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Update from Ben Lien MN House 4A

  • 1 May 2020
  • 5:00 PM
  • 6 May 2020
  • 11:30 PM


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Greetings from the Floor,

The House Higher Education Finance and Policy Division held a remote hearing this week to learn about COVID-19’s impact to Minnesota’s institutions.  The Minnesota State system expects to lose more than $130 million dollars this year, while the University of Minnesota is looking at losses of $324 million.  The federal CARES Act will provide $93.4 million to the Minnesota State system, and $36 million to the U.  Many of the losses for both systems are a result of payments back to students for campus services.  Both systems plan to give about half of the federal dollars to students through financial aid and emergency loans.  All of this compounds the difficult situation on the MSUM campus.  It is my hope that we can work to avoid as many of the planned cuts at the Moorhead campus as possible.  We are going to have to look at solutions differently and engage with as much of the community as possible to form partnerships that support the campus. I am committed to working on this as long as I’m holding the House District 4A seat.

The House will take up two bills on the floor Monday in a remote session.  These bills are:

  • HF3429: 2020 Elections Bill (note: absentee ballots are effectively mail-in ballots)
    • authorizes local governments to designate new polling places, up until July 1, 2020
    • allows employees of health care facilities to administer absentee voting to residents or patients in those facilities
    • extends the period for absentee ballots to be processed, including up to three days after Election Day to accommodate the expected increase in absentee ballots
    • requires local governments to begin processing absentee ballots beginning 14 days before Election Day
    • allows candidates to submit official paperwork electronically
    • allows Minnesota to use federal dollars appropriated under the 2019 Help America Vote Act and 2020 CARES Act
  • HF4415: Education Policy Related to COVID-19
    • mandates school districts to pay hourly employees for any hours they were scheduled to work but did not during the distance learning period (March 18 through May 4)
    • contracted businesses who choose to pay their employees for hours scheduled but not worked can recuperate costs from the school districts
    • reduces the number of service days required for probationary teachers as a result of school calendar changes
    • various state aid adjustments as a result of changes to the school year calendar
    • allows school districts flexibility to transfer funds between accounts as a result of changes to the school year calendar
    • allows a school district to apply to the Commissioner of Education to request a modification to district cash flow payments if a delay in property tax receipts impacts a district’s ability to make bond payments
    • mandates the Commissioner of Education to apply for federal dollars so that any federal money is distributed to all Minnesota schools in an equitable manner
    • allows the Commissioner of Education flexibility in implementing requirements for earned class credit, class advancement or graduation; also waives state assessments and standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year
    • allows the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board to issue provisional licenses for teaching candidates who could not complete licensure requirements and extends teacher licensure renewal requirements by six months

For more information about all of the Legislature’s work related to COVID-19, including a public comment form, please go to: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/COVID-19/.

Of course, the big news this week was Gov. Walz’s press conference yesterday about the state’s next steps in the fight against COVID-19.  The governor announced that the Stay at Home Order and closure of places of public accommodation will continue until May 18.  The governor also announced that all retail businesses will be allowed to re-open on a curb-side pickup basis beginning on Monday.  This comes on top of industrial/manufacturing and office-based businesses being allowed to re-open this past Monday. Together, these measures will allow more than 20,000 businesses and over 100,000 more people to return to work. This is great progress in getting our lives back to a sense of normalcy in a safe manner.  I know there is still a lot of pain out there.  I know business owners and employees not able to return to work are especially having a difficult time.  This is excruciating for a lot of people.  The state and federal governments have been making the additional $600 in weekly unemployment payments to people and have begun to make the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments to self-employed people.  I know people would rather make a paycheck than receive government assistance.  I get that. I know Gov. Walz gets that. However, the fact of the matter is the virus will dictate when life can return to normal.  The economy will pick back up when people feel safe doing things like going to movies, going to community events and heading to bowling alleys.  I saw a readers poll on inforum.com this week that 75% of the people who responded don’t feel safe going to places like bars, restaurants and gyms yet.

The governor is working with groups like hospitals and the business community to make these decisions. At the onset of the Stay at Home Order, 80% of Minnesota’s workforce was still working either from home or because they’re employed in a Critical Sector.  I know the governor wants the other 20% to get back to work as soon as possible, and we need to do it safely.  So far Minnesota is winning the fight against COVID-19 (https://www.fox9.com/news/experts-explain-why-minnesota-has-the-nations-lowest-per-capita-covid-19-infection-rate), and we have to stay on top of it.  I do not want know what would happen if we re-opened too quickly and more people got sick or died.  I don’t want to know how much further the economy would have to recover if more people got sick or died.  We have no reason to believe we are immune to the widespread effects of the virus in Minnesota and the Red River Valley like what we saw in other states and countries. I know we aren’t other states and countries, we’re rural U.S.A., but look what’s happening in the Midwest meat processing plants.  Clay County has consistently ranked in the top ten as a county with the most number of cases in Minnesota (ahead of the metro counties Carver, Scott and Washington).  It ranks fourth today for Greater Minnesota counties (https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/situation.html).  This virus can spread very quickly, and businesses may then have to shut down because employees don’t feel safe going into work.  This whole situation is miserable for everyone.  We all want to see our friends, go out for a burger and go to a ball game again.  I hope that I’m wrong.  I hope we can move forward more quickly and not have more sickness and death.  But the fact is there are a lot more questions than answers about COVID-19 right now, and I’m going to err on the side of public health caution.

The one thing I want to leave with is that these dates, May 4, May 18, shouldn’t be viewed as hard and fast.  Gov. Walz has demonstrated this by, again, allowing industrial/manufacturing and office-based businesses to resume operations on Monday (04/25), ahead of the May 4 deadline.  The governor’s not going to wait around until May 18 to make another decision about the Stay at Home Order and closure of restaurants, bars and places of public accommodation.  I guarantee the governor wants to get these places open sooner than that, and it must be done safely.  Think of May 18 as a place holder; it’s a way to look at the current situation and make the assessment that it’s not quite safe yet for people to congregate in bars, restaurants, crowds and close quarters.  We’ll take the next couple of weeks, see how things are going, see if the virus’ spread in Minnesota is getting better or worse, see how other states are doing, and make a determination as the situation dictates itself.

Thank You for the Opportunity to Serve,


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