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Minnesota Legislature

Bill Signing to Protect Workers and Prevent Wage Theft

Touting its status as the toughest law in the nation, Governor Tim Walz ceremonially signed into law a measure that increases protections for employees and makes wage theft a felony in Minnesota. The event was held in the Governor's Reception Room at the Capitol Monday, July 15. The landmark legislation was crafted through bipartisan efforts of lawmakers, labor advocates, Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink and Attorney General Keith Ellison, all in attendance at the bill signing.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry estimates that Minnesota workers are deprived of up to $12 million dollars each year in stolen wages. Wage theft is accomplished in a variety of ways, such as violating minimum-wage laws, failing to pay overtime, misclassification of employees as independent contractors, forcing people to work "off the clock" or simply not paying an employee at all.

Governor Walz said the legislation, with the help of the Attorney General's office, will ensure "people are treated fairly, the law is followed and we also have a level playing field for the ethical employers who are doing the right things but are put at a disadvantage when bad actors come in."

Chair of the Jobs and Economic Growth Committee, Senator Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said the root of the new law emerged from a shared agreement of the premise 'If you earn a wage, you should be paid a wage.' "It’s that simple," he said. "And if you’re stealing somebody's wages, if you're attempting to defraud somebody, you should pay a penalty."

Emotional Bill Signing Ceremony Begins Efforts to Curb Opioid Abuse

Governor Tim Walz, joined by lawmakers and advocates, held an emotional ceremonial bill signing at the Capitol Monday, July 1, to mark the commencement of the opioid stewardship law. The new law raises additional funds to combat the opioid epidemic through licensing fees on opioid manufacturers.

The new law seeks to curb opioid addiction through a comprehensive response that includes imposing limits on the length of opioid prescriptions, funding increased addiction treatment services, helping finance drugs that reverse overdoses, offering financial support to counties with high child protection and out-of-home-placement costs due to children whose caregivers are in the throes of addiction, and providing traditional healing and other innovations for communities historically suffering from addiction.

Senator Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, lead the effort to pass the legislation in the Senate. In a statement, she said, “This bill is a good start but there is still more work to do. We must continue to support law enforcement as they work to identify and curb illicit drug distribution and use. The medical professional and pharmaceuticals need to stay at the table to monitor the effects of these laws to stop opioid addiction. We have a moral imperative to deliver results and stem the devastation of opioid abuse and addiction for Minnesotans.”

Early proponents of the new law were Senator Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, and Representative Dave Baker, R-Willmar, who both lost children to an opioid overdose. Senator Eaton said she’d been working on this legislation for over three years, and in remembering her daughter who died in 2007 remarked, “I know that she’s here and that she’s very proud of the work we’re doing.”

Improving Public Safety in Minnesota

A high priority for state lawmakers entering the 2019 legislative session was strengthening safety in Minnesota prisons following a fatal attack on a state corrections officer and other incidents. Newly appointed Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell talks with Capitol Report Moderator Shannon Loehrke about the agency's effort to hire more staff, the reestablishment of the Office of Ombudsmen for Corrections and the reality that state prisons are at full capacity.

In referencing the actions of the 2019 legislature, Senator Warren Limmer, chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said, “We have successfully funded our courts, prisons and law enforcement and taken additional steps to reform broken programs for victims who are often forgotten.” He joins Shannon to highlight the measures designed to improve the safety of all Minnesotans and to assist the victims of abuse.

Also on the program, the Minnesota Legislature is gearing up for the Great Minnesota Get Together -- the State Fair. The Senate and House of Representatives will host booths in the Education Building, where fairgoers will have an opportunity to offer their opinion on pressing state issues.

Providing Emergency Insulin, Ceremonial Bill Signings

At the close of the 2019 legislative special session, there was a collective sigh of relief that lawmakers and the Governor managed to pass the state’s new two-year budget. In the midst of that accomplishment, a plan to provide emergency insulin to those who cannot afford it failed to pass. Senator Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to talk about possible next steps for diabetics struggling to pay for insulin.

Last winter, Senator Matt Little, DFL-Lakeville, organized a roundtable discussion on the skyrocketing cost of insulin. The panel heard testimony from people whose lives have been impacted by the high prices, including Nicole Smith-Holt. Smith-Holt's son Alec died last year after attempting to ration his insulin supply until his next payday. Senator Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington, joins Shannon to talk about the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act, a bill that would create a fund through a tax on insulin makers in order to provide emergency insulin to diabetics struggling to afford it.

This week, Governor Walz held a series of ceremonial signings for a number of bills passed during the 2019 legislative session. The new laws ban certain flame retardant chemicals from being used, provide funds to students left hanging by the sudden closure of Argosy University, create a licensing structure to regulate Pharmacy Benefit Managers and establish a Rare Disease Advisory Council.

Improving and Reforming Health and Human Services

For more than a decade, lawmakers from both political parties have stressed the need to curb the growing cost of assisting vulnerable and disadvantaged Minnesotans. During that time, state funding for health and human services has continued to inch upward, largely due to a growing and aging state population and the ongoing pressure on many state and county programs. Commissioner Tony Lourey, a former Senator who is widely respected for his work in this field, joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to review the completed work of Governor Tim Walz and state lawmakers to support the most vulnerable Minnesotans while containing costs.

Senator Jim Abeler, as chair of the Human Services Reform Committee, has been fighting for ways to improve assistance for those in need while making efficient use of taxpayer dollars. He joins Shannon to present highlights and challenges facing efficient use of state dollars as lawmakers work to bring integrity to the various public assistance programs.

Setting a New State Budget

Following yet another legislative session with a divided state government, Governor Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka finalized a two year budget for the State of Minnesota behind closed doors. On this week's program, Capitol Report Moderator Shannon Loehrke talks with key lawmakers about the final results of the 2019 legislative session and whether improvements are needed to bring greater transparency to the budget crafting process.

Speaker Melissa Hortman joins Shannon to share her views on the successes and failures of the final budget accord; House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt assess the effectiveness of the session and whether reforms are required to increase transparency; and Senate Tax Chair Roger Chamberlain highlights the forthcoming income tax rate reduction and impact of final budget agreement on Minnesotans.