When state lawmakers convened in St. Paul on February 20 to kick off the 2018 legislative session, I had high hopes that Republicans and Democrats would work together to address big challenges, such as elder abuse, school safety and the opioid epidemic. When the Legislature hit its constitutional deadline at midnight on Sunday, May 20, solutions to those challenges were missing in action.
Last year, widespread allegations of elder abuse began appearing in news reports. Governor Dayton first directed his administration to eliminate a backlog of complaints. He then appointed a consumer workgroup consisting of leaders from AARP Minnesota, the Minnesota Elder Justice Center, Alzheimer’s Association, Elder Voice Family Advocates, and Legal Aid.
The workgroup released a wide-ranging report on recommendations to address abuse, neglect, care, and safety of residents in care facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living settings. It reflects feedback from victims, advocates, family members, services providers, direct care workers and facility staff members. In the end, intense lobbying from some providers killed a reasonable and bipartisan plan I chief authored with then-Senator Michelle Fischbach to address this heartbreaking situation. Consumer advocates, who were rightly infuriated, sent a letter to Republican leadership letting them know of their disappointment in the outcome of the session.
Opioid abuse is another issue where special interest lobbying killed a good bill. My Senate colleagues and I passed by a margin of 60-6 a plan requiring the pharmaceutical industry to contribute to the cost of the opioid crisis they knowingly created. Dozens of Big Pharma lobbyists prowled the Capitol halls in the final weeks of session. Republican leadership helped kill the bill, and now taxpayers will continue to shoulder 100% of the costs of the opioid crisis.
It was a terrible mistake for my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to lump as many bills as possible together in the final minutes of the session and demand the governor’s signature with little to no public discussion. A 990-page budget packed with controversial policy got introduced and approved in the dark of night in a matter of several hours. This decision does not set an inspiring example for good government.
I’m also disappointed that my Republican friends tied a tax bill with huge giveaways for multinational corporations to emergency funding desperately needed by our schools to address growing classroom sizes. Governor Dayton implored that resources for our schoolchildren be approved in standalone legislation, but lawmakers did not listen. Had state lawmakers decided to allow taxing of foreign income repatriated to the United States, just like Congress did last year, it would have provided enough money to help our schoolchildren.
Although the 2018 session was largely marred by partisan politics, lawmakers did come to an agreement on a public construction bill with funding for economic development in our area. I am proud to announce funding for the following projects:
- $1.2 million for Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet to complete a project known as Maajiigi(Start to Grow), benefitting the elementary teacher education program which prepares the next generation of teachers by infusing indigenous (Anishinaabeg—Ojibwe) perspectives into all areas of a curriculum.
- $1.95 million for Moose Lake Correctional Facility to improve security and efficiency,
- I also voted in support of an amendment that would haveincluded funding for the Carlton/Twin Lakes Regional Water Project as well as an expansion of the Challenge Incarceration Program in Willow River.
Please contact me with your questions and comments about the 2018 legislative session. Lawmakers return to St. Paul for the 2019 session in January.
This commentary was originally published in the Pine City Pioneer.