It has been a while since my last email update, so this one will include an overview of the major events from the past couple of weeks.
No to the Gas Tax
We received word yesterday that Governor Dayton was going to take the weekend to work with his advisors, and present Senate and House leadership with a “compromise” on the transportation bill. Today, my fellow GOP colleagues and I held a press conference to reiterate our opposition to any transportation proposal that includes a gas tax.
Last November, Governor Dayton himself announced that the gas tax was dead. Unfortunately, negotiations have proven that he has went back on that statement. From the beginning, we Republicans in the House have been adamant that we will not support a raise in the gas tax when we have a $900 million budget surplus. If a transportation bill is truly a priority for Governor Dayton and the Senate DFL majority, as they have stated, then the Governor’s compromise will not include a gas tax. The majority of Minnesotans don’t support it, and I will continue to be strong in my opposition to it as well.
House Omnibus bills
We have had our three omnibus bills pass through the House. Before I give you an overview of the omnibus bills, I’d like to highlight an important issue for our community that needs your support.
I’ve spoken in the past about my legislation making for veterans’ retirement benefits tax free. Currently, the House tax bill would allow for $1,000 per year of service to be tax free, up to $20,000. This measure received hearings by both the Veterans Affairs Committee, (which I chair), and the Tax Committee in the House. This provision is in our House Tax bill, but the Senate has yet to be included it in their tax provisions. I have been advocating for this issue for over ten years, and it’s important that we pass this measure this session.
Another bill that was not included in the Senate Transportation Bill is the Highway 97/ I35 interchange. I am asking that House members on the Transportation Conference Committee prioritize this project in their negotiations with the Senate.
I hope that Senate members will hear from their communities regarding both of these proposals, and be open to passing them as the House and Senate meet to negotiate bills in conference committees.
Having said that, here are some highlights from the three omnibus bills passed through the House. Our bills for this year add up to a net-zero change in the budget, meaning that this session any new spending in one area is off-set by a cut or reallocation in a different area.
K-12/Higher Education Omnibus Bills
The House passed its K-12/Higher Education Omnibus Bill with a vote of 84-46.
There is $50 million dollars in new spending on proven programs in this bill. The $50 million was found by giving school districts the option to opt-in to a loan repayment program, keeping the budget at net-zero.
The policy provisions in this bill provide teachers safety from student assault and promote civics education. Also included was my measure making Medal of Honor character development curriculum available to school districts, which I have mentioned before.
Currently, there are 69 schools in our state who have sent 140 teachers to the Medal of Honor curriculum training, and which costs the school districts nothing, since the Medal of Honor program pays for substitute teachers. I look forward to this curriculum becoming more widely available.
Another provision that was included the omnibus was a provision I authored to address the transportation funding sparsity that some school districts face when busing students over long distances.
Higher Education provisions in the omnibus included a measure instructing MnSCU to create programs for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities. These certificate programs would be focused on teaching independent living and job skills, while giving these young people the opportunity for a college experience like their peers.
The House K-12/Higher Education Omnibus passed with bipartisan support.
For more information, here is the House Public Information Services page for Education Omnibus: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/sessiondaily/SDView.aspx?StoryID=10168
Agriculture, Environment, and Job Growth Bill
The House Agriculture, Environment, and Job Growth Omnibus passed with a vote of 72-54.
This bill included a $5 million investment in workforce housing, and $11.5 million for clean water. $1.8 million was also allocated to the University of Minnesota to develop animal disease tracking software in order to avoid outbreaks like last year’s avian flu epidemic. Approximately $8.6 million was allotted for our state’s parks, trails, and forestry work as well.
For more information, use the following link to view the House Public Information Services page for this bill: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/sessiondaily/SDView.aspx?StoryID=10177
Health and Human Services, State Government, and Public Safety Bill
The House Health and Human Services (HHS), State Government, and Public Safety Omnibus passed with a vote of 72-57.
This bill included a measure to audit MNSure exchange to ensure that people enrolled in MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance qualify for these services. This provision was proposed in response to the Office of the Legislative Auditor’s previous findings which indicated that huge numbers of Minnesotans have been enrolled in MinnesotaCare and MA programs by accident, which wastes millions and millions of dollars in taxpayer money.
The savings found by the MNSure audit will be sued to give long-term care providers a long-deserved pay raise.
Also included in this omnibus is extra funding for the State Soldiers Assistance Fund, and a significant appropriation for the Eagles Healing Nest veteran’s home.
The House Public Information Services page for this bill has more detailed information on the provisions included in the omnibus: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/sessiondaily/SDView.aspx?StoryID=10178
Medal of Honor Meet and Greet
On Tuesday, May 4th, I had the honor of joining the 934th Airlift Wing in hosting Medal of Honor recipients Robert Patterson (U.S. Army), Thomas Kelley (U.S. Navy), and Harold Fritz (U.S. Army). It was a pleasure to meet these three gentlemen, and a true honor.
House Resolutions for Officer Ashley LaValle and Gary Goolsbee
On May 9th, at the Forest Lake City Council Meeting, I had the honor of presenting Ashley LaValle a House Resolution in recognition of her dedication to youth service in her area.
Officer LaValle was also presented with the James Trudeau Law Enforcement Award by the Youth Service Bureau.
On May 12th I had the pleasure to present a House Resolution to Gary Goolsbee in recognition of his work for our area’s youth. Gary is a licensed clinical social worker and mental health therapist at Canvas Health, and has been heavily involve with the the Forest Lake Area Partnership for Families (FLAPF), specifically as a founding member of the FLAPF Suicide Prevention Committee.
Mr. Goolsbee was awarded the On Behalf of Youth Award by the Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau.
We are blessed to have individuals like Officer LaValle and Mr. Goolsbee in our area; they are assets to our community, and we thank them for their service to our young people.
As always, thank you for the honor of being your representative. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments.