We have had a busy two weeks at the Capitol, with the state of the state address, hearing first bills in various committees, and many constituent groups coming to visit every day. Here is what has been happening around the Capitol and our District.
Around District 51
January 26th – Town Hall Meeting: We had over 80 people attend our first town hall meeting – Thank you! I joined Rep. Sandy Masin and Rep. Will Morgan at the Burnsville City Hall where we heard a very informative presentation on the budget by House Fiscal Analyst Will Marx. You can find information from his presentation at http://www.mmb.state.mn.us/ . Constituent questions focused mostly on parts Governor Dayton’s new budget proposal, education funding, and the best way to stabilize our state finances in the future.
February 23rd - UPCOMING Town Hall Meeting: Please join us on February 23rd from 10:30-12:00 for our second Town Hall Meeting of the session. We will be meeting in the lower level conference room at Wescott Library, 1340 Wescott Road, Eagan. The tentative agenda is a presentation on the Minnesota Health Insurance Exchanges, followed by time for questions and discussion.
Starting a Small Business?: A new organization called Open to Business is launching soon, which provides free one-on-one assistance from expert staff to aid small business owners with planning and organizing, financial management, marketing and more. The launch event is Thursday February 28 from 8:00-9:00 a.m. at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center. Consultant Hours in Eagan are on the 3rd Tuesday of every month starting Feb. 19th, in Eagan City Hall from 1:00-3:00 p.m. In Burnsville consultant hours are at Burnsville City Hall on the 3rd Wednesday of every month starting Feb. 20th from 1:00-3:00 p.m.
Around the Capitol
Robotics Day: The Eagan High School Robotics Team 2220 joined Minnesota Robotics Day at the Capitol on Monday, January 28. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPHbAWvxb6g
State of the State Address: The Governor presented the annual State of the State Address on February 6th to a joint session of the Senate and House in the House Chamber. You can watch the address here: www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/media/ (located under Media News Clips).
I share many of the Governor’s top priorities, including; growing the economy, supporting the middle class, a responsible and balanced budget, making our tax system fairer for all Minnesotans, an education system that allows every child a chance at success, and common sense reforms that give Minnesotans a better value for their tax dollars.
Whether or not you agree with every aspect of the Governor’s proposal, he made it clear that the status quo is not an option. After a decade of cuts, gimmicks, and short-sighted borrowing, Minnesota has been in a constant cycle of budget deficits. I am eager to work together with the Governor on a fair and sustainable budget based on Minnesotans’ shared priorities.
The legislature has begun the work of combing through the Governor’s plan, item by item, in each committee’s budget area.
Transportation: In Transportation Committee we held the confirmation hearing for Charlie Zelle to be appointed Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Mr. Zelle was confirmed by the Senate on February 7th.
On Thursday, January 31, there was a joint educational seminar for legislators on the Senate and House Transportation committees at the U of M’s McNamara Alumni Center.
Commerce: In Commerce Committee we heard testimony on Senator Lourey’s bill, Senate File No. 1 – Health Insurance Exchanges. When the US Congress passed the Affordable Care Act it required states to implement a Health Insurance Exchange. Each state may create its own exchange, or use the Federal Exchange. Through Senator Lourey’s bill we are setting up our own Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange. There were over 25 people who testified about the bill in Commerce Committee. We held an extra evening hearing to finish testimony and amendments to the bill, and it passed through Commerce Committee on January 30.
The Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange has launched their website, go to www.mn.gov/hix/ to learn more.
Health and Human Services – Finance Division: In this committee we continued to review Governor Dayton’s budget proposals for the Department of Human Services. We also voted to pass the Medical Assistance Expansion through committee, which you can read about more below.
Education: In Education committee we held the confirmation hearing for Commissioner Dr. Brenda L. Cassellius for the Department of Education. We also voted to confirm the members of various education boards in the state. Dr. Cassellius was confirmed by the Senate on February 7th.
Medical Assistance Expansion: Legislation to expand Medical Assistance (MA) eligibility in Minnesota received its first hearing in the Senate this week. The Health, Human Services and Housing Committee heard testimony from the Department of Human Services Commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, and several business and health care groups interested in the passage of the bill.
The Governor’s budget estimates that the MA expansion will save $263 million in General Fund dollars and $110 million for the Health Care Access Fund in Fiscal Year 2014-2015. The expansion will additionally cover childless adults, adults with children and 19-20 year-olds. As a result, Minnesota will cover 87,000 more people on MA.
The Health, Human Services, and Housing Committee heard testimony from several groups, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Business Partnership, Minnesota Hospital Association, HealthPartners, Minnesota Association of Community Health Centers, Take Action and Minnesota Medical Association. The bill was recommended to pass and will be heard in the Health and Human Services Budget Division, which I sit on.
Gun Violence Prevention: Along with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, members of the Senate and House held a press conference this week to announce the introduction of legislation to allow prosecutors to crack down on those dangerous people who already have committed serious crimes and still possess a gun. The package of proposals, developed by Freeman and supported by Minnesota County Attorneys Association, was created to cut down on gun violence in Minnesota. Among other changes, the legislation will keep guns away from convicted felony domestic violence offenders by defining it as a “crime of violence” and making it an automatic prison term if they later possess a firearm.
The five key provisions in the bill include:
• Keeping guns away from convicted felony domestic violence offenders by defining it as a crime of violence. If the convict possesses a gun again, he would face up to five years in prison.
• Keeping guns away from juvenile offenders by allowing them to be tried in adult court the second time they are caught with a gun. Currently, they are tried in juvenile court no matter how many times authorities arrest them with a gun illegally.
• Keeping ammunition away from criminals by prohibiting felons from possessing ammunition just as they are prohibited from possessing guns.
• Limiting access to guns by people with mental illness by prohibiting those who have been found to be mentally ill from possessing guns, even if their commitment order is put on hold. Currently, only those ordered to a state facility are prohibited from having firearms.
• Stopping the knowing transfer of guns to criminals by making it a crime for another person to intentionally help a felon obtain a gun.
The changes contained in the bill will provide county attorneys with more tools to address gun violence and keep children and communities safe without affecting responsible gun-owners.
All Day Kindergarten: Legislation to provide funding for voluntary all-day kindergarten to school districts across the state received its first hearing in the E-12 Education Finance Division. Currently, districts providing half-day or all-day kindergarten only receive money on the basic formula--which does not cover the costs of all-day Kindergarten programs. If schools and parents decide to provide and enroll kindergartners in an all-day program, the school district will receive more funding under the proposed legislation.
Keeping students engaged for an entire day has proven to give students a head start in comparison to their peers and is well worth the investment. By investing in all-day K, proponents believe the state will be taking a significant step toward enhancing Minnesota’s commitment to quality education for all children.
In addition, the committee heard a bill which will provide spending flexibility for schools. For school districts already offering all-day Kindergarten, they will be allowed to spend the additional per pupil funding appropriated in the all-day Kindergarten bill to meet the needs of three and four year olds in the district. However, a school may not use these funds for three and four year old children while maintaining a fee-based full-day Kindergarten program.
The bill gives schools the ability to appropriately balance the needs, wants and resources of their district. It does not increase or decrease the amount of funding a school receives, but rather enables school districts to make choices on how to spend money.
Investing in pre-kindergarten programs is another tool to help put our children on a path to success. It is important for children to enter kindergarten ready to learn.
Thank you. Thank you for your interest in our community and our state. I am thankful to be serving our district and Minnesota this session. Please let us know what types of things you would like to see featured in future updates.
You can also keep up with me at my Senate website, click on the “In Touch with Senator Carlson” link at www.senate.mn/senatorcarlson.
Sincerely, Jim Carlson