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Securing Safe Elections, Bringing Transparency to Drug Prices, Raising Tobacco Age

The August statewide primary election and the November general election are quickly approaching, and candidates are working to secure public office. On this week's program, Secretary of State Steve Simon talks with Capitol Report Moderator Shannon Loehrke about the use of federal funds to improve election security and efforts underway to protect voters' safety amid the pandemic.

Over the past few years, lawmakers have sought ways to address the rising costs of health care. A bill to bring greater transparency to the cost of prescription drugs is now law, and Senator Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, talks about its benefits.

Federal law says a person must be 21 to buy tobacco products. In Minnesota, the current age is 18...for now. On August 1, a new state law will match federal law, requiring purchasers of tobacco products to be at least 21 years old. Senator Carla Nelson explains the years-long process of raising the age in Minnesota.

Also on the program, highlights from Senate Assistant Minority Leader Jeff Hayden's press conference regarding the death of George Floyd and action needed to restore trust between residents and police.

Majority Leader Gazelka Cites Failure in Leadership During Civil Unrest

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka addressed the media Friday, May 29, in response to the civil unrest in Minneapolis and St. Paul as a result of the officer-involved killing of George Floyd.

Citing a failure in leadership, Gazelka said, "It should have been no secret, no surprise, that we were going to have huge unrest...and the guard should have been called in right away, and it shouldn't have been a couple hundred, it should have been a couple thousand members of the guard." He further said that he hopes the Governor calls for a curfew and that law enforcement officials are much more aggressive in arresting those that commit crimes.

Gazelka said he further expects during a special session that a bill to aid small businesses impacted by COVID-19 closure will be expanded to assist businesses destroyed by the rioting.

Senator Jeff Hayden Comments on Death of George Floyd

Senate Assistant Minority Leader Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, held a media availability Thursday, May 28, regarding the police-involved death of George Floyd.

In speaking to the State Capitol Press Corps, Hayden said the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department needs to change, and he cited the police union as a major obstacle to reforming police and community relations. Hayden represents the area where the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct is located, an area where many of the violent demonstrations occurred as a result of Floyd's death.

In a released statement, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said, “A comprehensive investigation into the actions and policies that led to the death of George Floyd is necessary to gain a full understanding of how we can do better...I deeply appreciate the conversations and insight provided by my colleagues from the urban core. We want to help in whatever way we can.”

A Review of the Incredibly Challenging 2020 Legislative Session

Lawmakers adjourned the incredibly challenging 2020 regular legislative session acknowledging that they will soon be returning to the State Capitol. While important legislation was enacted into law, major decisions await, including the passage of a public works package. On this week's Capitol Report program, legislative leaders and Governor Walz highlight the successes and failures of the 2020 regular session.

Legislative operations dramatically changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the important work of gathering and sharing information, often spearheaded by professional lobbyists. Jeremy Estenson, President of the Minnesota Government Relations Council, talks with moderator Shannon Loehrke about ways his profession adjusted their operations. Also, Senate Photographers David Oakes and A.J. Olmscheid visually captured the evolution of change during the 2020 session.

Finally, two new laws were passed: Senator Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, talks with Shannon about her successful effort to ban marriages for people under 18 years of age, and Senator Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, explains how professional hair/makeup artists will be able to maintain their freelance businesses without burdensome regulations. This measure awaits the Governor's signature.

Senate Capital Investment Bill Fails to Gain Necessary Votes

With only 38 of the required 41 votes needed for passage, the Senate failed to approve its version of the Capital Improvements bill. While a bonding bill needs to originate in the house, the vote demonstrated the divide between Senate Republicans and Senator DFL members on an appropriate amount of bonds to be issued for construction and improvement projects statewide. Senate Republicans propose a $998 million dollar bonding plan, while Senate DFL members are calling for about $2.4 billion dollars in investments.

Senate Passes Bill to Freeze Wages of State Employees

State employee wages would be frozen in the second year of their contract, according to a bill passed by the Senate early Sunday, May 17. Under the Senate plan, state employees would continue receiving the 2.5 percent increase approved the first year of the two-year contract. The additional 2.5 percent increase would be frozen unless the state achieves a budget surplus by July of 2021.

In other action, The Senate approved SF 4564, authored by Senator Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, that sets up a formula for distributing Coronavirus relief appropriations to counties, cites and towns.

HF 2796 (Koran) Ratification of State Labor Agreement and Compensation

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Securing Safe Elections, Bringing Transparency to Drug Prices, Raising Tobacco Age