Eken, Green have starkly different views of this Legislative session
Perhaps not surprisingly, two area lawmakers, a Democrat and a Republican, have completely different takes on the recent legislative session.
A $500 million bonding bill that included $3 million for the new Becker County Museum was in the works this session, but fell apart in the Minnesota House, said DFL state Sen. Kent Eken of Twin Valley, whose district includes Detroit Lakes, the Cormorant area and most of Clay and Norman counties.
The overall budget agreement among the DFL governor, DFL House and Republican Senate leaders included the bonding bill, but such bills require two-thirds supermajority support, and Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, who was left out of the negotiations, declined to provide it, Eken said.
But Eken expects the museum project will be included in a larger bonding bill next year, which is a traditional bonding year in the legislative two-year biennium cycle. "It was a long shot," this year, he said.
Eken was pleased with the compromise tax bill, just the second state tax bill in the past five years, and he is upbeat about the 2 percent annual increase in K-12 education funding. "That's significant, that was a major win," he said.
Higher ed funding was also a win for greater Minnesota, he said. Instead of the traditional 50-50 funding split between the more-rural Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (which includes M State in Detroit Lakes) and the urban University of Minnesota system, the split was $65 million rural to $44 million metro this session, he said.
He also noted that opioid manufacturers will have to start helping to clean up some of the mess they made in Minnesota, to the tune of $10 million a year for 20 years to help offset the state's opioid treatment costs.
In general, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and DFL Gov. Tim Walz worked well together, he said.
"It genuinely was a real compromise on these finance bills—both sides got something and gave something," he said.
The Elder Abuse Act passed. "That was an important one," Eken said, that provides for state licensing of assisted living facilities. There has been some monitoring and regulation, but no licensing requirements until now, he said. There will be one licensing system in place for assisted living facilities by 2021, he said.
In another compromise, the law now allows people to place hidden cameras for up to 14 days to monitor treatment of their loved ones in senior living facilities. The timeline starts when paperwork is filed with the state ombudsman's office, Eken said.
That office, by the way, has added 17 new full-time staffers to help seniors and others with issues. "It's not just for abuse, it's to help them find a suitable place and transition," Eken said.
The Legislature also moved to protect people in assisted living facilities, which can no longer terminate Medicaid contracts with residents, as some large companies have done nationwide on a facility-by-facility basis.
Eken said that some of the evicted residents in Minnesota had to go back to an unsafe home or to a homeless shelter. "They didn't have a safe alternative before termination," he said.
The vast majority of senior care facilities in Minnesota are doing very good work, Eken said. "We don't want the whole industry tarnished because of a few bad actors," he added. There is also a danger in the state focusing too much on regulation and not enough on making sure facilities have the resources they need to succeed, he said. "We're falling behind on that," he said, adding that providing enough resources for quality staff and training can prevent problems from happening in the first place.
In an emailed report to constituents, state Rep. Steve Green, a Republican from Fosston, said Republicans were playing defense this session.
"When you look at the big picture, many of the positives from this year at the Capitol come down to blocking bad ideas the Democrats put forward," said Green, who represents most of Becker County.
"It was concerning that House Democrats and the governor wanted to raise taxes by $12 billion, especially at a time the state has a surplus of $1 billion and growing," he said. "It is good to see common sense prevailed on that issue and, of particular note, the Democrats' push to raise the gas tax by 20 cents per gallon was defeated."
He was also gratified to see bills that Democrats authored "to compromise our gun rights were defeated and their extreme energy mandates that would have caused our utility rates to soar did not reach enactment."
Republicans were also able to stop "the Democrats' proposal to cut nursing home funding by $68 million and prevented them from putting Planned Parenthood in charge of sex ed being taught to our children," he said.
"One thing I noticed is almost all the Democrat bill authors/committee chairs apologized for not getting their extreme policies through this year. This includes everything from gun control to paid family leave, driver's licenses for illegals and gas taxes. They also promised to bring them back again, meaning our work is far from finished because they are going to continue pushing these bad ideas," he said.
Green criticized what he said was a lack of transparency in the legislative process this session.
"The special session was called by Walz after days of closed-door meetings, and a 'tribunal' comprised of the governor, the House speaker, and the Senate majority leader," he said. "Some conference committees did not adopt a single provision in a public setting, resulting in entire bills being decided in private. The largest budget bill was not publicly released until several hours after the special session had begun."
Green said that House Republicans successfully negotiated changes to improve transparency next session, including a change to the House committee structure that will increase openness and fix flaws in the structure that majority Democrats implemented this year.
"This business of making the session's biggest decisions in private needs to end," Green said, "and I hope the changes we were able to negotiate will lead to a better, more public process in the future. The least we can do for taxpayers is let them see what is happening in St. Paul. Anything less is unacceptable and this year was historically bad in the way lawmaking was conducted."