With the special session in the rearview mirror, Press Publications reached out to area legislators to find out how it went. Each senator and representative was asked the question, “What do you think were the top successes of the recent legislative session?”
Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL)
The state’s $52 billion balanced budget helps Minnesotans recover from the pandemic and strengthens our state going forward.
The budget includes a 15-year record increase for education, $250 million for payments to frontline essential workers, several million dollars for small businesses recovering from the pandemic, nearly $600 million to support child care needs, about one billion in tax cuts and more.
My top priority—education—did very well, and should: students are our future. Accordingly, the largest part of the budget (about $21 billion) invests in students, staff and programs. Among the provisions:
• Funding formula increase-2.45 % next year, 2% in 2023
• Teachers of Color, American Indian teacher recruiting, training and retention, $35 million
• Voluntary pre-k funding, $46.5 million
• Special education and English language learner aid, additional literacy program training, digital/screen time well being and safety, math corps, civics education, suicide prevention training
• Safety notice to parents, students and staff if environmental hazard occurs, which I authored, working with the White Bear Area Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group.
Century College, plus other schools in MN State and the U of M, received additional funds as they navigate recovery.
We also approved:
• Over $16 billion to support families and individuals addressing childcare, home and community based services, disability aid, mental health care and substance abuse treatment
• Full funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and National Guard to continue their important mission. I serve on the Senate committee overseeing these recommendations.
• Increased funding for affordable housing, rental assistance for tenants and landlords, including pandemic relief, and a catalytic converter theft prevention pilot program.
Several strong policy provisions include fixing the definition of mentally incapacitated as it applies to sexual assault cases, eliminating the statute of limitations for certain sexual crimes, and several reforms around policing.
Planning ahead, we meet in mid-September to address recommendations for payments to frontline workers. We may also consider infrastructure requests if an agreement is reached. I’m pleased we finalized approval for Willernie’s new maintenance building. I continue advocating for Birchwood’s crucial need for a wastewater lift station.
Please contact me anytime for more info, share ideas, meet, whatever; my cell (651) 770-0283. Thanks for the honor of representing our great area.
Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R)
Back in December, I said my agenda for the year was focused on improving the way we deliver education. By that measure, this year was a success -- but we still have room to improve.
•Education: We approved the largest per-student funding increase in 15 years and invested new resources into student literacy and mental health, and added virtually no new mandates. This is exactly what schools had asked for all year -- money, not mandates. While we were forced to give up the most important, transformational reform on the table -- school choice -- we should not overlook how good this session was for schools. They have the resources they need to deliver on their promise to students.
•Emergency Powers: We finally succeeded in ending the governor’s emergency powers. At the outset of Covid-19, we gave Gov. Walz wide latitude to use emergency powers to make quick decisions to respond to the unfolding pandemic. But the governor abused those powers long after they were necessary. We convinced him to reopen schools and managed the pandemic effectively. Getting Minnesotans out from the cloud of emergency powers was an important achievement.
•Relief for Main Street businesses and workers: We approved substantial tax relief for small, Main Street businesses and workers who were hammered by Covid-19 business closures. Many were facing big tax bills, but we successfully passed relief that will allow them to keep more money in their pocket and stimulate our economy.
•Reduced health care costs: I am sure most of you remember the catastrophic rollout of MNsure and the double digit annual premium increases that accompanied it. The program that stabilized the market was something called reinsurance. This year we extended that program for another year, so Minnesotans won’t have to deal with soaring health care costs again. We also invested additional resources into mental and behavioral health, and made improvements to our leading telehealth program to improve accessibility for routine health care procedures.
Sen. Jason Isaacson (DFL)
This legislative session, we faced a significant amount of gridlock from across the aisle. It was truly disheartening to see how legislation fell so short of serving Minnesotans in a truly meaningful way. However, although there is much more that could have been done in terms of meeting the needs of Minnesotans, there are a select number of DFL- led wins that made it into the final budget agreement that are worth highlighting and celebrating.
This session, I introduced SF 1385 to help strengthen our forests and combat climate change. This bill aims to plant more trees in Minnesota’s forests in an effort to prepare for the looming infestation of Emerald Ash Borers (an invasive species of beetles known to have devastating impacts on our native trees). This bill also tasks the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with the responsibility of establishing and enacting goals of carbon sequestration (a method of decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) in Minnesota’s forests. I am proud of this initiative and what it will do to improve forest health in Minnesota and in carbon sequestration strategies.
Additionally, when the E-12 omnibus bill passed, Senate Republicans gloated about how their bill supported teachers of color, improved equity in our education system, and supported parents and students. In reality, the DFL and I worked tirelessly to make changes to the GOP language that would have otherwise only amplified disparities. For example, we fought tooth and nail to remove language involving the use of vouchers that would have removed $250 million from public schools to be given to private schools that charge tuition. Vouchers also have deeply rooted racist origins as they were first created to fund non-public schools that wanted to evade desegregation laws. Even today, huge racial and class disparities exist in public schools versus schools funded by vouchers.
In addition to these wins, the DFL also saw improvements such as tax relief and funding-investments for working families, clean energy initiatives such as solar projects for schools and university students and loans for state-owned buildings for energy efficiency upgrades, and a continued fight to combat GOP-led voter suppression laws.
Ami Wazlawik (DFL)
I’m proud of the bipartisan state budget we passed this session and of the months of work we did with Minnesotans to ensure it was as strong and equitable as possible. The investments we delivered will help Minnesotans recover from the challenges many of us faced over the past year and thrive as we move forward.
One of our top successes was delivering the largest investment in public schools in 15 years. We voted to increase per-pupil funding by 2.45 percent next year and another 2 percent the following year. This funding will help schools retain teachers, keep class sizes from growing, and provide academic and emotional support to students who experienced learning disruptions and other challenges during the pandemic.
We also secured significant investments in child care. The new budget we developed will expand access to affordable child care in our community and communities across the state. It includes bills I authored to create more child care options for children with disabilities, support child care providers, and offer incentives to keep early childhood professionals in the field.
Helping Minnesotans emerge from the pandemic was a priority this session. We secured tax cuts for workers and small businesses impacted by COVID-19, including those who received unemployment insurance benefits and federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. We also delivered financial support for Minnesota’s frontline workers, who risked their own health to keep the rest of us safe and healthy.
We took several steps to improve our health care system and expand access to affordable care. One notable accomplishment was providing a pay raise for personal care attendants (PCAs) and additional support for home- and community-based services to help Minnesotans live independently.
Supporting survivors of sexual assault has been a priority of mine for many years, and I’m pleased to report we made meaningful progress in this area. For example, we closed the voluntary intoxication loophole that prevented survivors from getting justice if they consumed alcohol or drugs prior to an assault. This important step and other legal changes we made will help Minnesotans get justice and the support they need to heal.
Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL)
We came into this session with the only divided legislature in the nation, an ongoing pandemic, and an uncertain economic outlook. We ended the session with a strong two-year bipartisan budget, over 70% of Minnesota adults with at least one dose of a vaccine, and an economy that is ready to recover. While there are important bills that were left on the table, this session was an overall win for Minnesota.
I had the honor of chairing the Judiciary Finance and Civil Law committee. We got to work immediately hearing and passing bills designed to modernize and reform our judicial system so it serves everyone justly and fairly. We updated Minnesota’s sexual assault laws to give victims of intimate partner violence better outcomes after hearing suggestions from a survivor-led working group. We created the new office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives aimed at preventing the shocking and disproportionately high rate of missing and murdered Indigenous people. We also took action to decriminalize poverty by reforming Minnesota’s civil forfeiture law, updated the state DWI law by expanding the use of ignition interlock to keep people safe on the road, and recognize the right to fair representation by increasing funding for public defenders and court interpreters.
As your Representative, I made sure to shepherd legislation that benefits our entire community. I worked to ensure that “No Child Left Inside” was funded at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This amazing program works to get children from every background into our great outdoors so they can learn and experience it firsthand. On a similar note, I led the effort to fully fund our Outdoor Heritage Fund proposals in the Legacy budget bill, and we were also able to finally pass two years worth of LCCMR proposals. These projects benefit all Minnesotans by protecting our natural resources and investing in our great outdoors for future generations.
Our community has been through a lot over the last year and a half, and while this session wasn’t perfect, I’m proud of what was accomplished. I believe that Minnesota is on the path towards recovery, and I am committed to making sure everyone in our community will have the opportunity to thrive moving forward.
Peter Fischer (DFL)
Legislators came together to make meaningful progress this session. We developed and passed a new state budget with some historic investments to help Minnesotans recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and thrive for years to come.
Increasing funding for schools was one of our most significant accomplishments. Under the new state budget, per-pupil funding will increase by 2.45 percent next year and another 2 percent the year after that. Additional funding will provide pre-K opportunities to thousands of children and help schools maintain special education services and programs for English language learners. These investments in public education – the largest our state has made in 15 years – will help all students get the world-class education they deserve.
Another highlight was delivering financial support for workers and small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Thanks to the tax cuts we approved, refunds will be issued to approximately 560,000 Minnesotans who received unemployment insurance benefits or federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
As chair of the House Behavioral Health Policy Division, I led bipartisan efforts to support Minnesotans struggling with mental health issues, addiction, and substance abuse disorder. Due to the growing demand for behavioral health services, many people find it difficult to get the care they need. We took steps to address this problem, reduce disparities, and improve treatment outcomes.
Supporting individuals and families who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness was one of our priorities this session. We provided new aid for county-level efforts to prevent family homelessness and increased funding for emergency shelters and services. We also took steps to expand the supply of affordable housing and delivered rental assistance for tenants and landlords impacted by COVID-19.
While there is more work to be done in these areas and others, I am proud of what we accomplished this session. I hope to continue working with community members and make more progress at the Capitol next year.
Kelly Moller (DFL)
The Legislature worked in a bipartisan fashion to deliver a state budget helping Minnesotans emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with opportunities to succeed and thrive. We delivered historic new funding in Minnesota classrooms, recognizing the enormous challenges students faced over the past year, not to mention the unique challenges for educators and parents. Our education budget also invested in special education, voluntary pre-K, and efforts to recruit teachers of color and American Indian teachers.
I’m extremely proud our final budget agreement included my legislation to protect survivors of sexual assault. In 2019, lawmakers charged a working group – consisting of survivors, attorneys, advocates, and law enforcement – with recommending changes to our current laws. Our Public Safety budget incorporated the overdue reforms from the working group to give prosecutors the tools they need to ensure survivors are able to receive the justice they deserve.
Our bipartisan Health and Human Services budget included bold investments to improve local public health, reduce health disparities and expand access to affordable health care. The budget also improves the quality of life for people with disabilities, delivering overdue wage increases for Personal Care Attendants to help recruit and retain dedicated workers in these critical roles. I’m also excited the budget included two provisions I chief authored. The first invests in customized living quality improvement grants to help home and community-based service providers innovate and provide more efficient, higher quality services. The other bill – developed in partnership with people with disabilities and advocates – creates a person-centered approach to providing services to people with disabilities.
It was also vitally important to help workers, families, and small businesses recover COVID-19’s economic impacts. We put together a $70 million package of investments targeted to the smallest of the small businesses, plus technical assistance to new businesses, support for tech startups, and loans for entrepreneurs. We also addressed the growing lack of affordable child care with a historic investment to increase the number of child care providers across the state.
Rep. Donald Raleigh (R)
The 2021 session was unique in so many ways. Meetings that would normally be conducted in person were instead offered via zoom. This led to a series of challenges that confined the ability for the free flow of ideas and conversation. Despite these challenges there were many successes that came out of the 2021 regular and special sessions.
The first success, and perhaps the most important, was the passing of the budget bills that kept the state of Minnesota from being shut down. The brinkmanship that was displayed was on par with the most contentious that I have ever seen and a situation that should not be repeated in the future.
Another major success was one of the largest increases in K-12 education funding in many years. Along with this increase in funding was a $70,122,000 cross-subsidy reduction in Special Education. This means there will be more money kept in the special education account and not “borrowed” to pay for other priorities. Special Education is something I am asked about repeatedly from constituents and I am proud to share that it was included in the bill that I voted for.
Personally, a top success in this session was an amendment I offered in the Public Safety bill. My amendment creates a misdemeanor crime to disseminate a law enforcement official or family member’s personal information if doing so poses an imminent and serious threat to the officer or family’s safety. I pledged to our community that I would back our police and this new law does just that.
For our business community we passed a 100% exclusion on forgiven PPP loans and a $10,200 subtraction of unemployment benefits for tax year 2020. For our businesses this will provide the type of relief that will directly impact their bottom line and help ease the burden that was the COVID-19 emergency.
Legislation is about compromise. There are parts of the bills that I did not agree with, and others that I fully supported. That is the nature of good governance. As always, feel free to contact me with your concerns. Rep.email@example.com and 651-775-1687. God Bless!