It’s been a very busy week in the House with the majority bringing a series of omnibus finance bills to the floor for votes. Here’s are some highlights from St. Paul:
Civics included in ed. package
The Minnesota House has approved an omnibus education package which may represent our best chance yet to restore civics as a priority in schools and mitigate a reported crisis of knowledge on that subject.
I have worked the better part of a decade to re-emphasize civics in high school classrooms. Just last year, the House approved a measure of mine making civics a credit-bearing subject for Minnesota high school juniors or seniors.
That provision ultimately derailed in the Senate, but the House has once again approved a reiteration of my language, amending it Thursday to an omnibus finance package (H.F. 2497) on a voice vote. A key difference this time is the companion to my bill (H.F. 358) is authored by a supportive Senate Education Policy Committee Chair, Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, D-Eden Prairie.
We have been on a civics slide to failure for half a century or more and it’s good to see momentum is building to help us fix this problem. We aren’t doing any end zone dances just yet because there’s more work to do.
The bottom line is civics needs to be emphasized in our children’s education and requiring schools to offer civics for credit helps make that happen. If you don’t require civics, we have learned, any number of schools simply will not make it part of their core curriculum. That does a disservice not only for our students but threatens our existence as a republic.
It also is crucial for civics to be taught at the right time – to juniors or seniors – as opposed to ninth graders as often is the case. Educators across the country agree civics is more readily learned by students when they are more ready to play a role in society and our government, which applies to juniors and seniors. As they get their driver’s licenses, register to vote, register for the military and take their places in adult society, they are ready to learn. Ninth graders often are just not yet at a point in their lives when they are eager to learn how our government works in preparation to participate.
The civics provision wasn’t my only successful offering to the omnibus education package. Language I authored as an amendment regarding school safety also was included. It stipulates a student who is violent could be removed from a classroom and then returned after a consultation by the school administrator with the teacher, parents and appropriate school support personnel regarding ways to improve the students behavior.
There are violent episodes where staff and teachers are victims. This must be addressed in some way. My bill is not intrusive or heavy handed and offers some remedy.
The overarching education finance package (H.F. 2497) is now in the hands of the Senate and likely will land in a conference committee prior to consideration for final approval in the coming month.
Pull tabs on thin ice?
House Democrat legislation would effectively end electronic pull tabs as we know them, dramatically reducing revenue generated for local charities and other organizations.
Language in the majority’s omnibus tax bill (H.F. 1938) eliminates the “open all” feature that has been in use in electronic pull-tab games for years. This move would diminish charitable gaming funds these popular games produce, compromising a critical revenue source for local charities ranging from veteran organizations to youth sports teams, Main Street business partners and beyond.
A large number of charitable organizations in our area and throughout the state depend on electronic pull tabs as a major source of revenue that allows them to perform their valuable services. It would be a great injustice for our state to undermine their ability to do the good work we all appreciate, especially at a time when they already are working to stretch each dollar amid price increases and other obstacles in this economy.
In 2022 alone, electronic pull tabs generated almost $2 billion in revenue that was then invested into communities. Without this critical revenue stream, many of the charitable efforts Minnesotans currently benefit from would not be possible.
I continue working with House Democrats to remove this provision from the tax bill, but it's critical that legislators hear directly from charities, bars, restaurants, service clubs, and other community organizations so they understand just how serious the consequences would be if this provision is passed.
Bipartisan veterans bill approved
The House this week approved a veterans and military affairs finance package (H.F. 1937) which funds Minnesota’s National Guard members and veterans after their service to our state and nation concludes, with omnibus appropriations for the state’s next two-year budget cycle. It passed on a 131-0 vote and is now in the hands of the Senate.
Veterans are a top priority and it’s good to see such broad, bipartisan support on this bill. Overall, it provides $367.7 million for programs to help veterans over the 2024-25 biennium, a $167 million (52%) increase. This includes $73.3 million for the Dept. of Military Affairs and $294.3 million for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Operational funding for three new veterans homes constructed in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston also is provided.
Have a good weekend and please stay in touch. More omnibus bills will be up for votes next week – likely including the omnibus tax bill with its electronic pull tab provision.