Capitol Comments: Minnesota’s broken government needs to be fixed

Published 8:45 pm Friday, May 24, 2024

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Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

There are a lot of things I could write about to wrap up the 2024 legislative session.

Peggy Bennett

I could talk about some good things that passed into law. We thankfully passed bipartisan legislation to get school resource officers back into our schools. In addition, we passed $24 million in one-time emergency funding to address the emergency medical services crisis in Minnesota. When people need an ambulance, it’s important one be there for them.

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Two bills I authored were included in the final education bill. My Purple Star School provision will provide options for local schools to help support and make life easier for children of military families who move often from school to school due to their parents’ military service. In addition, I worked with local special education directors, MDE and legislative colleagues this year to make the special education teacher pipeline grant program (a provision of mine included last session) even more effective and flexible to help schools recruit and train special education teachers.

I could talk about some very harmful things that were approved this year. One example: last year the Democratic majority passed their one-size-fits-all Paid Family Leave program. Republicans warned then that it was hugely underfunded. This year, a report was released showing the program costs had been grossly underestimated. I find it egregious that the majority will now pay for this cost gap with an almost three-quarter billion-dollar payroll tax increase on Minnesotans. Can you afford to have more taxes taken out of your paycheck?

Someone who makes just $20 an hour will see a new $80 tax withdrawn from their paycheck every other week to pay for this costly new program and the huge new state bureaucracy that will operate it. Others will pay much more, and the costs will only go up.

It’s also extremely concerning that, despite spending the entire $18 billion surplus last year and increasing the cost of government by 40%, the majority continued to spend nearly a billion dollars this year. Especially knowing that Minnesota faces a budget deficit next year. This is simply irresponsible.

I could go on to write about the good and the bad. However, what I really want to talk about is our government. The legislative process is extremely broken in Minnesota.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the tumultuous ending to the 2024 session. Even those outside of the Legislature on both sides of the aisle are saying they’ve never seen anything this bad.

Just two hours before the midnight end of the legislative session, Democrats quietly convened a small conference committee and jammed all of their big omnibus bills left to be passed (and who knows what else) into one huge omnibus bill — 1,494 pages to be exact. They brought this monster omnibus bill to the House and then the Senate floor with about 20 minutes left.

Legislators had no opportunity to read or even look at this monster bill since there were no paper or online copies available when it came to the floor for a vote. They rammed the bill through unread, with no debate and minority appeals ignored.

The House Majority Leader was quoted saying, “We did what we needed to do to get our agenda passed.” It seems the end justifies the means. Very sad.

Democrats will say Republicans took too long and had too many amendments, wasting time. Republicans will argue that Democrats refused to work with Republicans and exhibited extremely poor time management, including wasting two entire days with no meetings during the final week. On top of that, Senate Democrats gaveled a long 12-hour recess with just two days to go because of Democratic infighting.

Even while holding the majority in both legislative bodies and the governor’s office, a bonding bill never even made it to the floor for a vote — and it’s a bonding year.

Jamming a monstrous ominous bill through like this — and without the opportunity to even see it — is just plain wrong on many levels. This is a bipartisan issue. Republicans did something similar with an “omnibus prime” bill a few years back, though definitely not to this extent. I’m not going to play the blame game. Both parties do these things to one extent or another.

I didn’t agree with it then, and I don’t agree with it now. The end does not justify the means.

Whatever happened to respect, decency, and integrity? Whatever happened to at least being willing to sit down and listen to the other side? You may not agree in the end, but both sides will be in a much better place by just listening. And, who knows? You might just be surprised and find some agreement at times and actually make the legislation better. Then multiple amendments wouldn’t be necessary when these bills come up for votes.

Our government is broken. It’s time to bring some adults to the table and get it fixed.

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 23A representative.