Early yesterday morning, the Minnesota House of Representatives finished passing a new state budget and finally adjourned the 2021 special session.
The budget that we passed is a compromise with Senate Republicans and certainly doesn’t include everything that I would have liked. But it represents a significant step forward in many, many areas. These investments will help our state to recover from a challenging year and put us on a better, more equitable path for the future.
In many ways, the Legislature has been meeting almost continuously since last year’s session started in January 2020 – through the start of the pandemic in March, the murder of George Floyd in May, the series of monthly sessions as the Governor exercised his emergency powers, and this year’s regular session too. As part of the budget bills, the Governor’s peacetime emergency has finally ended, and so we are not expected to meet again until later in the year at the earliest.
I discussed some of budget bills that passed in last week’s e-update. Below is information on more of them.
Public Safety and Judiciary: Ensuring Safety and Justice for All Minnesotans
The Public Safety budget was perhaps the most challenging one to negotiate, as Minnesotans’ rightful demands for justice and accountability have been consistently stonewalled by the Republican-controlled Senate. There is so much more to do in this area. In the meantime, with the leadership of my colleagues in the People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus, we were able to pass a number of important police and criminal legal reforms, including:
- Restrictions on no-knock warrants
- An early warning system to keep problem officers off the streets
- Expanded use of "sign-and-release" warrants to reduce arrests
- Funding for community organizations working to prevent violence and perform youth outreach
- A policy to encourage trained crisis teams - not just sworn officers - to respond to calls for mental health assistance
- An end to the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for failures to appear for certain court hearings
- Limitations on court fines and fees that criminalize poverty
One area of unambiguous progress in the bill is in the fight for justice for survivors of sexual violence. The bill finally eliminates the “voluntary intoxication” defense and the statute of limitations for sexual assault; it expands the sex-trafficking investigation grants that I initiated in my first term in 2015; it creates new initiatives to fight the epidemic of missing and murdered Black and Indigenous women and girls; and it makes many other reforms in this area as well.
One important and continued disappointment is in the area of gun violence, especially in the light of so many tragic shootings, even in recent weeks. Criminal background checks and extreme risk protection orders are reasonable and popular policies that other states have shown can make a difference. My House DFL colleagues and I will keep pushing for them.
While the need for deep and systemic change continues, and Senate Republicans blocked several important provisions that we fought for and approved in the House, this bill is a significant step forward.
Health and Human Services: Helping All Minnesotans to be Healthy and to Thrive
The Health and Human Services budget invests in Minnesota’s public health infrastructure, increases pay for personal care assistants (PCAs), provides support for home- and community-based services to help people live independently, strengthens mental and behavioral health services, and expands services for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness. It also provides the first-ever cost-of-living adjustment to the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), our state’s backstop program to support low-income families. It contains many other provisions to support young Minnesotans and their families – see the “Early Childhood” section below. I’m proud to have helped negotiate it with the Senate as a member of the conference committee for this critical area.
E-12 Education: Investing in Minnesota Learners
Every child in Minnesota deserves a world-class education, no matter where they live or what they look like. This session, we delivered the largest investment in public schools in 15 years. Our E-12 Education budget increases per-pupil funding by 2.45 percent this coming year and another 2 percent the following year. Under this new formula, St. Paul Public Schools will receive $300 more per student next year and $474 more the following year – helping to finally catch up a bit from years of underinvestment.
This funding will help our schools retain teachers, keep class sizes from growing, and provide academic and emotional support for students who experienced learning disruptions and other challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research shows that students of color – and in turn, all students – benefit from having teachers of color in their classrooms. The budget significantly increases investments in recruiting and retaining teachers of color and Indigenous teachers.
Finally, the budget preserves 4,000 voluntary pre-K opportunities that were set to expire without legislative action. More on this in “Early Childhood” below.
Housing: Helping More Minnesotans Have an Affordable, Stable Place to Live
All Minnesotans deserve to have safe, secure, and affordable housing. Since COVID-19 has intensified our state’s housing crisis, we need to make sure Minnesotans have stability as we move forward. To prevent evictions, our Housing budget establishes an orderly off-ramp to the eviction moratorium. It gives renters and landlords more than three months to access assistance through RentHelpMN and includes measures to protect those with outstanding applications. The budget also invests in closing Minnesota’s racial homeownership gap, which is one of the largest in the U.S.; provides funding to prevent family homelessness; and establishes a new task force to better address homelessness and support at-risk individuals.
Environment: Protecting Minnesota’s Natural Resources
All Minnesotans deserve to have clean air, clean water, and plenty of places and opportunities to spend time outdoors. The Environment and Natural Resources budget protects humans and wildlife from pollution, harmful chemicals, and other serious threats. It addresses several environmental issues, including chronic wasting disease (CWD) and invasive species like emerald ash borer (EAB), and creates more opportunities for children and teenagers to get outdoors and participate in recreational activities.
When negotiations on this bill began, Senate Republicans threatened not to pass a budget unless the state halted plans to enact clean car standards. If this had happened, state parks and the environmental arm of our government would’ve shut down on July 1. House DFLers successfully fought to prevent this crisis and found a bipartisan agreement so Minnesota can keep moving forward on clean car standards – which will reduce pollution and protect the environment – and our government can continue safeguarding the state’s water, air, land, and wildlife.
Jobs and Labor: Prioritizing Minnesotans’ Economic Security
After an incredibly challenging year, Minnesota’s economy is starting to turn the corner. The Jobs and Labor budget we passed invests in greater economic security and opportunities for workers, families, and small businesses. Among many other things, it invests in grants for small businesses, with funding targeted to the smallest businesses and those owned by BIPOC Minnesotans, women, and veterans; as well as assistance to help rebuild the Lake Street, University Avenue, and West Broadway neighborhoods.
One disappointment in this budget is Republican’s ongoing success at blocking paid family and medical leave. My House DFL colleagues and I will continue to push for this critical policy that is so important for young kids and families.
State Government, Elections, and Veterans: Investing in Responsive Government
The State Government, Elections, and Veterans budget provides the resources our government needs to meet the moment and assist Minnesotans as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to funding state offices and agencies that provide critical services, this budget includes provisions that:
- Fund the popular Market Bucks program so SNAP/EBT users can get healthy and affordable produce at farmers’ markets
- Provide resources to enforce wage theft laws so workers get the wages they earned
- Formalize and strengthen the absentee voting process
- Give veterans who end up in the criminal justice system a second chance through the Veterans Restorative Justice Act
- Establish a housing initiative to help veterans experiencing homelessness
Taxes: Supporting Workers and Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19
As we emerge from the pandemic, we need to ensure all Minnesotans have the resources they need to thrive. Our Tax budget makes it possible to invest in education, health care, and economic security for all. Among many other provisions, it includes:
- Tax cuts for workers and small businesses impacted by COVID-19, including those who received unemployment insurance benefits and federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans
- An expansion of the Working Family Tax Credit
- Aid for counties to fund services and programs that prevent family homelessness
Early Childhood: Stabilizing with Federal Funds, but Much More to Do
The work of getting all Minnesota children off to a great start got a big boost this session, but there is much more to do. As mentioned above, the Education budget extends 4,000 expiring preschool slots in districts across the state. But disappointingly, it contains no expansion of early learning. The gaps in our K-12 system start long before kindergarten, and it’s in those earliest years that they must be closed. Expanded early learning has to be a priority next year and beyond.
The Health & Human Services budget, however, does include a significant focus on the youngest Minnesotans and those who support them, funded almost entirely through federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan. Among other provisions, this includes:
- Approximately $300 million in monthly grants to stabilize child care providers, 70 percent of which must be used to increase compensation for workers
- A significant increase in reimbursement rates for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) to help low-income families and those who care for their children
- Grants to support child-care professionals who remain in the field and expand their skills
- Several provisions to improve maternal and infant health and close persistent racial disparities in these critical areas, including investments in Integrated Care for High-Risk Pregnant Women and the Supporting Healthy Babies grant program
- The Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act, which requires hospitals to offer a course on anti-racism and implicit bias to employees and contractors who regularly work with patients who are pregnant or postpartum
- Extended health coverage for low-income women from the current standard of 60 days following birth to a full 12 months
The Jobs & Labor budget also contains grants to increase the supply of child care.
For much more on the early childhood investments in the state budget, please check out my statement here.
Stay in Touch
Now that we’ve finished passing a budget, I’m looking forward to spending more time in our community and to continuing conversations about how we can better ensure all Minnesotans have the resources to thrive. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions, ideas, or feedback.
Have a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July weekend!
State Representative, District 64B
503 State Office Building
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