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2020 legislative session set to begin

Monday, February 3, 2020

2020 legislative session set to begin

By Rep. Dean Urdahl

The 2020 legislative session begins Feb. 11 and, while the two-year budget already is set, a great many other challenges await.

Though it is not a budget year in name, fiscal decisions still will be integral to our work this session, largely due to a $1.3 billion state surplus. The state’s Rainy Day Fund is statutorily full, with a $2.359 billion balance. That leaves us with a great opportunity to use the $1.3 billion surplus to help us address long-term needs.

Another subject related to state spending – capital investment – is one that I will continue working especially close to as the ranking House Republican on the House Capital Investment Committee.

The Legislature traditionally considers its most robust bonding bills to fund construction projects throughout the state in even-numbered years such as this. There always is significant competition for bonding dollars I anticipate we will receive approximately $5 billion in project requests this year alone. I do not expect the final bill to be anywhere close to that total and even figures put forward by the governor ($2 billion) and the House Democrats ($3.5 billion) are likely too expensive to garner the supermajority support requisite for passage.

As always, my bonding priorities will center on maintaining state assets such as roads, bridges and buildings, along with other key infrastructure such as clean water and wastewater projects.

We also should take a hard look at whether bonding projects could help us address other issues we are facing in Greater Minnesota, such as increasing workforce housing and expanding child care facilities. Our local economies depend on young families and it is hard to attract or retain them if local housing and child care are scarce.

The subject of high health care costs continues to weigh on Minnesotans and the situation was not improved last year when a tax on health care was extended instead of allowing it to sunset. This effectively was a $900 million tax and repealing it would be an effective way of providing immediate relief for the long haul. I have other ideas for reducing health care costs and will share more if and when proposals formalize.

Many people in our district and beyond are aware that I have been a leading advocate for re-emphasizing civics in the state’s educational system. We already successfully led to enactment legislation requiring students to receive a test which mimics the exam administered to national immigrants during the naturalization process. We also brought to passage language in 2019 “encouraging” school districts to offer civics courses for credit.

Now, it’s time to build on those successes by collecting scores from the naturalization-style test to develop a state aggregate and better understand student proficiency across the state.

It comes down to being consistent, relevant and effective in how we teach civics. Once you test it, it’s important. Once it’s important, you must teach it. For credits or not, you must teach it. This would help realize my goal of re-establishing civics as a learning priority after its place in the classroom had been diminished.

Naysayers may use cost as an excuse to not support my proposal but, to me that’s not legitimate. All I am asking is for teachers to collect their scores and turn them in for the district to submit to the state. There’s no new software to buy or anything like that.

Reports show 75 percent of our graduates leave high school not proficient in civics. God bless us if we cling to our existing model that clearly is failing students and undermining our republic.

This is just a sampling of issues on tap for 2020. As always, your input on these and other subjects always is welcome. My office number is (651) 296-4344 and my email is