The 2021 session is in full swing as bills have started moving through the legislative process as committee meetings kick into high gear. Most days I am still working out of the St. Paul office, or in the Senate Chamber.
While this year’s session looks different with most meetings taking place virtually I nevertheless continue to work hard to make sure Senate District 22 is well represented at the capitol.
Holding cities accountable to fund public safety budgets
On Monday, the Senate passed my bill that would hold cities accountable to pay their mutual aid agreements and prevent Governor Walz from diverting funds away from education and healthcare to cover cities’ public safety costs that defund the police.
Cities are given Local Government Aid to fund necessary functions of their government, which includes public safety. While the state has a responsibility to protect the public’s safety, it is not every Minnesotan’s responsibility to pay for it when that community is actively undermining its own safeguards. The solution proposed in this bill is fair. It encourages law enforcement to be fully funded by cities and ensures that when neighboring communities answer the call that they are going to be reimbursed for their support. The bill allows cities that provided mutual aid but haven’t been reimbursed for it yet to apply to have their Local Government Aid adjusted to match the amount owed. The funds would be provided by lowering the LGA from the city that owes the mutual aid payment.
Following the bill’s passage, Governor Walz, via his spokesperson, Mr. Tschann, issued a statement accusing Senate Republicans of voting to defund the police. This was after House Democrats failed to pass their own version of the legislation on the same day.
Governor Walz’s accusation does not accurately account for the provisions of the bill and is blatantly false. This legislation was spurred on by an active effort from Minneapolis’s city council to undermine its own public safety needs as well as the city’s unmet reimbursement obligations to neighboring communities. Rather than accuse Senate Republicans of defunding the police, the Governor should reflect on his own party’s actions, which have driven police out of the cities and have positioned Minneapolis poorly should there be further unrest.
Removing the Governor’s authority to close schools via executive order
On Thursday, we passed bipartisan legislation that will protect students’ right to an excellent education at all times. The bill, Senate File 2, removes any governor’s authority to close schools or alter school schedules via executive order. Decisions about opening and closing will be left in the hands of individual school districts moving forward, where local officials have firsthand knowledge of their students’ needs.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Minnesota never should have adopted a statewide mandate forcing all of our districts to use the same criteria and protocols for each individual school. We know that all of our schools are unique and should have empowered local authorities the flexibility to do what is best for their communities and students. Now, with the data clearly saying it’s safe for schools to reopen, it is time for the Governor to relinquish this authority.
The bill says the Governor may not use executive order authority to issue any order or to authorize the commissioner of education to alter school schedules, curtail school activities, or order schools closed.
The legislation passed 40-27 with four Democrats and two Independents joining Senate Republicans.
Gov. Walz’s executive orders closing schools have been among his most questioned and controversial orders of the outbreak.
There is mounting evidence, including research from the CDC, that schools pose a minimal risk of spreading the coronavirus. A fall Reuters report that studied 191 countries also found no clear link between school reopenings and coronavirus surges. In addition, Axios looked at several studies and found schools are not Covid hotspots, and the Atlantic Magazine wrote that kids are not superspreaders and that it’s time to reopen schools. The New York Times reported on evidence that schools, especially elementary schools, are not “stoking community transmission.”
On Wednesday, Governor Walz revised his Safe Learning Plan but still holds state authority to change education plans going forward.
The Governor is slowly tweaking the dials, but he is certainly not moving fast enough. His own data indicates that transmission rates for teachers is a minuscule .37% which is astounding. Our students need to be back in the classroom, and prolonging their time out of the classroom is an embarrassment on this administration and Minnesota’s teachers’ unions.