The MN Senate adjourned the 2020 legislative session at midnight on Sunday. While this session was anything but normal, I am proud to have served district 42 for another session. While we passed some important and critical legislation this session, we still have more work to do. The bonding bill failed to pass both the House and Senate, leaving projects for district 42, and across the state, unapproved. A special session in June is likely and I look forward to continuing this vital work. Below is just some of the items I remained focused on this session. Thank you to all those who have written, called, and advocated this session. As always, please reach out if you have questions or would like to share your thoughts.
Also, due to campaign finance laws in Minnesota, I am unable to send email updates following 60 days after adjournment. If you have any questions or would like updates, please reach out or check my facebook page.
TCE ban signed into Law
After more than a year’s effort involving numerous stakeholders and bill drafts, the Senate passed a bill to ban trichloroethylene (TCE), a volatile organic compound that is a known carcinogen and is associated with several other detrimental health effects.
The issue came to light after the discovery in 2019 that the company Water Gremlin in White Bear Township had been using TCE to manufacture lead battery terminals and lead fishing sinkers but was violating its MPCA air emissions permit at levels high enough to threaten human health up to 1.5 miles around its facility in White Bear Lake Township. The violation had been occurring since at least 2009.
In response, legislators in the House and Senate worked extensively with a group of concerned citizens, the “Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group (NCCG),” in addressing local issues that arose as a result of the Water Gremlin violation. Ultimately, the NCCG became a leading voice in negotiations to find a legislative TCE ban that all parties could support. Gov. Walz signed a ban on TCE use beginning June 1, 2022 but gives small businesses more time to assess replacement chemicals or modifications to their operations. TCE use would end in Minnesota by June 1, 2023. When enacted, this legislation will become the first TCE ban in the nation. (SF 4073)
Gun Violence Prevention
Despite public support and advocacy for gun violence prevention, the majority refused to hold committee votes on these life-saving measures. The first measure with widespread support would extend criminal background checks to most private sales, gun show markets, and online transactions. The second provision would allow law enforcement and family members to obtain a court order, with reason, to temporarily limit a person’s access to firearms when they pose a threat to themselves or others.
After more than a year of hard work and negotiation, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act this week to create an emergency insulin access program and ongoing support programs. Governor Walz signed the bill into law shortly after. Alec Smith died in 2017 at the young age of 26 after being forced to ration his insulin due to the extremely high costs. This bill requires manufacturers to make insulin available for eligible individuals who are in urgent need of insulin by July 1, 2020. Due to the tireless advocacy of citizens and groups, we were able to pass this life-saving legislation.
While COVID-19 is an unforeseen and unprecedented crisis, Minnesota was better prepared to respond than many other states thanks to the sound management of the state’s budget over the past decade and our investment in a strong budget reserve. While we passed several critical provisions during the 2020 session, more work is still needed to address the hardships many are facing due to COVID-19. Investments are now needed to make Minnesotans secure in their housing, help small businesses, facilitate distance learning and telemedicine, and ensure we have the workforce we need to provide care for the elderly and people with disabilities. With new federal funding assistance available for the costs of responding to the pandemic, we can and should prioritize using our reserves before needlessly cutting the services our most vulnerable depend on.
As part of the first COVID-19 relief package, the Legislature granted temporary powers to the Office of Higher Education to help students deal with effects of the pandemic both financially and academically.
The higher education provisions passed as part of the March 26 bill include providing temporary emergency powers to the commissioner of the Office of Higher Education to prepare for or respond to a COVID-19 outbreak. The temporary powers allow the commissioner to waive rules and statutes for the following programs in order to protect the financial stability and academic standing of students:
- Work Study
- State Grant
- SELF Loan programs
- Other state grant, aid, and scholarship programs under Minnesota Statutes 136A
On April 17, interest rates were reduced to 0% for Minnesota SELF loan and SELF loan Refi borrowers, retroactive to March 13 and extending to September 30. Six-month COVID-19 forbearances are also available, upon request, and no late fees will be charged through the end of September. These changes will benefit over 43,000 Minnesota SELF Loan or SELF Refi borrowers. These new provisions are at or near the top of the most flexible and beneficial student loan provisions in the nation.
We also passed a bill in response to the Argosy school closure. The bill passed provides safeguards for students if schools close, especially private for-profit institutions. The abrupt Argosy school closure last year left close to 1,000 Minnesota students with no degree completion options, student debt, difficult credit transfers, and limited job prospects. The new regulations will safeguard students and hold schools accountable.