While certain committees now have the wiggle room to begin work on their omnibus bills, many of the most contentious are still out of pocket. The Judiciary and Public Safety omnibus bill is the vehicle for what the DFL wants to include in their police-reform initiatives, but nothing has been accomplished in two weeks. This is just one of the many examples of how the House and Senate are still far from achieving a deal. Now that the legislature has recessed, leaders have until June to agree on bills to avoid a complete state government shutdown. But what led us to this point?
This has been a tumultuous year at the legislature. Unlike last year when COVID hit in the middle of our legislative session, we went into the session with COVID front and center. Our work was focused on COVID relief of all kinds and dealing with the Governor’s peacetime emergency. But the reality was we were just treading water. Instead of debating legislation and passing it off the floor, the DFL in the house refused to put forth a single bill. Week after week, we wondered when we could get a chance to debate these ideas. Instead, we were shown neatly packaged and televised presentations on the Governor’s initiatives with limited criticism and hours of praise. That's not because these ideas had little opposition, quite the contrary, but unlike in years past where we debated bills in committee for hours, we were only given sixty seconds in most cases to ask a question.
Hyper partisanship at the legislature is nothing new. Republicans did many of the same things. The difference is that banished from the capitol and separated from the public, with closed buildings and hearings over zoom, the institution has suffered. distant and detached over the past year. I hope we can mend the fabric of our legislative process and return to in-person discussions for the upcoming special session.
Through the tension in St. Paul, I took this year to focus on infrastructure and Freedom. In southern Minnesota, we are long overdue for infrastructure updates and repairs. This year I Introduced bills to address issues in Vernon Center, Madison Lake, Welcome, St. James, Waterville, and Lake Crystal. They were all aimed at fixing local assets that were worn out and breaking down or past due for replacement. These roads have carried thousands of tourists down into our cities and our lakes, patronizing our businesses and stimulating our local economy. They will be vitally important as we start to return to normal and travel becomes commonplace again.
The other major battle this year has been attempting to curtail the Governor's emergency powers and restore an equal system of Government that allows the legislature to have more of a say. We have virtually no input in the vaccine distribution process and no discussion of the response from the state. Instead, we were shown scary graphs that we later found out to be inaccurate and told if we didn’t act, tens of thousands of Minnesota would die. Just like that, we handed over the power to spend and allocate monies raised by taxes, we handed over the ability to create legislation and law without legislative approval, and most importantly, we handed over your voice. With one man at the helm able to pull all the strings, the only voices that matter ultimately are those in leadership roles in the legislature. Your rank and file party members are not consulted. Governor Walz surely isn't asking me for my thoughts on the budget. Just like that, over 40,000 Minnesotans are robbed of their voice. This system does not work. It centralizes power in the hands of few at the expense of us all.
As we start to pull ourselves out of this pandemic, we face a new problem. What to do about that centralized power? This isn’t an issue just for Minnesotans. Just this week, a handful of counties in the state of Oregon held a referendum to leave that state and join neighboring Idaho. The concentration of political power in urban centers controlled by one party is the next battle after COVID. This year I even authored legislation to help illustrate that growing divide here in Minnesota. HF2423 allows any non-contiguous counties in Minnesota to hold a referendum to secede from the state should they so choose. I received a lot of support for submitting this piece of legislation, and I hope we can have a meaningful conversation on this issue and create a better system for rural Minnesotans to have a voice in St. Paul.
While we are far from done with the work needed to close this year's legislative session, we are now in the process of negotiating for a deal that works for all Minnesotians. I hope that the House and the Senate can come together on the issues to present a budget to the Governor, which ultimately does not raise taxes and returns the over $4 billion surplus the state is on track to have.