CAPITOL UPDATE MARCH 24, 2017
This past week, a Star Tribune article titled “Student loan defaults soar as millions miss payments” highlighted that over 14% of young people have fallen behind on student loan payments this past year. Two bills, SF 156 and SF 165, being considered in the Senate right now, would go a long way in mitigating a future student debt crisis.
One bill I authored, the Minnesota College Affordability Act (SF 156), would enable all of Minnesota high school graduates to attend 2- and 4-year public colleges, universities, and technical schools by providing tuition-free education for families earning under $125,000. This bold plan ignites a much needed discussion about our society’s commitment to higher education. Our state will fall behind if we do not seek to better educate and equip our learners for 21st century careers. The College Affordability Act grants apply after all existing state and federal grants and requires students to maintain a 2.5 GPA in college.
For those already stuck under the burden of debt, SF 165, introduced by Senator Greg Clausen (DFL – Apple Valley), provides a tax credit of up to $5000 for those repaying student loans. This eases the tremendous burden for Minnesotans currently struggling to manage their debt. Major debt-loads prevent young people from starting families, buying their first home, and pursuing career opportunities with a long-term orientation.
On the Senate Floor:
Reinsurance: The Senate recently passed HF 5, a bill that uses taxpayer money to subsidize insurance companies and prop up the individual market. This bill costs nearly $600 million and drains money from the Healthcare Access Fund which goes towards the widely supported MinnesotaCare program. I voted against the bill because it fails to protect healthcare options for vulnerable Minnesotans. Instead, it hands hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars to insurers with little accountability and no assurance of lower premiums or expanded access to health care coverage. In short, it won’t get the job done.
Interestingly, the amount that was given to health insurers with the re-insurance scheme is worth nearly three years of free public college tuition with SF 156, the Minnesota College Affordability Act. That’s a staggering thought: we could realistically be investing fully in our students and promoting future generations without increasing the current taxpayer cost. It shows the priorities at the Capitol are not calibrated correctly right now.
Legislation on the move:
For-Profit Prisons: Prisons that are owned and operated by private corporate interests are associated with a host of problems including inmate abuse, maltreatment, inhumane housing conditions, and lackluster worker safety and compensation. Simply put, the profit-motive drives inmate populations higher, creating an incentive to lobby for increased sentences, and paring back rehabilitation services. Two weeks ago, I introduced SF 1675, legislation that prohibits Minnesota inmates from being housed in facilities not owned and operated by the state. It was referred to the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee but has yet to be heard. The House is going the opposite direction with language that re-opens Appleton Prison, previously closed due to mismanagement and inadequate inmate conditions. Private prisons should not be dangled as a jobs tool. The legislature should instead invest in the town of Appleton in a more positive way through capital investment to stimulate the economy in an ethical manner.
Lowering Court Fees: Court fees often stand in the way of justice properly being administered. I have been working with colleagues in both parties on this problem and introduced SF 1621. This bill, which has a bipartisan authorship, reduces court fees for respondents to HROs and adjustments to child support. Reducing regressive fees wherever possible will make our court system accessible to all. SF 1621 was included in the omnibus Senate Judiciary budget, signaling a high likelihood of it moving forward.
Good Governance: Civil Service Commissions are essential to making sure that Police and Fire Departments are run properly. St. Louis Park’s Fire Civil Service Commission brought a needed change to my attention, updating an archaic law enacted nearly 100 years ago. I introduced SF 1354 to remove and clarify outdated language in the statutes that govern these commissions. The bill has been heard in two committees and has been given a second reading on the Senate floor. I expect overwhelming support when it is scheduled for a full vote.
Thank you for your continued interest in the state legislature and my work serving Senate District 46. If you have any time-sensitive questions, comments, or concerns please call my office at 651-297-8065.