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Changing Landscape of Higher Education; Addressing Climate Change

As chair of the Higher Education Committee, Senator Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth, toured the Iron Range and areas surrounding the Twin Cities this fall to learn more about ways of preparing and training today’s students for tomorrow’s workforce needs through partnerships between businesses and higher education. He joins moderator Shannon Loehrke to feature the benefits garnered through the unique educational approach.

Policies to slow or even avert potential climate change are on the minds of Governor Walz and state lawmakers. This week, Governor Walz announced the creation of a climate change Subcabinet and an Advisory Council, while in the House of Representatives, the Climate Action Caucus held another meeting. Senator Nick Frentz, DFL-Mankato, who sponsors Governor Walz's clean energy bill, highlights ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota.

Also on the program, lawmakers examine new ways of taxing vehicles to support road improvements, and Attorney General Keith Ellison announces a state lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer JUUL.

$1.3 Billion Dollar Budget Surplus Projected

State policymakers received good economic news with the announcement that Minnesota’s state budget has a projected state surplus of $1.332 billion dollars in the current 2020-2021 biennium. Minnesota Management Commissioner Myron Frans outlined the news at a state press conference Thursday, December 5.

According to state budget officials, the surplus allows for additional money to be deposited in the state’s reserve account, bringing the total reserve to $2.359 billion dollars, which reaches the state’s reserve goal. Risks to the accuracy of the forecast include consumer confidence, uncertainty with trade policy, a slowdown in business investment and geo-political events.

“This forecast is an indication of Minnesota’s strong economic fundamentals, but I would not be a thoughtful budget commissioner if I failed to mention that we need to be careful in planning and our decision making to ensure that we maintain budget stability going forward,” cautioned MMB Commissioner Myron Frans.

Following the forecast, Governor Tim Walz and legislative leaders responded to the projections, with some lawmakers expressing reservations about long term spending changes, while others called for further tax relief for Minnesotans.

Lawmakers Consider Options for Taxing Vehicles

The Legislative Task Force on Vehicle Registration began reviewing options Monday, December 12, for improving Minnesota's vehicle registration system. A new Vehicle Title and Registration System (VTRS) is being created to replace the current system, referred to as MNLARS (Minnesota Licensing and Registration System). MNLARS became problematic in 2017, when state officials rolled out a new computer-based system, which caused lengthy delays in obtaining proper driver and vehicle licenses.

State lawmakers have a desire to launch the new VTRS system on solid footing, and the Task Force on Vehicle Registration is examining various funding mechanisms for taxing vehicles while maintaining the current support of Minnesota's roads, highways and bridges. Whether to base the tax on a vehicle's weight or value is under review, as is the option to establish a flat rate.

To view the entire meeting, select the EVENTS VIDEOS tab on the right.

Lowering Prescription Drug Costs, Reducing Teen Vaping

This fall, Senator Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, chair of the Health and Human Services committee, is conducting listening sessions around the state to hear from Minnesotans directly about managing their prescription needs. She joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to provide details on how prescription drug prices could be lowered.

Also on the program, one of the Minnesota Senate's two physicians, Senator Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, joins Shannon to offer his perspective on reducing the costs of prescription drugs as well as ways to reduce the increase in teenage e-cigarette use.

Since 1904, the beautifully ornate Governor’s Reception Room in the Minnesota State Capitol has hosted heads of state and welcomed visitors. Brian Pease of the Minnesota Historical Society describes the history and the features of this remarkable room.

Governor Walz, DFLers Call for Public Hearings on Insulin Affordability

Saying that a self-imposed 30-day deadline had passed for state legislators to reach an agreement on an insulin affordability plan, Governor Tim Walz called upon leaders to move their private discussions into public hearings in hopes of finalizing a proposal for special session action. Walz spoke to the media Monday, November 18.

"A hearing is very different than a negotiation," Walz said. "A hearing allows us to bring in advocates, to bring in experts, to hear different sides of the concern right now is that we've fallen over these thirty days a little bit into camps again, and it's time to break from that."

Following the governor's press conference, DFL lawmakers--Representative Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, and Senator Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington--met with the media to reinforce Walz's call for public meetings. "A public hearing would provide transparency and help us move forward in the most productive manner," said Wiklund. "This can't wait any longer. Together, we can find a solution that includes ideas from the House and the Senate as well as advocates, and that includes DFLers and Republicans alike."

Senator Pratt released a statement, saying "We know this issue is urgent, so I am calling for a meeting this week. We will continue to collaborate with the members of the working group and interested parties."

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles Appointed to New Six Year Term

On a voice vote Friday, November, 15, the Legislative Audit Commission appointed Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles to another six year term. Nobles first assumed the role in 1983, and in recent months, has exercised oversight of several high-profile audits, including the unauthorized payments to Minnesota Indian Tribes for self-administered opioid treatments; mismanagement of the state's vehicle registration and licensing system (MNLARS); and fraudulent claims in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).

The commission also approved the appointments of Christopher Buse as Deputy Legislative Auditor for the Financial Audit Division and Judy Randall as Deputy Legislative Auditor for the Program Evaluation Division.

Nobles' reappointment was opposed by Representative Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, who cited systemic management and financial problems in state agencies over the past several years that should have been identified by the auditor. She also expressed concern over media reports featuring Nobles' comments on recent audits. "I'm concerned that the auditor's interest in the use of publicity to promote the visibility of the office of the auditor, and the auditor himself, is interfering with [the office's] independence."

In support of Noble's reappointment, Senator Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said that the office " not broken. In fact, it is functioning very well." She added, "Sometimes the [audit] report itself generates media. My gosh, it's the result of the report..."

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Changing Landscape of Higher Education; Addressing Climate Change