Five things to know for remaining legislative session

| May 11, 2017 | 2 Comments

As time winds down in the current state legislative session, Minnesota Catholic Conference Director Jason Adkins highlighted five key areas to watch.

“The big issue is, can legislative leaders and the governor work on a budget and a tax bill and a bonding bill?” Adkins said. “Right now there are significant differences in the proposals that they need to work out.”

He emphasized that people still can contact their legislators this late in the session to share opinions and ask them to work across partisan lines.

“Certainly we can contact our legislators and encourage them to understand the art of compromise,” Adkins said. “Everyone needs to walk away with something in a negotiation.”

Adkins said people can go to the MCC’s Catholic Advocacy Network online to find out how to contact their respective legislators. He added that assuring legislators of prayers in addition to sharing opinions helps, too.

“They appreciate hearing that we’re praying for them, that they make wise and just decisions,” Adkins said.

The legislative session is expected to end May 22.

1. Time is running out on budget differences

A significant gap remains between the two-year budget proposals, causing the possibility of a government shutdown to loom. A shutdown occurred in 2011.

“There’s a lot of ground to cover not just in terms of the difference in their proposed spending in tax plans, but also in that context which provision in which budget bills get those dollars,” Adkins said.

Adkins doesn’t believe the government will shut down again, but certain tax and bonding bills could get dropped. Those bills affect many issues such as school choice, the next wave of construction for Dorothy Day Place and the new soccer stadium in St. Paul.

“Those are the most likely victims, but a lot of people are depending on those pieces of legislation,” Adkins said.

2. Education

Adkins said good progress has been made on school choice legislation, but more work remains.

The legislation offers tax credits for scholarships, so low-income families can send their children to the schools they want. Adkins said the Legislature has proposed both an individual tax credit and scholarship tax credit in its tax plan, which he called “fantastic news.”

“We’ve done our job as a coalition, getting that to the governor,” he said, “and now it’s a matter of House and Senate leaders pushing for that, fighting for that in the negotiation.”

Adkins emphasized that people need to “reach out to Gov. Dayton and tell him to give more kids educational opportunity.”

Adkins said the legislation benefits Minnesota schools overall, which has been evidenced in other states, such as Arizona, that have similar laws. He said that such states are “the ones showing the most gains in math and reading in the public schools. We know that more educational opportunity for education choice lifts everyone – public and non-public schools and students alike.”

The school choice proposal doesn’t flush funding for public schools either.

“It’s well understood that because both Republican leadership and governor are proposing increases in the general education spending formula, public education spending dollars are actually going to increase,” Adkins said. “This bill in no way — from either a technical standpoint or from a policy standpoint — takes dollars away from public education or is in fact a threat to public education.”

In addition to passing school choice legislation, Adkins hopes to see non-public schools receive funding for electronic textbooks. A state policy already exists for both public and non-public schools to receive funding for various services such as textbooks, but expanding that to e-textbooks would save schools a significant amount of money, because they are more widely used and more economical.

“Right now, non-public schools are eligible based on a pre-pupil basis for certain forms of funding, and textbooks are one of them,” Adkins said.

3. Care for the sick and dying

Adkins said palliative care, which helps the ill and dying manage pain, has taken a step in the Legislature with the proposal of the Palliative Care Advisory Council in the Health and Human Services omnibus bill. It could help further the type of care in the state as opposed to physician-assisted suicide, which also came up in the legislative session as the End of Life Options Act.

“We hope the governor embraces that proposal,” Adkins said. “It’s a low-cost way of ensuring that … Minnesota continues to improve its access and delivery of palliative care. At the end of life, we should be providing better care.”

Adkins said palliative care is “really pain management and better care” instead of “simply offering people a vial of pills to end their lives through assisted suicide.”  While he doesn’t see physician-assisted suicide moving along in this session, the need to oppose it will continue.

“We’ve got to keep working on two tracks,” Adkins said. “We’ve got to be improving care and at the same time, opposing assisted suicide.”

To improve palliative care, Adkins said healthcare providers also need more access to training.

4. Financial support for families

The MCC has made a point of advocating for low-income families’ financial well-being this year.

“Legislation to make sure we have a strong safety net in Minnesota is always really important,” Adkins said. “We’re pleased that a $13 [monthly] increase in the cash grant portion of the Minnesota Family Investment Program is being proposed by House and Senate leaders.”

He said that they hoped that Dayton would embrace that provision in negotiations on the health and human services budget.

That chase grant has remained stagnant since 1986, which means “people are trying to use 1986 dollars to overcome poverty in 2017,” Adkins said. While the MCC didn’t see the full increase it wanted, an additional amount “still helps people from continuing to fall behind,” he added.

The governor’s tax bill also includes the Earned Income Tax Credit, which MCC calls the “working family credit,” which Adkins hopes to see pass. He said it will help low-income workers “build a ladder out of poverty,” and said it’s a major priority for Dayton.

The MCC has also been collaborating with the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition on another bill that helps newly married couples on welfare. The bill would allow couples to stay on welfare for 12 months after marrying regardless of income in order to make adjustments.

“The program currently is structured to provide a bit of a disincentive for people to marry simply because if your household income exceeds a certain threshold, then you lose your benefits,” Adkins said.

He added that it encourages “family formation and not family fragmentation.”

“We’re not creating disincentives to marriage in our policy because we know that marriage fosters both economic stability and economic improvement and is the best outcome for children,” Adkins said.

5. Agriculture and environment

Adkins said the MCC has also been supporting tax credits for beginning farmers in the tax bill.

“That’s a way in which we can stimulate more participation in agriculture,” Adkins said. “We’re seeing more agricultural consolidation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in every instance.”

Adkins said it’s difficult for new farmers to get started and the MCC wants to support family farmers. He mentioned Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s statement that family farms are the “backbone of any nation’s economy.”

“We want to increase the number of farmers and … make sure that our food source comes from diverse sources,” Adkins said.

Adkins also expressed concern for the water quality issues addressed in the bonding bill.

“There’s a number of pieces of legislation proposed by both Republicans and Democrats to improve and preserve Minnesota’s precious natural resource of water but also at the same time improve infrastructure related to clean drinking water as well,” Adkins said. “We’ve been communicating with legislators about the importance of making sure that we preserve that natural resource and provide access to safe, clean drinking water for families.”

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  • Monica

    The AIM Higher Foundation’s website says: “Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis alone save Minnesota taxpayers roughly $300 million in public school costs annually.”

    Jason Adkins says in this article: “This bill in no way from either a technical stand point or from a policy stand point takes dollars away from public education or is in fact a threat to public education.”

    So which is it? Do Catholic Schools take money away from public education or not? It seems to me they do.

    • MNCatholicConference

      Hi Monica. AIM emphasizes that Catholic schools in the Archdiocese SAVE taxpayers roughly $300 million in public schools costs. This means that instead of public money being spent on these pupils, private money through tuition and scholarships is being used to fund their education.

      In other words, that’s $300 million the state can choose to spend (or not) in other ways. Or think about it this way: if all of the students currently at Catholic schools attended public schools, the state would have to bump it’s public education budget up by $300 million, meaning a tax increase or cuts to funding elsewhere.