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Senate Media Services

Renewing the Focus on Energy Generation

Governor Tim Walz and members of the Climate Change Subcabinet recently announced a goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The ambitious target would build upon a 2007 statutory goal of a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. On this week's Capitol Report program, Senate Energy Chair David Senjem, R-Rochester, and Dr. Florian Knobloch, a member of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, offer a state and global perspective on realistic energy production goals, especially in light of the difficult times in Europe due to the Russian-Ukrainian war.

Oversight of Homelessness and Housing Grants Raises Concerns

The Committee on Human Services Reform held a rare summer meeting Tuesday, September 20, to review a recent report issued by the Office of Legislative Auditor that cited deficiencies within the Department of Human Services in overseeing homelessness and housing grants. The grants are provided by the agency to outside organizations that administer programs aiding the homeless.

According to Lori Leyson of the Financial Audit Division, the department failed to evaluate the financial stability of 91 of the 117 grantees. State law requires the evaluation to occur for grants in excess of $25,000. In addition, Leyson said that the agency did not visit the majority of organizations receiving a grant in excess of $50,000, nor did the agency investigate whether grantees were spending the funds on allowable activities.

Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead said that the majority of grants reviewed in the audit report were COVID-19 grants, and it "was simply not possible during the COVID pandemic to do it all given the urgent timeframe."

"There is a cultural problem that predates COVID," said Senator Michelle Benson, former chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. "I am getting the sense after twelve years that the cultural change that needs to happen, where accountability and delivery are balanced, is only going to happen if there is some fundamental change at DHS." Benson said that the legislature should examine the structure of the department.

Harpstead responded that during final legislative budget negotiations, grants are provided while staffing request are left unmet.

DFL Leaders Present Climate Action Framework

Governor Tim Walz, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen announced a framework for addressing climate change. The DFL leaders were joined by Christophe Beck, Chairman and CEO of Ecolab, and Patrick Lunemann, Lunemann Farms, during a Friday, September 16, press conference at Ecolab's research facility in Eagan.

The framework aims to achieve the goals advanced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which call for a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. In 2007, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers enacted legislation calling for a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction by 2025. According to the report issued by Governor Walz's Climate Change Subcabinet, the state is falling short of its statutory goals, with an 8 percent reduction since 2005.

The framework includes calls for cleaner modes of transportation, energy efficient buildings, a carbon-neutral economy, and sustainable agriculture and land management. Some of the recommendations set forth will require legislative action in future sessions.

Evaluating the Southwest LRT Project / Funding Transportation

In March, the Legislature passed a law instructing the Office of the Legislative Auditor to investigate the cost overruns and delays in the Southwest Light Rail transit project, a 14.5-mile light rail track that will connect downtown Minneapolis with the communities of Eden Prairie, Hopkins, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park. Senator Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to discuss the findings of the report.

In an unscientific opinion poll administered at the Minnesota Senate's State Fair Booth, polltakers were asked to select their preferred method for funding transportation needs. The majority -- 39 percent -- believe that all of the sales tax collected on auto parts should be directed for that purpose. Currently, about half of the tax is placed in the state's General Fund. Last session, Senator Jeff Howe authored a bill, which passed the Senate on a vote of 59-7, that would have dedicated all revenue from the sales tax on auto parts to transportation. The measure did not get a vote in the House. Shannon spoke with him recently about why he is calling for this funding approach.

Election 2022 / Exempting Tax on Student Loan Forgiveness / State Fair Poll

Minnesota's 2022 November ballot includes choices for constitutional officers, eight congressional house seats and all 201 state legislative seats. This election, voters will be choosing legislative candidates in newly-drawn districts. Secretary of State Steve Simon joins moderator Shannon Loehrke to explain when and how Minnesotans can begin to cast their ballots.

President Joe Biden recently announced a plan to forgive $10,000 - $20,000 in student loan debt to qualifying borrowers. At the federal level, there is no tax on loan forgiveness, but Minnesota is among several states that will tax forgiven student loans as income unless lawmakers enact a fix. Tax Committee member Senator Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, recently called for a exemption to that tax, and she explains why she believes Minnesota lawmakers should make the change.

More than 5,000 fairgoers offered their opinions on pending state issues by taking the Senate's opinion poll. Shannon highlights some of the more notable results.