Justice, justice, you shall pursue.

– Deuteronomy 16:20

Previous Legislative Sessions

The 2016 Legislative Session is completed, unless the Governor calls a special session to address bonding and transportation.

The session had mixed results for working families. Two issues impacting working families were addressed in the tax bill. The Dependent Care Tax Credit increases the maximum credit available to families from $720 to $1050 for families with one child and from $1440 t0 $2100 for families with two or more children.  This is a total cost of $9.8 M in FY 2017 and $22.8 M in FY 2018.

The Working Family Credit was expanded to allow many Minnesotans to claim it for the first time and allows others to claim a larger credit. Notably, the expanded credit will provide tax relief to approximately 386,000 individuals and families.  Workers 21 and older are now eligible for the credit, regardless of whether they have children, dependent on income level.  In addition, the amount of the credit is increased for many individuals and families.  The bill allocates $49 M for FY 17 and $102 M for FY 18.   The tax bill also includes funds for free tax preparation for our poorest families, increasing the likelihood they will get the tax credits for which they are eligible.

The JRLC and several coalition partners worked hard to increase funding for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) to help the 7,200 Minnesota families that are eligible for assistance but on the waiting list.  We also lobbied to increase provider rates under CCAP in order to retain high quality providers in the program.  Ultimately, the Legislature created a bipartisan task force to assess affordability issues for providers and parents, review the loss of childcare providers across the state (especially in Greater Minnesota) and other issues.  No new funds were allocated.

Unfortunately, no increase was made to the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) that provides basic cash assistance to our poorest Minnesotans. Lori Sturdevant of the Star Tribune wrote an impassioned editorial about the need for an increase, stating in part; “If state lawmakers won’t adjust MFIP grants for inflation 30 years after their last increase, when the economy has fully recovered and the state is running a surplus, will it ever do so? Do Minnesotans still see that the whole state benefits when children are spared the worst ravages of poverty?”  In the Senate, several legislators spoke of the need for these families to get an increase that was long overdue. This will continue to be top priority for the 2017 session.

The Legislature made several improvements in the Safe Harbor program to assist victims of human trafficking. Services will be expanded to include young victims up to age 24, recognizing that many of these victims become involved in trafficking when they were minors. In addition, funds were allocated for both the Department of Health and the Department of Human Services to address the challenges created by trafficking.  The Departments of Health and Human Services will each receive $33,000 in FY 17 $750,000 in FY 18 and $750,000 in FY 19.

On several of our key issues, bills did not advance to hearing or no vote was taken. In the Senate, an amendment to the Elections Omnibus bill would have allowed persons convicted of a felony to vote after they are released from prison, unless a warrant has been issued for their arrest for violation of their probation. There was no comparable provision in the House and nothing was included in a final bill. The Senate held a hearing on background checks for guns but did not take a vote. No hearing was held in the House. No payday lending reform bills advanced.

The JRLC also worked to oppose the expansion of gambling in our state. The “Fantasy Sports Bill,” crafted as an exemption from the state’s gambling statutes, would have greatly expanded lawful gambling. Many Minnesotans are involved in fantasy sports leagues or pools on the NCAA tournament in which they know those against whom they are betting and all proceeds stay within the group.  This bill addresses operators such as Draft Kings or Fan Duels that function as an online casino, directly profiting by retaining a portion of the funds gambled.  The JRLC is particularly concerned about the appeal of this activity to our younger Minnesotans who could access fantasy sports sites from a home computer, Xbox or cell phone 24 hours a day. This bill has been laid over until next year, allowing more time for review and study.   Fantasy sports will certainly be an issue in 2017.


2015 Legislative Summary

Legislative Summary — May 20, 2015

What a difference a year makes. After the fast-paced productivity of the 2014 session, the Minnesota Legislature fell into a mode of half-speed forestalling, posturing, and, finally, finger-pointing over the incompleteness of this year’s work. Transportation was supposed to headline this year’s outcome, but that fizzled for lack of an agreement around sustainable funding. The state’s largest spending bill, E-12, faces a certain veto by the Governor, and the popular Legacy funding bill did not get passed because of time mismanagement. A special session will have to be held sometime before June 30 to finish the work.

JRLC members can claim a piece of the credit for five successes, even if only partial successes, in areas where we spent considerable time and effort contacting lawmakers at Day on the Hill and right up until adjournment.

JRLC was part of the Kids Can’t Wait campaign to increase funding for child care subsidies and we were able to garner $21 million of new funding to buy down the waiting list (for about 350 families) for the Child Care Assistance Program over the next four years. This is far less than we had asked for, but we became very worried that we might not see any new funding after House and Senate Leaders agreed to a $328 million cut in the HHS conference committee target, even in the midst of an overall budget forecast of a $1.9 billion surplus.

JRLC members worked hard to help secure an additional $3 million for Human Trafficking victims. Specifically, it includes the following new, ongoing funding:

    • $1.3 million to DHS for Safe Harbor shelter and housing;
    • $300,000 to DHS for youth outreach;
    • $1.4 million to MDH for protocol, training, and additional support for Regional Navigators.

Our iCAN network was particularly active on this issue, generating letter-writing and other legislator contacts, often on the heels of the many local performances of BOTTOM, a play about sex trafficking in Minnesota that was co-produced by JRLC, iCAN, and Blank Slate Theatre.

We were pleased to assist in the passage of a Religious Exemption for Autopsy bill, legislation that was badly needed in the aftermath of a certain county medical examiner overstepping his authority, treating family members with disrespect, ignoring people’s constitutional rights to religious practices, and taking advantage of ambiguities in the current law. This bill passed easily with bi-partisan support after key issues were resolved with stakeholders.

For the second year in a row we supported a bill that passed again with broad bi-partisan support placing restrictions on the Minnesota Lottery’s expansion of Internet gambling. After vetoing the bill last year, the Governor allowed this to become law without his signature.

We joined with workers and organized labor to stave off efforts to weaken last year’s Minimum Wage increases. A tip penalty provision passed the House, but the Senate and Governor held firm and did not allow this to proceed. The automatic inflation provision also came under attack, but that also survived, intact.

The session ended a few minutes after midnight May 18th, leaving us with two deep disappointments. The Restore the Vote effort did not pass, despite heroic efforts by advocates and late-in-the-session rallies at the Capitol. The House never heard this bill, despite bi-partisan authorship, and then firmly rejected the proposal that had passed the Senate and were debated in the two separate Conference Committee negotiations.

Also, after much strong advocacy from the religious community, the $100 MFIP grant increase, after making its way into the Governor’s supplemental budget and the Senate’s HHS Finance bill, was lost in Conference Committee negotiations. We came close. This was one of the best chances we’ve had in years to increase the basic MFIP income level. Several advocacy groups worked tirelessly on this issue, and, in the last week of session, we were able to deliver a hastily-assembled letter to all lawmakers signed by 127 clergy from across the State. Our efforts were seriously hobbled by the lack of a tax bill, which was needed to free up TANF funds for the MFIP program.

Also, because there was no tax bill this year, we lost all efforts to increase tax credits for dependent and child care expenses.

The payday lending reform effort, which JRLC led last year, was not debated this year because the House Commerce chair indicated he did not want to hear the bill this year, and the Senate refused to act absent any House movement. Also, our long-standing advocacy for an impartial judiciary and judicial election reform was muted this year in favor of a future, better legislative climate.

JRLC District Leaders, lay and clergy volunteers, and our network members were once again a powerful presence at the legislature throughout the session, showing up in force at Day on the Hill back in March, and by sustaining our advocacy for several more weeks by writing and phoning legislators, submitting letters to local newspapers, and lobbying legislators all the way through the final day of the session. This truly is a remarkable interfaith movement for social justice in Minnesota. JRLC is nothing without the activism of intrepid leaders combined with the follow-through of our statewide, interfaith network.

Looking ahead we will raise our voices as needed during the Special Session and then turn our attention to agenda-building and organizing for the 2016 session.