Sen. Hoffman Update: Februrary 10, 2017

Welcome to the week six update. It was another full week of committee meetings.

I will briefly touch on two bills. One dealt with preemption, which included a long list of testifiers and heated testimony. There were so many people interested in testifying that extra time was added to allow everyone to get their voices heard. The bill, would take local authority away from local units of government to make their own labor laws, (like setting minimum wages and creating paid and sick and safe time policies) passed through committee.

The other dealt with REAL ID. This bill had a two-day hearing with much discussion. It ultimately passed out of committee but has another committee stop before the full Senate will vote on the bill. If the Minnesota Legislature doesn’t pass a bill, Minnesotans will not be able to fly using their driver’s license as their sole form of identification beginning in 2018.

Committees continue to hear bills however, major budget bills likely won’t be worked on until after the February budget forecast is released, which usually happens in early March. This forecast will tell legislators exactly how much money we have to spend to craft our two year budgets.

Please continue to stay in contact as I will give updates here.

What is Happening in the Legislature?

Preemption bill in committee

The Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee heard a bill that would prohibit local units of government from establishing their own labor benefit policies. This proposal is in reaction to ordinances that were established in Minneapolis and St. Paul that required qualifying workers to have access to paid leave benefits. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership are supportive of the proposal because they worry that individual cities across the state will establish their own benefit policies which will result in differences across the state.

Social and labor organizations are in opposition to the proposal. They argue that local elected officials are closer to their constituents and have a better understanding of what is needed in their communities. Additionally, the proposal may have long term consequences if high powered groups can come to the Legislature and circumvent or undermine local units of government. Additionally, many of the families who do not have access to leave benefits need them the most to take care of a sick child or parent. For these families it is a choice between putting food on the table and taking care of a loved one.

The proposal passed the Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee on a party line vote and will be referred to the Local Government Committee. 

Follow this link to my legislators, where the first question was about this.

http://video.pioneer.org/video/2365948499/

Real ID

The REAL ID bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday evening. This bill contains language relating to firearms data being shared with the federal government and restrictions on the rulemaking authority granted to implement REAL ID. DFL members have worked to remove these provisions as they are unnecessary for the implementation process.

The REAL ID implementation bill would grant the Department of Public Safety (DPS) the authority to make Minnesota driver’s licenses and IDs compliant with the federal standards. The bill creates a two-tier system with a REAL ID compliant ID and driver’s license and a noncompliant instate ID and driver’s license. This allows those who have privacy concerns and those who will not be traveling by airplane to maintain their current driver’s license and ID, while also allowing the traveling public to get a REAL ID compliant ID or driver’s license. DPS would have to begin issuing compliant IDs and driver’s licenses by Oct. 1, 2018. The Senate bill would also pay for the costs associated with fee waivers for some license holders who would be required to get a compliant license out of the normal schedule.

Student Discipline

Last year, lawmakers decided to form a task force dealing with student discipline data one of which, to study student subgroups who are disproportionately removed from the classroom.

This past Thursday, the student discipline task force presented recommendations to the Senate education policy committee. They found common ground on a number of strategies like the need to invest in more student support staff. But according to a report they came short on a couple of key tasks, specifically defining “willful.”

Mark French, president of the Minnesota Elementary School Principal’s Association said he felt the group was effective and, given more time, could have discussed changes like developing consensus around a definition for “willful.”

As we talk about the task force’s recommendations in the weeks ahead, It is necessary to not forget about a student’s intent during a behavior incident.

I identified this unfinished task as a main priority, moving forward. I think one of the challenges for us is that we have to define the word ‘willful’ to make it implementable. I think getting rid of the word ‘willful’ gets into a lot of due process rights, specifically when you look at suspensions. If somebody’s bringing a bill and we don’t really, truly see that ‘willful intent’ is going to have to be something that’s implementable, then we’re going to have some problems, systemically, in the state of Minnesota. So I would hope that nobody tries to scratch that language and create a two- or three-tiered system approach. I think we need to come out and define it. After all, Education is a constitutional right for ALL students.

STEM Class Grants

A bill to provide grants to help schools design and provide science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) opportunities for students was heard in the Senate’s E-12 Finance Committee this week. The bill would provide $3 million for 2018.

Engaging students early in STEM classes is vital to our state and national workforce, according to those who testified in favor of the grant program. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that STEM-related jobs will grow 17 % by 2018. Project Lead the Way provides K-12 STEM programs nationally and is also involved in Minnesota school programs, encouraging programs to start in the elementary grades. A research study showed that most scientists first became interested in science careers before high school.

The grants will also help to encourage young women to participate in STEM courses. According to a Washington Post study, the percentage of female computer science graduates has fallen since the mid-1980s from 37% to 14%. By 2020, employment in all computer-related occupations is expected to increase by 22%.

The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus education funding bill. 

Solitary Confinement

Solitary confinement reform has been garnering attention over recent years, but gained attention here in Minnesota media in late 2016 when the Star Tribune ran a four-part series about practices in the Minnesota Department of Corrections. The articles highlighted the use of restrictive housing, the often long periods of time inmates would be in segregated housing, and the negative effects this can have on inmates, especially persons dealing with mental health issues.

There was a bill introduced to address some of the concerns highlighted in the articles. The bill codifies standard living conditions, requires periodic reviews of inmates’ status in solitary confinement, and adds requirements for daily health checkups including mental health. The bill also gives guidelines for discharging an inmate from segregated housing and adds annual legislative reporting requirements.

This bill will be a starting point for conversations regarding the health and safety of inmates in Minnesota’s correction system. The DFL has made and will continue to make the humane treatment of inmates a priority.

Minnesota could ban handheld cellphone use while driving

I have signed on as a co-sponsor of this bipartisan bill. The bill was introduced Thursday to prohibit the use of cell phones while driving except for the use of a hands-free device. According to the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, each year in Minnesota, distracted or inattentive driving is a factor in one in four crashes, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries. I want to promote safer driving habits and reduce avoidable injuries and deaths.

Minnesota would join fourteen other states and the District of Columbia in banning hand-held cellphone use while driving.

Minnesota is already one of 46 states to ban texting while driving. Devices that are exclusively for navigational purposes will be exempt from the hands-free ban as are first responders and someone contacting emergency assistance. I am proud to co-sponsor this bill to make Minnesota roads safer for everyone.

My Bills

SF 738-Equipment Upgrades for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services

On Thursday, I introduced a bill that would direct the commissioner of human services to work in consultation with the Commission of Deaf, Deafblind, and Hard-of-Hearing Minnesotans to provide recommendations to the legislature on how best to modernize equipment. This bill would also provide the commissioner of human services 1.5 million dollars over the next two years in order to help with this directive. 

SF 823-Child care assistance program maximum reimbursement rates modification

This bill I introduced would give more parent’s access to an improved Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). CCAP assists parents with the high cost of child care, but has limited funding. This means that eligible families get placed on a long waiting list. The rates paid to providers through CCAP are out of date. The reimbursement rates were higher at one time but have been cut back over the years.

This bill takes an important first step in addressing both of these issues by allocating money to serve more families through CCAP and updating provider rates to reflect the most recent market data. This will help low income families who are in need of childcare assistance funding. I will always do everything I can to support families in need.

Sustainability Work in the District

Brooklyn Park

I wanted to write about some of the good work that has been going on in the district. One on how Brooklyn Park has been a leader in sustainability in the state and the other on Green Corp in Coon Rapids.

Brooklyn Park was the first city in Minnesota with single sort recycling in 2002. It was the first city in the Metro area to have a 24 hour per day oil recycling station at the O&M facility. The oil is used to supplement heating at two facilities and saves up to $20,000 per year on heating. Now it is the first city in Hennepin County to have curbside textile recycling, which starts in February.

Brooklyn Park is working on a solar panel project for city facilities that would generate 1.5 megawatts of power each year. The goal is to move forward on installation this summer. 

Brooklyn Park is studying organics recycling options and looks to bring a program to residents in 2018.

Green Corp Member in Coon Rapids

The quote below is from a Green Corp Member, Stephanie Bierman, on the sustainability work she is doing in Coon Rapids.

“Multi-unit buildings have fallen behind the rest of the state when it comes to recycling.  I was hired as a MN GreenCorps member to focus on this specific issue in Coon Rapids.  I have collected baseline data, and the average multi-unit recycling rate is 11% in Coon Rapids.  This is incredibly low, especially since 60-80% of our waste can be recycled and the average recycling rate in Minnesota is 47%.  We are implementing many different things to bring this up.  Our big focus is on providing materials and education to residents, large and clear dumpster signage, and encouraging managers to provide equal recycling and trash service at their buildings.  We have had great success with the dumpster’s signs, and huge increases at individual buildings that have changed their waste service to provide more recycling.  Looking forward, we are hoping to make some ordinance changes to bring all of our buildings up to the same level. “

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