After months of work, the Minnesota 2021 Legislature has officially adjourned. The Legislature is typically in session for four to six months per year, but due to the pandemic, the Senate was in a constant state of Session, dating back to March of 2020. Minnesota’s budget is finalized, bills are signed — and our state can begin moving forward through the post-COVID era. We had a productive legislative session, and there is much to celebrate.
As the chair of the Senate Environment Policy & Legacy Finance committee, one of my biggest priorities was to build a Legacy bill that preserves, protects and maintains our state’s natural resources for future generations. During the pandemic, our parks and public areas experienced an unprecedented number of visitors — therefore, I was focused on delivering a bill that continues funding Minnesota’s lands, habitats and waters. In addition, we funded grants for county fairs, veteran memorials and civics education. This year the Legacy bill passed with unanimous bipartisan support in the Senate and was one of the first budget bills signed by the governor. I am very proud of the final Legacy bill we put together.
We also passed a public safety budget that prioritizes the safety, security and well-being of all Minnesotans. Our law enforcement organizations have faced many challenges in the past year and were often met with lukewarm support. In the end, the Legislature passed strong public safety measures that support law enforcement officers by providing raises and the resources necessary to do their jobs safely. We stopped attempts to defund or disband the police in any capacity and instead reaffirmed a commitment to public safety for all Minnesotans.
Farmers throughout the state faced many challenges throughout the past year, as the pandemic wreaked havoc on our state’s agricultural industries. Recently there have been processing and workforce shortages in the livestock industry, which were further worsened by COVID. I authored legislation for meat cutting and butchery program grants, and this important funding was included in the final agriculture budget. This funding will provide an opportunity for growth in these specific industries, so we can train our students and keep young entrepreneurs in our state.
The pandemic made it very clear that broadband is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, and we have work to do in that area. Therefore, included in the agriculture budget was important funding for broadband expansion. Last year we provided a large investment for expansion efforts to our rural communities — and we again this year invested in broadband expansion, thanks to federal funding from the American Recovery Plan. This continuous investment shows our commitment to ensuring Greater Minnesota is no longer left behind in broadband expansion.
Housing was a significant topic this year — we passed the eviction moratorium off-ramp, and many hours were spent discussing this important legislation: the goal is to wind down the moratorium in a balanced way that benefits both tenants and landlords. The solution was a well-vetted program that establishes RentHelpMN.com as a resource for tenants to receive financial help to pay back rent owed to landlords. It was important that we implement a phased-in approach to protect Minnesotans facing true economic hardships, while also allowing landlords the ability to evict tenants that have broken the law or have put the safety of others at risk. This bipartisan solution is well-thought out and will help our housing industry begin its post-COVID recovery.
I am pleased we were able to secure nearly $1 billion in tax relief for Minnesotans — we live in a wonderful and beautiful state, but that often comes in tandem with higher taxes. After a year of unimaginable financial hardship, it was a top priority to ensure relief for families across the state. This meant voting “no” on tax increases, passing Paycheck Protection loan forgiveness, and spending our budget responsibly.
Aside from items listed above, we funded roads and bridges, lowered health care costs, held the line on no new watercraft fees, cracked down on aquatic invasive species management, and funded grants to help our friends and neighbors of the Northwest Angle. Much good came from the 2021 Session — we also fought to stop numerous poor measures: no new social studies standards in our schools, no gas tax increase, no single-payer healthcare, and importantly, no defunding the police.
This was a long legislative year — under the trying circumstances Minnesota has faced, we were able to accomplish a great deal, and the highlights are a small part of the story. Most importantly, we reaffirmed our commitment to all Minnesotans, and ensuring the best quality of life our state offers. I am happy with our accomplishments — however, there is more work ahead. I look forward to representing Crow Wing and Aitkin counties to ensure we all continue down the road to recovery together.