We’re in our ninth week of the legislative session. Read below for an update from St. Paul.
State Budget Forecast
The February Budget Forecast was released last week, showing Minnesota has a balance of $1.052 billion, $492 million less than what was projected in November. While our economy is still doing relatively well, we need to exercise caution, especially with federal uncertainty. Our budget ought to be focused on helping Minnesotans address our economic challenges: out of control health care costs, high tuition, insecure retirements, child care expenses, and more. I’ll be keeping these in mind as we work to craft our budget in the House. Please feel free to share your priorities and ideas with me to help shape this process.
The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Finance and Policy Division approved legislation to take on the epidemic of senseless gun violence during a public hearing Wednesday night and Tuesday afternoon.
Gun Violence Prevention Legislation
HF 8, which passed Wednesday evening, would require criminal background checks to be performed prior to all gun sales. Minnesota’s background check system currently has loopholes allowing dangerous individuals to obtain guns via online dealers or through private sales.
HF 9 passed Tuesday afternoon and would create “red flag laws,” providing for the temporary removal through due process of an individual’s access to firearms if a judge determines they may be a threat to themselves or others. Evidence shows this tool can prevent suicides, homicides, and mass shooting events.
Legislation to Improve Services to People with Disabilities
While speaking with neighbors over the summer and fall, I was struck by how often I encountered families that were touched by disabilities. By one count, up to twenty percent of families include a family member with some sort of disability. Since then, I’ve met with numerous disability advocacy and service organizations and one pattern emerges: All of them are facing workforce challenges attracting and retaining direct care providers, especially Personal Care Attendants and Assisted Living facility caregivers. These jobs require both training and dedication and, yet, they generally pay only $11-$13 per hour. At Opportunity Partners in Minnetonka, which provides job training and employment opportunities to their clients with mental or physical disabilities, staff turnover is running at 40% per year and 10% of their jobs are open at any given time. I’ve signed on as a co-author to a bill that would require a $14 minimum wage for direct care jobs.
I’m also leveraging my information technology career experience to work with the Minnesota Council on Disabilities on a bill (HF 1358) that would provide grants to cities and counties to enable them to improve the “digital accessibility” of their websites to people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires governments to make the information on their websites accessible to people with visual or physical disabilities, who use “screen readers” that convert text to audio, but many local governments lack the know-how or resources to comply with these rules. Over the summer I’ll be working with MCD staff to overhaul the related State Statutes to make them easier for local governments to interpret and comply with.
Please keep in touch with questions and comments. I value your input!
Don’t hesitate to let me know if I can be of assistance.