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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Dean Urdahl (R)

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Legislative update

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Dear Neighbor,

I am receiving many emails and calls each day about the present crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting orders by Gov. Tim Walz.

First, let me emphasize that we need to re-open our state while putting safety first. I believe it is possible to do both. Gov. Tim Walz’s announcement lifting the state’s Stay at Home order on Monday and creating a pathway toward re-opening of restaurants, churches, and other businesses in the coming weeks is a sign of progress.

The governor made many appropriate unilateral decisions in his early orders. Decisions had to made quickly and he acted. It is my contention the time has come to end the emergency powers and scale back executive orders, which now near 60. The urgent decisions have been made and it is time for the governor and the Legislature to work together for the well-being of the state. 

Legislative authority must be returned to the Legislature, restoring the balance of power in our representative system of government. Minnesotans deserve to know they have local representation. That said, the people of Minnesota, working with local legislators to voice their concerns during this time, have had a positive impact in causing the governor to understand the issues and begin re-opening our state. I greatly appreciate your work in this regard.

A bonding bill hangs in the balance during the final days of the 2020 session. This affects me directly because I’m the ranking member of the bonding committee. I want to see a bonding bill get done. 

But we also have to regain equal governing status with the governor. I have voted twice on the House floor to end the emergency power decrees. Each time, those efforts were voted down. I have made dozens of calls and email requests of the governor and his departments, in which I conveyed requests from the public and my advocacy for constituents. I have supported a resolution to enable churches to re-open. It failed as well.

I am co-author of a bill with Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen to re-open businesses and also have co-authored a bill to return penalties for violations of the shutdown orders to misdemeanors and not gross misdemeanors, which carry a higher fine and jail time. Given the landscape, I doubt that either can pass the House, although the first bill, carried by Sen. Scott Newman, did pass in the Senate.

I share the frustrations that many of you feel. It is frustrating that the governor is able to continue issuing these orders without legislative input. I will continue to work with my colleagues to maintain public safety in a way that gets Minnesota moving again.

Some other notes from this week:

Local decisions would better serve 2020 grads

I was among House Republicans who sent a letter to Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker of the Minnesota Department of Education this week, urging her to rescind the recent guidance banning graduation ceremonies statewide.

The letter follows guidance Ricker issued on May 8, removing the careful planning conducted by school leaders and parents regarding safe graduation ceremonies. School districts in our state vary widely and we would be better off trusting local officials and families to know what is best for their communities instead of issuing statewide guidance.

Omnibus ag. bill

An omnibus agriculture bill approved by the House this week focuses on providing resources to farmers in crisis, farm and grain bin safety, and retail food handlers (PPE for small grocery providers).

The bill provides an additional $40,000 to support rural mental health outreach and expands allowable uses to include suicide prevention training and adolescent mental health awareness programs. Farm suicides and mental health crises have been on the rise over the last decade.

The portions related to farm safety were spurred by the surge in grain bin deaths in Minnesota over the last year. The appropriation is for $125,000 and modifies the existing farm safety program to include outreach and development. Of the appropriation, $75,000 is to be used for grants to farmers to improve grain bin safety, with the remaining $50,000 to be spent on outreach regarding farm safety and the development of a device-based application that would be used to alert people in the event of an emergency and shut down augers. House Republicans members were very skeptical of the device-based app, both in terms of practicality and purpose.

Farmer-lender mediation bill

The House approved a bill this week extending the deadline for mediation to occur and prevents lenders from taking action on affected property to Dec. 1, 2020. The goal is to protect farmers who are in dire financial straits to seek a remedy before their land or assets are acted upon by creditors.

We are set to adjourn at midnight Monday, so look for more news as it happens. Until next time, have a good weekend and let me know what I can do to help.