Greetings from the Capitol, where only two full weeks remain before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn.
Here is the latest from St. Paul:
National Day of Prayer
It was great to see so many people participate in yesterday’s National Day of Prayer event at the Capitol. This annual event invites people to pray for the nation, standing as a call for us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people. I was pleased to attend this annual event.
P’ville Press visitors
It was enjoyable spending time with Paynesville Press publisher-owner Michael Jacobson, and Press interns Ava and Megan, during a recent visit they made to the Capitol. We had a great conversation, and I appreciated the opportunity to learn more from them about their field as I shared a behind-the-scenes look at House operations and lent some of my legislative perspectives. Above is a photo of us together in the Retiring Room, a gathering space for members directly off the House Chamber floor.
Conference committees meeting
The House and Senate both have completed votes on preliminary passage for a complete series of omnibus finance bills that eventually will establish the state’s next two-year budget. The House bills passed mainly on party-line votes. A veterans package was one notable exception, with strong, bipartisan support and a 131-0 vote.
Together, the budget bills House Democrats approved increase state spending by 40 percent and raise taxes by $9.5 billion at a time the state has a $17.5 billion surplus. Conference committees are now working to reconcile differences between House and Senate versions of these bills.
Traditionally, these conference committees feature an equal number of representatives and senators who work to find common ground and compromise so bills can receive votes on final approval in both legislative bodies and, ultimately, be sent to the governor for enactment. A highly concerning trend is developing this year where, on multiple occasions, the House Democrat majority has failed to name a single House Republican to a conference committee. This effectively shuts out the voices of people in Greater Minnesota, stacking conference committees with metro Democrats. This opens the door for one-party rule to force ill-advised policies into law – without so much as an opportunity for people in parts of the state such as ours to even offer improvements or raise objections as bills are put in final form.
Worker leave bill
House Democrats approved legislation Tuesday which will hurt employee wages and damage businesses by establishing a mandatory paid leave program funded by a new tax on employers and workers at a time the state has a $17.5 billion surplus.
This program is pitched as something of a life raft for workers, but I have strong concerns the opposite may be true – causing wages to shrink and putting many businesses in an unworkable position. This is something we can least afford at a time we already are feeling the pinch of higher prices and a workforce shortage.
Aside from our business community, we are hearing serious concerns from our school districts over the hole this program would blow in their budget, essentially wiping out any funding increases they may receive this session.
The program established in H.F. 2 would cost billions of dollars to get up and running and require as many as 400 new full-time government employees to develop and administrate. It applies to virtually every industry in the state – private employers, nonprofits, cities, counties, and school districts – despite objections. It would be funded with a $2.9 billion tax on employers and employees and expands employers’ leave obligations to part-time and temporary employees.
Unlike the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which only applies to employers with 50 or more employees, this program would apply to all employers including those with only one employee. Employees can stack leave together, allowing for up to 24 weeks of paid time off per year.
Meanwhile, Republicans have developed a plan which takes a different approach, providing a small-business tax credit to incentivize employers to join the plan. The key difference is the minority’s plan provides paid family and medical leave benefits for employees without job-crushing mandates and new taxes.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce reports 80 percent of their members already provide paid family leave. Instead of more mandates, our workers and small businesses need added flexibility to address their own unique circumstances and that is the approach we should take.
The House Republican proposal provides a small business tax credit to incentivize employers to join the plan. Minnesotans may opt into the program for $5 per week if an employer does not join by using the parameters of the state’s paid leave policy, leveraging the power of the state’s 10s of thousands of employees.
The House Republican option also is backed by an insurance company, so taxpayers will not be expected to cover the costs of program shortfalls or losses. Benefits would be available to Minnesotans this Jan. 1 – a full 18 months earlier than the House Democrat proposal.
Our version was offered as an amendment to the Democrat bill on Tuesday. House Democrats voted down that offering before approving their own bill, sending it to the Senate.
Pregnancy resource centers
House Democrats recently approved an omnibus health bill (H.F. 2995) which eliminates positive alternative grants which would hurt pregnancy resource centers across Minnesota. This unfortunate decision mirrors that of Gov. Walz, who also cut all state money for these centers in his budget recommendations. These centers provide crucial access to a variety of essential services and it would be an injustice for their state funding to be eliminated. Click here to read more about this subject.
Look for more from the House soon and, until then, please stay in touch.