I was honored to speak at the Gun Owners Rally at the Capitol on Saturday. It was so encouraging to see Minnesotans gather together and stand up our Second Amendment rights!
Here is an update from the Capitol.
Updating Sexual Harassment Laws
Major strides are being made by the Minnesota House to address sexual harassment this session.
Bipartisan legislation was introduced last week that would make Minnesota a national leader in reducing the barrier to severe sexual harassment cases moving forward in court. The bill would nullify the existing “severe and pervasive” federal Supreme Court standard that sexual harassment cases must meet to be actionable in a court. Through testimony in committee, I heard that actionable behavior had to rise to the level of criminal sexual assault and a mere 10 cases in over 20 years could be cited as being "severe or pervasive enough". It would make no changes to the existing state laws from 1982 for what constitutes sexual harassment, but simply states that "an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment...does not require the harassing conduct or communication to be severe or pervasive." This small but substantive change would give judges more discretion to move forward with sexual harassment cases that previously may not have met the incredibly high standard set by the Supreme Court in 1986.
I think this bill is incredibly important for victims of sexual harassment in this state. The time has come to change the business culture that has long tolerated this vile behavior, and I am proud to be a co-author on this measure.
Additional changes to House policies regarding discrimination and harassment are also advancing. Under changes adopted in the House Rules Committee recently, non-partisan staff will establish a phone line and email address for complaints to be submitted. Non-partisan staff are also empowered to independently hire an outside investigator to investigate complaints, requiring that investigation results be submitted confidentially to the minority leader and Speaker of the House, and strengthening expectations for reporting and retaliation.
We want the House to always be a welcoming place to members, staff, the press and the public, and I think we are making much-needed steps forward to strengthen our policies surrounding harassment and discrimination.
Education Bill Passes House with Monticello Funding
On Thursday, the House passed a supplemental education/higher education bill that includes $1.6 million for Monticello Schools. The provision, which I authored, makes the school district whole again after the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) forced the district to make changes to the structure of their special education co-op. MDE told the school district they would be held harmless with the change, but instead they are facing a funding shortage that could lead to cutting as many as 23 teachers and staff.
From the moment I heard about the critical funding shortage in Monticello I got to work, crafting legislation that would help the district, their students and their fantastic teachers and staff. This funding fix is critical for our schools.
Additionally, the bill also included a number of other important measures including:
- Championing a multifaceted approach to give school districts the resources and flexibility they need to address student safety and security. That includes expanding the use of long-term facilities maintenance revenue for facility security upgrades, strengthening the state’s commitment to school-linked mental health grants, supporting suicide prevention training for teachers, increasing funding for Safe Schools Revenue, and more
- Strengthening and clarifying state law to address teacher misconduct and teacher licensure including prohibiting sexual relationships between educators and students, even if that student is 18; requiring periodic teacher background checks; and prohibiting the issuance or renewal of a teacher/administrative license or bus driver endorsement for certain felonies or gross misdemeanors involving a minor
- Requiring the Minnesota Department of Education to create a School Report Card —a one-stop-spot for summative and easily accessible school and district ratings that will provide families with a place to research, compare and help determine which school will work best for their child
- Enhancing the transparency of school funding and our commitment to tackling our state’s achievement gap by doubling the number of school audits each year. These audits will discern whether or not education dollars allocated to school districts and dedicated to special education, English-learner and low-income students are reaching the students intended
- Ensuring students are exposed to a wide variety of post-secondary options including the trades, manufacturing and branches of the military
- Creating a Special Education Working Group to engage stakeholders and examine the factors that are driving rising costs
- New sexual harassment reporting requirements and policies for the University of Minnesota
- Student loan debt counseling
This bill focuses on student safety and mental health, increasing transparency in school finance and performance reporting, and innovative solutions that will improve student outcomes. I am hopeful that we can get these important policies, along with funding for the Monticello School District, to Dayton’s desk for signature.
As always, if you need assistance on an issue pertaining to state government or have concerns or ideas about legislation, 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.