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As chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Policy and Legacy Finance, one of my top priorities was to create legacy law that preserves, protects, and preserves our state’s natural resources for future generations. During the pandemic, our parks and public areas saw unprecedented numbers of visitors – so I focused on putting forward a bill that would continue to fund Minnesota’s lands, habitats, and waters. We also financed grants for fairs, veterans memorials, and civic education. That year, Legacy Bill was passed with unanimous, bipartisan support in the Senate and was one of the first budget bills to be signed by the governor. I am very proud of the final bill we have put together.
We also passed a public safety budget that puts the safety and wellbeing of all Minnesotans as a priority. Our law enforcement agencies have faced many challenges over the past year and have often received only moderate support. In the end, lawmakers passed tough public safety measures that assist law enforcement officers with salary increases and the resources necessary to do their job safely. We stopped attempts to weaken or disband the police in any way and instead reaffirmed our commitment to public safety for all Minnesotans.
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Farmers across the state faced many challenges over the past year as the pandemic devastated our state’s agribusiness. Recently, the livestock industry has experienced processing and labor shortages that have been exacerbated by COVID. I have legislated for grants for meat cutting and butchering programs and this important funding has been included in the final agricultural budget. This funding will provide an opportunity for growth in these specific industries so that we can train our students and keep young entrepreneurs in our state.
The pandemic has made it very clear that broadband is no longer a luxury but a necessity and we still have a lot to do in this area. The agricultural budget therefore contained important funds for broadband expansion. Last year we made a major investment in expanding our rural communities – and this year we again invested in broadband expansion thanks to federal funding from the American Recovery Plan. This continuous investment demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that Greater Minnesota is no longer left behind in broadband expansion.
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Housing was an important issue this year – we have put the eviction moratorium behind us and spent many hours discussing this important law: the aim is to end the moratorium in a balanced way that benefits both tenants and landlords . The solution was a well-reviewed program that established RentHelpMN.com as a resource for renters to get financial help to repay rent to landlords. It was important that we implement a step-by-step approach to protecting Minnesotans who are in real economic trouble, while also allowing landlords to evict tenants who have broken the law or endangered the safety of others. This bipartisan solution is well thought out and will help our housing industry begin the recovery from COVID.
I am happy that we gave the Minnesotas almost a billion dollars in tax breaks – we live in a wonderful and beautiful state, but that often comes with higher taxes. After a year of unimaginable financial hardship, relieving families across the state was a top priority. This meant we would vote “no” on tax increases, pass the paycheck protection loan waiver, and spend our budget responsibly.
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Aside from the above, we funded roads and bridges, lowered healthcare bills, held the line for no new watercraft fees, cracked down on invasive aquatic species management, and funded grants to help our friends and neighbors in the Northwest. The 2021 session brought a lot of good – we also fought to stop numerous bad measures: no new standards for social studies in our schools, no increase in gas taxes, no health care for individual payers and, above all, no payment of the police.
This was a long legislative year – we could achieve a lot in the difficult circumstances Minnesota faced, and the highlights are only a small part of the story. Most importantly, we reaffirm our commitment to all Minnesotans and ensure the best quality of life in our state. I am satisfied with our performance – but there is more work to be done. I look forward to representing Crow Wing and Aitkin counties to ensure we all continue on the path of recovery together.