continue preparing, in the coming days, lawmakers will discuss plans regarding funding for hospitals, unemployment insurance, peacetime emergency planning for the government itself, measures regarding the costs charged for testing, treatment, and quarantine and more. State officials are working around the clock to address this public health challenge. Minnesotans can also do their part by washing their hands frequently, covering their cough, and staying home when they are sick. These actions may seem like common sense, but as this situation continues to change, they are critical toward stopping this condition from spreading. Please visit MDH’s website for more information.
Improving Student Mental Health
This week I was joined by fellow legislators and leaders in our communities for a press conference announcing a push to improve school-based support for student mental health.
There is a significant urgency for us to address this issue. Youth, educators, school support staff, parents, school districts, and law enforcement have been sharing stories about the growing mental health needs of our students.
I’ve introduced two bills addressing this topic. The first would require all classroom teachers to receive suicide prevention training upon the renewal of their license. Currently, only teachers in licensure Tiers 3 and 4 – the most experienced teachers – are required to receive this training. The legislation would help all teachers more effectively understand key warning signs of mental illness, learn suicide prevention best practices, and over the long-term, develop a more in-depth understanding of trauma.
While classroom teachers are a critical part of this solution as they interact with students all day, many districts themselves struggle with this issue at a high-level. The second bill would create the position of Director of Comprehensive Mental Health Services within the Minnesota Department of Education. The individual appointed would develop and share resources, tools, and best practices to school districts across the state, and implement a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to suicide prevention.
KSTP produced a story following our news conference here. I want to thank the leaders who joined us for this event, including Blaine Police Chief Brian Podany (whose community has experienced many suicides this year alone), Cassandra Linkenmeyer or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, my son Nate Moller, Sue Abderholden, the Executive Director of NAMI Minnesota, Liv Steen, a Hopkins High School Junior and Minnesota Youth Council representative, Christy McCoy, who serves as Minnesota School Social Workers Association Legislative Chair, Rep. Cheryl Youakim, the House Education Policy Committee Chair, Amy Jones, a licensed educator in our community, and Rep. Erin Koegel of Spring Lake Park.
On Tuesday night, we had a great discussion about these bills in the Education Policy Committee, with thoughtful testimony from students, educators, and community members alike. We can’t solve the problem overnight, but we’ve identified shortcomings we’re able to remove right now to help students access the support they need for a strong social and emotional wellbeing.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, and it provides free and confidential support for people in distress with prevention and crisis resources. In Minnesota, help is available via the Crisis Text Line by texting “MN” to 741741.
Reducing Drunk Driving
Everyone deserves to be safe on our roads, and reducing the tragedies as a result of drunk driving has been a constant effort for lawmakers. Ignition interlock devices are an effective way to make sure people are driving sober. It's time to look ahead to solutions like these that actually work in reducing drunk driving offenses and reduce the number of those driving illegally.
Yesterday, in the House Public Safety Committee, I presented a bill supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Minnesotans for Safe Driving, the DWI Task Force, and others which expands the use of ignition interlock devices for those convicted of drunk driving. These devices decrease repeat drunk driving offenses by two-thirds.
The bill encourages the use of ignition interlock instead of so called “whiskey plates” for drunk drivers. Since a 2003 court decision, law enforcement is no longer able to pull a vehicle over simply because of the presence of a “whiskey plate.” Therefore, it’s questionable whether any legitimate public safety purpose still exists for those plates. You can read more from Session Daily here.
Get Ready for the Census
Minnesotans will soon receive documents in the mail from the U.S. Census. The letter you get will invite you to respond online or by phone incredibly easy. Or you will eventually receive a paper questionnaire form in the mail. For households that do not self-respond, a census taker will follow up in person to have you complete the census. Information about responding to the census is available here, including some videos.