2016 Legislative Overview
The 2016 session was deeply frustrating for everyone. I was particularly disheartened by how many decisions were made unilaterally by a few "leaders" behind closed doors, removed from the voices of stakeholders in the public and from fellow legislators – we were then asked to vote on these measures with almost no time to review them. I am accountable to my constituents and to my own conscience, and I cannot vote for something that I have not read.
Public perception is that the Legislature got NOTHING done in the 2016 session. This is not quite true. We were able to work together well enough to pass a few important bills that address specific issues.
What We Accomplished
The Omnibus Tax Bill did pass the House and the Senate. Unfortunately, there were gross errors in the bill, which was rushed through the House and the Senate in the waning hours of Session, and the Governor vetoed the bill until corrections could be made. Those corrections will likely be dealt with at the beginning of the 2017 Session. The bill as passed in the 2016 session provided for:
- nearly full conformity to federal tax provisions enacted in 2014;
- first-in-the-nation student loan tax credit;
- expansion of the child care tax credit;
- tax deductions and credits for families contributing to 529 savings plans;
- income tax exemptions for military pensions;
- expansion of the working family tax credit;
- expansion of tax credits for some veterans;
- a school building bond agricultural credit; and
- phase-out of the state general levy (applies to commercial and seasonal properties).
Expanded Public Pre-K
The Legislature authorized $25 million for a phased-in preschool program. School districts applied for funding for new pre-K programs by July 1st. Priority will go to applying districts with high Free and Reduced Lunch participation and no community based 3- or 4-Star Parent Aware programs. A portion of the funding is earmarked for pre-K programs in greater MN. Appropriate requirements are included for teacher/staff qualifications, teacher/student ratios, minimum classroom hours provided, appropriate curriculum and assessment, parent education, staff development, and coordination with health and social service agencies. It's expected to allow about 3,700 more preschoolers to attend a high-quality school.
The Education Omnibus Bill includes required school board finance and administrative training for the Perpich Center for the Performing Arts board of directors (a requirement already in place for all other school boards in the state.)
The Presidential Primary
Starting in 2020, primary elections for Presidential candidates will be held in a primary rather than a caucus. (Caucuses for local offices will continue.) Primary voting should be inviting, accessible, fair, and open to all eligible voters in Minnesota, and this change gives primary voters access to many of the benefits of the regular election process, including no-excuses absentee voting, same-day registration, and access for those serving overseas. Presidential primary voters must declare their party affiliation, signing a form stating: "I am in general agreement with the principles of the party for whose candidate I intend to vote." Name, address, and year of voter's birth will also be collected by county clerks as part of the public voter roll.
Drug Sentencing Reform
These new guidelines are the biggest changes in Minnesota’s criminal justice system in nearly 30 years. Sentencing now clearly differentiates addicts from dealers. Sentences for first-degree and second-degree possession and sale of certain drugs are reduced; addicts are diverted to treatment and provided opportunities for good-behavior early release programs. Dealers, those who carry drugs across state lines, those who carry a firearm, and those whose drug sales are gang-connected will be subject to much harsher sentences. Harsher penalties will also be assigned to those caught with large quantities of marijuana.
Police Body Cameras
State-wide, most of the data from local law-enforcement agencies collected by body cameras will be largely protected as private, except in cases of significant bodily harm. This is a good compromise, as it leaves discretion of public release up to local communities.
Civil Discourse Training
I am pleased to announce that I secured commitments from DFL and GOP leadership in the House and Senate to offer the 2017 One Minnesota retreat and workshop. On January 3, 2017, the new legislature will be sworn in. On January 4, the entire legislature will participate in One Minnesota. This retreat is designed to bring all legislators together to establish foundational relationships, language, and goals for the upcoming session. In the past, this has been an optional event (and well-attended by DFLers!), but the 2017 edition will be mandatory for all legislators.
Minnesota needs a comprehensive state wide multi-modal transportation vision and plan for implementation with sustainable funding. The needs of the metro area are different than much of greater MN, but greater MN is asking for better transportation options - which may include circulator buses, road improvements, and railroad grade crossing improvements. Repeatedly filling potholes is not a sustainable or effective approach to road maintenance. The average family spends $400-$500 on car maintenance and repairs due to poor road conditions. This is significantly less than the proposed gas tax would cost the average family to appropriately maintain and renovate our roads. If someone has an idea other than a gas tax for a sustainable funding source for this ongoing cost, please let us know! My parent’s generation made significant investments in the interstate system, in bridges, in our public parks and amenities, but these projects were only designed to last around 50 years. We dishonor the sacrifices my parent’s generation made in order to build these projects when we refuse to adequately maintain them.
The Bonding Bill
The house version was totally inadequate to address our state's real needs. Bonding is investing in, and maintaining the state infrastructure and assets. It is a win/win/win when interest rates are low, it puts people to work, and preserves existing state physical assets. It's a well-recognized and long-standing process that has non-partisan support - but it became a partisan football this year.
Overblown fear-mongering has appealed to our worst instincts. Homeland Security is driving the push towards Real ID. These new IDs thwart counterfeiting efforts far more effectively than our current driver's licenses. There is no additional information that the federal government will collect that it does not already have. Real ID identifies a systemic, reliable approach to homeland security, and is in our best interests (locally and nationally) to adopt.
- Funding for youth intervention programs.
- Funding to train for first responders in mental health (including autism) related incidents.
For specific information about bills I proposed and worked on, please visit my legislative page.