Last week the House approved a measure to make sure no school child is denied lunch because of inability to pay. This was an issue Republicans brought up last year during debate on the K12 education omnibus bill when Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano) offered an amendment that expands the free lunch program to include 62,000 low-income students. Unfortunately, House Democrats rejected that proposal. The amendment would have been paid for by redirecting the DFL budget increases from the Minnesota Department of Education (base budget increase, three new regional centers, and a school climate center) to the school lunch program. While I’m happy that no child will go hungry at school, this issue could have been resolved a year ago.
MNsure enrollment has fallen short of even worst-case projections and now the IRS deadline to be fully enrolled is in mere weeks. Minnesotans must select a plan and pay the premium in full by March 31 to avoid penalties for not having health insurance. We recently received updated data which shows 33,680 enrollments are “in process” for commercial plans (individual and small business) as of March 8. This is just 19 percent of MNsure's lowest original estimate of 177,125 commercial plan enrollments by March 31. In the short term, low-enrollment means Minnesota families of four will have to pay $285 penalty for being unable to purchase insurance by the deadline even if they spent hours on hold with MNsure's call center, had their application disappear in MNsure's system or realized MNsure premiums were simply unaffordable for their family budget. That penalty will increase to $695 per person starting in 2016. In the long term, low-enrollment means all Minnesotans will pay more in higher premiums and higher taxes for a program that failed to live up to Gov. Dayton's and Democrats' promises.
Last week, the Senate Education Committee passed the “Safe and Supportive Schools Act” (commonly referred to as the “anti-bullying bill”) after a five-hour hearing. Its next stop is the Senate Finance Committee. Since this particular bill is different from what passed the House in 2013, a conference committee will be needed if it passes the Senate and a version of the “Safe and Supportive Schools Act” will come back to the House. This heavy-handed, top-down unfunded mandate to our local schools is unduely burdensome and overly prescriptive. I continue to trust our local school districts to effectively implement anti-bullying policies.
While expansion for I-94 between Rogers and St. Michael has approval from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, it still needs to pass the hurdle of approval from the Met Council. Four upcoming meetings are scheduled regarding I-94 expansion at the Met Council – March 24 at 4:00, April 14 at 4:00, April 16 at 12:30, and April 23 at 4:00. The Met Council is located at 390 Robert St. North St. Paul, MN 55101-1805 if you feel inclined to attend any of the meetings.
As always, you can contact me by e-mail at Rep.Marion.ONeill@House.MN or contact my office at 651-296-5063. You can also write a letter to me. My office address at the Capitol is 229 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55155.