Skip to main content Skip to office menu Skip to footer
Capital IconMinnesota Legislature

Legislative News and Views - Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL)

Back to profile

Legislative Weekly Recap - April 25 - May 3, 2016

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hello Everyone,

Last week on the House floor the three major omnibus policy and supplemental budget bills were debated. The Senate passed one large supplemental budget bill and separate policy omnibus bills. The House decided to roll policy and funding into three large bills. As I have said before, an omnibus bill is usually one large bill made up of individual bills that have gone through the committee process. In general, they are focused on one subject like education or health and human services. I like to think of them as “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly”, they contain some things you like, some things you do not like and some things that are merely political theater. The three omnibus bills that we heard on the House floor last week were more bad and ugly than good. The good provisions simply did not outweigh the bad. The bills will have to come back from conference committee with the Senate in much better shape before I can support them.

In Minnesota, we budget in two year cycles called a biennium. The first session in the biennium we set the budgets for the major areas of state government. Traditionally, the second year of the biennium (which we are in now) we look a policy issues and craft a bonding bill. This year is more complicated. Along with the policy and bonding bills to look at, we have a projected budget surplus that can be used for critical needs (roughly $900 million). And because the legislature could not reach agreement to pass a Tax bill or a comprehensive Transportation bill last year, during this short 10 ½ week session we also need to tackle all of these issues. It has become quite political.

During the House floor debates last week, you saw political theater in action. You saw policy that the Governor vetoed in budget bills last year coming back again. Remember, those vetoes are what landed us in a special session last summer. The Governor has already warned the House GOP about putting certain “non-starter” policy language in the supplemental budget bills. Nonetheless, the bills that were passed last week where full of such provisions.

House Omnibus Finance & Policy Bills

On Monday, we heard the K-12 & Higher Education Omnibus bill. Both the Higher Education & K-12 Education Committees received a $0 budget target, so the bill included mostly policy. In the Higher Education portion of the bill, there was no investment in alleviating the crushing debt our college students are facing. But there was a provision that constricted the U of M medical school’s ability to do scientific-based research. In the K-12 bill, there were cost saving assumptions made regarding schools paying back loans early. On the hope that money materializes, it was sprinkled lightly through the bill for some programs. If the schools do not pay back their loans early, the programs will not be funded. In the policy arena, there were also a few proposals that the Governor has declared “non-starters”. One provision I was most concerned about removes the authority of the Department of Education to help schools implement the statewide student survey. This survey is used as a baseline for federal and state grants to schools for work in the areas of drug use prevention, mental health support and sex education. Without this funding those programs are in jeopardy.

On Wednesday we heard the Agriculture, Environment, Energy, Housing & Jobs bill. This bill was disappointing on many fronts but mainly for its rollback in the areas of energy efficiency and environmental protections. It also did not make the needed investments in the areas of workforce training and affordable housing. With a $900 million surplus, this bill could have done much more.

On Thursday, we debated the Health and Human Services, State Government Finance & Public Safety omnibus bill from 1:00 p.m. Thursday to 1:30 a.m. Friday morning. This bill had the most of the “bad” and the “ugly”. It did not put ANY new money into funding an increase in pay for home health workers who work with our most vulnerable populations - a provision that holds wide bipartisan support. It did not fix the safety concerns in St. Peter or Anoka, our two mental health facilities. But there was an amendment put on to change the way Title X funding is distributed. Title X money comes from the Federal government to the states in order to increase access to quality health care for women and children. The amendment's main goal is to defund Planned Parenthood; the remaining clinics that serve this population have said they do not have the capacity to serve these women and children. Defunding Planned Parenthood is one of the Governor’s “non-starter” provisions. In the State Government Finance portion of the bill, there are cuts to budgets that were set last year with that money then going toward a Tax bill. One of the cuts that is the most concerning is to the campaign public subsidy program. This is the program funded by a check-off box on our tax forms. Folks can mark a box for $5 to go toward funding the GOP, DFL, Independent, Green or non-partisan campaigns. This takes the money folks have already indicated on their 2015 tax forms and spends it elsewhere. Keep in mind, over 85% of the current legislators have signed an agreement to participate in this program. By signing up for the program, a candidate agrees to abide by campaign spending limits. If the program is not in place for the 2016 elections, the spending limits go away. If legislative campaigns seem like the wild, wild west now, imagine them without spending limits.

Last week, the Senate passed their omnibus supplemental budget bill and their individual policy omnibus bills. In an ideal world, these bills would go to a conference committee where their differences would be hashed out in public meetings. This is done by going over side-by-side versions of what both the House and Senate bills include. Then, an agreed upon bill would move to both the House and Senate floor for a vote. It will be interesting to see how that will be handled in the three weeks that we have left. Remember, there are also two conference committees from last year that have not completed their work; they are the Tax conference committee and the Transportation conference committee. The coming weeks will be very interesting.

Committee Business

Government Operations & Elections Committee met twice last week on Wednesday to hear a few policy provisions that were included in Rep. Sarah Anderson’s larger State Government Finance bill. On Thursday, we met to hear the Real ID bill that is making its way through the legislature. I raised concerns for the rush on the Real ID bill since the Federal Government has moved the deadline. The state would save $4 million by waiting until the Department of Vehicle Services completes its programing work on their driver’s license system database. The work is expected to be completed by the end of 2017 with plenty of time to implement the Real ID system before the Federal deadline of January 2018, and saving taxpayer funds in the long run.

Last Wednesday, we had the last meeting of the Property Taxes and Local Government Division. We heard a few individual bills and had an overview from nonpartisan staff regarding property taxes. Chair Drazkowski finally stated that there will be no Property Division report put together this year. The bills we have heard over the last seven weeks are ones that could possibly be included in the work the Tax conference committee is just starting.

Constituent and Organizations Visits

As session winds down to a close, fewer constituent groups are meeting with legislators. There are occasional rallies held by groups to express their viewpoints on issues or individual bills. Last week I met with constituents at the Capitol for a Moms Demand Action rally on gun control as well as members of the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities faculty association.

On Tuesday, I also attended a press conference focused on requesting the House GOP to target part of the surplus to address racial economic disparities. The Governor has earmarked $100 million in his budget and the Senate has $91 million in theirs. There is no set budget target for racial disparities from the House yet. I have joined a group of legislators lead by Rep. Rena Moran, Rep. Carlos Mariani, Rep. Peggy Flanagan and Rep. Susan Allen to tackle this critical issue. The press conference was a first step. We plan to hold listening sessions in effected communities across the state this summer, fall and winter. The plan is to find programs and solutions that are working and craft legislation next year to make much needed investments. Minnesota’s economy should be working for everyone, regardless of your racial identity.

With four weeks left of the legislative session bills will be moving quickly in conference committees and onto the House and Senate floor. Please feel free to contact me if you have specific questions on bills or issues. As the pace quickens, e-mail is the best way to get a hold of me. Thank you to all those who have contacted me to date, I am doing my best to keep up with the volume.

Have a great week!