I hope you and your family are doing well and enjoying spring so far. Looking ahead with about one month left in the legislative session, here’s an update about some of my recent work at the State Capitol and my priorities to get across the finish line.
Landmark Investments in ALS Research and Caregiver Support
Many of you are familiar with our State Senator David Tomassoni’s struggle with ALS. He has been an invaluable mentor to me at the Capitol, taking me underneath his wing to show me how the work we do isn’t about Democrats or Republicans; it’s about people.
Anyone in his position couldn’t be faulted for withdrawing and disengaging from work at the Capitol in these circumstances, but that’s not who David is. Instead, Sen. Tomassoni looked adversity in the face, and used his plight to help so many others by introducing a groundbreaking package of investments in research into the disease and support for caregivers. I was proud to be the chief author of the bill in the House.
The legislation invests $20 million in grants to conduct clinical and translational research into the prevention, treatment, causes, and cures of ALS. The bill also invests $5 million for caregiver support programs for families of people with ALS. The bill passed both bodies with overwhelming bipartisan support and has now been signed into law.
Public TV’s “Almanac” has recently had a pair of thorough stories about the bill and Senator Tomassini’s journey. Here’s a story from March, and here’s their report from the bill signing. I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch both of them.
Two of the most urgent items this legislative session remain incomplete: repayment of the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund and delivering bonus pay to frontline workers. As one of only a handful of legislators to vote to advance both measures this year, I’m extremely disappointed in the partisanship playing out yet again to the detriment of workers and business owners.
Due to no fault of their own, businesses had to shut down and in doing so, lay off large swaths of workers. Two years later and the state unemployment insurance trust fund is totally wiped out, and as a result, businesses are facing a payroll tax increase to replenish the fund. We all hope our businesses are never faced with such a predicament again, and considering the potentially once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis we just experienced, it’s appropriate for the state of Minnesota to step up to fill this gap. With a $9.25 billion budget surplus, there’s no excuse to not get this done.
Our proposal to refill this fund also includes reforms to make hourly school workers like paraprofessionals, classroom assistants, clerical workers, and bus drivers eligible for unemployment benefits. These dedicated professionals work hard to support our students, and they deserve an extra layer of economic security.
We also need to come together to deliver bonus payments for frontline workers. Last year’s budget included $250 million for health care and long-term care workers, first responders, educators, and grocery workers – among many others who helped keep our state going through the pandemic. We quickly realized this was an inadequate amount, and this year with a historic budget surplus, we’re looking to do much more: a $1 billion investment to provide $1,500 checks for 667,000 workers.
It’s time to put people before politics and get both of these priorities done for the businesses and workers in Minnesota.
Investing in Education
All Minnesota students deserve a world-class education, but there have been significant disruptions in learning over the past two years. Our budget surplus gives us a great opportunity to support students, teachers, and other critical staff. The House E-12 Education Finance bill delivers $1.15 billion to support education in Minnesota, including a significant portion of that – $475 million – to address shortages of key personnel that supports social, emotional, and physical health, and to fund wrap-around services for students. The proposal would allow schools to hire more than 1,000 additional counselors, social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, and chemical dependency specialists.
Additionally, the bill helps schools hire more teachers and enhances opportunities for early learning. You can read more about the plan here.
Helping Minnesotans Tackle Rising Costs
Minnesotans are paying more for everyday expenses like food and gas, while bigger expenses like health care, child care, and housing are also going up and up. House DFLers have put forth a plan to help Minnesotans afford these increased costs. The plan includes a tax credit of up to $3,000 for each child under age five, capped at $7,500 in total tax credits. It also provides a one-time child tax credit rebate of $325 for each child under 17 years of age.
The plan includes the largest property tax cut in the past 20 years with the expansion of the homestead credit refund and renter’s credit programs. 1.3 million homeowners will keep more of their money as a result of this change, with 400,000 more becoming eligible for the credit. Additionally, the plan includes my legislation to increase Local Government Aid, along with increases in County Program Aid and PILT payments, all of which will help keep property taxes in check.
Our tax bill also helps senior citizens by ensuring anyone who earns $75,000 or less per year pays no income tax on social security payments. It’s not a full exemption – like I fought for – but it’s a huge step in the right direction. I will continue to fight for a full exemption of social security payments from income taxes until it becomes law. Seniors will also benefit from the property tax cuts which will help them stay in their homes. Separately, we’re advancing legislation to cap co-pays on lifesaving medications like insulin, EpiPens, and inhalers.
Minnesota’s economy is recovering, but the recovery isn’t being felt equally. While unemployment is low and wages are increasing, rising costs are taking a bigger chunk out of family budgets, and we should direct our surplus dollars where we will get the biggest benefit. This plan to reduce costs will help more Minnesotans keep more money in their pockets, and I’m proud to support it.
Another major priority to get done this session is a package of investments in public infrastructure, often known as a bonding bill. The bill will fund improvements in assets such as public safety facilities, roads and bridges, parks and trails, colleges and universities, clean water infrastructure and more. I’ve presented legislation to the Capital Investment committee this session to fund critical projects in our region.
I’m also pushing for more investment in broadband infrastructure across our state. For students, businesses, workers, and families to succeed in Greater Minnesota, the ability to have a fast, reliable internet connection is critical. Beyond the basics like doing homework and communicating with loved ones, the ability to get online is increasingly important for telemedicine, telecommuting job opportunities, operation of high-tech farm equipment and more. Unaddressed, the digital divide threatens the vitality of rural communities. After all, it’s 2022, and this isn’t a want, this is a need. We have to come together to make the investments necessary to expand broadband to every corner of the state.
With significant funding coming our way through the federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act, we have a once in a generation opportunity to leverage these federal dollars to step up and make a transformative investment in our state. I’m hopeful we can work on a bipartisan basis to deliver a robust, regionally balanced capital investment package to strengthen our entire state.
In the coming days, the House and Senate will separately consider and vote on supplemental finance legislation. From there, joint House/Senate conference committees for various budget areas will meet to reach a bipartisan compromise, with the goal of getting bills to the governor’s desk. To stay up to date with everything going on, House Public Information Services has a variety of nonpartisan resources including live and archived video of committee hearings and floor sessions, Session Daily featuring recaps of legislative activity, and informative publications about state government.
As always, feel free to contact me to share your input on issues important to you, or if I can ever be of assistance. It’s an honor to represent you and our region in the Minnesota House.