Live Blogging – Last 36 Hours of 2013 Session

10:00 pm – DISASTER RELIEF BILL GOING TO GOVERNOR

The Senate has taken up the revised disaster relief bill and Senator Weber has ushered it to passage.  The next stop is the Governor for signature.

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10:00 pm – two hours remaining

With the passage of a bonding bill in the House, the tax and state government funding bills have gone to their next destination and are being debated now.

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9:40 pm – A revised and smaller bonding bill passes off the House floor.

As we were wondering all day why the Senate wasn’t taking up the tax bill and the House wasn’t taking up the State Government Finance bill, the AP reported that each chamber was holding the bills to ensure that the other didn’t adjourn too early.  Apparently even under single party control there is still significant distrust amongst the leadership.  It was later reported the Senate would only pass on the State Government Finance bill if the House sent over a revised, and smaller, bonding bill.

The bonding bill came up immediately after my disaster relief bill.  And, unlike the bonding bill from Friday, gained my support.  The bill bonds for $176 million (much smaller than the nearly $900 million one on Friday) of which the bulk was the preservation of our state capitol building ($109 million).  Another $20 million was appropriated for flood mitigation to finish at least five projects throughout the state, and finally $8 million to the public facilities authority.  It was very important to get the public facilities authority money as there are federal matching funds of $40 million available.  These funds have been used throughout the district most recently with sewer systems in our smaller towns.  Most recently, Dundee recieved funds from the PFA for this, and Tracy is in the process of this right now.

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9:25 pm- SOUTHWEST MINNESOTA DISASTER RELIEF BILL PASSES OFF HOUSE FLOOR

Moments ago, the disaster relief bill for Rock, Nobles, Jackson, Murray, and Cottonwood Counties was passed off of the House floor.  Rep. Hamilton was able to succcessfully secure an additional $250,000 in support aid for stump grinding and other costs to the counties that are not covered under the FEMA reimbursements.

With those changes, the bill has to go back to the Senate to concure before it goes to the Governor.

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7:15 pm

HF1389, which makes various changes to the laws governing the Office of Enterprise Technology, including the sunset provisions, giving the head officer a Commissioner position, and eliminates contract timeline limitations, passed off the floor.

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7pm – 5 hours remain-

HF590, which creates criminal penalties for assaulting transit operators, passes the House.

————————————————————————————————————— 6:38 pm – And we’re back!

We’re on HF316, which changes the permitted weights for axels in MnDOT district 4.

The Senate just passed the Disaster Relief Bill – it should be coming over to the House shortly.  Thanks to Senator Weber for getting this done in the Senate!

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6:25 pm – Still in recess, but members are gathered on the House floor.

The lights are dimmed in the chamber – mood lighting or ominous signal of the time ticking down and the work that needs to yet be done?

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4:55 pm – the Campaign Finance Bill passes.

The House is recessing for about an hour.

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4:41 pm – the Omnibus Legacy Bill passes 77-57

The next bill up is a campaign finance bill overhaul, SF 661 - mainly modernizing raising and spending limits that haven’t been adjusted in nearly two decades.

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4:10 pm – In a final day oddity, the Senate has actually been in recess since 12:30 this afternoon trying to fix the tax bill.  Senator Weber has been kind enough to visit his House counterparts a couple of times during the break to let us know what’s going on over there.

The House is still debating the Omnibus Legacy Bill.

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3:45 pm – We’re now wrapping up the first hour of debate on the conference committee report for the Omnibus Legacy bill.    Highlights include:

  • The Outdoor Heritage fund is returned to an annual appropriation.
  • Over $6 million of additional spending for grants to metro parks, none of which was allocated to rural parks.  This was not a recommendation of LSOHC.
  • The Parks & Trails part of the bill returns to the Governor’s recommendations, which split the money as follows:
    • 40% to DNR – spent according to Department priorities
    • 40$ to the Metro – distributed according to a statutory formula
    • 20% to Greater Minnesota – distributed via grant
  • The Clean Water Fund has been returned to the Clean Water Council recommendations
  • The Ag Water Quality certification is funded at $3 million for the biennium

8 hours, 15 minutes remaining of the 2013 session.  We still have the State Government Finance bill and our disaster relief bills that MUST be heard today.

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2:25 pm – The omnibus elections bill HF894 is up on the floor.  Highlights include:

  • No excuse absentee voting
  • Vouching reduced from 15 voters to 8 voters maximum
  • Mail balloting allowed for any township size.
The bill passed.

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2:21 pm – 9.5 hours left of session.  Childcare and PCA unionization passes the House and will be sent to the Governor on a vote of 68-66 with bipartisan opposition.  I anticipate he will be signing this legislation, which provides for childcare and PCA’s who have publicly subsidized clients to unionize under a public union.  These small business owners can already unionize or utilize professional organizations to help represent them at the capitol, but this soon-to-be law will call for an election on whether to unionize publically.  It’s believed the election could be called for as early as this summer.

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12:22 pm – HF 1832, our disaster relief funding, has been placed on the calendar for today.  That’s very positive news to know that it’s at least on the agenda.  It was on the agenda last Friday, too, and was passed over then.  We’re working to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

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12:20 pm – Highlights from the Omnibus Transportation Policy Bill

  • Scrap metal dealers are required to notify the Department of Public Safety within 10 days of purchasing a vehicle to dismantle or destroy, and must retain the title or a copy of the motor vehicle record.
  • When the bill passed off the House floor, there was a provision to change all 55 mph to 60 mph zones – that provision was removed in conference committee
  • Federal conformity on medical examiner certificate requirements for CDL applicants included
  • Weight by which vehicles with idle reduction technology may exceed the vehicle weight limits increased from 400 lbs to 550 lbs

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Monday, Noon – 12 Hours Left of Session -

The omnibus transportation policy bill just passed off the floor.

We are now taking up the childcare providers unionization bill.

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2:30 am House passes tax bill, adjourns until 11am Monday.  See you then.

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11:10pm House just passes motion to meet past midnight.

Handouts from Pork Producers and Farm Bureau opposing the ag input storage tax provision of the tax bill are being destributed.

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11:05pm – Tax bill debate continues in the House.

It was just announced that the conference committee for the Minimum Wage bill will meet at 10 am tomorrow (14 hours before the end of session).  The House version is at $9.50 by 2015; Senate is at $7.75 by then.  There’s also the point about inflation indexing that was in the House provision.

I’m hearing now that the disaster relief matching funds bill will be brought up later tonight.

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10:15pm – Rep. Rod Hamilton thanks the conference committee for the accelerated LGA for our districts towns this year.

Questions about ag inputs being taxed raised.  LP and anhydrous tanks will be taxed under the new business to business provisions if you rent the storage tanks.  If you own it will not be taxed.

Farm equiptment repairs will also now be taxed.

The arguement for this is that there are sales tax relief in other areas of the bill.

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10:00pm – Rep. Kelby Woodard (R- Belle Plaine) is offering background on the education funding portions of the tax bill.  The tax bill left the House floor two weeks ago with the $800 million to pay the schools back, they’re gone in the returned bill and instead rely on the current growth in the economy to pay it back.

$34 million is also appropriated towards the school property tax recognition shift, and $60 million towards a general education levy.  A levy limit also gets applied in 2015 to the school districts.

The tax brackets in this bill will make Minnesota the 4th highest in the country.

26 Hours Left of Session

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9:40pm – Non-partisan research summary of the final tax bill (a much easier read) can be found here

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9:35pm – Highlights of the Tax Omnibus Bill

  • Expands business to business taxes on: storage services, telecommunication, and electronic and commerical purchaes repair and services
  • Cigarette tax increased which can be used for the Vikings Stadium if e-pull tabs don’t turn around
  • Creates a 4th income tax tier at 9.85% for incomes above $150,000 (single) and $250,000 (joint)
  • Decreaes the income thresholds for the 7.05% and 7.85% brackets which means taxes will go up for people earning as little as $22,000 a year
  • Higher standard deduction for married filers
  • Expands the businesses that qualify for the Angel Investment Credit
  • Increases in college tuition deductions
  • Provides a tax credit for a Greater Minnesota Internship Program
  • Additional $5 tax on homeowner and automotive insurnace policies.
  • County Program Aid increased by $40 million
  • Allocates $3 million for senate offices in a new building
  • Provides $1.86 million for relocation expenses for the senate moving into new offices
  • Imposes a gift tax to complement the estate tax
  • Adds taxable gifts made within three years of the decedents death to the taxable estate
  • Revised formula for LGA, accelerated LGA payments for towns affected by last months snow storm (Rep. Hamilton’s provision)
  • Fails to directly pay back to the delayed school payments

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8:15pm – We are back from recess and taking up the conference committee report from the tax bill.

We are now 27 hours and 45 minutes from constitutional adjournment.  After this the only other bill we have to take up to balance the budget will be the State Government Finance Bill.

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5:35 pm – There have been two amendments up in the last two and a half hours, one that would allow small daycare business owners and PCA’s to recind their union membership at any time (which failed), and an amendment relieving family child care providers and PCA’s from abiding by negotiated agreements or paying dues and fees associated with not abiding by the negotiations.

The State Government Finance Bill has been completed in conference committee.  What will likely capture the most headlines is the authorized pay raises for politicians.  The proposal excludes the legislature and only applies to the constitutional officers and the Governors appointments.  I remain firm in my opposition to pay raises at any level while we are trying to recover and have difficult decisions to make.  The same PCA’s that the majorities are trying to unionize this evening before the budget is done are the same PCA’s that are receiving only a 1% raise in 2015.  It’s the first raise they’ll receive in four years, and at a time when taxes are being raised by over $2 billion, I would have thought those who care for people who can’t take care of themselves would be a higher priority.

It’s rumored that we’ll be going into recess around 6 tonight to give us a chance to glance at the tax bill and the state government finance bill.  It’ll be another long night.  30 Hours and 25 minutes until the constitutional end of session.

Still no word on the disaster recovery bill.  There is still animosity in the failure of passing a bonding bill on Friday.  To hold $1.5 million of aid after an act of God because of a vote on a bonding bill is disgraceful.  The disaster relief was less than 0.2% of the bonding bill, but there was $70 million available for the metropolitan council to put $7 million into Minneapolis sculpture gardens.  Public Television got more than $9 million in the request, the MN Children’s Museum would recieve $14 million to double it’s size, and $5 million was set to go to the St. Paul Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.  The bonding bill we voted on last Friday would have left a $65 million a year debt service for the state and would have spent over $800 million.

We have a bill on the floor that appropriates the relief funds from the general fund.  Rep. Hamilton and I are looking into all possible options so that our districts are no longer held hostage.

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2:46 pm The Omnibus Transportation Finance Bill was passed with 77 votes.

Now we are back to the unionization of small business owners in the childcare field and personal care attendents.  There are still about 100 amendments available to debate.  We began debate at 2am this morning and adjourned at 7am, and got through about 5 amendments in that time.

Both organized labor and child care providers are rallied in the rotunda today with very different messages for legislators.

The unionization bill is SF778, and the amendments being discussed today can be found here.

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2:08 pmGood afternoon, with less than 36 hours left in the 2013 legislative session, I thought I’d offer some live blogging of what’s happening in the House Chamber.

Live Video of Session can be found here

At 1:00pm the House was called to order, the first bill up was the Omnibus Game and Fish Bill (SF796) the bill passed and I supported it.  The Omnibus Game and Fish bill was an effort to protect the hunting anf fishing way of life that many MInnesotans enjoy.  There are provisions in the bill that work to engage more kids into these activities, and allows the DNR to more effectively enforce bowfishing and corrections to the AIS laws.

Next was SF1276, a compromise bill between the banking community and housing-rights activitsts that deal with loss mitigation by mortgage lenders and servicers.  The bill passed   with no opposition.

We are currently on the Transportation Finance Omnibus Bill (HF1444).  I supported the bill when it left the House floor because the formulas seemed fair for the balance between rural and metro funds, and roads and bridges versus twin city trains.  However, coming back from conference committee, I intend on voting against the bill becuase that fair funding shifted more towards the metro.  Coming back more expensive, the conference committee added an additional $55 million for light rail operations and expands the wheelage tax statewide and doubles the amount.

More as it comes — we are still waiting to hear back on the Disaster Relief Bill for our area.  We are also waiting to have the conference committees for State Government Finance and Taxes to conclude their work so we can vote on it.

2013 Session Begins

Hello from St. Paul,

January 8 marked the beginning of Minnesota’s 2013 Legislative Session with all state representatives being officially sworn into office during a ceremony at the State Capitol. 

It continues to be an honor to serve the people of southwestern Minnesota. Lawmakers have many tough decisions to make over the next few months, so I am anxious to get to work.

During the first House floor session of the year, I and other Republicans voted to prioritize rural Minnesota and agricultural interests.

New House Speaker Paul Thissen, who lives in Minneapolis, chose to eliminate the House Agriculture and Rural Development Finance Committee, and combine it with an environment finance committee. This maneuver allows the environment chairperson, who also lives in Minneapolis, to determine whether more state dollars are used to fund environment or agriculture needs.

I voted to remove control of ag finance from the Minneapolis environmentalist and place it under the jurisdiction of a rural Minnesota Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Policy Committee, but the measure failed.

To me, this was about taking a rural Minnesota finance committee and putting it in the hands of someone who lives in and better understands rural Minnesota’s needs.  With a Minneapolis House Speaker, a St. Paul majority leader, and a Minneapolis agriculture finance chair, I truly believe rural Minnesota’s influence could be lost this session.

A recent study by the nonprofit Center for Rural Policy and Development (CRPD) also found that rural Minnesota is losing its influence in policy decisions, and must work to get its voice back.

CRPD Executive Director Brad Finstad noted, “This year’s agenda could include major reforms in tax, health and education policies, transportation funding and a possible bonding bill. The decisions made in each of these areas are critical to making the most of rural Minnesota’s opportunities and addressing our challenges. Rural Minnesota can’t be on the sidelines when these decisions are made. If rural falls behind the rest of the state on measures of economic and cultural success, the whole state will suffer.”

The overwhelming majority of the new House leadership team is comprised of Metro Area and inner city lawmakers, which is why one of my top goals this session is to ensure that rural Minnesota’s needs are not ignored and to work tirelessly for our priorities. 

Talk to you soon,

Joe

REP. SCHOMACKER ELECTED ASSISTANT MINORITY LEADER OF HOUSE GOP CAUCUS

St. Paul – On December 12, State Representative Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne) was elected by fellow House Republicans to serve as Assistant Minority Leader.

Schomacker was first elected to the Minnesota House in 2010, and will promote rural Minnesota and the Republican caucus while providing party leadership in this new role.  He said it is an honor to be chosen by House Republicans to serve in this capacity.

“One of the reasons I chose to run for this position is because the Democrats decided to elect leadership from Minneapolis and St. Paul,” Schomacker said.  “While their caucus will be looking out for the best interests of the inner cities, I believe we need to have a bigger focus on Greater Minnesota and its needs, and I plan on utilizing my new leadership position by bringing our issues of fairer education and LGA funding, better nursing home and rural hospital rates, and farm land property tax reform to the forefront over the next two years.”

Schomacker lives in Luverne, and represents District 22A, which includes all or parts of Rock, Nobles, Murray, Pipestone, Lyon, and Lincoln counties.

Senior Life and Nursing Home Advocates Endorse Schomacker

Luverne – I am honored today to announce the endorsements of both Aging Services of Minnesota and Care Providers of Minnesota.

In a release to its members, Aging Services of Minnesota stressed that they take each endorsement seriously, and only endorsed in a select few races where the candidates have “demonstrated the strong potential to be leaders at the legislature on our issues in the coming legislative session.”

During my first two years in office, I have strived to be a vocal advocate on senior living issues.  Even though I’m the youngest member of the legislature, I have placed extra focus on nursing home and assisted living issues because of the district I serve.

Southwest Minnesota is growing older at a faster rate than much of the rest of the state.  In addition, nursing homes and assisted living are the largest employers in our region.  I keep a list of the number of jobs associated with senior living in each district in the state on my office door to remind myself and anyone who comes in about the importance of this industry.

With more baby boomers retiring, there will be extra demand on the industry, and that will come at a cost to the taxpayer.  It’s why I worked hard for the small rate increase we were able to get for many of our rural nursing homes in the last session, and will continue to work on reforming the bureaucracy that drives up the cost of care.

Patti Cullen, CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota, said in a statement:

Our dedicated long-term care professionals are proud to support Representative Joe Schomacker.  Schomacker understands our state’s long-term care issues and he has a deep commitment to maintaining Minnesota’s reputation for high-quality long-term care.

 

It’s an issue I’ve been proud to work across the aisle on as well.  I led the House’s bipartisan Long-Term Care study group where we discussed problems and how to implement legislative solutions.

Below is a link to a floor speech I delivered near the end of session this year to talk about some of the solutions we were able to accomplish in the Health and Human Services Omnibus Finance Bill:

HHS Omnibus Floor Speech

Business, Labor Both Support Re-Electing Rep. Schomacker

Business, Labor Support Re-Electing Rep. Schomacker

Schomacker’s Work Together Approach Earns Him Uncommon Pair of Endorsements

Luverne – Two, oftentimes competing political interests, business and labor, have come together this election year in support of Rep. Joe Schomacker’s re-election. For labor, both the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 have endorsed Schomacker. He has also received the Minnesota Chamber Leadership Fund’s endorsement and was recently awarded with the National Federation of Independent Business’ “Guardian of Small Businesses” designation.

 “I am proud to have the support of these four groups,” Schomacker said. “While I agree with no group all of the time, this exceptional collection of endorsements shows what can happen when our focus is getting the job done for the people of Minnesota.”

Schomacker credits these endorsements to his willingness to sit down and listen to what these groups have to say. “Common ground can often be found, if we’re willing to look for it,” the Southwestern Minnesota Representative said.

Farm Bureau Endorses Schomacker

I am proud to receive the Minnesota Farm Bureau’s Political Action Committee endorsement for State Representative this year.  The endorsement is based on my support of the Farm Bureau’s policies like regulatory and permitting reform, water management, and food safety.

A strong agriculture economy is important to feeding the world.  It is one industry that stayed strong during the Great Recession and ensured that our state stayed stronger during that difficult time.  Locally, it is a vital engine for good paying jobs today and into the future.

I have greatly enjoyed getting to know the members of the Farm Bureau.  They’ve been an invaluable asset to me on farm and rural economic issues.  Morning, noon, or night, I know I can call a Farm Bureau member with a legislative question and get a straight answer.  I look forward to continuing that relationship for years to come.

For more information about Farm Bureau Policies, click here.

If you’d like to become a member of Farm Bureau, click here.

Pipestone Student Receives $25,000 in GM Foundation Scholarship

Representative Joe Schomacker Congratulates Local Students for Winning Buick Achievers Scholarships

One Student in Minnesota to Receive up to $25,000 in Annual Awards For Classroom and Community Excellence

[PIPESTONE, August 23, 2012] – Today Minnesota State Representative Joe Schomacker congratulated Jesse Hinricher from Pipestone, Minnesota for winning a Buick Achievers Scholarship of up to $25,000 that is renewable for up to four years.  Also, 30 additional Minnesota students received a one-time $2,000 scholarship award.

As one of the largest scholarship programs in the country, the Buick Achievers program rewards students who excel both in the classroom and in the community, but lack the financial resources to pursue higher education.  The program is distinguished by its renewable aspect – 100 nationwide students receive up to $25,000 a year, renewable for up to four years and one additional year for qualified five-year engineering programs.  Additionally, 1,000 students receive a one-time $2,000 award.  By the end of 2012, the Buick Achievers Scholarship Program expects to have funded almost $13 million for deserving students.

Eligibility was expanded this year from first-time college-bound students to also include current undergraduates. With nearly fifty percent of college students dropping out before completing their education due to a lack of financial resources, this expansion is designed to help students cross the finish line.

“Through the Buick Achievers Scholarship Program, the GM Foundation is able to make a significant investment in the youth – and future – of America,” said Vivian Pickard, president, GM Foundation. “With student loan debt now totaling more than $1 trillion, this program will help foster the next generation of leaders, without the added financial hurdles many students face.”

Minnesota State Representative Joe Schomacker offered his personal congratulations to Jesse during an award ceremony at the Amdahl Motors Buick dealership in Pipestone, Minnesota. “I’m proud to congratulate Jesse, a Pipestone student, for receiving this scholarship award,” Schomacker said. “Jesse possesses the drive and motivation that makes our state proud. Excellence in education is a priority for Minnesota, and students like Jesse personify the importance of that objective. I look forward to hearing about his future academic achievements.”

Jesse Hinricher is from Pipestone, Minnesota, and attends Pipestone Area High School. Jesse plans to attend South Dakota School of Mines and Technology to pursue a degree in Chemical Engineering. Jesse has impacted the community through his volunteer activities. He is a member of 4-H, where he volunteers as a mentor to Cloverbuds, which is an after school program for 60 children in grades K-3rd. He teaches the children skills such as carpentry, and gardening. Jesse is the captain of the schools robotics team. He is interested in working with manufacturers of electrical cars to increase the efficiency and affordability of electrical cars to consumers.

With the future of manufacturing and related industries driven by new and innovative technologies, Buick and the GM Foundation specifically developed the Buick Achievers Scholarship Program to support students interested in science, technology, engineering, math, and other related fields of study. The program comes at a time when there are less than 1,500 math and science graduates for every 100,000 employed 25- to 34-year-olds in the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“More than half of our scholarship recipients are the first in their families to attend college,” said Tony DiSalle, U.S. vice president, Buick Marketing.  “It is gratifying to know that, through the Buick Achievers Scholarship program, we are able to help make their dreams of earning a college degree a reality, while putting them on the road to rewarding careers.”

The selected students represent every state in the nation.  Additionally, 514 of the students are the first in their family to attend college while 73 of the recipients come from military families.

The GM Foundation has provided more than $26 million in education-related initiatives since 2005.

For more information about the Buick Achiever Scholarship Program, to view the complete list of 2012 recipients, or to register for an e-mail notification when the next application window opens, please visit www.buickachievers.com.

 

About the GM Foundation
Since its inception in 1976, the GM Foundation has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to American charities, educational organizations and to disaster relief efforts worldwide. The GM Foundation focuses on supporting Education, Health and Human Services, Environment and Energy and Community Development initiatives, mainly in the communities where GM operates.  Funding of the GM Foundation comes solely from GM.  The last contribution to the GM Foundation was made in 2001. For more information, visit www.gm.com/gmfoundation.

About Buick
Buick is a modern luxury brand offering vehicles with sculpted designs, luxurious interiors with thoughtful personal technologies, along with responsive-yet-efficient performance. Buick is attracting new customers with its portfolio of award-winning luxury models, including the Enclave crossover, LaCrosse sedan, Regal sport sedan, Buick Verano sedan and the all-new 2013 Encore crossover. Learn more about Buick cars and crossovers at www.buick.com, on Twitter @buick or at www.facebook.com/buick.

 

Keloland Story

Drug Court Valuable

The Daily Globe has covered the addition of a Drug Court in southwest Minnesota.  The Cornerstone Drug Court was established less than a year ago and serves Cottonwood, Rock, and Nobles Counties, with expansion into Murray and Pipestone Counties around the turn of the year.  A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit in on a bi-weekly meeting to see first hand how it works.

I wasn’t sure what to expect walking into the pre-meeting where the cases are discussed, or the hearing itself.  The setting of the courtroom gives clear and solemn ambiance for the proceedings, but there is a conversational tone between the judge, participant, and the collaborative work group.  Amongst the participants, there is a feeling of mutual effort and shared success.  On the day I visited, the discussions were not about shame and punishment, but about objectives for success – an overall theme for Drug Court.

And it’s a successful theme.  The Judicial Branch of the state government issued their first comprehensive report on Drug Court at the end of June:

“The study found that drug court participants have a significantly lower rate of recidivism than non-participants. Two-and-a-half years after entering a Judicial Branch drug court program, about one quarter of the participants had been charged with a new offense, compared to 41 percent for non-participants.

“The study also shows that drug court participants spent fewer days incarcerated (jail and prison) than non-participants. As a result, $3,189 less was spent on incarceration of drug court participants than of non-participants. The study calculated incarceration costs using per diem costs, including clothing, feeding, and housing offenders, provided by the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Currently, there is no specific line item in the Judiciary to supplement Drug Court.  The people who staff and collaborate have built in their time for this program into their current jobs – not because they have spare time, but because they see the value in this.

Participants are expected to have some investment in the effort, with a $600 fee assessed over the time of their participation.  The collaborative and judge can waive the monthly installment if the participant has been doing exceptionally well.

I appreciated and learned a lot from my visit to Drug Court and will be and advocate for its utilization, especially if I continue to serve on the Judiciary Committee.  As we look towards reforms and producing better outcomes – whether it be in drug treatment, healthcare, transportation, job creation, education, or any number of areas – collaboration is clearly going to be vital to success.  Drug Court is the latest example of this.

Also, if you have a half hour and would like to learn more, TPT has a video: Drug Court: Justice That Heals

Positive July Budget Update

The Minnesota Management and Budget Office (MMB) released it’s July economic update, and shows improved news.

The July report is an update from the February forecast.  In February, MMB projected that this budget cycle would see a $1.2 billion surplus.  The July update saw increased revenue of $336 million.  Our surplus currently stands at $1.2 billion.

I am encouraged by the increase in the forecast, and am pleased to see more dollars going to pay back our obligations.

This positive news can be directly attributed to our continued job growth.  With an unemployment rate dropping statewide from 7.5% two years ago to 5.7% today, more people are getting back to work and doing so faster than the rest of the nation.  After the $1.2 billion surplus was announced in February, the Health and Human Services Finance Committee held a hearing and learned from MMB that much of the surplus came from people getting back to work and not using public services.  A large portion of this additional $336 million reported this month is due to higher than expected income tax payments – more people paying in.

The July report also handicaps the global economy, and little has changed from their full report six months ago.

For the next budget cycle, economists are projecting a General Fund deficit of $1 billion, but an All Funds surplus of $1 billion.  In addition, obligations to to pay delayed school aid funding is about $2.5 billion.

The July Update can be found here.

Rock County Farm Bureau’s “I Met a Farmer” Tour a Success

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend the Rock County Farm Bureau’s “I Met a Famer” tour.  This third-annual, award winning program allows locals who don’t spend their lives on the farm to see what farm life is like.

The five hour tour took us around farms in Rock County and highlighted beef, dairy, and pork – the major livestock commodities in the county.  It offered the chance for the farmer to explain their operation, answer questions, and clarify any misconceptions about farming.

It’s always good to know where your food comes from.  From nutritional plans to how the livestock is kept cool during these hot summer days, it offers more confidence for our food supply.

I’d encourage anyone who has the opportunity to take part in any future farm tours to take advantage.  No matter how many times I do this, I am always learning something new.