I hope that your summer has been going well! Many of the new laws that passed during this year’s session take effect today, August 1. This is a good chance to catch up on them, as well as on the two-year budget that went into effect just a few weeks ago on July 1.
As you likely know, the House – with Governor Walz’s support – passed a strong, progressive legislative agenda this session, including action for clean energy, racial equity, environmental protections, criminal justice reform, tax fairness, and much more. In the end, much of this agenda was blocked by Senate Republicans. Still, we made progress in many areas, as discussed below, and the agenda that passed the House provides a clear path for the future.
Again, I’ve highlighted a few new laws and budget areas below. A summary of the full budget across all areas, as well as the laws that went into effect on July 1, is available here. More information about the laws that take effect today is available here. And finally, summaries of a number of specific new laws and budget items are available here. I hope you find these resources useful.
Budget Details: E-12 Education
I served on the conference committee that worked on the E-12 education budget. The budget in this area includes an annual two percent increase in per-student funding that will help schools prevent teacher and staff layoffs, larger class sizes, and higher property taxes. It also freezes the special education cross subsidy – the gap between state and federal funding and the rising cost of providing special ed services – so schools can meet the needs of students without drawing more from funds intended for other purposes. All of this will provide more stability for the St. Paul Public Schools and other districts.
Budget Details: Public Safety
I served on the Public Safety and Judiciary Conference Committee as well. The failure to make progress on gun safety legislation – see “Freedom School March” below – is just one of many disappointments in this area. Still, some progress was made, especially in the area of gender violence – a focus for me as a prosecutor specializing in these crimes. The budget closed legal loopholes that made it difficult for survivors to seek justice and established working groups to address the causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls and to recommend changes to criminal sexual conduct policies. Two of my bills that became law will allow courts to use violations of domestic abuse no contact orders as evidence and clarify the legal definitions of criminal stalking and harassment.
Budget Details: Health and Human Services
Protecting health care access was one of the toughest fights in this year’s session, as Senate Republicans sought to eliminate the 27-year-old provider tax, which funds the Health Care Access Fund. In the end, permanent funding was secured, ensuring affordable health care for 1.2 million Minnesotans, including working families, seniors, children, and people with disabilities. Another highlight in this area is a $100 increase in the monthly payment under the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), which helps low-income pregnant women and families with children meet basic needs and find stable employment. This is the first such increase in 33 years (!), a critical lifeline for 91,000 families.
Budget Details: Taxes
In the area of taxes, the budget cuts the income tax rate for the first time in almost two decades and doubles the standard deduction. These changes will make the filing process easier for most Minnesotans and cut taxes for many low- and middle-income earners. The budget also reduces taxes on Social Security benefits, expands tax credits for working families, and increases aid for counties and local governments so they can provide important services while holding down property taxes.
Budget Details: Higher Education
The higher education budget creates new opportunities for students at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. I’m especially pleased that it increases funding for the state grant program, which helps Minnesotans attend private institutions like Macalester, St. Kate’s, and St. Thomas as well as public colleges and universities. Students who are currently enrolled in the program will receive more financial assistance, and others will become eligible for the first time.
Budget Details: Early Childhood
In the area of early childhood – a focus for me as chair of the relevant committee – the budget preserves access to pre-K for 4,000 young learners and modestly expands early learning scholarships and child care assistance. It also secures funding for a pilot program that establishes college savings accounts for St. Paul children, as well as an innovative program (Reach Out and Read) that links pediatric care with literacy services.
Still, this is an area that will need much more action in coming years. The Economic Policy Institute recently released new data on child care costs across the country. Minnesota ranked fourth out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for the cost of infant care, which often exceeds the cost of college.
Highlight: New Laws
In addition to budget areas, a number of laws that are coming into effect are especially worth highlighting:
- Distracted driving: The hands-free law ensures that drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their attention on the road. Drivers can still use their phones to make calls, text, listen to music, or get directions but can’t hold their phones while doing so. Helpful tips for going hands-free and more information is available here.
- Wage theft: Minnesotans should receive an hour’s pay for an hour’s work. Minnesota now has the strongest wage theft prevention and enforcement law in the country.
- Elder abuse: Elderly and vulnerable adults deserve to be free from abuse and neglect. This new law is part of a set of sweeping reforms that will improve conditions in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. It prohibits retaliating against residents who file complaints.
- Opioid epidemic: Pharmaceutical companies are held accountable for their role in creating the opioid crisis and continuing to profit from it. Drug manufacturers and distributors will pay higher annual fees, and the revenue will be used for prevention, treatment, and public safety.
Freedom School March for Gun Safety
As referenced above, criminal background checks and extreme risk protection orders didn’t make it into law this session. Despite broad public support and the fact that these measures are working well in other states, Republicans opposed these common-sense measures. Their inaction is deeply disappointing to me and thousands of families who’ve been touched by gun violence, but we won’t stop fighting to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
A few weeks ago, more than 1,200 kids marched to the Capitol to join this push, with a rally called “Protect Kids, Not Guns.” I was proud to address these young activists! Check out media coverage here and here.
Prenatal to Three Policy Forum
Finally, many thanks to all who attended the most recent Prenatal to Three Policy Forum. Early childhood advocates and I reviewed the successes of the 2019 session and discussed the work that remains to be done. You can watch a recording of the event and more at www.p3minnesota.org.
Thank you for the honor of serving our community. Please keep in touch.
State Representative, District 64B
439 State Office Building
Subscribe to my email updates: www.house.leg.state.mn.us/64b
Follow my office on Facebook: www.facebook.com/repdavepinto/