We are just finishing up our fifth week of the 2018 Legislative Session. I’ve visited with hundreds of constituents and worked on many local and statewide issues. However, there are three important issues that I want to focus on: MNLARS, Eldercare, and state employee contract ratification.
MNLARS – Widespread software glitches to the MNLARS system has been a pain for many area residents, state contractors who operate vehicle services offices and auto dealers. I’ve heard from many of you and have pushed for this issue to be resolved and resolved as soon as possible.
On March 19, the Senate and House passed their versions of the MNLARS fix. There were some major differences between the bills and a conference committee was called to resolve them. We voted on the final bill on March 22. It appropriates $9.65 million for costs related to continued development, improvement, operations and deployment of vehicle services MNLARS. It isn’t a perfect bill, but I voted for it. Some of the concerns include not providing any additional money to hire customer service representatives to deal with the public. The legislation also provides detailed dollar amounts broken out on exactly how all dollars can be spent, which was vigorously opposed by MN.IT who argued they needed some flexibility across spending categories, which is typical of IT projects. I’m just glad it passed and am hopeful there will be continued improvement and development of MNLARS to ensure Minnesotans will be able to receive the essential services they expect from Driver and Vehicle Services.
ELDER CARE/ABUSE – Protecting vulnerable adults and seniors is an issue everyone can agree on – no matter your political affiliation. That is why I am supporting a package of elder care proposals heard in committee this week. The goal of the proposals is to clear up how complaints are handled, how punishments are assessed. I am particularly supportive of one provision to allow relatives to install cameras in rooms at assisted-living facilities.
The proposals were mostly drawn from a working group Gov. Dayton appointed last year and headed up by AARP. I am hopeful we will pass legislation to step up investigations and inspections. I am also supportive of tougher criminal and civil penalties for employees who threaten or abuse those in their care. We need to be able to trust our love ones are living in safe, secure and supportive homes.
STATE EMPLOYEE CONTRACTS – Today, nearly 30,000 state employees represented by AFSCME and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) are without a contract. Back in October, with a party-line vote, a state legislative panel refused to ratify new two-year contracts that provided modest cost of living increases. Those two unions represent nearly 80 percent of state employees.
I was pleased the employee contract bill have finally moved through the committee process and are awaiting passage on the Senate Floor. The legislation ratifies the current contracts which provide a modest 2% cost-of-living increase for most public employees this year and a 2.25% increase next year. The contracts have undergone an extensive negotiating process, are fair to employees, and are a good deal for Minnesota taxpayers. The agreements cover employees that work as public health nurses, college professors, and MnDOT engineers across the state, and will help recruit and retain qualified employees to carry out the services Minnesotans expect from state government.
I am hopeful we will pass the state employee contract bill next week. These hard-working men and woman deserve their fair pay.
This column was first published in the Mankato Times.