By Sen. Karla Bigham, Minnesota Senate District 54
Spring has arrived in Minnesota, and I'm sure we are all thankful for the warmth and sunshine after this year's winter. A consequence of this warmth is melting snow and spring flooding, which much of our community is fighting. I want to thank Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Rep. Angie Craig, and many other local, state and federal leaders who have been working together to address the effects of this flooding. I want to give a special thank you to the volunteers and public works staff who are working to prepare for these floods. I remain in contact with local officials, and the state stands ready to provide any additional resources necessary for flood mitigation.
The Senate has already taken one step in preparing for disasters like floods, and that was replenishing the state's disaster contingency account. This fund exists to have funding ready immediately for communities affected by disasters and was most recently used to help address major rain and flooding in the City of Duluth. The Senate recently passed legislation that refilled the account with $10 million which stands ready to help Minnesotans.
The 2019 legislative session continues to move forward, with only eight weeks between now and our adjournment on May 20. Our biggest task remains completing a budget, and we expect to begin hearing budget bills in committee early in April as we try to pass them before the third committee deadline of April 12. Though these are the biggest pieces of the budget, action has already been taken on some major issues already.
This year's winter brought more snow days to Minnesota than we've had in a long time and has put our schools in a bit of a bind when it comes to making up this time. That's why the Legislature passed a snow day forgiveness bill that lets local school districts decide how to approach this issue. The bill will let school boards decide if the missed days can count as instructional days.
The Legislature has also moved forward on an important public safety issue related to distracted driving. We have seen powerful testimony at the Capitol from families who have lost loved ones to distracted driving due to cellphone use, and it's time for us to address it. I proudly voted yes for this bipartisan legislation, which bans use of cellphones except in a hands-free function. In the 16 states where laws like this are in place, accidents and deaths due to distracted driving have gone down.
Although we've made progress in some ways, I am disappointed in the lack of action on several high-profile issues that Minnesotans deserve to hear about. These include the high costs of prescription drugs, including the immoral rise in insulin prices, the Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing gender equality, and higher renewable energy standards.
The Senate majority also went forward in passing reinsurance, which writes a blank check for insurance companies with no guarantee that they will reduce costs. This corporate welfare is not a long-term approach for health care and is not a responsible way to spend the taxpayer's dollar. I'm hopeful that we can have real conversations in committee about legislation addressing the real costs of health care, in addition to action on these other issues that Minnesotans care about.
Though things are busy, I always make time for constituents. I want to hear from you! I encourage constituents to visit at the Capitol. Call 651-297-8060 to make an appointment or to share your thoughts and concerns. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and please sign up for my email updates.