Minnesota Senate Republicans unveiled their top five priorities Tuesday as the new legislative session kicked off, promising a platform of “equity, fairness, and common sense.”
“It’s a new opportunity. We have a new governor. We have new House leadership, but we’re still the same. You know what we’re going to be like. We’re consistent; we tell you what we’re going to do and then we do it,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) said at a Tuesday morning press conference.
“It’s not the only bills that we’re going to be doing, but it tells you what we’re emphasizing early,” he added.
1. Mental health
Senate Republicans said that one of the top concerns expressed by constituents while the Legislature was on break was the growing number of mental health issues in the state, especially in schools and in rural areas.
“As you know, untreated mental health concerns continue to grow in our society,” Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) said, noting that many of the mental health bills passed by Republicans in the previous session were vetoed by former Gov. Mark Dayton (D-MN).
“One of the ones particularly that I believe you’ll see right out of the gate again is safe and secure schools,” she said, saying the bill has a “significant amount of mental health services early on for our kids.”
She also emphasized the importance of expanding mental health services for rural communities and farmers, saying that “sector particularly is under some severe stress.”
“It’s important to all of us. One in five people have some mental health that requires some treatment or care,” Nelson added.
2. Affordable and accessible child care
Sen. Bill Weber (Luverne, MN) spoke Tuesday about the “difficult time families in rural Minnesota have in finding child care for their children.”
“Moms and dads who can’t find child care can’t work, so eventually they either leave their jobs or they leave the communities altogether,” said Weber, who was part of a working group of senators who traveled around the state to hear from families and daycare providers.
“What we heard from them is pretty much consistent no matter where you go in the state of Minnesota, and that is that government has made it nearly impossible to operate an in home child care or private daycare center,” he said.
Weber also criticized proposals to offer universal Pre-K in Minnesota, a platform supported by Gov. Tim Walz (D-MN), saying it will “destroy the rest of what’s left of our daycare system.”
3. Health care costs
It’s no surprise that health care landed on the GOP’s list of priorities. It was the dominant issue in Minnesota’s 2018 gubernatorial race, and is consistently ranked as the top concern among Minnesota voters.
“Health care has been a conversation as long as I’ve been at the Capitol, and it’s not going away,” Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) said.
“We will be coming forward with proposals that are really focused on the doctor-patient relationship. Can you contract with your primary care provider? Everybody knows that good primary care helps delay or even stop chronic illnesses so that we lower the cost of care,” she added.
Benson said voters can also expect to see more legislation surrounding transparency for pharmaceutical companies.
Republicans expressed opposition Tuesday to renewing the state’s Health Care Provider tax, which is set to expire at the end of the year, but helps pay for programs like MinnesotaCare. Walz and his Democratic colleagues want to renew the tax, while Republicans think it is unnecessary and argue that most funds for MinnesotaCare come from the federal government.
Battleground State News has provided extensive coverage of the rampant child care fraud in Minnesota, which Republicans are finally vowing to tackle.
“We spend a lot of money in so many areas. We’ve got to make sure every penny goes to where it’s supposed to go, and the story is that we’ve not always been successful at that,” Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) said during Tuesday’s press conference, listing some popular examples of fraud and waste in Minnesota.
“There’s some examples of things you’ve heard about. The Department of Motor Vehicles, the whole MNLARS [Minnesota Licensing and Registration System] thing where literally a hundred million dollars has been spent in ways that made it worse. You’ve heard about child care assistance fraud where people just make up kids and they get the money,” he said.
Last week, it was revealed that the Department of Public Safety’s Driver and Vehicle Services division illegally shared addresses with private companies of at least 1,500 Minnesotans who registered their vehicles with the state.
“Frankly, a lot of people have had their faith shaken in government, and it makes it harder to get good things done, and that’s really not what we’re about,” Abeler said.
5. Tax conformity
State legislators are preparing for a showdown over a possible gas tax increase in the state, which Walz said likely will be included in his first budget proposal. Republicans said Tuesday that it will make Minnesotans’ lives “more difficult and worse,” and believe it’s unnecessary since the state has a projected $1.5 billion budget surplus.
The Minnesota GOP also plans to make “tax filing easier” by conforming to the new federal tax law. Dayton vetoed a tax conformity bill in June 2018 because he thought it benefited the state’s wealthier residents.
“Republicans’ first five bills this year are focused on making life easier for families across the state,” Gazelka said in a press release. “We’ve heard from Minnesotans that they are struggling to afford child care and health care, want better mental health resources, and are concerned about government transparency and accountability, so these issues will be our top priorities as we put together the next state budget.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus” by Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus.