I hope this message finds you well, despite the challenging circumstances. We continue to work together at the State Capitol on solutions that bring relief to the many Minnesotans suffering, and that work will continue until we adjourn. Here’s an update on where things stand.
With enhanced social distancing and temporary telework, the state legislature continues to work at the State Capitol. As you know, Governor Walz has extended his peacetime emergency declaration until June 13. The regular legislative session must adjourned on Monday, May 18; however, per state law, if the governor decides to extend his state of peacetime emergency declaration beyond its June 13 expiration date, he will need to call the legislature back for a special session.
Our priorities have rapidly shifted over the past two months as we confront a $2.2 billion state budget deficit for the first time in more than a decade due to the pandemic. We do have more than $2 billion saved in our state’s “rainy day” fund, but we must be very careful to reign in state spending as we put together the next budget.
About a month ago, I called on Governor Walz and his administration to pivot our state’s strategy to focus on long-term care facilities, where we know more than 80 percent of coronavirus-related deaths in Minnesota have occurred. Specifically, I asked the governor to test all long-term care residents and staff and deploy the Minnesota National Guard to assist.
I am pleased to announce that the governor is indeed implementing this in long-term care facilities and is deploying the Guard to assist with testing and other duties in these settings. Some of these facilities are currently treating more COVID-19 patients than hospitals. I am pleased to finally see concrete plans from the administration for addressing these challenges.
Financial protections for seniors
My legislation to protect seniors and vulnerable adults against financial exploitation also passed the Minnesota Senate last week. The legislation allows banks, credit unions, and other financial services providers to delay a transaction if they have a reasonable belief it would result in the financial exploitation of a vulnerable person or an individual 65 years of age or older, and permits them to disclose their suspicion to the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center or other third parties.
One in five Minnesotans over the age of 65 have been the victims of financial fraud or exploitation – and in many cases, they are unaware what is happening. Before they realize what is happening – or before authorities have had the chance to step in – the perpetrator has taken their money and moved on to another victim. This legislation offers an additional layer of protection for seniors against this reprehensible behavior.
Third-party driver’s testing
I have heard from many constituents about the inability to take a driver’s test in Minnesota right now. While this was a major issue long before the pandemic, it understandably remains incredibly frustrating for so many Minnesotans. My bill to allow private behind-the-wheel instructors to become certified to administer driving tests passed the full Senate with bipartisan support. The bill awaits action by the House of Representatives.
The legislation comes following reports last year that students of certain driving schools were being given preference for taking driver’s tests while other students were resorting to camping outside testing centers to secure a testing spot in the face of exorbitant wait times.
Parents should not have to camp outside overnight or drive hours out of their way so their child can take a driver’s test, nor should certain students be given preference. Students are already required to spend five hours behind-the-wheel with an instructor. Allowing those instructors to also administer the actual driving test would go a long way toward streamlining the process. I will keep you posted on this bill.
The next several weeks and months are full of unknowns – but we are strong and this, too, shall pass. As people begin to go back to work and our economic engines roar again, I am confident we will emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.
As always, I will keep you updated on the latest from Saint Paul. Please let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to help! Constituents can contact my office by e-mail at email@example.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/senatorkarinhousley.
Minnesota State Sen. Karin Housley represents Forest Lake, Stillwater, and the surrounding St. Croix Valley. She serves as chair of the Senate Family Care and Aging Committee and is an assistant majority leader.