Greetings from the District,
The most recent special session was anything but special. The rhetoric, divisiveness, and political posturing reached a level that I have not seen in the Minnesota legislature. During my ten years in the Senate, I’ve worked incredibly hard to change the culture of bickering and blaming to one of working together and finding common ground for the good of the people in Minnesota. And while great progress has been made in the Senate, the special session was not a good example.
Even during this year’s regular session, Republicans and Democrats came together with Governor Walz to get important things done. We passed bipartisan legislation on insulin affordability, emergency Covid-19 relief funds, and Tobacco 21. Given these successes, in the lead up to special session I was optimistic the House, Senate, and Governor Walz would continue to work together on important issues facing Minnesota.
Heading into the special session, we developed a plan to address a few major issues: Covid-19 aid for counties, cities, and towns; a bonding bill; small business grants for businesses affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; police accountability; broadband funding; eliminating the driver’s license testing backlog; and providing additional support to our most vulnerable populations. Going into the special session, many of these items even had agreements between Republicans and Democrats in place. The Senate passed bills related to all of the issues listed above. The only exception was a bonding bill, which the constitution requires to originate in the House.
Things began to unravel when an agreement was broken on a bill to provide federal CARES money to counties, cities, and towns throughout the state. Once this happened, things got off track.
- LOCAL GOVERNMENT COVID AID: This is the bill that started the problems. Prior to the special session, Republicans and Democrats in the legislature worked together to reach an agreement on a bill to distribute $841 million of federal COVID aid to counties, cities, and townships. The bipartisan bill passed the Senate 62-4. Contrary to the bipartisan agreement, the House added an additional $140 million in state general fund spending that was not discussed. Furthermore, I even heard Governor Walz was making personal phone calls to some members of the House telling them to vote against the agreement. Even with all of this happening, the Senate tried to negotiate a new agreement, which after some bipartisan discussions included some of the additional spending. Another verbal agreement was reached, but unfortunately, the agreement was again not honored.
- POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY: When it comes to police accountability, the Senate passed 5 meaningful bills, which included many ideas that were included in the House proposal like banning chokeholds and requiring officers to intervene if they see excessive force. One of the Senate proposals also included resources for additional training in mental health and autism. Democrats representing Minneapolis agreed with many of the Senate provisions, but talks broke down when they were unwilling to remove highly controversial policies from their list of “must haves,” like felon voting, a path to dismantling police departments, and others.
- RURAL BROADBAND ACCESS: The Senate and House worked incredibly hard across the aisle to come up with an agreement to expand broadband access in unserved areas. That bill passed the Senate unanimously, but the House did not act on bill before adjournment.
- CLEARING OUT THE DRIVER’S TESTING BACKLOG: Another bill that passed the Senate with unanimous support. Unfortunately, it did not receive a vote in the House.
- SMALL BUSINESS GRANTS: One of the highlights of the special session was a bipartisan bill to provide support to small business who were negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The bill takes $60 million from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund and $2.5 million from the Small Business Guarantee Loan program to provide relief grants to Minnesota small businesses. Click here to learn more or to apply. This bill passed the House and Senate as it was agreed to and was signed into law by the governor.
Looking back on the legislation I’ve worked on, including the Super Gav Act, Income Tax Reciprocity for Minnesotans working in Wisconsin, and more recently, protections for first responders, health care workers, and other workers on the front-lines of the Covid-19 pandemic, it took patience, persistence, bipartisan input, constituent and stakeholder engagement, and cooperation to get them across the finish line. The same is true with some of the infrastructure projects I’ve worked on like the Lanesboro Dam, Southeast Minnesota Veterans Cemetery, and Education Village.
The same approach should be considered for police accountability legislation. I recommend a working group be formed with two Democrats and two Republicans from the House and Senate to find meaningful solutions. There are proposals that are already agreed to that could have an immediate impact and others that will take more time and discussion, but it would be disappointing to lose this opportunity to pass effective reforms. Furthermore, I think most agree that there needs to be discussions on providing more options to remove bad cops from the profession so the good cops can focus on serving and protecting our communities.
The results of the special session have shaken my trust, but not my faith. I remain committed to bringing folks back together, Democrats and Republicans, to work toward bipartisan solutions that are good for the people of Minnesota. Minnesotans expect their elected officials to put aside the rhetoric and bickering and simply get things done. I do too.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Your feedback is extremely important to me and I encourage you to share your input. You can send me an email at email@example.com or call my Capitol office at 651-296-5649. It’s a great honor to serve as your State Senator.
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