Speaking on the House Floor last week.
Last week, the legislature passed several supplemental budget bills in a number of areas from education to public safety. You may recall that earlier in April, the House set forth budget targets with a net zero spending increase, using cost savings and reinvesting previously allocated unspent dollars. This is a better utilization of taxpayer money, and I am pleased that we can work on our priorities without growing state government.
One of the provisions I authored for the Jobs and Energy omnibus bill passed last week, prohibits the clearcutting of more than three acres of trees for the purpose of building solar fields. This would help prevent future communities from being negatively impacted by the clearcutting of forests like we saw in Buffalo Township. If the goal of solar is to reduce carbon emissions, it doesn't make sense to cut down a forest that capture six tons of carbon per acre per year to put up solar panels. The township officers I spoke to said that solar fields should first be sited on marginal agricultural land or vacant closed gravel pits (of which there are 93 in Wright County alone).
Another amendment placed in the Education/Higher Education omnibus bill last week, gives financial management tools to college graduates delinquent on student loan payments. Updating the pilot project I spearheaded last year with Lutheran Social Services, students can now seek help before they are delinquent on loan repayments, helping struggling individuals keep their head above water and promoting personal responsibility over bailouts form state taxpayers. The average federal 3-year default rate for student loans is 12 percent in Minnesota, and nearly 21 percent for two-year public colleges, so this is an important initiative for our state.
Finally, as you know, I have been a passionate advocate for stopping research on aborted fetal tissue at the University of Minnesota. While we cannot ban their aborted fetal tissue research or cut their funding with a Democrat Senate and governor, the Higher Education omnibus legislation did take steps in the right direction. A provision in the bill requires the U of M to obtain approval from an institutional review board to conduct research using fetal tissue. Additionally, the dean of the medical school must first attempt to procure fetal tissue sources that comes from babies who died of natural causes and not abortion. Finally, the Board of Regents must submit a report to the legislature by January of next year regarding fetal tissue research.
Here are some of the other highlights in the omnibus bills passed in the House.
- Uses the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments as an indicator to measure college readiness, helping to save students money on remedial college courses
- Implements fixes to our broken teacher licensure system
- Increases opportunities to expand the diversity of our teacher workforce
- Reduces the funding disparity between metro and non-metro school districts
- Protects educators and school staff, addressing immediate needs of educators and working toward long-term solutions to stop violence in our classrooms
- Expands higher education opportunities for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities
State Government/Health and Human Services/Public Safety
- Reduces the cost of state government
- Freezes state government hiring
- Reduces salaries for agency and department heads by 5 percent
- Ends taxpayer funded abortions in Minnesota and requires licensure of abortion facilities to protect women's health
- Funds veteran initiatives
- Transitions our broken MNsure health care exchange onto the federal exchange
- Cuts the MNsure premium tax in half to save families money on their health insurance
- Limits the state's ability to make estate recovery claims for those aged 55-65 on Medical Assistance
- Requires the Department of Health Services to address fraud and abuse of public programs and puts those cost savings toward a one-time 5 percent increase for long-term and community-based care workers who care for our most vulnerable
- Creates reforms to help make child care more affordable in Minnesota
Jobs and Energy/Agriculture/Environment
- Addresses economic disparities and workforce development across the state
- Repeals the 2014 law allowing for the unionization of independent child care businesses after a recent election saw Minnesota child care providers overwhelming reject unionization
- Funds the completion of the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System for Southwest Minnesota
- Makes strategic investments in animal health and disease prevention after last year's avian flu outbreak
These bills now represent the House position going into final negotiations with the Senate and governor. I still would like to see the $900 million surplus used for transportation and tax relief this session—the top priorities that Wright County residents overwhelmingly favored in my recent legislative survey.
I will keep you updated on the progress of these bills as we enter the last few weeks of the 2016 session.
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.