By Rep. Dean Urdahl
The 2015 legislative session and the special session were unusual in many respects.
While the process was cumbersome this year – with split power at the Capitol – we wound up with many positives. We did come out of special session with improved bills and we held spending to one of the lowest percentage increases in 50 years. On the personal side, it was one of my most successful terms in the House of Representatives.
I chair the Legacy Committee and saw this panel's important omnibus bill pass in special session. It appropriates over $540 million this year for outdoor heritage, clean water, parks and culture. Contained in this bill is $3.2 million to pay for fine-art restoration in the state Capitol project.
I devoted much of my attention this session toward reforms in education. I focused on measures that would help sustain a high level of quality teachers in Minnesota. Measures that passed included: Incentives for getting a master's degree in ones content area, encouraging more robust teacher mentorship programs and creating a pilot program through MnSCU for a school year-long student teaching program.
Others of my passed bills dealt with both college and high school students. One assures that College in the Classroom students who earn Postsecondary Enrollment Option credits will be able to transfer those credits throughout the MnSCU system. Another change pertains to the process for colleges in determining whether a student needs remediation. Yet another of my successful pieces of legislation creates a system through which future teachers can access criteria regarding the effectiveness of teacher training programs. Low-income students can receive help through a program called College Possible that gives high school students a leg up on preparing for college. One of my bills provided funding for that program.
I also co-sponsored bills to make it easier for teachers from other states to become licensed in Minnesota and to lower the number of required tests in our schools.
I believe that these new laws will have a real impact on the future of education in Minnesota. All provisions are positive and not punitive.
Other highlights of my 2015 legislation included provisions to give rural cooperatives the same level of disaster relief as municipal electrical power plants, incentives to hire disabled state workers and money in the bonding bill to help fund local waste water and clean water projects through the Public Facilities Authority. This could impact a project in Grove City.
I also co-authored a bill to raise rural nursing home rates. This will make great strides toward ending the disparity in pay with metro homes.
Seventeen of my bills passed into law in one form or another. Yet, there is work left undone that I look forward to completing next session. Among them are a bonding project for Litchfield, a safety issue regarding school buses and elevating civics education in Minnesota.
The Legislature as a whole still has an unfinished agenda as well. The Tax Bill, with significant tax relief, did not pass this year and remains on the shelf. A more robust Transportation Bill needs to be done. There are rural broadband issues that still demand attention as well as bonding needs in Greater Minnesota. We need to take a serious look at how to better and equitably fund our schools.
Things looked ugly from time to time this session and work remains to be done. But we did hold spending levels in check while still making significant increases in education and still have about $850 million on the bottom line. We are well positioned for the next session.