Sunday liquor sales legalized amid commonsense health care proposal discussions

The final days of February went out with a bang at the state legislature with the Minnesota Senate passing Sunday liquor sales with a 38 to 28 vote. The bipartisan vote will end a law that banned the sale of alcohol on Sundays. While I voted against this bill, the legislation is expected to be modified slightly before being sent to the Governor. Governor Dayton has indicated that he will sign it into law, and it will go into effect on July 1, 2017.

This week, the February Budget Forecast was also announced – a look at the state’s finances which helps legislators craft a two-year budget. The forecast showed a $1.65 billion surplus – thanks to a strong economy and increasing consumer spending. Despite the surplus (which is much less when inflation is factored in), DFL legislators are urging caution – saying too much spending or tax cuts could quickly make the surplus disappear in future budget cycles.

This week the Governor’s MinnesotaCare Buy In proposal received a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. This plan would provide Minnesotans with a high-quality, affordable health care option. The proposal would allow individuals and families buying insurance on the individual market, of any income level, to buy into MinnesotaCare. New enrollees would pay a non-subsidized premium, leaving the program unchanged for those currently enrolled.

Currently, this program is available only to Minnesotans who do not get insurance through their employer, or another public program, and earn less than 200 percent poverty or approximately $38,000 for a family of two and just shy of $50,000 for a family of four. It’s been a successful bipartisan health insurance solution that has helped insure more than 100,000 Minnesotans for the last 25 years.

Two bills pertaining to abortions in Minnesota were heard in the Health and Human Services Committee and the Judiciary Committee this week. Governor Dayton has vetoed similar legislation in the past and has indicated he will veto the legislation again if it reaches his desk.

The first bill would prohibit state funding for abortions except in cases to save the life of a woman or in cases of rape or incest. State law in Minnesota already prohibits the use of state funding for abortions except in cases of rape or incest, for health or therapeutic reasons, and when a woman’s life is in danger. The bill discriminates against women based on the type of insurance they have and challenges current state law that ensures women have access to reproductive health care regardless of their financial situation. Both bills have previously been determined to be unconstitutional.

This week the Tax committee heard two bills that address student loan debt – an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans. In fact, Minnesota graduates from the class of 2015 carry an average student debt load of $31,526 – the fifth-highest average in the nation. Last year’s tax bill included a DFL initiative to create a first-of-its-kind tax credit for taxpayers making student loan payments. That bill was unfortunately vetoed over an unintended mistake, but a bipartisan group of legislators is aiming to make this credit a reality once again this year.

The first bill is a clone of last year’s DFL proposal and would offer a maximum $1,000 tax credit to individuals paying more than 10% of their Adjusted Gross Income toward student loans. All eligible individuals could claim 50% of eligible payments. At least 71,300 taxpayers would qualify for an average refundable tax credit of $842 in 2017.

The Hibbing Daily Tribune first published this column.

Senator David Tomassoni
David Tomassoni represents District 6, which includes portions of Itasca and St. Louis counties in the northeastern part of the state.

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