Sen. John Hoffman Update: March 10, 2017

The first full week of March saw major legislative activity as the first deadline is today. This is the first of three major deadlines that help determine which bills will move forward to one day becoming law. The second deadline is next Friday, March 17th, where a bill that is not an omnibus tax or appropriation bill must have passed through all of its committees in both the House and Senate. The 3rd and final deadline is March 31st, where major finance and appropriation bills must have been acted upon.  

REAL ID legislation came to the Senate floor and was voted down. It was not a clean bill as promised. Therefore it did not pass. However, the no vote isn’t the end though, legislative leaders are working out compromise language that both parties can agree to.

Later in the week thousands of women across Minnesota and the country celebrated International Women’s Day. Some women chose to mark the event with ‘Day without women’, taking the day off of work and not spending any money. The state capitol hallways were filled with women wearing red and many carrying signs and spreading the word that women’s rights are human rights.

What is Happening in the Legislature?

Senator Jonathan Kaipay(center) who represents Grand Bassa county, one of the 15th Liberia political sub divisions. He is the chairman, Senate standing committee on autonomous commissions, public corporations and elections. He also chairs the committee on legislative support projects. Co chairs the committees on public account, concessions and investment. He also represents Liberia at the inter-parliamentary union. Also pictured center right:Senator Hawj, right: Imam Dukuly and center left: Niece Fartuna. 

REAL ID update

REAL ID failed to pass the Senate floor this week. The bill was taken up again Wednesday and “laid on the table” to give the majority time to figure out how to craft a bill that can pass with bipartisan support. I said I would support a clean bill and will keep that promise.

The main sticking point between the House and the Senate that continues to tie-up this urgent legislation is an attempt to attach unnecessary language. This issue has been controversial at the Capitol for a number of years. The Senate hopes to pass a clean bill allowing Department of Public Safety (DPS) to implement REAL ID and allow Minnesotans to board their flights and visit their loved ones on military bases without adding unnecessary provisions.

The REAL ID implementation bill would grant the DPS the authority to get 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.

Bonding bill heads to Senate floor for a vote

A $1.65 billion bonding proposal passed the Finance Committee on a divided voice vote and was sent to the Senate floor for a vote. Some members have strong reservations with the current bonding bill because it doesn’t account for important projects and/or politicizes the funding for highway projects. Regardless, a bonding bill must originate in the House so the outlook for this proposal is convoluted. The possible outcome relative to a bonding bill will become clearer once the legislature and governor start finalizing budget and tax bills. Both of my bills, the Hanson Boulevard Rail-grade crossing and the Champlin Mill Pond phase 2 project were included in the final bonding proposal.

Bill changes Minnesota teacher licensure requirements

A bill to change how Minnesota licenses school teachers was discussed in two committees this week. The bill was in response to a 2016 Legislative Auditor (OLA) report that said Minnesota’s licensing process was confusing, treated teachers trained in Minnesota differently than those trained in other states, and that all licensing functions should be in one entity.

The bill sets up a framework for a new teacher licensure structure. Many of the licensure provisions are non-controversial, but one provision has some people with concerns. It sets up a process for individuals, with no teacher training, instruction, or degree, to teach in Minnesota classrooms.

The bill also removes the MDE licensing function and places it with the Professional Educator Licensing Board. The Board would be reduced to include nine members, six teachers, two administrative members, and a school human resources director. A few concerning aspects of the board’s makeup includes a provision that no member currently serving on the Professional Educator Licensing Board can become a member of the new board. This means there will be no institutional knowledge or continuity in the board’s makeup. Teachers also cannot become a member of the Board if they hold a position with the teacher’s union.

The bill also changes the alternative teacher preparation program, removing requirements that a provider partners with a Minnesota higher education teacher prep program, which would allow anyone trained in an out-of-state program to apply for a Minnesota teaching license. 

OLA Report shows statewide tests take time, money from schools

The Office of the Legislative Auditor’s (OLA) released a report this week highlighting the significant time and resources school districts spend on state standardized tests. The report recommends the Minnesota Department of Education do more to measure the local impacts of administering these tests, find ways to help educators better understand and use the test results, and says that legislators need to pass fewer bills mandating specific tests.

In 2016, the state spent $19.2 million on standardized testing. More than half of the state’s schools spend more than 15 days on testing—several hundred spend more than 25 days on testing. The report indicates that statewide tests take up a lot of time, staff, and other resources. 

The report also showed educators questioning the usefulness of the best-know statewide test, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, better known as MCA. One educator surveyed for the report said, “We test our students far too much. MCA results come in the fall, when a teacher no longer has that student. It’s autopsy data and it does not really inform our instruction. The results are not specific enough to drill down.”

The report also showed that teachers and administrators need assistance in interpreting the test data. The Department of Education hired one person last summer to help teachers and principals learn how to use test scores to improve education. But the audit indicates more may need to be done to make test results relevant to educators.

Finally, the OLA recommended that the Legislature look at removing or reexamining certain prescriptive legal testing requirements and instead focus on setting overall priorities for student testing.

Governor’s HHS Budget proposal reviewed

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton speaks to media after signing bills to eliminate the state’s $5 billion budget deficit and reopen state government and services that have been shut down for three weeks, in St. Paul, July 20, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Miller

This week the Senate Health and Human Services Finance Committee reviewed Governor Dayton’s budget recommendations relating to health and human services issues. The bill was laid over for further consideration when assembling the Senate’s HHS Budget Bill. Highlights of the Governor’s proposals include:

MinnesotaCare Public Option: $12.9 million in one-time start-up funding

Currently, MinnesotaCare is available for Minnesotans who earn between 133% and 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG) ($32,398 to $48,600 for a family of four). This plan would increase choices, encourage competition in the marketplace, and ensure that all Minnesotans have access to affordable insurance with a comprehensive network of health care providers. 

Medical Assistance (MA) Rate Increase for Preventive Care and Outpatient Mental Health Services: $9.6 million

The Governor proposes a 5% rate increase for preventive medical care and outpatient mental health services in the MA fee-for-service program. In some cases, the current reimbursement rates do not cover the costs of providing services. Increasing the payment rate for MA preventive care services and mental health care provides an incentive for more medical practitioners to provide care for MA recipients. 

Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP): $73.5 million

CCAP helps families pay for child care so parents can maintain employment or go to school and helps prepare kids for school readiness. Each month, the program serves 16,000 families and 30,000 children across the state. This proposal invests $73.5 million in FY 2018-19 to improve CCAP. This is part of a larger package of early childhood initiatives proposed by the Governor to support family stability and improve school readiness. 

St. Peter Security Hospital: $25.4 million

Many of the individuals in the security hospital have complicated diagnoses, experienced multiple treatment failures, and can no longer be treated in less restrictive settings. The $25.4 million appropriation would hire additional clinical and security staff and improve staff recruitment, retention, and training.

Child Protection Improvements: $19.6 million

Based on recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children, the Legislature made several changes to the state’s child protection system in 2015. This proposal strengthens those changes by focusing on statewide practice standards so children’s experiences with child welfare, foster care, and paths to permanency are more uniform statewide.

Family Home Visiting Program: $31 million

The Governor recommends expanding the home visiting program to pregnant and parenting teens under age 20. Current state funding for this program is only able to reach about 20% of home visiting needs for pregnant and teen parents. Home visiting helps teen parents and their children get a strong start and improves the economy through higher graduation rates, decreased incarceration rates, improved school readiness, and healthier children.

Vulnerable Adult Act Enforcement: $1.2 million

This appropriation will expand the state’s Office of Health Facility Complaints (OHFC) to keep pace with the seven-fold increase in maltreatment complaints of vulnerable adults in licensed health care and home care settings. The number of maltreatment complaints has grown by nearly 600% since FY 2010 due to the state’s rapidly aging population. Current funding for the OHFC is sufficient to investigate only 10% of maltreatment complaints and 1% of provider self-reports alleging maltreatment.

Bills limiting light rail travel through Senate

The Senate heard two light rail transit (LRT) bills this week. These bills seek to limit the abilities of local government and the state to fund light rail expansion and operations.

One bill would alter the way LRT operations are funded. Currently, 50% of LRT operations are funded by the state, but this bill would make new LRT lines subject to new criteria in order to receive funding. This bill would make it difficult for any new LRT line, including the Bottineau LRT line to Brooklyn Park, to qualify for operational funding. See the bill and authors here: SF150

Another bill prohibits the use of any public money, including money from local governments, for construction of any new light rail transit lines without legislative approval. Hennepin, Ramsey, and any other county would lose their ability to use local resources to build LRT projects supported by their communities and their businesses.

In addition to the bills, there was a Senate resolution introduced asking President Trump to divert the $900 million in federal funds for the Southwest Corridor project to a block grant for the Minnesota’s roads and bridges. This would not follow laws regulating the use of the funds. These federal funds are specifically for rail projects and states can’t use the money for other projects.

Minnesota expands veterans’ access to state parks

A bill that would expand veterans’ access to state parks was heard in the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee this week. The bill would offer annual permits instead of one day passes to our active military members and veterans with disabilities in honor of their service.

Senate DFLers continue to look for ways to support our military and improve the lives of Minnesota veterans.

My Bills

SF-983 Psychiatric Residential treatment Facilities for people under 21

In 2015, the legislature approved children’s Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF) services as a new MA benefit to be fully implemented by July 1, 2018. Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities are intended to serve children who require a more intensive level of care due to serious and complex mental health needs and other conditions. These needs and conditions include highly aggressive or self-harming behaviors, mental health diagnoses, neurodevelopmental disorders, psychosis and/or other health conditions. 

The first Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility beds are expected to be available in July 2017, and will enroll providers to create capacity for 150 beds state-wide at up to six sites.

This bill establishes a rate setting process for Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities in compliance with Federal requirements.

SF-738 Modernizing Equipment at Department of Human Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

This bill is a follow-up to a critical investment the legislature made in 2015.

The legislature shored up funding for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Division of Department of Human Services and eliminated waiting lists for mental health services and for services for DeafBlind children and adults.

It also required a study of how to modernize this division, whose service model was designed 36 years ago. Clearly a lot has changed in the last 36 years, both in terms of technology and the passage of important federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  

This bill reflects the recommendations of the study and provides a plan for the future.

SF350-Dustin Luke Shields Act

On Wednesday, Rep Karen Clark, the Metropolitian Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing and I held a press conference on SF350. This bill, also known as the Dustin Luke Shields Act, would require those who rent or buy a home that was built before 1978 to be disclosed if their home would contain lead paint or lead pipes. Lead poisoning can cause severe developmental disabilities. There are 700 reported cases of lead poisoning each year and it is estimated that in Minnesota alone that there is an economic loss of earnings in the range of $1.2 billion dollars. While this bill has not gotten a hearing, it is my hope that this issue will be taken seriously in the coming years.

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