My Point of View: Investing in the people of Minnesota this session

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2023

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

The North Star State is lighting the way on progress.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

The Minnesota Legislature just wrapped up an historically productive session. The DFL has delivered on its major promises after voters gave it a trifecta in the 2022 election. Its success is the result of outstanding leadership in both the House and Senate, steering an impressive array of bills to the governor’s desk for Walz’s signature.

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While some states controlled by Republicans have used their legislative sessions to ban drag shows, squeeze public education, tighten the government’s grip on women’s bodies and bring back child labor in dangerous industries, Democrats in Minnesota have passed a luminously different set of priorities. Political observers across the country have taken notice and are pointing to Minnesota as showing the way forward on passing bold policy that works for more people.

The DFL has expanded funding for public education, expanded worker protections, made healthcare more affordable, invested in affordable housing and public infrastructure, invested in clean drinking water, made the tax system fairer and protected voting rights and civil liberties.

Here are just a few of the highlights, which will be a boon to Minnesota families for generations:

• $2.3B boost in public school funding

• Free public college tuition for families making under $80K/yr

• $3B in tax cuts, credits and aid

• Paid family and medical leave

• Expanded the public option for health insurance to all

• Ban on non-compete agreements in employment

• Eliminated Social Security tax for seniors with income less than $78K/yr (singles) or $100K/yr (couples)

• $1B investment in affordable housing

• $2.6B bonding bill for infrastructure improvements and other projects

• Lead pipe replacement

• Increased protection for election workers

• Legalized cannabis (age 21 and over)

Republicans, on the other hand, have the backs of people who want to make the most profit they can from other people’s labor, passing costs to the environment in the form of pollution, and/or passing the costs of harmful products to consumers. They spend a lot of time and money on messaging to distract people with scare topics in order to get people to back narrow private (monied) interests instead of wider public interests.

One example is Rep. Bennett continuing to assert this month that removing old language in the Human Rights Act regarding sexuality could somehow inadvertently protect pedophiles. If that scares you at first glance — as she means it to — please remember that crimes involving sexual exploitation of children by adults are defined by age, not by sex nor by sexuality. The language change regarding sexuality will in no way protect adults who seek to molest children.

That reminds me of yet another alleged child predator who came to light in the Republican party — a key Ron DeSantis donor, Kent Stermon, committed suicide last December after he was accused of soliciting pictures of his 15-year-old babysitter’s breasts in exchange for Taylor Swift tickets and then offering hush money to the girl’s father to cover it up. Gov. DeSantis had appointed Stermon in 2019 to the Florida Board of Education, which oversees the state’s university system.

One more point on protecting children — local Republican Brad Kramer spent a portion of his My Point of View column earlier this month making a straw man argument against my criticism of Iowa’s expansion of child labor in dangerous industries to children as young as 14. I can’t think of a single person who wants to prevent 16-year-olds from developing a work ethic and learning customer service skills, as Kramer insinuated there is. Can you?

I had firsthand experience working from the age of 10 around heavy machinery on my family’s farm. There were many ways for things to go very wrong, very quickly, and I knew a family whose 5-year-old child died in a planting accident in the 1990s. It’s perilous enough if kids are working with their parents on a farm, and minors who are employed by non-relatives around treacherous equipment or hazardous materials need additional labor protections, including age restrictions.

The Democratic Party is the party that actually does the most, by far, to protect children from many kinds of harms in tangible and pragmatic ways, like getting rid of lead in drinking water, banning non-essential use of PFAS (forever chemicals), passing child tax credits that lift children out of poverty, making school lunch free and defending strong child labor laws.

The DFL has placed a big bet on the people of Minnesota during the 2023 session. Betting on regular people —especially our workers and students — is the safest bet we can make for a healthier, more productive state. A state where anyone, especially children, can flourish.

L’étoile du Nord. Not just a poetic motto. Minnesota is a state that shines a bright light and helps other states navigate the challenges of our time.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.