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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Shane Mekeland (R)

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Legislative update

Friday, March 26, 2021

Dear Neighbor, 

Another week is in the books for the 2021 session and the House majority continues to let bills with broad, bipartisan support sit idle while they focus on more controversial issues. 

It’s gotten so bad the House Speaker claimed there is no "realistic path forward" on legislation to provide funding for our law enforcement agencies ... despite broad, bipartisan support. She falsely blamed Republicans for the impasse on the stalled SAFE/LEO bill that was approved with bipartisan support in the Senate, but has stalled in the House. 

The same day the Speaker made that wrongful claim, the minority put forward a motion to take up the bipartisan Senate bill for immediate consideration. House Democrats once again voted no, blocking it on a party-line vote. This, after they failed twice to bring up and pass their own bill, and have repeatedly blocked efforts by House Republicans to even allow votes on the compromise SAFE Account proposal which was endorsed by the Star Tribune, as well as the bipartisan Senate LEO bill that passed last month. 

So, in short: Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats approved a bill to support law enforcement. House Republicans have offered motions to approve compromise legislation. Which makes it abundantly clear that the House Democrats are the roadblock to passage of the SAFE/LEO Account bill and agencies are starting to withhold mutual aid. 

PPP/Unemployment insurance 

While funding for our LEOs is being slow-rolled, so is legislation to fix a couple of significant tax issues. The House majority unveiled the spending side of its proposal for the state’s next budget ($52.5 billion – even more than the governor proposes) but won’t say until next month how much they want to raise our taxes until next month.

One thing did become crystal clear, however. The House Tax Committee chair confirmed bills to spare businesses from paying state taxes on forgiven federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and keep people who have been out of work from receiving surprise tax bills will not be taken up anytime soon. They apparently will be tied up in end-of-session negotiations when all bets are off and sometimes things are left unfinished.

It would be sad to see legislation that has nearly universal support be subjected to unnecessary risk, held hostage as the majority likely pushes for billions of dollars in tax increases and harmful business mandates. At the very least, it appears these provisions will be needlessly delayed another couple of months, leaving unemployed workers and struggling businesses blowing in the wind. 

School funding  

Evidence is mounting that students have some catching up to do after being forced to endure distance learning over the last year. Legislation to provide additional school funding was brought to the House floor this week, but only half the funds appropriated actually go to programs with summer learning. 

It’s also not really a school funding bill, with only 36 percent of the appropriation going directly to schools based on pupil counts. The bill (which was approved mainly on party lines) gives $1 million to the Department of Education, and millions more to grants to be distributed by MDE instead of going directly to the classroom where they can be put to best use. Also, significant portions of the funding in this bill have no in-person requirement – which should be the whole point of funding summer school programming by helping kids catch up on classroom time they missed.

Alternative legislation the House minority proposed on the floor actually addresses that issue and says, if we're trying to help kids get caught up after a year of distance learning, then kids need to be in the classroom. While the majority is shoveling money to non-profits and bureaucracy, the minority put the dollars directly in the classroom, and directly to in-person learning so students can catch up from our governor keeping schools closed. Unfortunately, the majority blocked this proposal and ultimately approved its version that funds bureaucracy at the expense of classrooms.

Look for more news soon. Until then, have a good weekend and stay in touch.