The legislative session ended yesterday (May 17) as constitutionally required, with a good framework in place for finalizing the state budget – see below – but with plenty of work to do in the coming weeks, before a likely special session in mid-June. Much of this update focuses on these budget and end-of-session issues, but it also includes my perspective on the recently-passed proposal to legalize the adult use of cannabis.
Bipartisan Budget Framework
House DFLers, Senate Republicans, and Governor Walz announced early in the day yesterday that they had agreed on a framework for the state budget for the upcoming biennium (July 2021 through June 2023). The bipartisan framework contains $52 billion worth of investments, including some federal COVID-19 relief funds.
As you’ll see from the numbers, there are many details yet to be determined, not only in terms of exact spending but in terms of accompanying policy changes. These will be addressed by teams of legislators working over the next several weeks.
Legalizing Adult-Use Cannabis
Last week, the House approved historic legislation to legalize the adult use of cannabis. I gladly voted in favor. I’ll admit to some initial hesitation about legalization on public health grounds. But tobacco and alcohol pose equal if not greater health risks. Criminalizing cannabis and not these other substances has had significant disparate impacts, especially on communities of color. (Despite similar usage rates, Black Minnesotans are many times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white Minnesotans.) Our current cannabis laws also make it hard for people living with chronic pain, PTSD, and other serious health issues to get the care they need. And they do little to keep cannabis out of the hands of young people. In short, I’m convinced that current laws do much more harm than good, and that a regulated market would better address any health concerns than would continued prohibition.
Of importance to me is that legalization in Minnesota take a public health and equity-focused approach. That’s exactly what the bill that we passed does. It was carefully developed with lessons from other states and with concerns about youth access, public health, and road safety in mind. It was also vetted by more than dozen committees before reaching the House floor. The bill creates a responsible regulatory structure, improves our state’s medical cannabis program, and expunges the records of Minnesotans convicted of prior nonviolent cannabis-related offenses.
While the bill passed the House with bipartisan support, the Republican-led Senate continues to be strongly opposed. I hope that the majority of Minnesotans who are supportive – as well as the many states already moving this way, including South Dakota! – will convince the Senate to change.
Health Policy Package Passes
While the main bill relating to cannabis has not yet become law, there was still some movement in this area. On the last day of the session, the House and Senate passed a series of bipartisan policy changes in the health and human services area negotiated by a conference committee on which I’ve been serving. These included an expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program to include cannabis flower, helping those suffering from PTSD and other ailments. The package will also extend health coverage for low-income mothers following a birth; expand eligibility for home-visiting programs; increase the affordability of prescription drugs; create uniform service standards for mental health providers, allowing them to focus more on serving their clients; and much more. There’s more work left to do, but this was a terrific start to broader negotiations that will help many vulnerable people in the meantime.
Clean Cars Moving Forward – and Held Hostage
Minnesota is now set to become the fifteenth state in the nation – and the first in the Midwest – to adopt clean car standards. A judge recently ruled that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has the authority to enact the standards, which require automobile manufacturers to produce more cars that emit low amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. When they take effect, Minnesotans will have more access to low-emission and zero-emission vehicles, such as electric vehicles and hybrids.
Since transportation is the largest source of Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions, clean car standards are an important step in our fight against climate change. Estimates indicate they could reduce Minnesota’s annual emissions by two million tons by 2030. People who purchase them will save money on gas and maintenance, and all of us will benefit from having more clean cars on the road because they reduce air pollution as well as greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Senate Republicans are threatening to cut millions of dollars in environmental funding in a variety of areas unless the Walz administration agrees not to exercise its right to pursue the clean car standards. This sort of ultimatum is unacceptable, on multiple levels. My House DFL colleagues and I will continue to refuse to pit these needed programs against one another.
Help Is on the Way
It was recently announced that Minnesota will receive nearly $5 billion in state and local aid from the federal government, thanks to the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan. Of this, the state will receive $2.8 billion, with a considerable portion already spoken for under the recently-announced budget framework (see the numbers linked above). Local governments will receive $2.1 billion. While some of the?funding is earmarked for?specific purposes,?most can be used for a variety of needs.?This flexibility will allow governments to coordinate and address unique needs in communities across Minnesota.??
Virtual Teen Job Fair - May 25
Have or know a teen who is looking for a job? Check out the 2021 Metro Region Interactive Virtual Teen Job Fair. It's on Tuesday, May 25th, from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. To register, go to www.elevatefutures.com and create an account, using TEENJOBS as the registration code. You’ll receive a list of employers hiring teens, invites to prep sessions, and more.
Help for Renters and Landlords
Minnesota Housing recently launched RentHelpMN, a resource using federal funds to help low- and moderate-income renters struggling with (or overdue on) rent and utilities dating back to the beginning of the pandemic. Importantly, both renters and landlords can apply directly for assistance. Learn more about at www.renthelpmn.org or by calling Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 211 Resource Helpline (Toll Free: 1.800.543.7709; Local: 651.291.0211).
There will continue to be plenty going on until the final budget bills are negotiated and passed. Please keep in touch. Thanks for the honor to represent our community at the Capitol.
State Representative, District 64B
503 State Office Building
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