The Minnesota Senate ended a 11-hour marathon floor debate Thursday, April 26, on the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill and gave its stamp of approval on a 34-31 party-line vote. The finance package adjusts state budgets in all areas and funds several new initiatives, including programs to improve school safety, combat opioid addiction, fix the state's auto licensing and registration system, fund efforts to reduce elder abuse, support rural housing development, and expand broadband access to underserved areas.
Senate Finance Chair Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, said the bill is "a modest spending proposal that mirrors the modest budget surplus identified in the February forecast. Decisions were made on initiative and priorities accordingly."
Passage of the bill moved the Senate closer to advancing its work before the May 21 adjournment, with an omnibus tax bill and a capital improvements package remaining for members' review. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the goal is to debate the tax bill on Thursday, May 3rd.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk urged the Senate to maintain an open, transparent process when the finance, tax and bonding measures are considered in conference committee, where Senate and House members worked to resolve differences in their bills.
Prohibiting Local Ordinances Banning Containers
The Senate Local Government Committee approved a bill Tuesday, April 24, that would prohibit counties, cities and towns from imposing restrictions or prohibitions on the use of auxiliary containers, including plastic bags, cups, bottles or other packaging. According to the bill sponsor, Senator Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, the bill is intended to provide statewide uniformity on the use and sale of the containers.
"In the end, statewide uniformity is important as a way for consumer choice and options, to protect against patchwork regulation and support thousands of American manufacturing jobs," Hall said.
In expressing her concern over the bill, Senator Carolyn Laine, DFL-Columbia Heights, said that in failing to ban plastic bags and other harmful containers, "...we haven't solved that problem yet, and it is very serious. It isn't just a capitalistic thing, it's a personal health thing for everybody and our future. We have to solve this problem."
In response, Hall said, "I just believe this is a state issue, and it's best done by the state and not by the cities, towns or counties."
"I think it's very shortsighted to say that we're going to take this away from local governments at this time without having that in-depth conversation at the state level about what are we going to do to address environmental issues," said Senator Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington.
The bill was approved by the committee and sent to the Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Committee.
Preventing Release of Dangerous Sex Offenders
A recent court ruling removed a process called provisional discharge, where convicted sex offenders and dangerous individuals who have completed their jail terms are moved to state housing under supervision. In response to the ruling, Senate Judiciary Chair Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, presented a bill Monday, April 23, that would establish tougher standards for being released.
Specifically, the bill clarifies the difference between a full discharge and a provisional discharge to define that offenders released provisionally will remain under state supervision.
According to Department of Human Services Acting Commissioner Chuck Johnson, there are hundreds of offenders who could be released into the community without supervision. The offenders include violent sex offenders and dangerous individuals.
Following the press conference, the Senate gave the bill its final approval during the Monday, April 23, floor session.
Treating Mental Health, Promoting Skilled Trades
Recently, the Senate Republican caucus announced a series of proposals aimed at improving Minnesotans’ access to mental health treatment and services. Senator David Senjem, R-Rochester, chair of the Capital Investment Committee, is the author of two bills that would use bonding dollars to improve mental health throughout the state. He talks with Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke about the proposals.
Project Build Minnesota is "a movement, a vision and a vehicle to motivate our youth to learn more about the many benefits of pursuing a career in the building industry." Senator Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, is author of a bill that would provide $1 million dollars to Project Building Minnesota for a public awareness campaign promoting careers in the construction industry. Both Senator Draheim and Senator Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, offer their perspectives on the measure.
Budget Bill Focuses on Opioid Abuse, Elder Care
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee advanced its supplemental budget plan Thursday, April 19, which sets aside money to combat the opioid abuse epidemic and improve the care of elderly Minnesotans in long-term care facilities.
Sponsored by Senator Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, the bill appropriates $2 million dollars for an opioid prevention pilot program and spends another $1 million dollars for grants to encourage paramedic teams to establish follow-up programs for victims of an opioid overdose.
The bill also provides $3 million dollars for the Elder Care and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act, sponsored by Senator Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point. In addition, the measure creates a Health Policy Commission to examine ways to reduce health care costs, and another provision authorizes a study on low-value health care services that provide little or no medical benefit to patients.
Ending the Use of Fake Service Dogs
The Senate gave its unanimous approval Thursday, April 19, to a bill that would prohibit Minnesotans from passing off their pets as service animals. Additionally, the measure authorizes the Minnesota Council on Disability to prepare a brochure detailing permissible questions for property and business owners to ask in determining whether an animal meets ADA guidelines and establishes criteria by which immunity for injury or damages is allowable.
The bill's author, Senator Justin Eichron, R-Grand Rapids, said "Fake service animals pose significant safety risks to legitimate service animals, customers and businesses."
Senator Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, co-author of the measure, said "I think it's going to be a deterrent for people who take their pets places that are inappropriate... Not only will it be inappropriate, it will be clearly illegal."
Minnesota Senate Media Services
The Minnesota Senate provides live and archive coverage
of Senate floor sessions, committee hearings, press conferences and
special events. Capitol Report, a weekly public affairs program,
and civic education videos also are archived. All programming is
produced by Senate Media Services. Audio coverage is recorded and
reported by Senate Committee staff and Senate Sergeant At Arms office.