It’s been busy at the Minnesota Legislature as we approach the second of three deadlines for House committees to complete their work. Committees are holding frequent public hearings and considering as many bills as possible.
Crafting a Budget that Reflects Minnesota Values
Much of the focus this legislative session is on developing a budget for the next two years. The next step in this process is the release of “budget targets” that will guide fiscal decisions for the various legislative committees.
Earlier this week, Senate Republicans released their version of these targets. These would freeze or make only small spending increases in a number of areas. With inflation, these would result in real-dollar cuts in services for Minnesotans who need more support than ever, including our students. Our House DFL will release our own targets next week.
Meanwhile, Gov. Walz has released a revised budget proposal to reflect the latest economic forecast, which projected a positive balance of $1.6 billion. The updated version contains additional investments in working families, students, and small businesses.
Responding to the Shootings in Atlanta
Eight people, several of whom were of Asian descent, were killed on Tuesday during a series of horrific shootings in Atlanta. I encourage you to read this statement by the St. Paul legislative delegation and city leaders and to watch the powerful speech that my colleague Rep. Tou Xiong gave in response to this tragedy, placing it in the broader content of ongoing racism and violence. We must stand together to put an end to escalating hatred and discrimination against our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
The assaults in Atlanta follow the shootings of medical personnel in Buffalo, MN in February. This year, I am again leading on bills to require criminal background checks on all gun sales and to develop extreme risk protection orders. It is long, long past time that we do more to keep guns out of the hands of people who have shown themselves to be dangerous.
Supporting Minnesota Students
COVID-19 and remote learning have created new challenges for many students and exacerbated educational disparities. In response, Governor Walz has proposed an extensive summer learning package to help meet students’ academic and emotional needs as we move forward. The $150 million plan expands school- and community-based learning opportunities, invests in field trips and hands-on learning, and provides mental health support. These critical investments would help students catch up and close the opportunity gap, so all of our students have opportunities to succeed.
Earlier this week, the Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee, which I chair, heard and passed my bill containing a portion of this proposal. It provides $20 million to expand summer preschool, helping 4-and 5-year-olds get ready for kindergarten.
Reforming Juvenile Justice
Children and young adults who come into contact with Minnesota’s juvenile justice system should be treated fairly and appropriately. Under our current system, young people can be subjected to degrading treatment and harmful practices that may have lifelong impacts. That’s why I’m carrying legislation to improve how young Minnesotans are treated. My bill would prohibit strip searches and the use of solitary confinement as a punishment. And it would increase Minnesota’s delinquency age to 13; shockingly, the current age is 10.
The Star Tribune recently published a piece in support of this proposal and a companion. I’m pleased to report that both bills received strong, bipartisan support from the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee and will continue advancing this session.
Update on the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act
According to the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act has helped 465 Minnesotans access insulin in the past six months. This legislation, which took effect last July, is named after a 26-year-old Minnesotan who died because he couldn’t afford his insulin. It provides emergency and long-term assistance to people with diabetes who struggle to afford the life-saving medication. If you or someone you know is in urgent need of a 30-day supply of affordable insulin, please visit MNinsulin.org to see if you qualify and learn how to apply today.
More Minnesotans Eligible for COVID-19 Vaccine
Minnesota reached Governor Walz’s goal of vaccinating 70 percent of our state’s seniors last week. Thanks to the efforts of many Minnesotans and a new vaccine that only requires one dose, we hit this target earlier than expected. In response, Governor Walz expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine. The following Minnesotans are now eligible to get vaccinated:
- People with certain underlying conditions, including sickle cell disease, down syndrome, and oxygen-dependent chronic lung or heart conditions, and those who are in active cancer treatment or immunocompromised from organ transplant
- People with rare conditions or disabilities that put them at higher risk
- Food processing plant workers
These groups will receive priority, but providers may offer available appointments to others who are eligible, including Minnesotans from the next tier:
- People 45 or older with one or more of the underlying medical conditions identified by the CDC
- People 16 or older with two or more of the underlying conditions
- People 50 or older in multi-generational housing
- Essential frontline workers, including airport staff, child care workers who weren’t previously eligible, first responders, judicial system workers, public health workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, and those who work in agriculture; correctional settings; food production, retail, or service; manufacturing; and public transit
More details about eligibility are available here. I encourage you to sign up for the COVID-19 Vaccine Connector if you haven’t already. In some cases, your employer will have more information on vaccine availability, and it’s a good idea to be in touch with your health care provider too.
COVID-19 Restrictions Relaxed
Several changes to Minnesota’s COVID-19 restrictions took effect on Monday. The graphic below outlines these modifications and adjustments that will take effect in the coming weeks. You can find more details at staysafe.mn.gov.
While this is encouraging news, we need to keep our guard up and protect the progress we’ve made. Wearing masks, social distancing, and getting is still extremely important. The finish line is in sight; let’s do our part to protect ourselves and others until we reach it.
It’s an honor to represent you! Please continue sharing your questions, ideas, and feedback.
State Representative, District 64B
503 State Office Building
Subscribe to my email updates: www.house.leg.state.mn.us/64b
Follow my office on Facebook: facebook.com/repdavepinto