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

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Legislative Weekly Recap- April 3-10, 2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dear Neighbors,

When we return from the Easter and Passover recess, conference committees will meet to hash out details on various omnibus finance bills heard over the last few weeks. A conference committee is composed of five House members and five Senate members. It is the House and Senate Republican leadership that make the appointments to the conference committees and a legislator has to have voted ‘yes’ on the bill to be considered. When the bills pass both bodies, they have different spending targets. By the end of April, GOP leaders in both bodies must agree on joint targets for each of the spending areas in the conference committee – one budget target for education, one for public safety, one for taxes, etc. Many of the omnibus bills include policy provisions along with the budget proposals. When the conference committees meet, they typically review policy provisions first to see what is similar and what is different. These similarities and differences become part of the negotiations as well the financial targets. Many of the policy provisions that the Republicans have included in their budget bills are controversial and the Governor has already said some of them are non-starters.

After break, we will also be taking up individual bills that have made their way through the committee process and on to the House General Register. There are just over 130 bills waiting to be scheduled for a House floor vote. Some of them may already be tucked into omnibus bills while others will await a vote in the House.

Public Safety Omnibus Bill

Last Monday, we heard the Public Safety Omnibus bill on the House floor. Like many other omnibus bills, there are some good provisions in this bill, but I don’t believe it goes far enough to protect Minnesotans and reform our criminal justice system. Republicans chose to underfund 21st century public safety tools, such as bomb squads, criminal investigation analysts and correctional institution security upgrades. They do not make increased investments in the public defense system or the guardian ad litem programs that provide equal access to the justice system for the poor and for children. The bill also includes controversial language to allow for-profit prisons in Minnesota and to increase criminal penalties for certain types of peaceful protest. We had a four hour debate on the provision regarding peaceful protests alone. I voted no on the bill’s final passage and it is my hope that what comes back from conference committee will resemble the Senate bill instead.

Legacy Bill

On Tuesday, we heard the Legacy bill. Minnesotans take pride and enjoyment in our natural resources and the arts. The Legacy bill allocates constitutionally dedicated funds to clean water, parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage.  The package funds all parts of the state and includes many diverse projects and initiatives, including the Outdoor Heritage Fund, Clean Water Fund, Parks and Trails Fund and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. While there were provisions in the bill that altered the wishes of the citizens’ board regarding funding streams, many of the initiatives in the bill remained whole. The bill passed with unanimous support from both sides of the aisle. 

Higher Education Omnibus Bill

Last Tuesday, we also heard the Higher Education Omnibus bill. Minnesota has a world class higher education system, but continued underfunding has strained the system and made costs of college out of reach for far too many students and their families. Many young people are delaying major life events such as starting a family and buying their first home due to the burden of student loan payments.   Minnesotans carry the 5th highest amount of student debt. Despite a $1.65 billion surplus, the House Republican Higher Education bill comes in tens of millions less, one third of the Governor’s proposal, than what is needed to prevent tuition increases. Our University and State College system provide an economic engine for the state and shortchanging this system hurts everyone. I voted against the House Republican proposal with hopes that it will come back from conference committee with increased investment to the bottom line.

Agriculture Policy & Finance Omnibus Bills

Last Wednesday, we heard both the Agriculture Policy Omnibus Bill in addition to the Agricultural Finance Omnibus Bill. The chairs of these two committees decided, in good faith, to keep the policy and finance bills separate. I believe that is why the finance bill had nearly unanimous support.

The Agricultural Finance bill included funds for basic operations of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture as well as other programs. It also had various provisions that were supported by the Minnesota Farmers Union, the Farm Bureau, the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Corn Growers, the Minnesota Soybean Growers, Hmong American Farmers and various community development and farming groups. I voted yes on final passage.

On the other hand, the Agricultural Policy bill had various provisions that were somewhat controversial. Among those were provisions that limits the protections for those located near feedlots and loosens regulations on treated seeds that would hurt pollinators. I voted yes on amendments to improve these sections but they failed to pass. I voted no on the final bill with hope that it comes back from conference committee in better shape.

Jobs & Energy Omnibus Bill

We started out a very long Thursday floor session debating the Jobs & Energy Omnibus bill. This bill falls almost $100 million short of Governor Dayton’s proposal. It also included several highly objectionable policy provisions. Half of the 219 page bill were policy provisions that should have moved as stand-alone bills, instead of inclusion within this finance bill. The Republican Jobs & Energy bill contained several deep cuts to the Minnesota Investment Fund and Job Creation Fund, the Minnesota Trade Office and in workforce housing. No investment funding for broadband was included.

One of the most concerning policy provisions would require legislative approval of any change to the State Building Code that would increase the cost of building a housing unit by $1,000, even if it is related to a safety issue. Another is prohibiting any city from banning the use of plastic bags. I believe that a plastic bag prohibition is an issue for a local municipality to decide. I spoke on the floor about the process that the City of St. Louis Park recently went through. They spent 20 months working with citizens, businesses and other stakeholders in the community to study the impact a ban on plastic bags may have. In the end, they decided not to go forward with a ban. Compare that to the one hour spent in St. Paul in front of two House Committees to remove that local decision from an elected city council. This is just one of 24 bills introduced this year to remove local control from elected city councils, school boards or county commissions.

I voted no on final passage of this bill and I’m not sure that it will be coming back in any better shape from the conference committee.

State Government Finance Omnibus Bill

On Thursday, after over four hours of debate on the Jobs & Energy bill, we heard the State Government Finance Omnibus Bill. Like many of the other finance bills, a lot of policy was also included. This bill funds all the state employees and programs to help run our state departments from the Department of Revenue all the way down to the Department of Human Rights. It only comprises about 2.3% of the state budget, but cuts to this budget are like tossing a large rock into a pond—they have a big ripple effect. In the Department of Revenue alone, a cut of $1 loses the state $3 in revenue.

I am not saying that state departments’ budget should never be cut, but those cuts should be specific and precise. This bill takes neither approach. It cuts state agencies across the board and caps the number of total state employees to 2010 levels. It is estimated that it will cause 2,000 job terminations of state employees. These are the people that work behind the scenes to keep our state functioning. They are the snowplow drivers that clear our highways after our winter storms. They are the individuals that make sure our water is safe to drink. They are the people who maintain our state parks, trails and campgrounds for us to enjoy. They are the ones who work with our cities and counties to make sure we have fair elections. They also make sure our schools and nursing homes receive the funds they need to educate our kids and take care of our loved ones, respectively. But during this time of a $1.65 billion surplus, we are making millions of dollars more cuts than we did in 2003 when we were facing a $4.1 billion deficit. I stood up to make these points on the House floor.

With the cut target to this bill, I am not sure that it can be improved during conference committee. Needless to say, I voted no on its final passage along with my DFL colleagues.

Health & Human Services Omnibus Bill

On Friday, we debated the Health & Human Service Omnibus Bill on the House floor. Despite our budget surplus, this Republican bill cuts nearly $600 million from the Health and Human Services budget by creating fake savings, cutting the Department of Human Services budget for IT and shifting manage care payments. It removes the forecasted inflation from Medical Assistance, delays payments to managed care systems, eliminates the MNSure program and overestimates savings in the areas of waste and fraud.

What is more notable in the bill is what is not included. It does not include any raises for the direct care workforce. These are the people who help our seniors, and those who are disabled to live independently in their homes. They are also those working with our loved ones in our nursing homes and assistant care centers. These folks have formed a group called the Best Life Alliance and has been asking for a modest 4% raise for the last three years. There is also no adjustment to the Medical Assistance spenddown for those who are elderly, blind or disabled requiring their monthly income to be under $790 before they can receive any assistance. There is no increase for families on the Minnesota Family Investment Program or for those with child care expenses. There is also no funding included for local public health grants.

Hubert Humphrey once said that “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” This bill does not meet that moral test and is woefully inadequate. I voted against its final passage.

Budget Survey

As the committees move the budget omnibus bills into conference committees, new joint House/Senate spending targets will be set.  I would love to hear about your priorities for the state budget and will be leaving my survey open for one more week. Please take a moment to fill it out by ranking the items listed. There is also an open comment box for you to add additional thoughts.

Constituent and Organization Visits

Visits with organizations and constituents have begun to slow down. I met with constituents at the Capitol from MoveForward to discuss housing instability (pictured below), here for youth intervention day and with the Healthy Kids Coalition regarding food access. I also met with some students from Mankato State University, as well as nursing students from Metropolitan State University. One of the highlights of the week was meeting with a group of students from Hopkins High School (pictured below). We were able to visit just before the floor session on Wednesday and we had a great conversation about a variety of topics including education funding.

House Image

House Image

On Monday this week, I joined Leader Melissa Hortman, Representatives Jennifer Schultz, Liz Olson, Mary Murphy, Erin Murphy for a press conference and event at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. We presented the differences between the Republicans’ and Democrats’ plan for funding education from early childhood through higher education. It is very clear that many people across the state of Minnesota feel that the Republican plan falls quite short in meeting the needs of our students.

During the spring recess, I plan on talking with constituents in the district, patients at Methodist hospital and meeting with a group to discuss homelessness and housing issues. My family and I also visited the Glensheen Mansion and the Minnesota Zoo, both of which are great assets to our state and have improvement projects in the Governor’s proposed bonding bill.

As always, please feel free to contact me with questions and issues. E-mail at is the best way to get in touch. If it is urgent or you would like to schedule a meeting, please contact my office by phone at 651-296-9889.

Have a great week!