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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Athena Hollins (DFL)

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Legislative Update: February 10, 2021

Wednesday, February 10, 2021
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Happy Black History Month!

The past few weeks, we have made great progress in legislation that protects our workers, fights racial disparities, aids our firefighters, and works to more efficiently distribute vaccinations. I hope you are staying safe, warm and following public health guidelines to keep our community safe. 

I encourage you all to tune in to the conversations happening in the legislature, your town halls, and all around Minnesota. You can also read the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus’ statement on Black History Month.

Getting Hospitality Workers Back to Their Jobs Safely

The 2021 legislative session is a new opportunity for lawmakers to respond to Minnesotans’ needs. House Democrats have proposed immediate actions the Legislature can take to help the Minnesotans who have sacrificed and risked the most to keep all of us healthy and safe. Our latest proposal is focused on the needs of our hospitality and service sector workers laid off due to the pandemic.    

On Monday, we announced H.F 39, chief authored by Rep. Andrew Carlson, to help laid-off hospitality and service sector workers return to their jobs. It’s one of many immediate actions that House Democrats are proposing to respond to the needs of workers, families, and small businesses hit hardest by the pandemic. High-quality video and audio of this virtual press conference will be available here

Communities of color make up 71% of displaced hospitality workers, this legislation will ensure a peace of mind knowing they can return to their same jobs when the pandemic is over. 

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Bipartisan bill to help firefighters introduced 

A bipartisan pair of legislators announced new efforts to deliver vital supplemental state health assistance to Minnesota’s 22,000 firefighters. The Hometown Heroes Act, authored by Rep. Cheryl Yoaukim (DFL-Hopkins) and Sen. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville), would address the alarmingly high incidence of cancer, cardiac issues, and emotional trauma facing these frontline workers.

"Our firefighters face unique challenges, especially with the ongoing pandemic," said Representative Youakim. "They have higher incidences of cancer, cardiac issues and now more than ever, trauma. This bill would not only deliver quality health care assistance our firefighters need but takes a proactive approach with the necessary awareness training they deserve."

Click here for more from KARE11.

Our Veterans and Communities of Color

Minnesotans are asking the Legislature to safely and responsibly legalize adult-use cannabis. The adult-use cannabis bill is based on conversations with Minnesotans during the statewide “Be Heard on Cannabis” tour, which hosted town hall meetings in 15 communities spanning urban, suburban, and rural parts of the state; met with more than 30 organizations and associations; consulted with the Governor, Lt. Governor, and 13 state agencies; held 250 meetings with individuals and groups; and inspired DFL legislators to work hundreds of hours to produce the bill. Click here to watch coverage from WCCO and visit www.house.mn/cannabis for the latest news and updates about the bill.

H.F. 600, introduced by Majority Leader Winkler and DFL lawmakers, will create a better Minnesota by:

Addressing Racial Disparities

Legalizing adult-use cannabis will help address criminal justice inequities created by our current system. Instead of enforcing low-level cannabis offenses, law enforcement could focus on more serious issues.

Improving the Medical Cannabis Program

Minnesotans are telling us that our state’s existing medical program doesn’t work well for most people. House File 600 improves access and affordability for Minnesotans who live with serious illnesses such as cancer, seizures, and chronic pain.

Helping Veterans

Most veterans cannot access or afford medical cannabis, and no vets can legally receive it from the VA. Making cannabis legal for all adults will provide these veterans with better access to medical cannabis that can alleviate their pain and help them cope with PTSD.

Cannabis Graphic 2

Low Income Energy Assistance Program (EAP)

As Minnesotans continue to feel the impact of COVID-19 and the quarantine, we want everyone to know that there is still assistance available to income eligible households (both owners and renters) for home heating bills and furnace repairs. The Energy Assistance Program can help by providing financial assistance:

  • To pay past due energy bills to avoid disconnection
  • To purchase fuel for delivery in emergencies
  • To repair or replace homeowners’ malfunctioning furnaces.

The application period is open until May 31st, 2021. Here are flyers in English, Spanish, Somali and Hmong:

MN Energy Assistance Flyer - English

MN Energy Assistance Flyer - Spanish

MN Energy Assistance Flyer - Somali

MN Energy Assistance Flyer - Hmong

You can find more information and links to apply at the  Minnesota Department of Commerce website.

VACCINE ALLOCATION UPDATE

Many in our community have expressed their frustration with not being able to get a COVID-19 vaccine. I share your frustration, and appreciate your patience and understanding while our public health experts work as quickly as possible to get the vaccine out to those most at-risk. 

Although Minnesota has not officially moved into the next phase of the distribution process, MDH has accelerated plans to make the vaccine available more broadly. These plans include:

  • the launch of the community COVID-19 vaccine pilot program and;
  • a directive to hospitals and other vaccination partners that they can use their leftover doses (those still available after vaccinating front-line health workers) for their patients over the age of 65.

The reality we are facing is that both of these initiatives are still very limited in scope because of the limited supply of the vaccine. 

The good news is, the federal government announced that they will increase the supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses shipped to states by 16 percent over current levels for at least the next three weeks. Minnesota is expected to receive nearly 11,000 additional doses each week under the new allocation.

We have seen extraordinary demand for the vaccine in Minnesota, and we are working with a variety of providers to create a strong network of choices for Minnesotans when it’s time to get their vaccine. Every dose Minnesota receives puts us one step closer to crushing COVID-19, which is why we need to move quickly. 

Please keep an eye on the MDH website (https://mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/) for the most up-to-date information.

DR. OSTERHOLM WEIGHS IN ON PANDEMIC

However, we must remain vigilant and continue our efforts to slow the spread of the virus. Dr. Osterholm shared several concerns with the House Health Committee this week, including the emergence of new COVID-19 variants that could mean that the worst of the pandemic is still in front of us. He also stressed the importance of continued mask wearing, physical distancing and avoiding crowds, and discussed the need for individuals to protect their mental health. 

You can watch the presentation here.

Dr. Michael Osterholm also recently recommended a strategy he supports would be to move to a single-dose vaccination process where the second dose is not canceled but postponed to give older and at risk Minnesotans a chance to get vaccinated and receive the protections more quickly. No decision has been made on this possible strategy and the plan at this time remains for Minnesotans to get both vaccines.

COVID-19 TESTING REMAINS CRITICAL 

Testing remains a critical part of our strategy combating COVID-19, and there are currently more than 20 testing sites located around the state, all of which offer no-barrier access to testing. Appointments can be made here.

Vaccine distribution got off to a slow start throughout the nation, but Minnesota is making improvements every week as we receive more doses from the federal government. A new online vaccine locator map is available to help Minnesotans more easily find and connect with local vaccine providers. This map will grow as the federal government sends Minnesota more doses. Another helpful resource for information about COVID-19 is https://mn.gov/covid19.  


MaskUpMN

If You Missed It!

Listening Session On Criminal Justice

This week, I joined Rep. Cedrick Frazier and Attorney General Keith Ellison for a conversation on Criminal Justice. 

If you missed the event, you can watch a recorded version here, and feel free to reach out to me with any further questions.

Listening session

Hmong American Weekly

I joined State Representatives Esther Agbaje and Hmong American Weekly to talk about my first month in office, legislative priorities and more.

If you missed it, you can catch the video recording here!

Get Involved and Stay In Touch

Public hearings are a great opportunity to learn and participate in the legislative process. All of them are live streamed on one of the House webcast channels, and you can view the agenda and materials that legislators receive on each committee’s webpage. If you can’t catch a hearing live, they’re usually uploaded to House Public Information Service’s YouTube channel later that day. I encourage you to check out the hearing schedule and get involved!  

For any questions you have on the resources available to our community or our work in the Minnesota House, please feel free to contact my legislative assistant Sonia Romero at sonia.romero@house.mn or 651-296-4307. 

In Solidarity, 

 

Athena Hollins

Minnesota State Representative (House District 66B)

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