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A new normal at the Capitol

By Dan Sparks

State Senator, District 27

Though the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19 continues, the governor and the legislature continue working to help and protect Minnesotans. Our legislative session continues in a new normal, as many legislators participate in virtual committee hearings and remote voting. Yet, we are continuing to move as quickly as possible to respond to this challenge, assist Minnesotans affected by it, and pass other critical legislation.

This week we passed a fourth COVID-19 relief bill. The focus of this package was on making technical changes that help with a variety of licensing and other issues that have been affected by in-person restrictions. I worked with my colleagues in the Senate and the House to include an important provision extending the length of mediation available for farmers in the Farmer-Lender Mediation Act. This mediation period was extended from 90 to 150 days, which is a major boost for our farmers.

We were also able to finish our work on the establishment of an emergency insulin access program, with the passage of the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act. I was proud to vote yes for this bill. No Minnesotan should go without lifesaving medication because they cannot afford it. I’m proud we could pass a final compromise that provides a real lifeline for families struggling with the cost of their insulin.

On Thursday, we were able to take a step towards helping a vital industry for our small towns throughout Minnesota by allowing takeout orders to include beer and wine sales at restaurants. Many restaurants operate on the margins already, and alcohol sales often make up a large percentage of gross sales for restaurants. This will help provide an immediate boost to these small businesses and strengthen them during this crisis.

With the major challenges facing our economy, we must be doing more to help Minnesotans who have had hours reduced, lost a paycheck, and for the small businesses who have been closed. I appreciate the Governor’s willingness and measured approach to classifying more businesses, like landscapers, as essential services, and believe there are more businesses worthy of exempting from the stay at home order. We must continue to put the health and safety of Minnesotans first, but we must develop a plan that can bring more of our businesses online. I believe we need to continually look at ways that we can safely reopen our state’s economy and take measures to ensure businesses can hit the ground running.

It’s also critical that we take measures to create jobs and revitalize our economy. We must put together a strong bonding bill focused on shovel-ready projects that can spur economic development throughout the state. Though any of our forecasted surplus and much of our reserves have gone to funding our immediate response, the foundations of our economy were quite strong before this. Interest rates were low and the federal government is stepping up to provide more assistance to states. Now more than ever we must prioritize creating jobs, putting people to work, and investing in Minnesota.