The 2016 Legislative Session began on Tuesday. Here is an update from St. Paul.
Late last month, the Office of Management and Budget (MMB) released the state's economic forecast, revealing a $900 million surplus. Thanks to fiscal restraint by House Republicans last year who blocked Democrats from spending every penny of our budget, we are facing a surplus instead of a deficit.
The $900 million surplus is reduced from the $1.2 billion surplus that MMB had shared in their earlier November economic forecast due in part to a weakened national economic outlook and lower consumer spending. However, this surplus is still enough for two important initiatives this session that will benefit Minnesotans in our community and across the state: middle-class tax relief and transportation.
I will be prioritizing giving money back to families with tax relief, as well as long-term funding for our roads and bridges. Additionally, I want to hear from people in our community about their priorities for state government. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have ideas or input on legislation.
Specialty Court Funding
With the start of a new session, I am advancing a few pieces of legislation about which I am very passionate including a bill that expands funding for specialty courts in Minnesota. Specialty courts are specialized problem-solving courts that work to help offenders receive treatment as an alternative to traditional sentencing. Adult and juvenile drug treatment, mental health treatment and DWI courts are a few examples of specialty courts in Minnesota.
My legislation would expand funding for specialty courts to supplement existing courts and well as fund expanding them to additional counties. Ninety percent of people going through our court system have dependency issues, and 65 percent have mental health issues, and specialty courts have an excellent track record of helping people recover instead of simply sending them to jail. It's a win-win for everyone as it helps save taxpayer money by keeping people out of prison, it helps families stay together and it means that people who receive proper treatments can be productive members of society instead of being locked away.
I am currently part of a working group to get a drug court up and running in Wright County. It's an important project, and I look forward to advancing my specialty courts legislation this session.
Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Legislation
This session, I am also carrying two bills that I have worked on with the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.
The first bill, House File 2552, allows for an extension of an order of protection without requiring it to go through the court if no party requests a hearing. House File 2553 allows both parties to wave court fees, making it easier for people in crisis to have access to the courts. Both pieces of legislation are about easing the process for victims and families in a difficult time.
If you need assistance an issue pertaining to state government, my office is available to you. You can e-mail at Rep.Marion.ONeill@House.MN or call my office at 651-296-5063. You can also write a letter to me. My office address at the Capitol is 549 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55155.