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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Peggy Bennett (R)

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Legislative News from Rep. Peggy Bennett

Friday, May 10, 2024

Hello Friends,


With a May 20 session ending deadline fast approaching, House Democrats continued bringing omnibus spending bills to the House floor. You’ll find my thoughts on a few of those that have been recently approved by the majority party. But first, I wanted to update you on a topic that many of you are concerned about: Minnesota’s new state flag.



Last evening, my Republican colleagues and I proposed that the floor rules be suspended in order to bring forward a bill for a vote that would allow all Minnesotans to have a say in the newly proposed Minnesota state flag and seal design.



As I'm sure you're aware, last session the Democrat majority passed a provision that required our current Minnesota flag and seal to be retired and new symbols designed to replace them. This provision was passed on an entirely partisan vote.


Whatever your opinion on the new flag and seal designs, you should be concerned about the process: chosen solely by a thirteen-person panel appointed by the governor; highly rushed; an expensive unfunded mandate; and no final vote by either the elected representatives or citizens of our state.  


These state symbols were rushed through in four short months from design submissions to adoption. (The state of Utah took eighteen months to adopt their new design). The new flag and seal are set to deploy in our state this Saturday. According to last year’s legislation, all state and local government entities should be using the new designs by the end of this year.


Folks, this is not as simple as just taking down one flag and replacing it with another. These state symbols are ingrained in many things throughout local government entities, including uniforms, vehicles, letterheads, etc. At least five counties throughout the state have adopted resolutions raising issues about this process. Voices were left out, and the hasty deployment is a highly expensive unfunded mandate.


The Minnesota flag and seal represent all of us. There are almost six million people living in Minnesota. Thirteen appointed people decided on our new flag design. The rest were left out.


I believe all Minnesotans should have a say in this new design. That is why I am a co-author on the bill that we attempted to bring to the floor last night which would give all Minnesotans a vote on these new designs. Unfortunately, my Democrat colleagues voted this proposal down on an entirely partisan vote.


What should have been a well thought out and deliberative process to bring the people of our state together has instead unnecessarily divided and frustrated millions of Minnesotans. This didn't need to be. Whatever happened to One Minnesota?


This bill again raises taxes on Minnesota businesses and families and, like last year’s tax bill, is missing three critical elements: full social security tax exemption; substantial and permanent property tax relief; and middle-class tax cuts.


Here is one element in this bill I find very unfair: Currently there is a process for local governments, along with an affirming community vote, to raise their local sales tax by one percent. They are allowed by law to use those extra dollars to pay for specifically named community projects. Albert Lea residents use this local option to help pay for the Fountain Lake dredging project. In Austin, it’s for flood mitigation. Under this tax bill, communities like Albert Lea and Austin will only get to keep 80 percent of their sales tax proceeds for these projects. The other 20 percent of those local dollars will be taken by the state, put into a special “equalization distribution account” and then distributed to low-income communities throughout the state to be used for unlimited purposes. This is not right. Local residents pay this extra sales tax for their local projects - not to be sent to other communities.



After spending a $18 billion surplus and allocating $30 billion to Health and Human Services last session, there is simply no money left to spend on endless task forces and studies. We are headed into a deficit budget next year! Yet in this bill, the Democrat majority managed to allocate another $57 million in the human services area. This bill just moves problems from one place to another without addressing the dire needs of Minnesotans. In addition, some financial shifting in the bill is going to hurt funding for nursing homes and assisted living centers, which are already super stressed with workforce shortages and inflation costs.



Lawmakers in St. Paul are well aware of the challenges being faced by Greater Minnesota ambulance services – not enough funding, declining staff, and outdated equipment. With one-time surplus money available, many of us hoped the legislative majority would address this EMS crisis and provide emergency aid to our local responders. Though I generally don’t support additional spending this session because we are heading into a deficit and it’s a non-budget year, I do support one-time funding to address this crisis situation. It’s literally life and death in some cases.


Sadly, the majority instead passed a bill that does little to help our local Emergency Medical Services but does spend money creating an entirely new state government EMS agency. So we’re going to spend money growing government bureaucracy even more (as if a 40% growth wasn’t enough last session!) and not going to provide the one-time funding needed to make sure we all have ambulance service when we need it. This is just wrong.



This is an omnibus bill that includes three large areas of our state budget.  Don’t ask me what they have in common. They don’t have anything in common! These subjects should not be jammed together into one bill. This giant bill spends a lot of money that will push us into a greater deficit next year. Not wise. Here is one of many concerning components in this monstrous bill:


Public Option Health Insurance: A bill has been introduced that would create a state funded health plan option for the 2-3% of Minnesotans who buy health insurance on the individual market. Even if this was a good fix to our health insurance woes (and it’s not), it’s simply not ready for prime time. This plan is highly concerning. Even my Democrat colleagues are split on this terrible policy. It should be voted on in a stand-alone bill, but instead was shoved into this giant omnibus bill.   


One of the biggest concerns I have with the Public Option is the low reimbursement rate of these government provided plans. Like Medicaid, Medicare, and MinnesotaCare, it will pay much less than the actual cost of care to our hospitals and clinics. It will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize, and the end result will be further closures of hospitals and clinics throughout our state. Those of us in southern Minnesota would probably only have Rochester and Mankato for our healthcare providers - if we’re lucky.


We need better access to healthcare providers - not worse. We absolutely need health insurance reform, and I have some ideas on this. Whatever we do, we must do it smartly so we don’t inadvertently cause new problems - like causing the closure of hospitals and clinics throughout our state.


Sharing a Thought:


Why is it that legislatures often pass new laws to fix some kind of problem and we end up finding out that those new laws didn’t fix the problem at all and just created new problems instead? This frustrates me greatly, and I know it does many of you too.


Last week, House Democrats passed three new gun bills. None of these bills will fix any issues we are facing with gun misuse, but they sure will negatively affect law-abiding citizens in our state. I would like to discuss one of those bills:  firearm storage requirements.


This provision would require that a firearm which is not within a person’s direct control or reach must be stored in a gun safe or gun room unless it’s unloaded with a locking device. There are criminal penalties for failing to comply with these requirements.


So, let’s look at the impact.  


I heard over and over during the floor debate that “guns are the number one cause of death for children in the U.S.  We must pass this bill to protect children!” This is a very misleading use of statistics, as often happens in politics.  


Of course, we absolutely want to protect children! Fatal gun accidents involving children ages 0-14 are DOWN over 90 percent. That’s good. I hope this trajectory continues.  


The fact is that the vast majority of juvenile gun deaths are gang related homicides. These teenage “children” buy their guns from straw purchase criminals. This bill won’t fix that problem.


We already have a law on the books concerning gun storage and children. If existing laws already address negligent storage of firearms, why is this additional legislation necessary? 

If some people already ignore these existing laws, do we think more of the same will help?


The topic of suicide also came up in the floor discussion. This is a tragic and significant issue. My heart goes out to families who have been impacted by the death of a loved one in this way.


I question the effectiveness of one-size-fits-all firearm storage legislation like this. Examine the top three countries with the highest suicide rates in the world. All three have some of the toughest gun laws ever. In Japan, one of these countries, suicide by hanging is sadly the most prevalent. 


Tragically, those who are in the midst of a mental health crisis and intent upon death by suicide will do so with whatever means is available. We should absolutely focus on legislation that addresses mental illness in our state, but let's be effective.


This gun storage proposal imposes new felony charges against peaceable citizens. The strict liability imposed can lead to harsh outcomes for law-abiding gun owners, even when no harm is done, or criminal intent is absent. The bill's one-size-fits-all approach does not consider individual circumstances or context, applying the same standards to various environments, treating rural farms the same as metro daycare providers.


This bill makes it difficult for me, as a single woman, to have a firearm in my own home for my protection. I have no children or at-risk persons living in my home. Under this law, if I want to keep a loaded handgun by my bedside at night it must always be within my physical reach. I can’t even leave my bed in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or I’m out of compliance and a potential criminal. If I keep my handgun locked up or unloaded with a trigger lock at night (as the bill calls for), I can no longer protect myself if a burglar were to come into my home.


Perhaps we should invent “carry pajamas?”


Let’s say a woman with a permit to carry uses a carry purse as many women do. Having this extra protection is very relevant these days, especially in the metro areas with all the carjackings. She goes over to a friend’s house to enjoy an evening of dinner and movies. No children present. Under this law, she would not be able to set her purse aside with her jacket. Instead, she would have to take her gun from her purse, unload it, and attach a trigger lock. Makes no sense!


Are they purposely making it more difficult for women to protect themselves?


Under this legislation, a person could sleep outside on a park bench with a gun within their reach and that is perfectly legal. However, if a grandpa has an unloaded shotgun hanging over the fireplace and the grandchildren come over to play, that grandpa can face a gross misdemeanor with a $3000 fine and up to a year in jail. 


I find it ironic that, on the same day my Democrat colleagues introduced this firearm storage bill, they also introduced a bill that would repeal the mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes involving firearms. You just can’t make this up!


This is a nonsense bill. Even law enforcement doesn’t support this legislation. How about we go after the criminals for a change and stop making it difficult for law abiding citizens to own a firearm and have it ready to protect themselves.



Happy Mother’s Day to all of our moms! Enjoy your weekend!