Senator Jason Isaacson votes in support of Capital Investment bill

Today, the Minnesota Senate passed a major jobs bill. This bill makes critical investments in infrastructure and economic stimulus to help communities during the COVID-19 global pandemic. The legislation invests $1.87 billion in statewide projects such as higher education institutions, roads and bridges, clean water infrastructure, parks, trails, and a supplemental state budget appropriations.

“As we’ve talked to communities across the state, Minnesotans have asked for a robust bonding bill to help them bounce back from COVID-19,” said Senator Jason Isaacson. “While we passed something smaller than we hoped for, these investments are critical in Minnesota’s economic recovery by creating good-paying jobs when many Minnesotans are unemployed.”

In Senate District 42, the legislation funds projects including $3.9 million to the Guidant John Rose OVAL outdoor ice rink in Roseville, and $500,000 for the Arden Hills water main project.

Applications for $10K Small Business Relief Grants open now through July 2

Applications for $10K Small Business Relief Grants open now through July 2; apply and help spread the word!

This week, DEED was pleased to announce the opening of the 10-day application period for the new Minnesota Small Business Relief Grants Program. The program will disburse more than $60 million in grants of $10,000 to small businesses across the state that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This program was approved by the Minnesota Legislature on June 12 with overwhelming bipartisan support, signed by Gov. Tim Walz on June 16, and launched by DEED this week.

Applications are now being accepted through 5 p.m. Thursday, July 2. If you own a small business that has experienced hardship because of COVID-19, please review the eligibility criteria and apply if you qualify. If you know someone who might be interested, pass along this information and help us spread the word.

You’ll find information about eligibility, frequently asked questions, upcoming webinars and the online application link on DEED’s website at mn.gov/deed/relief. We have also posted translations of the program information and application questions in Español, Hmoob and Somali.

Flexibility is key: This is grant money, not a loan – and no repayment will be required. The funds can be used for working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility bills, and other similar business expenses dating back to March 1, 2020.

Who can apply? Businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees are eligible. Half of the funds will go to businesses in Greater Minnesota and half to businesses in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area. To be eligible, businesses must have a permanent physical location in Minnesota and be majority owned by a permanent resident of Minnesota.

Under the law, portions of the funding will be targeted toward businesses that fall into certain categories:

  • $18 million for businesses with six or fewer full-time workers
  • $10 million for minority business enterprises
  • $2.5 million for businesses that are majority owned and operated by veterans
  • $2.5 million for businesses that are majority owned and operated by women
  • $2.5 million for operators of indoor retail and food markets with an ethnic cultural emphasis

How will businesses be selected for grants? A randomized, computer-generated lottery process will be used to select eligible businesses to receive awards. All awards will be disbursed and administered by qualified local and regionally based nonprofit agencies. The selection process will be conducted by DEED in consultation with the Minnesota Lottery and will be observed by an independent third party.

While we know this program won’t offset all the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it will provide essential support to businesses that need it most – and we are grateful to the Legislature for acting quickly to establish this program and to Governor Walz for signing it into law.

For more information, including details on how to apply, please visit mn.gov/deed/relief.

2020 End of Session Recap

Dear Neighbors,

The MN Senate adjourned the 2020 legislative session at midnight on Sunday. While this session was anything but normal, I am proud to have served district 42 for another session. While we passed some important and critical legislation this session, we still have more work to do. The bonding bill failed to pass both the House and Senate, leaving projects for district 42, and across the state, unapproved. A special session in June is likely and I look forward to continuing this vital work. Below is just some of the items I remained focused on this session. Thank you to all those who have written, called, and advocated this session. As always, please reach out if you have questions or would like to share your thoughts. 

Also, due to campaign finance laws in Minnesota, I am unable to send email updates following 60 days after adjournment. If you have any questions or would like updates, please reach out or check my facebook page

 

TCE ban signed into Law

After more than a year’s effort involving numerous stakeholders and bill drafts, the Senate passed a bill to ban trichloroethylene (TCE), a volatile organic compound that is a known carcinogen and is associated with several other detrimental health effects.

The issue came to light after the discovery in 2019 that the company Water Gremlin in White Bear Township had been using TCE to manufacture lead battery terminals and lead fishing sinkers but was violating its MPCA air emissions permit at levels high enough to threaten human health up to 1.5 miles around its facility in White Bear Lake Township. The violation had been occurring since at least 2009.

In response, legislators in the House and Senate worked extensively with a group of concerned citizens, the “Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group (NCCG),” in addressing local issues that arose as a result of the Water Gremlin violation. Ultimately, the NCCG became a leading voice in negotiations to find a legislative TCE ban that all parties could support. Gov. Walz signed a ban on TCE use beginning June 1, 2022 but gives small businesses more time to assess replacement chemicals or modifications to their operations. TCE use would end in Minnesota by June 1, 2023. When enacted, this legislation will become the first TCE ban in the nation. (SF 4073)

Gun Violence Prevention

Despite public support and advocacy for gun violence prevention, the majority refused to hold committee votes on these life-saving measures. The first measure with widespread support would extend criminal background checks to most private sales, gun show markets, and online transactions. The second provision would allow law enforcement and family members to obtain a court order, with reason, to temporarily limit a person’s access to firearms when they pose a threat to themselves or others.

Insulin

After more than a year of hard work and negotiation, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act this week to create an emergency insulin access program and ongoing support programs. Governor Walz signed the bill into law shortly after. Alec Smith died in 2017 at the young age of 26 after being forced to ration his insulin due to the extremely high costs. This bill requires manufacturers to make insulin available for eligible individuals who are in urgent need of insulin by July 1, 2020. Due to the tireless advocacy of citizens and groups, we were able to pass this life-saving legislation.

COVID-19 Response

While COVID-19 is an unforeseen and unprecedented crisis, Minnesota was better prepared to respond than many other states thanks to the sound management of the state’s budget over the past decade and our investment in a strong budget reserve. While we passed several critical provisions during the 2020 session, more work is still needed to address the hardships many are facing due to COVID-19. Investments are now needed to make Minnesotans secure in their housing, help small businesses, facilitate distance learning and telemedicine, and ensure we have the workforce we need to provide care for the elderly and people with disabilities. With new federal funding assistance available for the costs of responding to the pandemic, we can and should prioritize using our reserves before needlessly cutting the services our most vulnerable depend on.

As part of the first COVID-19 relief package, the Legislature granted temporary powers to the Office of Higher Education to help students deal with effects of the pandemic both financially and academically.

Higher Education

The higher education provisions passed as part of the March 26 bill include providing temporary emergency powers to the commissioner of the Office of Higher Education to prepare for or respond to a COVID-19 outbreak. The temporary powers allow the commissioner to waive rules and statutes for the following programs in order to protect the financial stability and academic standing of students:

  • Work Study
  • State Grant
  • SELF Loan programs
  • Other state grant, aid, and scholarship programs under Minnesota Statutes 136A

On April 17, interest rates were reduced to 0% for Minnesota SELF loan and SELF loan Refi borrowers, retroactive to March 13 and extending to September 30. Six-month COVID-19 forbearances are also available, upon request, and no late fees will be charged through the end of September. These changes will benefit over 43,000 Minnesota SELF Loan or SELF Refi borrowers. These new provisions are at or near the top of the most flexible and beneficial student loan provisions in the nation.

We also passed a bill in response to the Argosy school closure. The bill passed provides safeguards for students if schools close, especially private for-profit institutions. The abrupt Argosy school closure last year left close to 1,000 Minnesota students with no degree completion options, student debt, difficult credit transfers, and limited job prospects. The new regulations will safeguard students and hold schools accountable.

Weekly Update – May 8

Dear Neighbors,

We have now entered the final 2 weeks of the traditional legislative session. I am working hard to ensure we remain focused on health and business as we all move forward. This week a new budget forecast was released and a bill to end child marriage in Minnesota was passed off the Senate floor.  

I also want to take a moment and thank all of the nurses and educators serving our community, it is with your dedication to service that our communities remain healthy and strong. As always, I have included resources you may find useful during this time.

 

State’s budget health takes a $4 billion swing

Minnesota officials received an interim budget projection this week from economic experts that provides a glimpse into the sustained effects the coronavirus pandemic has had on state finances. As a reminder, the February economic forecast projected about a $1.5 billion budget surplus for the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 period. This week’s numbers now project a deficit of $2.426 billion for the same period. That is a nearly $4 billion change in a matter of weeks.

Most of the dip is attributable to a $3.611 billion reduction in expected revenues coming into the state. Spending also is projected to be $391 million higher as the state responds to the pandemic. The state’s budget reserve account remains at $2.359 billion, largely because lawmakers insisted on an automatic savings tool in 2014 that directed up to one-third of each budget surplus to the state’s savings account. Although lawmakers will use caution in dipping into the reserve account, it is a welcome resource that may prevent some harmful budget reductions.

The state’s budget office typically provides a budget forecast in February and November of each year, and those numbers guide the legislature’s funding decisions for the approaching fiscal years. This year, Governor Walz wisely urged the finance agency to produce an interim projection so lawmakers could make better informed decisions. While it is helpful information, finance experts warn that the economic outlook will remain volatile for some time and prolonged budget effects are expected to continue changing.

The legislature is constitutionally mandated to adjourn by May 18. Governor Walz acknowledged that every budget decision cannot responsibly be made in the next 10 days, and that lawmakers should expect to return for special session if needed to address ongoing issues. Lawmakers must find bipartisan agreement on specific issues by Saturday, May 9, and larger bills, such as the bonding bill and tax decisions, will be negotiated in the coming days with a goal of passing larger bills before the May 18 adjournment.

Jobs Bill to put People Back to Work

Senate DFLers introduced a 2020 jobs bill this week at a Capitol press conference. With less than two weeks left of session and no bonding hearings scheduled in the Senate, they expressed an urgency in getting a bonding bill passed. Minnesota has more than $5 billion in requests to improve our crumbling public buildings and infrastructure across our state, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the urgency for the jobs these investments will create even greater.

If there was ever a time to pass a robust bonding bill, it’s now. The $2.3 billion capital improvements bill will ensure access to safe drinking water, affordable housing, public safety, and upkeep for the higher education institutions that prepare our future workforce in all four corners of the state. Passing a bonding bill will help address the need for infrastructure improvements and create the local jobs and economic stimulus our state needs during this public health crisis.

Jobs are needed now more than ever to help the economy recover from the impacts of COVID. We at the Senate are working to ensure the safety and security of our communities.

Equity in bonding is crucial in passing a robust bonding bill that benefits Minnesotans in every corner of the state. We are actively working with the governor and House leaders to lead the charge on passing a robust bonding bill that is good for all Minnesota communities. Their prudent and fiscally sound investments will address our backlog of needs, is regionally balanced, will create local jobs, and provide our communities sorely needed economic stimulus during and beyond this public health crisis. (SF 4573)

COVID-19 relief funds protected from debt collectors

Governor Walz signed Executive Order 20-50 this week, which exempts federal, tribal, state, and local COVID-19 relief funds from being intercepted and withheld by creditors and debt collectors. Minnesotans all across the state are facing unprecedented challenges and added obstacles to simply placing food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was specifically allocated to assist families and individuals with income and family sized based funds to help relieve some of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Walz wants to ensure that this funding is used for what it was intended for and cannot be seized by debt collection or other means of interception.

Weekly Update – May 1

Dear Neighbors,

As we approach what would be the end of the legislative session, I am thankful for all of your feedback, letters and kind words. This pandemic has challenged us on many fronts. I remain committed to addressing the many issues that have arisen within the past month. We will continue to work as quickly as possible to address issues that have arisen due to COVID. 

I know these times are difficult, but we will endure this period of uncertainty together, and as your State Senator, I will be working with my colleagues to ensure Minnesota families are taken care of. As always, I have included resources you may find useful during this time. 

 

Long-fought TCE ban passes Senate

After more than a year’s effort involving numerous stakeholders and bill drafts, the Senate passed a bill to ban trichloroethylene (TCE), a volatile organic compound that is a known carcinogen and is associated with several other detrimental health effects.

The issue came to light after the discovery in 2019 that the company Water Gremlin had been using TCE to manufacture lead battery terminals and lead fishing sinkers but was violating its MPCA air emissions permit at levels high enough to threaten human health up to 1.5 miles around its facility in White Bear Lake Township. The violation had been occurring since at least 2009.

In response, Senator Chuck Wiger, Representative Ami Wazlawik and others worked extensively with a group of concerned citizens, the “Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group (NCCG),” in addressing local issues that arose as a result of the Water Gremlin violation. Ultimately, the NCCG became a leading voice in negotiations to find a legislative TCE ban that all parties could support.

The compromise agreement that passed this week on the Senate floor includes:

• A ban on TCE use beginning June 1, 2022 but gives small businesses more time to assess replacement chemicals or modifications to their operations. TCE use would end in Minnesota by June 1, 2023
• A requirement that businesses replace TCE with a chemical demonstrated to be less toxic to human health and approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Exceptions are granted for specified uses where compliance with health-based values and risk limits for TCE is demonstrated
• $250,000 in interest-free loans to small businesses under MPCA’s Small Business Assistance Program for help in reducing TCE use.

The bill passed this week with near-unanimous approval on a vote of 61-1, and similar action is expected in the House of Representatives in the coming days. Prior to the bill’s passage, an amendment was approved to name the legislation the “White Bear Area Neighborhood Concerned Citizens Group Ban TCE Act,” in recognition of the group’s leading role in bringing parties toward a compromise that all could support.

When enacted, this legislation will become the first TCE ban in the nation. (SF 4073)

New COVID-19 website announced that will connect Minnesotans with testing resources

Governor Walz launched a new website this week that provides a user-friendly approach to helping Minnesotans find a COVID-19 testing location near them. This website, which now can connect individuals to one of the 127 clinics and health care facilities able to test for the virus, also offers an interactive screening program that helps determine if someone needs a test along with other general information. Through the website, the state will also be able to coordinate with local public health and tribal organizations to ensure their communities are being supported.

Governor Walz modifies Executive Order to allow elective procedures

Governor Walz, with the guidance of The Minnesota Department of Health, modified Executive Order 20-09 this week, which postponed elective surgical procedures to make room for COVID-19 patient treatment. Many procedures classified under “elective”, such as dental work and veterinary care, could cause long lasting and substantial risk if postponed indefinitely. Therefore, many of these types of procedures will begin to resume. The postponing of these procedures until now has created the space and resources for treating COVID-19 patients. It is important to note, however, that the governor and his team of experts approach this decision with caution, discernment, and, if need be, may have to suspend them again. Each hospital, ambulatory surgery center, and clinic must develop and implement a written plan for determining procedures that can be performed under some considerations. A comprehensive list of mandatory considerations can be accessed here.