Legislative Update – July 15, 2014

On Wednesday, Minnesota took an important step toward securing substantial resources to strengthen our ongoing disaster relief and recovery efforts after last month’s severe storms and flooding.

Governor Dayton issued Emergency Executive Order 14-12 expanding the peacetime state of emergency to 16 counties beyond the 35 counties declared on June 19, 2014. The new emergency executive order includes Kandiyohi County.

Governor Dayton has also requested that President Obama declare a major disaster in Minnesota. In a letter to President Obama, Governor Dayton described widespread flood damage across Minnesota. To date, $10.8 million in eligible damages have been documented through preliminary damage assessments in Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville, and Rock counties. The FEMA threshold for federal assistance is $7.3 million in statewide eligible damages.

If granted by the President, the disaster declaration would provide assistance to townships, cities, counties, schools and certain private not-for-profit organizations for uninsured and eligible storm-related damage to public infrastructure.

Examples of eligible expenses include:

  • Debris Removal
  • Emergency Protective Services
  • Repair or replacement of storm-damaged:
    • Roads and Bridges
    • Water control facilities
    • Buildings and equipment
    • Municipal utilities
    • Parks and recreational facilities

If the President declares a major disaster, FEMA would fund 75 percent of approved costs, with Minnesota covering the remaining 25 percent non-federal share.

The Department of Commerce has posted resources at its Disaster Center located on their website.   The information is also included in the attachment. The Department of Commerce’s Consumer Response Team (CRT) is available to help consumers with questions, concerns, or complaints following a damaging storm, flood, or tornado. CRT experts help consumers understand their rights, work with their insurer to settle a claim, and help Minnesotans make informed insurance decisions after a flood or storm damages their home, auto, or property.

Phone: (800) 657-3602
Email: consumer.protection@state.mn.us

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

 

Legislative Update – Happy Fourth of July!

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July — a great day to celebrate our amazing country! I hope you and your family enjoy the holiday. There are a number of wonderful events in our area over the weekend and I encourage folks to check them out if you have time.

Highway 23 Receives Funding for an Environmental Study

On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Transportation announced that $1.5 million in funding from the Corridors of Commerce program will be going toward an environmental study for Highway 23. Completing this study will get the “Fill the Gap” project one step closer to “shovel ready” status, increasing our chance of moving forward when additional funding becomes available. Completing this four-lane corridor would expand economic opportunity and growth for our area.

MnDOT Commissioner Zelle was in Willmar on Monday to discuss the project. You can read more about his visit in the West Central Tribune: http://www.wctrib.com/content/mndot-funding-environmental-study-first-step-toward-closing-gaps-hwy-23-four-lane.

New Laws Take Effect

On July 1, a number of new laws passed during the 2014 Session went into effect. Some of the major new laws are posted below.

Women’s Economic Security Act: This legislation aims to address issues like the gender pay gap, workplace protections for pregnant and new moms and the creation of employment opportunities for women in high-wage, high-demand professions.

Jobs and Economic Development: Minnesota will make a long overdue investment in its Internet infrastructure by providing $20 million in one-time money for grants to improve broadband connectivity. The budget also will create the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which will expand services in unserved or underserved parts of the state.

The budget also will allocate $475,000 on a one-time basis to each of the state’s six initiative foundations for revolving loans and other lending programs and another $2.2 million in one-time funding for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure Grant Program.

Agriculture and Environment: There will be $2 million in one-time incentives for farmers and other food producers to provide surplus food to food shelves.

The supplemental budget will provide $1.6 million to improve state parks and $2 million to provide shooting sports facilities grants. The University of Minnesota receives nearly $5 million to create the Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center. A number of important projects to help pollinators and fight invasive species were passed this year as well.

E-12 Education: Out of $54 million in new money allotted for E-12 education, $23 million will go to a $25-per-pupil increase in the basic education formula. The formula increase is ongoing.  Thanks to additional investments, the cap on early learning scholarships will be removed and funding for those scholarships, as well early childhood family education scholarships, will be increased by $4.7 million each. The law also provides $3.5 million for school lunch and food storage and provides $569,000 so that all kindergartners’ can have a school breakfast.

Health and Human Services: Because of action by the legislature, home- and community-based service providers will receive a 5 percent rate increase. The supplemental budget also included additional funding for the Homeless Youth Act.

For more details on the new laws that are now in effect, click on this link: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hinfo/newlaws2014-0.asp.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – Growing Jobs and Strengthening Our Economy

Minnesota received some more good news last week, with the Department of Employment and Economic reporting that Minnesota added 10,300 jobs in May. Our unemployment rate is down to 4.6 percent statewide, well below the US rate of 6.3 percent. Kandiyohi County’s unemployment rate in May was even lower, at 3.8 percent.

After the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Minnesota’s economy has continued to recover, officially regaining all the jobs lost during the recession and then some.

But that economic recovery hasn’t been felt by everyone — especially for some of our communities in Greater Minnesota. That’s why, over the last two years, the Legislature made bold investments in job creation initiatives across our great state.

Increasing Minnesota’s Exports and Trade

Last year, I chief-authored legislation to provide more funding for the Minnesota Trade Office. The Trade Office works to help Minnesota businesses navigate foreign markets and trade regulations so they can increase their exports and put more Minnesotans to work. With this funding the state has opened a new trade office in Germany and is opening offices in Brazil and South Korea.

Minnesota is a national leader in agricultural exports.  In 2011, Minnesota was the 6th largest agricultural exporting state with a record-high of $6.8 billion in total agricultural exports—a 13% increase over 2010. Minnesota’s agricultural exports generated a total of $8.7 billion in total economic activities and supported more than 46,000 jobs in 2011.

When Minnesota opened its first trade office in China in 2005, the state saw a 71 percent increase in exports to China in one year. Data from the Brookings Institute demonstrates how increasing exports leads to job growth, with each $100 million increase in exports leading to approximately 665 new jobs.

In the first quarter of this year, our exports reached $5 billion and were up 24 percent in Germany. Opening more trade offices around the world will open up markets for Minnesota businesses and farmers throughout Minnesota, bringing them more revenue and growing more jobs.

Investing in Job Creation

The 2013 Jobs Bill appropriated $54 million for the Minnesota Investment Fund and the Job Creation Fund, which are being used to provide financial incentives to encourage out-of-state companies to set up shop in Minnesota and for existing businesses to bring in new employees. These grants and loans have already helped create new jobs and help businesses expand.

Cutting Business Taxes

Last year, the Legislature enacted one of the largest business tax cuts in State history, reducing taxes by $350 million for Minnesota businesses by lowering Unemployment Insurance taxes.

Investing in Job Training

We invested in customized job training and workforce development programs like FastTRAC. These programs are set up to give workers the training they need to get back to work. Set up through partnerships with local MnSCU campuses and organizations, these training programs can be customized to meet the needs of the businesses in their area.

Investing in Our Infrastructure

We passed a package of Capitol Investment bills that is estimated to create thousands of jobs statewide by putting people to work repairing roads, bridges, schools, and local infrastructure in communities across Minnesota. The package also includes repairs for Ridgewater College and the Glacial Lakes Trail expansion, among other local projects.

Investing in Greater Minnesota

  • $20 million for a border-to-border grant fund to for the expansion of Broadband Internet access in Greater Minnesota. This will help put families, businesses, and schools in rural areas on equal footing with communities in the metro.
  • $475,000 to each of the six Initiative Foundations located in Greater Minnesota.  This funding is designated for the lending programs that each of the Initiative Foundations operates to help small businesses. I was the chief author of the funding for the Initiative Foundation in Southwest Minnesota.
  • $500,000 to the network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDC’s) operating throughout MN.  The SBDC’s provide expert advice and consulting services designed to get small businesses up-and-running.
  • $2.2 million for grants to local units of government in Greater MN for public infrastructure projects that promote economic development, with an additional $4 million for this program in the Bonding Bill.

There’s more left to do, but these investments will make a significant impact on communities across Minnesota. After years of slashing budgets, we took a more balanced approach this session. We made investments in proven job creation programs that can help local businesses set up shop and expand their operations.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

 

Legislative Update – Fair Taxes for Middle-Class Minnesotans

In continuing to recap the legislature’s work over the last two years, I wanted to share with you some information about what we did to gear our tax system toward middle-class Minnesotans instead of wealthy special interests.

According to nonpartisan fact checkers at Minnesota Public Radio’s PoliGraph blog, most people, including most middle-class Minnesotans, are going to be seeing lower taxes as opposed to higher taxes due the actions of the 2013-14 Legislature. Overall, a little more than half of Minnesota’s 4.2 million adult individuals will see a reduction in their taxes.

It is certainly true that in 2013, we did raise some taxes. The legislature faced a $627 million deficit and we owed our schools nearly $800 million. We raised taxes, but largely on the wealthiest 2 percent of income earners and by closing corporate tax loopholes. We eliminated the deficit and made new investments to grow the middle class, such as providing all-day kindergarten for every child, freezing tuition for college students, boosting property tax refunds for homeowners and renters as well as providing incentives for business expansions.

Due to a balanced budget and growing economy, we had a $1.2 billion surplus in and we made it our top priority to put middle-class Minnesotans first with middle-class tax cuts.

The facts show our approach is working well. Minnesota has regained all the jobs lost during the Great Recession, businesses are expanding and we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.

Here is a closer look at the Legislature’s work to build a fairer tax system:

Tax Cuts for Middle-Class Minnesotans: During the 2014 Session, we enacted tax cuts for more than two million middle-class Minnesotans through federal conformity and direct property tax relief, including married couples, seniors, working families, homeowners, renters, college students and parents.

First property tax reduction in a decade: Property taxes have more than doubled over the last decade, with increases falling hardest on the middle class, seniors, and small businesses. The legislature delivered $177 million in direct relief to homeowners, renters, and farmers. Thanks to that direct relief, property taxes are going down statewide for the first time in a decade.

Locally, property taxes are projected to go down 13 percent for homeowners in Willmar — and that’s before including the Homestead Credit Refund. 2,600 homeowners in Kandiyohi County will see a larger property tax refund.

Asking the Richest 2% to Pay Their Fair Share: For many years, corporations and the wealthiest 2% of Minnesotans (who earn an average $617,000 per year) have seen no tax increases, while our budget deficits were balanced on the backs of property taxpayers, students and our seniors. We changed course and instead asked the wealthiest Minnesotans to pay just 2 percent more in income taxes and we closed corporate tax loopholes in order to balance our deficit and make needed investments in middle-class priorities.

Closing Corporate Tax Loopholes: For years, corporate tax loopholes have given some large businesses an unfair advantage, sheltering them from paying some state taxes. We closed those loopholes, providing over $250 million to invest in better education and job creation.

After a decade of being squeezed to protect the wealthiest Minnesotans and big corporations, most middle-class Minnesotans are going to be seeing lower taxes while also seeing bigger property tax refunds, all-day Kindergarten, a two-year college tuition freeze and much more.

A fairer tax system and strong middle class is exactly what Minnesota needs to prosper and thrive both now and into the future. I look forward to visiting with you this summer and fall to talk more about how we can keep building on Minnesota’s momentum.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

 

Legislative Update – Education Recap

I hope you’re all enjoying the start of summer! We certainly earned it after that terrible winter and lackluster spring. Now that the legislative session has wrapped up, I wanted to take a moment to summarize the legislature’s activity on a number of issues, starting with education.

Minnesota has long been a leader in education, but when I was sworn-in in January of 2013, we had been slipping. Our state had fallen to 47th in the nation in class sizes making it next to impossible for students to receive the individualized attention they need to be successful. We were in the top 10 in school funding, but had slipped to 22nd. Worst of all, the previous legislature majority had borrowed $2.4 billion from our schools to paper over another budget deficit.

As Minnesotans, we understand that a world-class education system is the gateway to a world-class economy. That is why we changed course and why we made historic investments in education for all of our learners and set the goal of building the world’s best workforce.

New Funding for E-12 Education: Invested $525 million in Minnesota’s E-12 education system, providing needed funding for schools to reduce class sizes and boost student achievement. Our local schools — Willmar, New-London Spicer, and A.C.G.C — are seeing an increase of $4.8 million.

Paying Back Our Schools: The previous legislature borrowed $2.4 billion from our K-12 schools. To make our schools whole again, our budget paid back the IOU in full.

All Day Kindergarten for Every Student: Every child will now have access to free, all-day Kindergarten. This new measure will narrow our state’s achievement gap and help prepare every child for success in school and life.

Early Childhood Scholarships: Thousands more young learners will gain access to high-quality early learning in preschool and child care. This initiative will deliver a 16 to 1 return on investment, and prepare our kids for success in school and life.

Freezing Tuition for Minnesota Students: Recent budgets have slashed higher education funding, leaving students to pick up the tab for skyrocketing tuition and burying families in debt. We invested $250 million in higher education allowing the University of Minnesota and MnSCU systems — including Ridgewater College — to freeze college tuition for two years.

Safe and Supportive Schools: Rather than worrying about being bullied, students should be spending their days learning, making friends, and thinking about their futures. Schools should be a place where all students are safe and valued. The Safe and Supportive Schools Act strengthens the ability of local communities to create their own anti-bullying policies, provides a framework to protect all students from abusive behavior, supports staff in their efforts to prohibit bullying, and will support improved student achievement by providing a safe school environment.

Ensuring No Child Goes Hungry: Our students should have access to a nutritious lunch, regardless of family circumstances. We all know that going hungry without a hot lunch not only impacts student health, it negatively impacts a student’s ability to learn. Our budget increases funding for reduced price lunches, ensuring students won’t be turned away at the lunch line.

Closing School Funding Equity Gaps: After a decade where the funding equity gap between metro and rural schools expanded dramatically, we passed legislation to close the cap by a third in just two years. In Minnesota, the quality of a child’s education should be excellent, no matter where they live in our great state.

The legislature made huge strides in education this session, but there is more work ahead because education is critical to our state’s long-term success. We need to ensure all 3 and 4 year olds have access to quality early education and continue to address the problem of rising student debt for our college students. I look forward to continuing the work of ensuring that every Minnesota student has access to a world-class education.

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the honor of serving you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

 

End of Session Update

The 2014 Session adjourned on Friday — ahead of schedule — bringing an end to a productive two years in St. Paul. We ended session after passing “Tax Bill 2” and the supplemental budget. “Tax Bill 2” provides $103 million in additional tax cuts to Minnesota homeowners, renters, farmers and businesses. Once the bill is signed into law, the Minnesota Legislature will have provided $550 million in tax cuts this session – providing tax cuts for nearly 2 million Minnesotans.

More than one million Minnesotans received tax cuts in the first tax bill passed this session. 940,000 Minnesotans will see property tax relief in Tax Bill 2, including 500,000 homeowners, 350,000 renters, and 90,000 farmers.

Our supplemental budget included critical investments in Greater Minnesota job creation, caregivers, and education. The budget includes $30 million in job creation measures, mostly aimed at Greater Minnesota.

I was the chief author of a provision that increases funding for the Initiative Foundation located in Southwest Minnesota. The funding would be one-time resources for existing small business revolving loan funds that offer loans and gap financing for small businesses in need of capital.

The budget also contains education language I authored aimed at reducing special education paperwork. One provision expedites rulemaking authority to make changes recommended by the Special Education Case Load and Rule Assignment Task Force. The second provision establishes a statewide online system for special education paperwork, providing teachers with a simpler, more uniform system.

In addition to these provisions, the budget increases funding for home and community-based long-term care providers by 5 percent and appropriates $20 million for a border-to-border grant fund to promote the development of broadband.  Areas of the state with low broadband connectivity will receive priority.

The budget also provides a formula funding increase for K-12 schools — an increase of $25 per pupil — to further improve education outcomes. The budget also increases funding for early childhood scholarships and lifts the cap on scholarship funding per child.

In addition to the final bonding, budget, and tax cut bills, the Legislature worked at a fast-pace to build on the state’s economic momentum and expand economic opportunity to more Minnesotans.

Propane Assistance: In the first week of session, we increased assistance to Minnesotans struggling to pay their heating costs during our terribly-cold winter.

Raise the minimum wage: Raised Minnesota’s minimum wage in stages to $9.50 for large business and $7.75 small businesses by August 2016. More than 350,000 Minnesotans will get a raise.

Women’s Economic Security Act: Passed the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA). WESA aims to close the gender pay gap, strengthen workplace protections and flexibility for pregnant mothers, and expand employment opportunities for women in high-wage, high-demand professions.

When I was sworn-in in January of 2013, Minnesota was facing another massive deficit and an $800 million IOU to our schools. Minnesotans sent us to the Capitol to change the status quo, and we certainly did. We balanced our state budget honestly — raising revenue by raising taxes on the wealthy and closing corporate loopholes — paid back our schools and invested in a brighter future for middle-class Minnesotans through all-day kindergarten, job creation initiatives, and property tax relief.

Minnesota has momentum, but there is more work to be done in the future. The best way to build on our progress is to continue growing our economy from the middle-out. That means continuing to fight for our families, students, workers, seniors and our local communities instead of wealthy special interests and the gridlock politics of the past.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to seeing many of you over the coming months while I’m at events in the district. Thank you for the honor of representing you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – May 9, 2014

Another busy week is wrapping up at the State Capitol. We’re nearing the end of the legislative session, with conference committees and negotiations continuing on the major bills left to finish before we adjourn.

As everyone knows, this weekend is Mother’s Day! I hope all of our mothers have a great weekend. Happy Mother’s Day!

Education Policy

On Tuesday, we passed the conference committee report on the Omnibus Education Policy Bill. I was appointed to serve on the Education Policy Conference Committee which finished its work last week.

Highlights of the bill include comprehensive changes to English language learner services, revamp of the career and technical education model, reform of teacher licensure core skills testing, addition of an adult standard high school diploma, and unsession repeals.

The bill also includes a provision I authored to make Minnesota a part of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. The Compact provides a range of educational areas that Minnesota would agree to implement to assist transferring children of military families. Many of these provisions are written broadly to allow for local control and flexibility in implementation.

Areas of transition covered are the handling of educational records from the sending district and receiving district; immunizations; kindergarten and 1st grade entrance age; course and educational program placement; special education services; placement flexibility when similar but not exact coursework has been completed; student request for absences due to deployment activities; extracurricular participation; course waivers and exit exams. Many of the rules for the mentioned areas provide guidance and encouragement for districts but do not require them to make accommodations that are not reasonable.

The main goal of my provision is to make life just a little easier for military children moving into a new district. Frequent moves and family separations through deployments, and then the reintegration issues make life especially challenging for military children. We should do anything we can do to help them and their families.

Once the Senate passes the conference committee report, the bill will head to Governor Dayton to be signed into law.

Myocarditis Awareness Day

Wednesday, May 7, 2014, was Myocarditis Awareness Day in Minnesota after a proclamation by Governor Mark Dayton. I joined constituents Mike and Darla Reynolds in advocating for the proclamation and Myocarditis Awareness Day.

Mike and Darla’s son Stephen passed away at the age of 20 due to Myocarditis — Wednesday would have been Stephen’s 23rd birthday. The Reynolds hold two fundraisers every year in the Willmar area to donate money and increase awareness. Mike and Darla approached Governor Dayton and myself about a proclamation and were on the House floor when I had the honor of reading the proclamation.

Myocarditis is a condition that is not well-known and increasing awareness can help save lives. Tragically, this condition has caused the death of young, healthy people like Stephen and we need to do more to prevent families from facing the same pain and sadness that the Reynolds family has faced. I want to thank Darla, Mike, and their family and friends for all the work they’ve done to raise awareness of this condition.

Women’s Economic Security Act

This week we also passed the conference committee report on the Women’s Economic Security Act omnibus bill (HF 2536). The bill is one more vote in the Senate away from heading to Governor Dayton for his signature.

Even as Minnesota’s economy continues to improve, barriers like high costs for childcare and the pay gap between men and women doing similar work continue to put a drag on the economy. The Women’s Economic Security Act removes those kinds of barriers, helping to fuel Minnesota’s positive economic momentum and make sure more Minnesotans share in the benefits of the recovery.

When women have opportunities to succeed, Minnesota succeeds. Addressing these issues is good for our families, good for our communities, and good for our state. We need to remove the barriers limiting economic security for women and ensure that everyone has economic opportunity.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the honor of representing you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – May 2, 2014

On Wednesday night, Governor Dayton delivered his State of the State address, outlining his proposals to build on the state’s economic momentum and strengthen Minnesota.

Minnesota is moving forward and Governor Dayton outlined a clear, positive vision for where we need to go in the future. We have made a lot of progress in the last two years, moving from a deficit to a surplus with a strong and growing economy, enacting all-day K, property tax relief, economic development, and freezing college tuition, but we know there is more work to do. After a decade of cuts and disinvestment in Minnesota’s middle class, we’re changing course and working to build a brighter future both now and for years to come.

With Governor Dayton’s leadership, we’re on the right track. I look forward to continuing work to build on our progress.

Minnesota Department of Transportation Bill

On Tuesday, the House passed HF 2214, a bill I chief authored that deals with technical changes for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The bill passed with broad bipartisan support, on a 108-18 vote.

Session Daily, the nonpartisan House information service, wrote a short story on my bill, which you can read below or by clicking on this link http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/sessiondaily/SDView.aspx?StoryID=5249.

MnDOT department bill passes House, heads to Senate

By Jonathan Avise

Modified U-turn rules, a change in the way the state calculates county-state aid highway payments and more than two-dozen other technical changes are part of a Department of Transportation housekeeping bill passed Tuesday in the House.

Following the 108-18 vote, HF2214, sponsored by Rep. Mary Sawatzky (DFL-Willmar), heads to the Senate, where Sen. Roger Reinert (DFL-Duluth) is the sponsor.

Among the changes proposed in the bill is a provision that would direct the Department of Transportation to alter how it calculates the amount of county state-aid highway funds to disburse in the upcoming calendar year.

The bill would also bring the state’s agricultural vehicle regulations up-to-date with federal regulations, and exempt farm vehicles not transporting hazardous materials from annual commercial motor vehicle inspections, pre-trip inspections and allow them to be driven with a standard Class D driver’s license.

Other changes proposed in the bill would:

  • broaden an annual bridge inspection report filed by county engineers to include identification of bridge deficiencies;
  • extend the expiration date of an advisory committee on non-motorized transportation to 2018 from this year;
  • alter the state’s statute governing U-turns to permit vehicles to make a U-turn by temporarily using the shoulder of a road that has at least two lanes of traffic in the same direction as necessary for that vehicle’s configuration; and
  • make changes to MnDOT rules regarding contractors, including allowing MnDOT to set a compliance deadline in contracts which, if missed, would allow the department to complete the work with another contractor when certain steps are met.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the honor of representing you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – April 25, 2014

After a short break for Easter, we’re back at work on behalf of Minnesotans. While we were on break, House Majority Leader Erin Murphy joined Sen. Koenen and me for an event to advocate for our local bonding projects, including Ridgewater College. You can read more about the event here.

Before the Easter/Passover Break, we had gotten a lot done including:

  • Funding emergency heating assistance: In the first week of session, we increased assistance to Minnesotans struggling to pay their heating costs during our terribly-cold winter.
  • Providing middle-class tax cuts: Enacted tax cuts for more than one-million middle-class Minnesotans — married couples, adopting families, working families, homeowners, college students and parents.
  • Raising the minimum wage: We raised Minnesota’s minimum wage in stages to $9.50 for large business $7.75 and small businesses by August 2016. More than 350,000 Minnesotans will get a raise.

Now that break is done, we’re hard at work on a number of major initiatives including:

  • Statewide Bonding Bill: We’re focused on passing a statewide bonding bill to make critical investments in Minnesota’s infrastructure, including higher education, transportation, housing, economic development, clean water and wastewater systems.
  • Invest in a Greater Minnesota: The House has already passed a supplemental budget that makes critical investments to grow our economy in Greater Minnesota, such as broadband infrastructure, economic development resources, and farm-to-food shelf legislation.
  • More Middle Class Tax Cuts: The House has passed “Tax Bill 2”  – providing $103 million in further tax cuts for Minnesota homeowners, farmers, renters, and small businesses.
  • Women’s Economic Security Act: The House has passed the Women’s Economic Security Act, aimed at closing the gender pay gap, strengthening workplace protections and flexibility for pregnant mothers, and expanding employment opportunities for women in high-wage, high-demand professions.

Conference committees are working to reconcile the differences between the supplemental budget bills, second tax cut bills, and the Women’s Economic Security Act.

Month of the Military Child

In 1986, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger designated each April as “The Month of the Military Child.” Recognizing the contribution that the military child makes as their parent or parents serve our nation, April is a month to provide special days and events to honor the family and their children.

In this year’s Education Policy bill, I chief authored a provision to make Minnesota a part of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. The Compact provides a range of educational areas that Minnesota would agree to implement to assist transferring children of military families. Many of these provisions are written broadly to allow for local control and flexibility in implementation.

Areas of transition covered are the handling of educational records from the sending district and receiving district; immunizations; kindergarten and 1st grade entrance age; course and educational program placement; special education services; placement flexibility when similar but not exact coursework has been completed; student request for absences due to deployment activities; extracurricular participation; course waivers and exit exams. Many of the rules for the mentioned areas provide guidance and encouragement for districts but do not require them to make accommodations that are not reasonable.

The main goal of my provision is to make life just a little easier for military children moving into a new district. Frequent moves and family separations through deployments, and then the reintegration issues make life especially challenging for military children. We should do anything we can do to help them and their families.

Education Policy Conference Committee

Earlier this week I was appointed to serve on the Education Policy Conference Committee.  If the House and Senate versions of the bill are different, they go to a conference committee. The committee meets to work out differences in the two bills and to reach a compromise.

The conference committee’s compromise bill then goes back to the House and the Senate for another vote. If both bodies pass the bill in this form, it is sent to the governor for his approval or disapproval. If one or both bodies reject the report, it goes back to the conference committee for further consideration.

The Education Policy Bills were the direct result of collaboration and hard work between a lot of people and groups who care so much about ensuring that every one of our students has a chance to succeed. I look forward to working with my colleagues to find common ground, compromise, and bring a good bill back to the House and Senate, and then on to Governor Dayton to be signed into law.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the honor of representing you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B

Legislative Update – April 11, 2014

We just finished up another week at the Capitol and are now on a short break for Easter, which gives me a chance to get back to the district and meet with constituents. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Easter!

Minimum Wage

Yesterday, the House passed a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 by 2016. The minimum wage will also be increased to inflation starting in 2018 to ensure the value of the minimum wage does not fall over time. The bill, which passed the Senate yesterday, now goes to the Governor to be signed into law.

In our great state, people who work hard shouldn’t be living in poverty. Research has shown that when lower-income people have more money in their pockets, they spend that money in their local communities which will strengthen our economy.

Over 357,000 workers will see a raise when the bill is fully implemented. Of those workers, 45 percent have some college education and 57 percent, or 200,000 are women. The bill is expected to have a significant impact on Minnesota families struggling to make ends meet. Of the workers expected to receive a raise, 62,850 are parents. And 14,200 of those are the sole wage earner in their household.

Most of the people on public assistance programs have jobs and are getting paid the minimum wage. By increasing the minimum wage, these families will have more money in their pockets and can hopefully get off public assistance, saving taxpayer dollars while boosting our economy.

Details of the bill include:

  • $9.50 minimum wage for businesses with gross sales over $500,000 in 2016. $8.00 in August 2014, $8.50 in August 2015.
  • $7.75 minimum wage for businesses under $500,000 in gross sales in 2016. $6.50 in August 2014, $7.25 in August 2015.
  • The $7.75 minimum wage rate would also apply for large businesses in the following circumstances: 90 day training wage for 18 and 19 year olds, all 16 and 17 year olds and employees working under a J1 visa.
  • Beginning in 2018, all wages would increase each year on January 1st by inflation measured by the implicit price deflator capped at 2.5%.
  • The indexed increase could be suspended for one year by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry if leading economic indicators indicate the possibility of a substantial downturn in the economy.

We passed a compromise to address the concerns of small businesses. The bill includes a staggered increase in the wage, a lower minimum wage for small businesses, and a training wage. We’re moving in a responsible manner to raise the wage for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans.

Women’s Economic Security Act

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the Women’s Economic Security Act omnibus bill (HF 2536).

Even as Minnesota’s economy continues to improve, barriers like high costs for childcare and the pay gap between men and women doing similar work continue to put a drag on the economy. The Women’s Economic Security Act removes those kinds of barriers, helping to fuel Minnesota’s positive economic momentum and make sure more Minnesotans share in the benefits of the recovery.

In Minnesota, women earn 80 cents for every dollar a man makes for a similar job. Many women are stuck in traditional ‘women’s fields’ and others have faced workplace discrimination because they’re pregnant or nursing. Addressing these issues is good for Minnesota’s economy. When women have equal opportunities to succeed, it means stronger families, stronger communities, and a brighter economic future for our state.

I’m proud to support this legislation and was pleased to see bipartisan support for the bill when it passed.

Safe and Supportive Schools Act

On Tuesday, we passed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, which Governor Dayton has signed into law. The bill strengthens the ability of local communities to create their own anti-bullying policies. The bill had the support of more than 120 organizations, including the School Counselors Association, School Board Association, and Association of School Administrators.

Minnesota had one of the weakest anti-bullying laws in the country and this legislation will strengthen and streamline anti-bullying policies statewide.  The bill provides a comprehensive framework to protect all students from abusive behavior, supports staff in their efforts to prohibit bullying, and will support improved student achievement by providing a safe school environment.

Rather than worrying about being bullied, students should be spending their days learning, making friends, and thinking about their futures.

While I believe our local schools do a great job, we can’t pretend bullying isn’t an issue for some students. As a special education teacher, I have seen it firsthand: the student with a learning disability who’s made fun of because he doesn’t understand an assignment; the student with a physical disability who’s teased because she’s different. It happens every day in our schools — and is always underreported — and many of us can remember it when we were in school.

Bullying can also lead to increased student absences, suspensions, and students dropping out — which ends up costing our state more both in the short-term and the long-term. In some tragic cases, bullying has led to students committing suicide.

I’m a pro-life legislator and I consider this to be a pro-life bill. If we can save just one student’s life through this bill, it’s absolutely worth it.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for the honor of representing you in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

All the best,

Mary Sawatzky

State Representative

District 17B