Monday, June 15, 2015
Although it had some anxious moments, the special session of the legislature came to an end early this past Saturday morning, and after the governor signed the bills, Minnesota’s upcoming two-year budget is finally complete. Our make-shift chamber in a State Office Building committee room made for some tight quarters, with House members, staff, media, and visitors all cramped together, but things went relatively smoothly and the necessary business got done. In all, six bills were passed, including the massive K-12 education bill that spends $17 billion over the next two years.
The main change in that bill from the one vetoed earlier by Gov. Dayton is the addition of $125 million in new funding. The basic funding formula was raised by another one-half percent, which accounts for about half of the increase. Schools will now receive increases in that formula of two percent in each year of the biennium. Pre-school education was also addressed, although not in the fashion proposed by the governor. He had made pre-K or four-year old school programs one of his top priorities. However, that was dropped in favor of early learning scholarships and an increase in a program known as “school readiness.” Head Start also received more funding, as did Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE).
Of interest locally was a provision for schools to make their own decision regarding a four-day school calendar. If they had been on the four-day week this past year, they can continue in that same fashion for the next five years. The only school in our area currently on the four-day week is BBE and this will now give them the option to continue.
Funding was also allocated for the six school districts, including Sauk Centre, that had been on a waiting list to get into the Q-Comp teacher compensation program. This means additional state dollars for these districts that had gone through all the preliminary steps and were approved for the alternative payment program.
Schools will also be allowed to start their calendar before Labor Day this coming year because the holiday falls late. Again, this may have come too late for schools to take advantage of the one-year reprieve from this state mandate.
The environment/ag bill provided the drama for the special session. The bill was controversial, mainly because of a provision to abolish the Citizens Board from the Pollution Control Agency. However, it had earlier been approved by both chambers and had been agreed to by the governor. The bill passed in the House with Republicans and Iron Range Democrats voting in favor, and it also passed in the Senate on a 33-32 vote. However, it takes 34 votes to approve measures in that chamber so, in effect, it failed. That’s when things ground to a halt, with the House going into a six-hour recess as we waited to see what would happen in the Senate. To the surprise of many, they amended the bill (which went against the agreement to NOT offer any amendments) and re-passed it. It finally came back to the House, where we promptly put the bill back in its original form and approved it again. With the clock well past midnight, the bill went back to the Senate where it passed easily this time.
I will write more in coming weeks about provisions that became law, but a quick overview shows many good things accomplished for Greater Minnesota. Top on my list is increased funding for our nursing homes. We also came up with transportation money for cities and towns under 5,000, which takes in every one of the cities in our district. In addition, one of the provisions of the bonding bill passed during last week’s special session is a $300,000 allocation for the Eagles Healing Nest of Sauk Centre to help with the maintenance of their buildings.