School Lunch Funding, Taxes & Guns: Capitol Update

Sen. Melissa Halvorson-Wiklund recaps her week on Capitol Hill in St. Paul.

Editor's note: The following is freshman Sen. Melissa Halvorson-Wiklund's newsletter update from the capitol for the week ending Feb. 22, 2013. Halvorson-Wiklund serves on the following Senate committees: Health, Human Services and Housing; and Education: E-12 Finance, State & Local Government.

Session Continues as Bills Work Through Committees

After a lengthy debate, the Senate passed a bill that would expand medical assistance to Minnesotans up to 138% of the federal poverty level. As I stated in my last update, this is a great bill that will help many Minnesotans. Since the House had already passed it, the bill went on to Governor Dayton’s desk, and he signed it into law on Tuesday.

Beyond the MA expansion, most of the action in the Senate has been in committees. With the first committee deadline rapidly approaching, committees are working hard to get bills heard and voted on. This week, I had a bill before the Health, Human Services, and Housing committee that would reform how the Minnesota Council on Disability is able to do their work. I’ll also be carrying several bills proposed by state agencies and departments to make their work easier, and to update some language to make agencies run more smoothly.

I’m also thrilled to be a co-author on S.F. 379, which would require manufacturers to stop using Bisphenol-A (BPA) in all food packaging intended for children less than 12 years old within a year. Studies have shown that BPA can have serious negative health effects on young children, and I am excited to be working on this bill that will protect kids all over Minnesota.

In both the Education and E-12 Finance committees, we recently heard several proposals for increases in state aid for school lunch programs. One proposal calls for raising the state contribution for all school lunches from 12 to 14 cents, the other would have the state cover the entire cost of reduced price lunches for low-income families. Research has shown a strongly positive link between nutrition and student achievement, and I am eager to continue working on this issue and better serving all Minnesota public school students.

Tax Discussions Continue

A variety of tax proposals are being discussed at the Capitol these days. I am fortunate to be able to work closely with Rep. Lenczewski who chairs the House Tax committee. I will also be meeting with the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Revenue, Myron Frans, to discuss how we can ensure that we are able to make the investments in our state that we need. Our tax system is in serious need of reform. In addition to relying on unsteady sources of revenue, lower and middle income Minnesotans often end up paying a larger percentage in taxes than their higher income neighbors. I am hopeful we can make our taxes more stable and more fair.

Around the District

  • Richfield High School’s DECA chapter has earned the prestigious Gold Level Certification for the operation of its School-Based Enterprise (SBE), the “Spartan Avenue” store.
  • Teachers Dean Breuer of Richfield High School Murray McCartan of Jefferson High School in Bloomington were nominated for Education Min-nesota Teacher of the Year. McCartan also moved forward as a semi-finalist.
  • Recently, I met with constituents representing Education Minnesota, SEIU, the MN Historical Society, the American Heart Association, and the JRLC.
  • Seven art students from Kennedy High School earned Honorable Mention at this year's Minnesota Scholastic Art Competition.
  • The Bloomington Symphony Orches-tra recently celebrated the 50th Anniversary of its founding.
  • Richfield Mayor Debbie Goettel will be hosting her Mayor’s Hour on February 23rd, from 9:30 to 10:30am at the Wood Lake Nature Center (6710 Lakeshore Dr).
  • Minnesota History: On February 19th, 1902, the state legislature named the pink-and-white ladyslipper the state flower, after discovering the previous choice was not native to Minnesota.

Lots to Talk About at the Capitol

As always, there are a lot of different issues being discussed at the Capitol, and I’m eager to hear from you on them as well.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings regarding gun safety laws in Minnesota. The focus of these hearings will be on background checks for all gun purchases, and other proposals that will keep guns from people who shouldn’t have them. I believe that we can find bipartisan solutions that ensure public safety and respect gun owners’ rights.

The Health Insurance Exchange bill passed out of the Finance committee on Tuesday, it’s last stop before the Senate floor. This means we will likely take it up very soon. The Insurance Exchange will allow Minnesotans to work with state government to find the insurance plan that works best for them. A state-based insurance exchange is good health care policy, and better for Minnesotans. Had we not set up a Minnesota-based exchange, it would have fallen to the fed-eral government. This way, we can make use of existing state programs and policies that already make Minnesota a leader in health care.

Looking Ahead

In the coming weeks, I’ll be meeting with the Superintendent of the Richfield School District and touring Richfield schools, and participating in legislative forums sponsored by the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce and the Bloomington School Board. I’ll be carrying a bill that will hopefully start a discussion on how Minnesota public colleges and universities assist undecided students in planning their course of study, and continuing discussions with constituents about how I can best serve Bloomington and Richfield. I’m excited to continue working for you, and I hope you’ll stop by the Capitol and say “Hi!”. Otherwise, I’ll see you around town!

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