Greetings from St. Paul, where another extremely busy week of the 2018 session is coming to a close. As chairman of the House Capital Investment Committee, an enormous amount of my time is being spent meeting with a great number of people to discuss bonding requests they are submitting to fund projects all around the state. The legislative session is scheduled to end two months from now and we as a bonding committee will have done our groundwork by then to have plans in place. Time will tell how it all shakes out.
Aside from bonding, one bill I continue working on as a personal project would help mitigate the growing crisis of civics knowledge in our society. My bill would require schools to offer a civics class for credit to either juniors or seniors. Aggregate data would be collected by the Department of Education, in large part to help us learn more about our students’ overall civics awareness.
I recently saw a study which indicated only one in four Minnesota students are proficient in their civics knowledge. Or, to say it another way, we are failing 75 percent of our children by not helping them learn about the system and principles on which our country was built. My bill received unanimous support from a House education panel this week and remains in the mix for passage this session as one way to help fix this problem.
On another subject, this has been National Agriculture Week (Tuesday was National Agriculture Day), and I want to pass along a few things we have done at the state level to support the industry. Farmers across Minnesota are seeing benefits this year, including:
- Ag Land Property Tax Relief: 240,000 agriculture land owners will see $42 million in property tax relief by reducing the unfair burden farmers pay for school bond referendums.
- Beginning Farmer Tax Credit: More than 400 farmers are expected to benefit from a new tax credit designed to recruit the next generation of farmers.
- Ditch Mowing Moratorium: A new law giving policymakers time to craft a ditch mowing policy that respects property owners and prevents future government overreach.
- Ag Co-op Health Plans: A new law allows organizations with member owners – such as farm cooperatives – to provide health insurance to their members. This gives farmers the opportunity to secure health insurance with stable costs and also improves access to the local doctors.
The biggest news from the floor this week is that on Thursday both the House and the Senate passed bills to keep the state’s new vehicle licensing and registration system operating. Mismanagement and a lack of oversight has contributed to a great number of malfunctions with this system. The situation is so dire that, without funding, the new MN.IT Commissioner Johanna Clyborne testified MNLARS contractors would be laid off at the end of the month.
As frustrated as many of us are over this subject and would rather just wash our hands of it, the harsh reality is we need this system to work because people must be able to complete vehicle registration and licensing transactions. That is why the bill we passed sets up important oversight to ensure tax dollars are being spent wisely, including requiring a request for information to determine whether a private vendor is a better option.
Stay tuned as more develops in St. Paul and, as always, your input is welcome.