Sen. Hoffman Update: February 24, 2017

Welcome to week eight of my update from the Capitol. This week seemed to go by fast. I don’t know if it was because of the early teaser of spring weather of the fact our committee meetings were full of policy discussion. Also the house passed the REAL ID bill off the floor and has been sent over to the senate. I go into more detail in the newsletter bellow.

I presented 3 bills this week in the Health and Human Services Reform committee and will have more coming up next week. 

It was great to have many constituents visit me this week for various days on the hill. If you are a constituent or are part of a group please feel free to contact my office and I will be happy to meet with you. 

What is Happening in the Legislature?

 

Tax committee focuses on health and wellness

The Tax Committee took a health care focus this week, considering two bipartisan bills aimed at supporting Minnesota’s health care workforce and promoting more employer involvement in their employees’ health. The first bill would create a temporary, $5,000 tax credit pilot program for health care professionals willing to serve as unpaid preceptors to medical residents still in training. The idea stems from the Legislative Healthcare Workforce Commission, which heard stories of students’ graduation dates being delayed by up to a year because of the lack of preceptors, which are a necessary part of medical students’ degree requirements. In other cases, medical students are paying preceptors out of their own pockets to act in a mentorship role. The tax credits would be one tool to support the growing industry and address health care workforce shortages across the state.

The committee also considered a bill to exempt employee-provided fitness benefits from taxes. Employees must currently report employer-paid benefits for utilizing fitness facilities as wages and pay taxes on that sum. The bill discussed this week would provide up to a $30 tax credit per year to offset the tax impact of what the bill sponsors say is a necessary, important benefit that should be encouraged among more employers. Both bills were laid over for possible inclusion in the committee’s omnibus bill (SF 139, SF 687).

Rock N’Read Program

The Senate Education Finance Committee heard a bill this week that would provide continued funding for the Rock N’Read program, a reading program that takes a singing-based approach to improving reading achievement for students in grades two through five. Members of the Education Finance Committee were enthusiastic about this bill and the appropriation last fall.

The Rock ‘n’ Read Project is a 501(c)(3) Minnesota nonprofit organization run by a board of directors. Grants appropriated by the legislature must be matched with either funding or in-kind contributions. In 2016, $100,000 was awarded to four schools chosen to participate in Rock N’Read.

A report submitted to the legislature by the group shows students made reading gains between August and December at schools where the program was implemented. With the additional funds, the organization hopes to reach 1,000 to 1,500 students. The group also hopes the project can be self-sustaining within two years. (SF 13)

Funding mental health services in schools

The legislature appropriated $4.5 million in grants last session in an effort to provide development training for educators working with Level 4 student populations; these settings serve students with severe and serious educational and emotional needs. During the committee process, educators testified to the serious need for such training in order to ensure their students’ needs were addressed and teachers were providing the best possible services to the students.

A bill was introduced this week that aims to create funding sources for mental health services at alternative learning centers operating in intermediate school districts. Intermediate school districts would be added to the list of places eligible to receive the funds provided through the Children’s Mental Health grant statute. It would also create permanent staff development programs for those cooperative educational service providers with Level 4 students and provide additional funding for a study on the accountability of student support and services in intermediate school districts.

As opposed to last year’s one-time appropriation of funds, this bill would appropriate future funding for school-linked mental health services on an on-going basis. The bill was referred to the E-12 Policy Committee. (SF 768)

Governor’s Education Policy Bill heard in committee

The Governor’s Education Policy Bill which was heard in the Education Policy Committee this week is a relatively short bill, but includes some substantial changes to reading requirements that will help students who struggle to read well and proficiently by third grade.

Another major provision clearly defines a “charter management organization, education service provider, education management organization, and school management organization” and states that a charter school may not enter into agreements with a for-profit or non-profit organization defined by the bill. The bill clearly defines these organizations because there are many out-of-state for-profit organizations that are taking over charter school management across the country, making it difficult for Minnesota’s charter schools to operate successfully and diverting taxpayer dollars to out-of-state companies in the education business. (SF1222)

Access to Paid Leave

Under this bill, an insurance program administered by the state of Minnesota would provide Minnesotans with up to 12 weeks of partial wage replacement during pregnancy and medical leave and 12 weeks of family leave, defined as bonding with a new child or caring for a seriously-ill family member. (SF 830)

Bonding bill moves to Finance

Over the course of two meetings in the past few weeks, legislators heard from advocates regarding their hopes and disappointments relative to transportation projects being included in the bonding bill. Several Democrats and the Commissioner of Transportation had concerns with the proposal because it earmarked specific projects instead of allowing the Minnesota Department of Transportation to select projects based on a range of criteria they had developed. Despite these objections, the bill passed the Finance Committee on a bipartisan vote. (SF 210)

License plates for motorized bicycles

The Senate Transportation and Public Safety committee laid over a provision that would allow motorized bicycles to be eligible to receive disability license plates. The change would allow moped owners to get disability plates, as long as the vehicle cannot go over 30 miles per hour and doesn’t have an engine larger than 50 cc.

The bill is in reaction to a 70-year-old Marine Corps Veteran with two knee replacements and severe nerve damage in his right leg. In his written testimony, he said he prefers to park as close as possible to his destination. He also wrote that he can get a disability plate for his truck, and others can get one for their motorcycles, so why shouldn’t he be able to get one for his scooter?

In 2016, this bill was amended into the H.F. 2749, the Omnibus Supplemental Budget bill, but was not included as part of the bill after conference committee. (SF 291)

Minnesota high school graduation rates on the rise

Minnesota high school graduation rates continue to trend upward, with the class of 2016 posting the overall highest rate on record at 82.2%. Rates for all students were up one-third of a percentage point from 2015, and up 5 percentage points from 2011, showing that more Minnesota students are graduating from school.

A closer look at the data reveal notable trends across student groups. Since 2011, graduation rates for non-white students have increased by 13.1%. Rates for white students have increased by 3.2% during that time.

Graduation rates for black students have increased 24 percentage points—a 59% increase—since 2006. In comparison to their white peers, this represents a 46% reduction in the graduation gap for black students over the last decade. Other student groups have also demonstrated significant increases since 2006 and 2011.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, the progress is attributed to a shift to more rigorous career and college-ready standards, and added challenging courses to our graduation requirements.

Decoding Dyslexia

Trig and I in the Rotunda of the Capitol

The advocacy group Decoding Dyslexia held a rally this week for Dyslexia Day at the Capitol. Students, parents, and legislators shared personal stories about their struggles with dyslexia, a language-based learning disability which results in a cluster of symptoms that make learning to read unusually challenging. Young students shared stories about living with dyslexia and how learning was much easier once they received the necessary help.

Decoding Dyslexia: Minnesota is advocating for the following legislative initiatives: 

  1. A universal definition and understanding of dyslexia. (accomplished in 2015 — MN State Statute 125A.01)
  2. Early screening for dyslexia.
  3. Evidence-based remediation programs for general and special education students who show signs of dyslexia.
  4. Teacher training on dyslexia, its warning signs, and accommodation strategies to help effected students.
  5. Access to appropriate assistive technologies in the public school setting.

Social Security Taxes

The Senate Tax Committee heard several bills this week aimed at reducing taxes owed on Social Security benefits. About 68% of Social Security benefits received in Minnesota are already tax-exempt. Minnesota follows the federal government’s treatment of these benefits, which means a minimum of 15% of all taxpayers’ benefits are already exempt from taxation. Some households pay no taxes at all on their benefits, however 28 states fully exempt all Social Security earnings and nine states do not have an income tax at all. Five of the bills heard this week would add Minnesota to the list of states that fully exempt Social Security benefits from state taxes. Some of these bills phase in the reduction over several years. Permanently spending $1 billion on a full exemption could benefit about 394,000 Social Security recipients. Though this would not provide relief to households already exempt from paying taxes on their benefits.

Another bill heard this week would provide a new Social Security income tax subtraction targeted at middle-income seniors. All beneficiaries would be able to deduct a portion of their taxable benefits from their income taxes: up to $1,600 for married-joint filers, $1,250 for single filers, and $800 for married-separate filers, adjusted annually for inflation. This approach would provide an equal benefit to all Social Security recipients but concentrate the impact more among lower-income seniors. the net effect of a $1,600 subtraction would be far greater for those earning $50,000 as opposed to those with higher overall incomes.

Providing tax relief and support for the state’s senior citizens is a bipartisan priority this year. Senate DFLers will be working to compromise on fiscally responsible solutions that provide targeted tax relief to the senior citizens who need it, without toppling the state’s budget stability or depleting resources for tax relief for other segments of Minnesota’s population.

Combating Opioid Abuse

A bipartisan group of lawmakers joined with Attorney General Lori Swanson, doctors, law enforcement, and people affected by opioid addiction this week to unveil the Opioid Reform Act, a series of bills designed to combat opioid abuse. 

Deaths related to misuse and overuse of opioids — legal pills such as oxycodone as well as illicit heroin — have increased in Minnesota six-fold since 2000. Opioid addictions often start with a prescription from a doctor and quickly spiral into an unbreakable dependency. These bills are intended to address the growing problem of opioid abuse and can help prevent opioid-related deaths in our state. 

These bills would do several things. Retail or specialty pharmacies could be paid directly by the medical assistance program for nonscheduled injectable treatments for substance abuse which are administered in an outpatient setting. Patients would be required to fill prescriptions for opioids within 30 days after they are issued by a doctor. Pharmacists must include information about the addictive nature of opioids with the prescriptions they fill. Pharmacists would also be required to review a patient’s history relating to controlled substances before prescribing or dispensing any controlled substance prescription. Manufacturers would be taxed 1 cent per morphine milligram equivalent on all schedule II opiates. The funding collected would provide grants for public awareness and emergency medical services.

My Bills

SF 1065-Consumer Directed Community Supports

This week I introduced SF 1065 allowing individuals with disabilities to benefit from Consumer Directed Community Supports (CDCS). This legislation will expand budgets for individuals seeking individualized employment and housing, increase community options for individuals currently residing in institutions, and update the methods used to determine service budgets. The Arc of Minnesota wants Minnesotan’s with disabilities to move more rapidly towards directing their own service choices. This allows greater flexibility in creating support systems, with a more cost-effective service delivery system. Individuals with disabilities have the right to choose where they live, learn, work, and play. Upon turning 21 and entering the adult services system, many are forced to drop off of CDCS because the system does not allow for their budgets to be increased to meet their employment or housing needs. SF 1065 addresses this issue by developing an exceptions process for those individuals seeking to achieve their employment and housing goals.

Five thousand Minnesotans on waiver programs currently benefit from Consumer Directed Community Supports (CDCS), with individualized annual budgets, greater flexibility to decide how best to spend the funding, and oversight from the county and a fiscal support entity. This is an example of a program helping us achieve our Olmstead Plan goals which I am proud to support.

SF 1055- Increase employment of Minnesotan’s with Disabilities

This week I introduced SF 1055 to increase employment of Minnesotan’s with disabilities in the competitive workforce. Only 15% of people with disabilities are employed in integrated competitive employment. The National Core Indicators survey found 59% of individuals in day programs for people with disabilities expressed interest in a job in an integrated employment setting.

In order to enhance Minnesota’s day services system, The Arc Minnesota supports legislation that would develop and fund new employment services in the home and community-based disability waiver service plans. Under these bills, Minnesota would request federal approval for these new employment services. Individuals would be offered employment exploration services introducing them to competitive employment in their communities. These supports would provide an extensive set of individualized services that would help more people with disabilities find and maintain competitive employment. This would make these individuals feel more included in their communities. These supports will also give people with disabilities more flexibility and choice in their services.

If you have any questions or concerns feel free to call my office at 651-296-4154 or by e-mail at jhoffman@senate.mn