Legislative Update from Senator Utke

Friends and neighbors,

Currently, Minnesota has the only divided state government in the nation. Republicans control the Senate, while the DFL holds the House and governor’s office. Some of the issues causing a stalemate, and why the legislature will likely fail to reach a budget agreement before tonight’s deadline, are the sharply different views on Taxes & Spending, Police Reform and California emission mandates.

Taxes and Spending – We simply cannot trust the governor to make the best decisions unilaterally for all Minnesotans. Our state has received billions of dollars for COVID relief, disease management, and communications. Due to the nature of the emergency orders, Governor Walz, and his administration, has been making spending choices and signing contracts with little oversight from the Legislature.

This first batch of contracts shows a series of politically connected firms, non-profits, and businesses bringing in large contracts with little accountability to show for it.

Key Contracts Of Interest:

Nearly $100,000 to a non-profit which specializes in providing abortion doulas
• Spiral Collective 1
• Spiral Collective 2
• Screenshot describing Spiral Collective
• Screenshot “Abortion Doula”

$12,500 payment to a radio station to broadcast the Governor’s press conferences
• KMOJ contract for press conferences
• KMOJ Radio 1

$275/hour contract with a New York public relations company
• Kate Brickman Contract 1
 Kate Brickman Contract 2

$20,000 per month to Stone Arch Strategies to “provide strategic communications support and services” to the Governor’s Communications Team. (The point of contact on the contract is Brigit Helgen, a DC-based political consultant, and daughter of Henry and Michele Kelm-Helgen.)
• Stone Arch Strategies Contract

$50,000 to a non-profit to establish talking circles, complete with $20 gift cards to incentivize participation.
• American Indian Cancer Foundation

Nearly $20,000 to a non-profit to recruit volunteers to put together “wellness bundles” including tea and non-traditional health supplements. 
• Spiral Collective 1
• Spiral Collective 2
• Lower Phalen Creek Project

Contracts to several different entities, each promising to produce videos that will reach tens of thousands of viewers, with YouTube pages that show they only reached tens of viewers.

Mshale
• COVID in Black YouTube

Rae Mackenzie Group
• COVID in Black YouTube 1

High School for the Recording Arts
• HSRA YouTube 1

African American Leadership Forum
• African American Leadership Forum

Black Family Blue Print
• Black Family Blue Print YouTube 1
• Black Family Blue Print YouTube 2

With billions more coming into the state through the American Rescue Plan, it’s more important than ever for the Legislature to have a role to ensure these taxpayer dollars are spent for maximum impact to benefit Minnesotans, not the just politically connected.

Police Reform – Any reforms that handcuff our Peace officers from being able to do their jobs just can’t happen.

The House is advocating measures to allow the family of someone killed by police to view body camera footage within 48 hours, restrict no-knock warrants, ban officers from affiliating with or supporting white supremacist groups or ideologies and offer grant funds for innovative public safety pilot programs. The bill would also allow local governments to create a civilian oversight council that can investigate officer misconduct and impose discipline.

  • The Senate opposes the House’s public safety omnibus bill. We agree with the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, which represents rank-and-file police, that the measures would impose unfunded training mandates on police departments and require agencies to refer emergency calls to mental health crisis teams “when that is not feasible across the state.” Additionally, subpoena power or discipline authority to civilian review boards

Senate Republicans are committed to ensuring Minnesota’s constitutionally required public safety responsibilities are met through a robust Judiciary budget. In a 2020 Special Session, Senate Republicans passed a widely supported, bipartisan package of common-sense reforms for Minnesota law enforcement. That legislation included a chokehold ban, duty to intervene, training on crisis response and flexibility, and many other reforms to ensure the safety of our officers and Minnesotans.

California Emissions – Turning Minnesota into a second California is a top priority for Governor Walz.

Via the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) he wants to adopt California-style clean car emissions. The MPCA’s rules would require carmakers to deliver a gradually increasing number of automobiles with zero tailpipe emissions each year.

  • While the standards would not require consumers to buy them, it would require dealers to stock more ultra-low and zero-emission automobiles. This rule will increase the costs of our automobiles, especially for farmers, blue-collar workers, and local businesses who require specific vehicles for their line of work. Dealership lots will inventory fewer pickup trucks and other vehicles that people want to buy
  • The MPCA estimates that if this rule goes into effect for model year 2025 automobiles, between 6 and 7.5 percent of the vehicles sold would be zero-emission automobiles. Currently, electric vehicles make up fewer than .3 percent of all automobiles sold in greater Minnesota and 1 percent in the Twin Cities
  • The MPCA is bypassing the Legislature and Citizen Input to move forward with a policy that will increase the cost of a car by as much as $2500

The demand for Electric and Ultra-Low emission automobiles must be market-driven and not mandated by government. Our auto manufactures are currently working on an offering of Ultra-Low emission and Electric automobiles, let them inform and sell the public on purchasing a zero-emissions vehicle.

LEGISLATIVE RECAP

Governor Walz is stuck in Neutral
Governor Walz announced last week that masks are no longer necessary indoors for vaccinated individuals, but also decided that masks will still be required in all of our schools until the end of this school year. After he tried to blame long-term care deaths on our kids in youth sports, no less. The Governor keeps punishing our kids and it just doesn’t make sense. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander—let our kids return to normalcy like the rest of us.

Paycheck Protection Program and pandemic unemployment tax relief
Last Monday, the United States Department of the Treasury issued a new guidance regarding the use of federal coronavirus assistance. The guidance clarifies that federal Covid-19 aid can be used to forgo taxing forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans and pandemic unemployment payments at the state level — a change that Senate Republicans have sought since the beginning of session. The state government’s portion of the federal stimulus money will be $2.833 billion — about $200 million more than originally estimated.

  • Now that the federal government has issued its guidance on federal stimulus funds, there is no reason to delay passing PPP and unemployment insurance tax relief. I hope the governor and House of Representatives will act with urgency and get this done right away
  • I am glad we passed this important tax relief two months ago. There is simply no reason why we should ask folks to pay taxes on this emergency assistance. Businesses relied on these loans to keep people employed during the worst of the pandemic, and many of them are still struggling. Individuals were forced off the job through no fault of their own, and they depended on the extra unemployment to help make ends meet

Providing this protection is one of the most important things we can do to make their lives easier this tax season and help them recover from the economic pandemic.

Senate Commemorates Peace Officers Memorial Day – In honor of National Police Week, the Minnesota Senate passed a resolution on Thursday commemorating Peace Officers Memorial Day. This year, National Peace Officers Memorial Day was observed on Saturday, May 15, and recognizes the service and sacrifice of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers.

  • Peace Officers Memorial Day is held annually in the United States to honor federal, state, and local officers killed or disabled in the line of duty. In 2020, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 295 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty. So far, in 2021, 101 law enforcement officers have made the same sacrifice across the nation. Law enforcement officers across the country have stepped up during a turbulent year, facing COVID-19 and rising crime rates, and they deserve our respect and support

Everyday police officers across Minnesota are answering the call of service to protect their fellow citizens and pursue justice on behalf of victims. They put their lives at risk to make Minnesota a safer place for all of us to call home. We are truly blessed with peace and safety because of the service they provide every day across the state. They have our complete appreciation and support as legislators, leaders, and community members.

No Vaccine Passports – On Friday, the Minnesota Senate took action to protect Minnesotans’ medical privacy rights from COVID-19 vaccine passports and contact tracing. The bill prohibits state and local units of government from mandating a person disclose their personal health status. The bill is in response to efforts by governments to obtain and track citizens’ private health information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Under the legislation, no person must be required to possess, wear, or display any indicator they received a positive or negative test result or possesses the antibodies for a communicable disease. Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Health is prohibited from forcing anyone to participate in contact tracing or digital contact tracing and Minnesotans cannot be compelled to get a vaccine or get a test for a disease
  • The data shows there are significant disparities in vaccination rates among Minnesotans. While 55% of white Minnesotans over the age of 15 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while only 39% of Latino and 37% of black Minnesotans have. If vaccine passports become required by the state or localities, then most black and Latino Minnesotans would find themselves excluded while most white Minnesotans would be permitted in vaccine passport restricted areas

Every Minnesotan should have the right to keep their own medical choices private. I encourage everyone to make medical decisions that are in their best interest and the best interest of their family, but what they choose is not my business or anyone else’s. If a private business wants to ask a customer for a vaccine status, that’s their right. But government should never require citizens to provide that information.

FUN FACTS

May 10 – In 1960, the US atomic submarine, USS Triton, completes the first submerged circumnavigation of the globe

May 11 – IBM’s The Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov to win a six-game chess match between man and computer in New York in 1997

May 12 – In 2002, Former US President Jimmy Carter begins a five-day visit with Fidel Castro. Becoming first President of the United States, in or out of office, to visit the island since Castro’s 1959 revolution

May 13 – The Great dustbowl storm sweeps across US prairies in 1934

May 14 – In 1787, Delegates gather in Philadelphia to draw up US Constitution

May 15 – National Peace Officers Memorial Day and the start of Minnesota fishing season

May 16 – In 1929, the First ever Academy Awards of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards were handed out at a banquet held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

May 17 – Last day of the 2021 Minnesota Legislative Session and the start of Peace Officer Week


Final thoughts…

With Graduation season right around the corner, I would like to extend my Congratulations to all the 2021 High Schools Seniors!

With the upcoming Memorial Day, please remember, and honor, the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our way of life!

SINE DIE – That’s all for this week’s update and this is my final weekly newsletter for the 2021 Session. We will send additional newsletters throughout the interim when there are legislative actions to pass along.

In the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out to me to share any thoughts, concerns, or questions you may have. I can be reached by phone at 651-296-9651 or by email at sen.paul.utke@senate.mn

Have a great week!
Paul Utke

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