Jobs and Housing
Unsatisfied with progress being made at the Legislature, people have engaged local units of government to raise their standard of living by seeking paid time off and minimum wage increases. Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Duluth, and other regional centers are looking to, or have, required employers operating within their communities provide sick and safe time or a living wage.
In opposition to these local ordinances, Republicans passed legislation that would use state power to preempt local units of government from enforcing and establishing these ordinances. DFL members in the Senate opposed the proposal and Governor Dayton later vetoed this legislation. These proposals are likely to come forward again, as it is a high priority for business advocacy groups.
Businesses and advocacy groups had filed litigation to suspend or toss out the rules enacted by the City of Minneapolis. However, the courts have not acted in a meaningful way to suspend the benefits enacted by local units of government. The current case challenging these benefits has been appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court with only a single business remaining on the lawsuit, because business advocacy groups have withdrawn from the case.
Over the past three years, the state has invested $65 million in the broadband grant program. By shouldering some of the upfront costs, the grants make broadband more cost effective and have brought service to nearly 26,000 homes and more than 3,100 businesses.
Broadband advocates may try to receive supplemental funding for the Border to Border Broadband grant program. During the most recent round of awards $26 million was awarded leveraged $34.2 million in public and private matches for a total investment of over $60 million.
The amount awarded is slightly over half of the proposals ($50 million) looking for grant money. The program is especially popular in rural Minnesota, which is why it will likely garner bipartisan support. The amount of funding available will have to compete with other legislative proposals but is most dependent on the February forecast.
Overtime exemption for agricultural workers
Hourly agricultural employees in Minnesota must be paid overtime at the rate of time and a half the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked more than 48 hours in a workweek. Currently, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, and most recently California (September 2016 – phased in starting in 2019) have implemented overtime for agricultural workers. California’s law will allow workers to have overtime pay after working 10 hours in a day, or 60 hours a week.
A proposal looking to lift the overtime requirement stalled in committee last session. The proposal would have exempted temporary and seasonal agricultural workers from overtime. The proposal specifically names workers in the areas of perishable fruit, vegetables, and other horticultural stock when H-2A non-immigrant visa requirements are met.
It is likely this proposal will receive additional hearings in the upcoming legislative session.
In late December Governor Dayton assembled a working group to address affordable housing in Minnesota. In January he also recommended $115 million for housing in his bonding bill. In addition to the Governor’s actions, the Senate has been holding informal meetings looking to examine issues that impact the price of a home.
Stakeholders will likely pursue a multifaceted approach to addressing home pricing issues. This may include looking for finance resources that promote affordable housing, limiting state regulations, and examining how local units of governments are impacting home prices.
Tax Exempt Bonds
A group of stakeholders met over the interim to examine how to better use tax exempt bonds for housing. They came to an agreement on five things that will help support rental housing developments in Minnesota:
- Projects using 55% of costs or less are funded first
- Priorities for long term affordability, locations in counties with incomes (Greater Minnesota)
- Randomly selected proposals, projects get their full requests
- Inclusion of senior housing projects
- Ensure bonds are used in a timely manner once a project is selected (18 months)