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Peggy Bennett: What needs to be accomplished in session?

Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

Peggy Bennett

 

It’s hard to believe, but in a couple of days the 2020 legislative session will begin.

So what do we need to accomplish?

Though it is not a budget year, we do have a projected $1.3 billion budget surplus to allocate. I have no doubt there will be some lawmakers competing for that money to start new government programs. Adding new expenses, and the permanent funding obligations that are attached to them, makes no sense to me – not when we have current obligations like the special education funding gap and nursing home needs that are not adequately funded.

Quite honestly, I think we need to focus our surplus on some long due tax relief for the people of Minnesota. One of my tax relief priorities has been and continues to be the complete repeal of the Social Security income tax. Our seniors have spent a lifetime working and paying taxes and many are now on fixed incomes trying every month to make ends meet. We’ve made a few good steps toward this tax repeal since I’ve been in office, but it’s high time we finish it. 

We also need to continue to address the need for affordable and accessible health care in rural Minnesota. I’m working on a bill this session that isn’t the complete solution, but it would bring more options and be another tool in the toolbox to help address the problem. My legislation deals with direct primary care clinics. The plan would strengthen the doctor/patient relationship while lowering health care costs and improving access. Hopefully it will be moving forward soon in the Minnesota House.

There is also the debacle that has been taking place in the Minnesota Department of Human Services over the past year, where we have numerous, proven reports of waste, fraud, abuse, and poor treatment of employees within the agency. This mismanagement needs to be addressed.

2020 is also a bonding year, which means we are likely to see a capital investment bill moving forward. To me, this proposal should focus on the “meat and potatoes” projects such as road and bridge repair needs, current assets that are owned by the state (think a new roof on a college campus building), flood mitigation, water quality infrastructure, and wastewater treatment facilities.

The City of Albert Lea is hoping a few local projects will also make the final capital investment proposal. They include flood mitigation on Main Street, the Blazing Star Trail and the Blazing Star Landing. The Shell Rock River Watershed Board would also like additional funding to continue dredging our lakes.

Finally, I will be working on a proposal that would reform the omnibus bill process that both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate utilize. For those that don’t know, an omnibus bill is one huge bill that contains multiple (sometimes dozens) of bills that pertain to a certain area of government, such as K-12 Education. I believe these huge bills are one of the root causes to the huge impasses we see at the end of every session, as well as a very “un-transparent” way to do government.

The issue is when a very controversial bill is among the dozens that are included in an omnibus bill lawmakers are faced with a difficult choice: vote for the omnibus bill and in doing so support the controversial proposal that you might hate, or vote against the omnibus bill due to the controversial proposal’s inclusion, and in doing so vote against many other good provisions that you strongly support.

My bill would force the controversial issues to be debated as a single topic on the House or Senate floor rather than allow them to be attached to an omnibus bill.

Those are just a few of the topics I expect to see debated over the next few months. As session moves along, please let me know your thoughts and opinions. I look forward to hearing from you!

State Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, represents Minnesota House District 27A, which includes almost all of Freeborn County, along with parts of Faribault, Mower, Steele and Dodge counties. She can be reached by phone at 651-296-8216 or by email at rep. peggy.bennett@house.mn.