Senate making headway on session

Published 5:25 pm Saturday, April 25, 2015

By Dan Sparks

State Senator, District 27

This has been a busy week at the state capitol with longer floor sessions as we work on passing finance bills off the floor. These bills contain funding for various departments and appropriations for the next biennium. After we pass them off the Senate Floor, they usually head to conference committee with the House of Representatives where a committee hashes out the differences between the two sides.

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On Monday we debated the Senate Higher Education Omnibus Finance bill which contains many good provisions, including close to $120 million to lower or maintain tuition costs for students at the U of M and MnSCU schools statewide. As student’s college debt loans continue to increase, making Minnesota student’s the fifth highest for student debt, it’s important that the state step in to do what they can.

In a push to advance the University of Minnesota’s Medical School, the Senate’s bill invests an additional $25 million to help advance regenerative medicine faculty to conduct research. The Senate also passed a measure called the College Tuition Relief Bill. This provision helps students with the first two years at a MnSCU institution, encourage students interested in a technical career, and offering other students a new more affordable path to higher education.

On Wednesday the Senate had a lengthy debate on the finance bill that encompasses the environment, economic development and agriculture-related bills. Several provisions heard in my committee on Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development were included for funding. I was happy to see my proposal for Agriculture Research, Education and Emergency Response received $8.5 million in funding for each year of the biennium. It is needed money heading to important agriculture research and education programs in the state. Some of this funding will also go toward agriculture rapid response for plant and animal diseases. As we’ve seen with the recent outbreak of Avian Bird Flu decimating the state’s turkey populations, diseases can strike anytime, anywhere. It’s important to have researchers and institutions at the ready with proper funding and staffing levels to help find fixes quickly.

The bill also funded several important programs within the Department of Employment and Economic Development. These programs range from adult workforce development, to rural career counseling coordinators and $17 million for broadband expansion. All of these measures help greater Minnesota by connecting more people to needed jobs, and aiding small businesses with grant money to grow and add jobs. This session has focused a lot on the needs of rural Minnesota, and I’m happy to see many good measures have made it into finance bills that are passing off the floor.

Next week the Senate will take up more omnibus finance bills as our deadline of May 18 quickly approaches.

If there are any other issues you’d like to see addressed please feel free to contact my office at (651) 296-9248