Senator David Senjem’s 3/30 Newsletter

Midway Through the 2021 Legislative Session Update

Dear Friends,

We are a little more than halfway through the 2021 legislative session.  Most certainly the legislative activity is bustling along. On Friday, March 26th we hit the 2nd committee deadline for bills to move forward.  

My week heading into the 2nd deadline, was full with 48 zoom meetings, many emails, phone calls, I presented three bills in various committees and presented two bills on the Senate floor. With some late nights and early morning meetings, it was a very active week.

Presently, the legislature is on Easter/Passover break and will resume April 6th where we head towards our 3rd and final committee deadline April 9th to move bills forward this session.

I would like to thank you sincerely for the opportunity to serve and strive to do good work,

Below is a summary of recent legislative activity:

Legislation to Establish a Polar Vortex Loan Account

Last week, I presented his bill, Senate File 1018 on the Senate floor. This bipartisan legislation establishes a 2021 polar vortex loan account for loans to municipal utilities that purchased natural gas during the extreme weather that occurred this February, 2021.

This is aimed to help those hardest it during the natural gas spike. For many, if you’re expecting a monthly gas bill that’s usually $40 and it comes up to $400, many individuals will have a hard time paying for it, especially those hit hardest during the pandemic. This piece of legislation is aimed to help and continue the conversation on how we need to view and treat energy issues that arise in our state.

Due to varying factors from the polar vortex that occurred from February 12-17th, the price of natural gas made an unprecedented price surge for Texas and all the Midwest. In Minnesota, all natural gas utilities were hit by this price surge while also coinciding with a cold snap.

During these five days, some utilities spent their entire gas purchasing budget for the year. The residential impact range is estimated from $250-$500 for a typical residence for those five days alone. For businesses, an example was given where one business that typically spends $12,500 a month on gas could be facing a bill of $125,000 due to the spike.

$15M would be allocated from the General Fund to municipal utilities that apply for the loan. The loan terms to the eligible utility would be a zero-interest loan with a term not exceeding five years.

This Polar Vortex Loan Account would grant municipal utilities the option to help pay their bills now and to spread consumer payments over a period of up to five years, instead of 9 to 12 months and could greatly reduce the impact on both the utility and the consumers.

SF1018 was passed off the Senate floor with all 37 senate members voting in favor.

“Matthew’s Law” Passes Unanimously in the Senate

Last week, I presented legislation SF 304 known as “Matthew’s Law,” requiring the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to consult with law enforcement and treatment and mental health experts to craft a model policy about the use of informants. The reform would also require all Minnesota police agencies to adopt an identical or similar policy and certify it annually with the board, which licenses officers.

When someone becomes an informant for law enforcement, they are essentially becoming employees of that department, yet they don’t receive protection or benefits like other people on the force. These folks often are making choices that put their lives or health at risk while providing a valuable service to their community. If we’re asking people to make these sacrifices, we need to ensure that we are protecting them and following procedures that try to deliver the best.

Matthew’s Law, is named after Matthew Klaus, a 32-year old Rochester resident who died of a drug overdose while working as a confidential informant for the Rochester Police Department in 2019. One of the goals of the reform is to ensure law enforcement provides better protections for informants, as well as require training for the law enforcement agencies that use them.

Matthew had worked with Rochester police in 2016 as an informant. Before his death, Mathew bought purported heroin three times and was scheduled to make a fourth buy when he overdosed in his Rochester home.

SF 304 passed unanimously with all 37 Senators voting in favor.

Recent Ruling by Minnesota Supreme Court Draws Attention for Change In Sexual Assault Laws.

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision last week that a person who is sexually assaulted while intoxicated isn’t considered “mentally incapacitated” if the person consumed alcohol or drugs voluntarily.  

Early this session in I introduced SF1683 a bill that would tighten the laws and, specifically, change the definition of “mentally incapacitated” to include any victim who voluntarily consumed alcohol or drugs prior to an assault. This would put Minnesota more in line with other states like Wisconsin, where the law is already stronger.

This bipartisan bill has been heard in the House Pubic Safety and the House Judiciary and Civil Law Committee. I’ve requested a hearing in the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. However, SF 1683 has yet to receive a hearing.

Senate Passes Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan Forgiveness

Last year the federal CARES Act established the PPP program for small businesses experiencing hardship and revenue losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the program, loans would be forgiven if they were utilized to fund qualified costs and 60% of the loan proceeds were used for payroll costs. Minnesota has a total of 157,860 businesses that received PPP loans from the Small Business Administration.

The federal government made it clear that forgiven PPP loans were not considered taxable income at the federal level, but they are at the state level according to Minnesota Law.

To conform to the federal tax code, the MN Senate has passed PPP loan conformity and sent it over to the House, but the DFL majority continues to wait to move on this proposal.

Given the state’s budget surplus and the additional federal aid flowing into Minnesota, this session provides a strong opportunity to provide targeted tax relief to individuals and businesses harmed by COVID-19 and make investments in incentives that will help Minnesota’s economy grow. For a list of Minnesota businesses receiving loans.

Up-Date on Covid 19 Vaccines

As of March 30, all Minnesotans 16 years of age and older will be eligible to receive a vaccine. 

Minnesota has directed providers to prioritize vaccine appointments for people most at risk of getting COVID-19, or those who could develop severe illness if infected. This includes older Minnesotans, those with underlying health conditions*, and those in essential jobs.

For more information from MN Dept. of Health click here.

Olmsted County Newsletter

Rochester Area Builders Newsletter

Guest on PBS Your Legislators

To watch my recent appearance on Your Legislators, Thursday, March 25.