Hello from St. Paul,
This week a pair of bills I’m chief-authoring that address human trafficking were approved in the Health and Human Services Reform Committee. They will also need to go through the Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance, and Health and Human Services Finance committees, however, they are receiving strong bipartisan support and I expect them both to eventually be signed into law.
The first bill allocates $2.3 million in critical state investments for safe shelter and supportive services for sexually exploited youth, training for law enforcement and other frontline personnel, and statewide infrastructure to connect child sex trafficking victims to services.
In 2011, Minnesota established a “Safe Harbor” law which prevents sexually trafficked children ages 18 and younger from facing criminal charges due to their exploitation. However, more funding is needed to address this growing problem.
The second proposal would allocate $75,000 allowing the Department of Health to contract for a strategic plan that offers solutions on how to address adult trafficking, with the goal of offering more formal legislation next year.
There’s no doubt lawmakers will face challenges concerning adults who are trafficked without a plan. If we pass legislation to decriminalize adult trafficking, a key element of the current Safe Harbor Law, there is a concern that prostitution may be decriminalized as well. Stakeholders from law enforcement to social services and advocacy groups will be working on this project in the coming year. I am confident the strategic plan will identify ways to alleviate these concerns and bring forward some solid ideas, so we can begin to tackle this issue with great legislation next year.
Trafficking is a problem throughout Minnesota, including rural communities like ours, but the good news is Minnesota is also a national leader in addressing this problem and I’m confident our new legislation will help even more.
The following link is a video prepared by my friends at the Stearns County Attorney’s Office. The St. Cloud region is doing incredible work on the issue of sex trafficking of both children and adults. Watch this video to learn more and discover how you too can get involved in stopping this horrific industry.
Rural Finance Authority Loan Program:
Earlier this week, the House passed legislation that allocates funds to the Rural Finance Authority (RFA) loan program. The RFA partners with agricultural lenders to provide low-cost financing to farmers on terms and conditions not offered by other financial institutions. This program is an important factor in sustaining growth of the farming and agriculture economy in Minnesota.
The RFA portion of the loan is carried at a reduced interest rate to improve the cash flow of eligible farmers. We needed to act quickly due to the state's authorization to sell the bonds for the RFA program expired December 31, 2016.
The bill that passed provides a new authorization and $35 million for bonds to finance the program. Participating lenders provide 55% of the financing for the loans, and the state provides the remainder. The loans are user financed, meaning the debt service is repaid by the borrower, not the taxpayers. Since the RFA's inception, the average default rate has been .0007%.
Misuse of U.S. Bank Stadium Suites:
This week the Legislative Auditor, Jim Nobles, released a report regarding the misuse of taxpayer funded suites at U.S. Bank Stadium by officials of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. The audit discovered that nearly half of the tickets for the suites went to family and friends of these officials, instead of their intended purpose of using them as a marketing tool to private businesses.
To quote some of the findings by the Auditor: “The Authority’s claim that it needs two suites rather than one is not supported by facts or logic.” “The Authority failed to comply with state law by not maintaining a record of who received tickets to its stadium suites.” “We concluded that the Authority’s use of the tickets violated a core ethical principle.” “Given these and other findings, we recommend that the Legislature exercise stronger control over the Authority and, specifically, its use of complimentary tickets to stadium events.”
Michele Kelm-Helgen, Ted Mondale, and the entire Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority should be embarrassed by their actions. The legislature is currently working to reform the Authority to make them more accountable to the taxpayers of Minnesota.
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