A weekly message from your Senator
Dear Constituents and Friends,
With this week’s announcement of the state’s $1.65 Billion surplus the Senate finance committees will start piecing together a budget for the next biennium to fund schools, social services, infrastructure and other aspects of our government. It was a productive week with the Senate voting on several bills including Sunday liquor sales, which I supported. Next week we have our first committee deadline so it promises to be a busier week for bills to make it through the legislative process.
Senator Melisa Franzen
Sunday sales makes progress
This week the Senate passed legislation to allow liquor stores to be open on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The bill also prohibits wholesale delivery and solicitations or merchandising by wholesalers on Sundays. Many Senators heard from constituents that they want the option to purchase off-sale liquor on Sundays. The bill passed 38 to 28. The bill was re-passed by the House as amended and will be sent to the Governor who has indicated he will sign the bill.
Minnesota is currently one of 12 states that prohibits the sale of liquor on Sundays. Supporters of Sunday sales argue that the law is outdated and limits the ability of Minnesota businesses to compete with neighboring states on the sale of Sunday spirits. Sixty % of Minnesotans live within 30 miles of the border, and supporters of the bill are concerned with Minnesota tax dollars going to neighboring states.
Opponents of the bill argue that family-owned and municipal liquor stores will not necessarily generate any more profits by staying open on Sundays. Rather, small stores will have to compensate for the increase in operating costs by raising prices and further tilting the marketplace in favor of big-box retailers. Opponents also say allowing Sunday liquor sales will result in more alcohol-related accidents, more substance abuse throughout the state, and will negatively affect the finances of municipal liquor stores in rural area that depend on funds from these stores.
Legislators have attempted to remove the ban on Sunday liquor sales over the course of the last several sessions. This year is the first year that the Legislature has heard the issue as a stand-alone bill rather than an amendment on the Senate floor. (HF30)
Moratorium on mowing permits
A bill that places a moratorium on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) authority to set up a permitting process allowing farmers to mow and bale hay in highway rights-of-way under the department’s authority passed the Senate floor Thursday. The moratorium is in effect until April 30, 2018. The moratorium is meant to give stakeholders time to work out a mutually agreeable system for the future.
This issue has been controversial at the Legislature over the past few years. The issue gained new urgency, however, when late last year, MnDOT announced a new permitting system and uniform rules to follow. This has led to many farmers being upset with what are seen as new restrictions on their ability to mow and hay rights-of-way. The law restrictions on the seasonality of mowing and baling have been on the books since the 1980s, but the laws were not being followed by farmers or enforced by the department. (SF 218)
Budget surplus announced
The state February Budget Forecast was announced recently and projected a $1.65 billion surplus. This forecast provides key information to legislators as it will help shape spending and tax decisions for the state’s two-year budget. The prediction is $250 million higher than projected in November. House and Senate leadership are expected to give budget targets to each committee to use to fund their priorities. Governor Mark Dayton will also update his budget proposal in response to the changes in the forecast.
Federal STEM funding encouraged for schools
A bill I authored was heard this past week that encourages schools to utilize funding from the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for STEM-related activities. The bill is intended to motivate school districts to make use of the federal ESSA Title IV funds available, with a special emphasis on robotics-related opportunities.
I met with several Robotics students this past month whom advocated for an increase in funding for robotics programs. Their actions and the impact their programs have had on their communities are inspiring. In response to this, the bill contains suggestions regarding mentor-led, hands-on STEM educational opportunities, increased student participation in STEM competitions, and after-school activities with informal STEM education.