|A Look At What’s Happening At The Capitol|
April 15, 2016
Legislative Issues Update
Welcome to this week’s ISAIAH Legislative Issues Update for the 2016 Minnesota legislative session. As people of faith, we believe our moral compass comes from the things God calls us to do. During this legislative session, the ISAIAH community is acting out of a fundamental set of values – dignity, inclusion, equity and redemption. Working together with our state leaders, we will put the truth of God’s love back at the center of our lives and our society.
Worker Justice Day of Action
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Retailers Association, representing the biggest retail corporations in Minnesota, are leading a push for legislation which would prevent individual cities from passing certain labor ordinances, such as requiring businesses to pay a higher minimum wage or provide earned sick and safe time to their employees. This policy is known as preemption or local interference.
ISAIAH leaders and allies joined CTUL’s striking fast food workers at McDonald’s on the corner of Marion and Rice Streets in St. Paul on Thursday. From there we traveled to the Union Depot and rallied where the Minnesota Retailers Association was holding a breakfast and leading a discussion to lobby for the passage of local interference laws with the top legislative leadership from both parties.
Northstar Rail Extension
On Friday April 8th, GRIP/ISAIAH participated in a roundtable conversation on Transportation at St. Cloud City Hall with Lt. Governor Tina Smith, Commissioner of Transportation Charlie Zelle and three area Representatives: Jim Knoblach, Tama Theis, and Jeff Howe. A handful of mayors, county commissioners, community leaders and area residents were present. There was widespread consensus that Northstar should be completed. Questions about other transportation projects and long term regional funding were also discussed.
Equity in Education
Voices not often heard under the dome called for more investment in students and fewer tax cuts to the wealthy during Wednesday’s Equity in Education Lobby Day. ISAIAH leaders, Education MN members and students of color studying to be teachers fanned out to meet with legislators. Stories were shared about the importance of funding for more school counselors and building the teachers of color pipeline.
ISAIAH leaders Shonda Allen and Greg King (pictured above) testified before the Senate Education Committee about misplaced budget priorities and children’s medical issues being treated as disciplinary issues and the need for more school counselors to help prevent this happening to more children and families.
Last week, leadership of the Minnesota House announced a zero dollar spending target meaning no new spending on education or health & human services. They propose instead to use the $900m surplus for transportation spending and tax cuts.
Saying “No” to CCA’s Private Prison in Minnesota
Last year ISAIAH began to protest the re-opening of the Appleton private prison, criticizing CCA’s record and the private-prison model for profiting off incarceration. Thanks to our efforts & those of at least 13 other organizations, its future is “bleak,” according to this Star Tribune article.
Drug Sentencing Reform
A new proposal for Drug Sentencing Reform has come together, which in some ways goes further than the reforms passed by the MN Sentencing Guidelines Commission. Half a dozen ISAIAH leaders attended the first hearing of the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee last Friday. It will next be heard on the Senate floor.
The proposal contains positive reforms – eliminating some mandatory minimums, reducing some sentences and dropping possession of trace amounts of drugs from a felony to a gross misdemeanor. The estimated impact on reducing our prison population is 750 beds over 10 years, which is obviously good news!
It also contains some harsher penalties. Some supporters are characterizing the new proposal as being “tough on crime” to punish “drug kingpins.” The proposal
ISAIAH leaders Anita Alexander, Keith Roberts and Judy Roberts at the Drug Sentencing Reform hearing.
is supported by the MN County Attorneys Association as well as the Criminal Defense Lawyers.
This compromise would NOT have happened without the organizing work that ISAIAH, Jewish Community Action, Justice4All program of TakeAction MN & others have led over the past year. Congratulations to everyone who has participated in these efforts.
Public Option Healthcare Coverage
A bill has been introduced in the Senate to instruct the MN Department of Human Services to seek a federal innovation waiver to create a public purchase option for healthcare coverage. The public option proposal would utilize the purchasing power of the state to negotiate affordable and quality healthcare coverage. It would offer another healthcare coverage choice for all Minnesotans, some of whom live in regions with very few choices.
ISAIAH sent a letter to the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee expressing our strong support for offering a public option on the MNSure Health Exchange. A public option would provide better benefits and lower premiums than the Bronze plans and Silver plans now offered by private insurance companies on MNSure. The competition with the private plan offerings will create a more efficient and competitive marketplace and benefit all Minnesotans immensely.
If the Federal Government approved the waiver request, the public option could not be implemented without legislative approval and funding. The bill has gone through the committee process and has been laid over for possible inclusion in the Omnibus Finance bill.