The 2019 MN Legislative Session is officially over, bills are heading to Governor Walz’s desk and indications are he will sign them all. I wanted to give you a rundown on things of importance that were worked on this session and their outcomes.
Overall, it was an ok session. The good news is they got done and there was no threat of a government shutdown so you can stay on the job uninterrupted this summer. Right to Work and efforts to gut Prevailing Wage did not advance at all this session which is also a positive. There were no initiatives advanced to stop pipelines or mining either.
They also got some things done on a smaller scale that will help our Union like increasing wage theft penalties, helmets to hardhats funding and other items. In addition, we maintained the auto parts sales tax money dedicated to road funding from the general fund so we will have robust MNDOT packages for the next few years. The bad news is there was no progress made on a long-term funding solution.
The gas tax turned into a political football, and derailed any real discussion about possible solutions, and that’s disappointing. We must continue this fight. I will be sitting down with the business community and others to try to figure out a solution to this problem, as it appears our elected officials can’t get past the politics.
I must add here that Governor Walz and Speaker Hortman were willing to compromise and find a solution, the Senate Republicans just would not engage. I will be meeting with them as well to figure out something that they can support as we move forward.
Here is the final result on issues we worked on:
As stated above, we failed to secure long term dedicated funding for transportation. We will learn lessons from this session, retool, and continue the fight until we get this done. It is important for members to know however, that we still have secured hundreds of millions of dollars of increased spending that will continue for at least the next two years as part of the budget deal. So short term, there will be a lot of MNDOT work, but we still have work to do long term to secure a better and safer transportation system and the jobs that come with building it.
Pipeline Worker Safety Bill
The pipeline safety bill did not happen. We pushed hard, and it passed the Senate with a strong bi-partisan vote of support. However, the House DFL blocked the bill. Very frustrating to say the least, we will come back with this bill next session and hope to convince the House DFL that violent protests should not be tolerated, and fines should be increased to dissuade them.
Unreimbursed Travel Expenses
This passed as part of the tax bill that will be signed by the Governor. So, for MN tax purposes, unreimbursed travel expenses will still be deductible. We continue to raise this issue with federal delegation in the hopes Congress and the President will restore these deductions that they took away federally.
Helmets to Hardhats
Secured another two years of state funding for this important program that helps veterans get into Union apprenticeship programs
Duluth Essentia Hospital Expansion
Money was appropriated to pay for public infrastructure necessary to help build the privately financed Essentia Hospital expansion in Duluth. This is more than $800 million of work, the trades have a PLA on this project, and this will produce a lot of jobs for the region.
Prevailing Wage Requirement on Wind Projects
A larger deal on energy issues fell apart this year, so this didn’t get done. But we are well positioned to get this done next year and built a lot of support for this concept.
Local Government Aid/County Aid/Local Sales Tax Approval
Local Government Aid/County Aid to local cities and counties was increased substantially. This money goes directly to local governments to help them fund their needs. This will greatly benefit our public sector members particularly in smaller communities outside the metro area. It will allow them to maintain workforce and provide services to the community.
In addition, local sales tax increases dedicated to building local roads also were approved. Duluth and other communities voted to increase their sales taxes to fund street repairs and the legislature approved those this year after not doing so last year. This will help both public and private sector members in these communities get the opportunity to work on fixing their local roads.
Policy to Help Loggers
We continue to increase our partnerships with the logging industry as we gain more signatory contractors. Their top priority this session was to increase truck weights for their industry, and we helped them get that done. They were very appreciative of our support, and we were proud to partner with them on this. We also helped them get a meeting with the Governor’s office to discuss long term industry problems, and good progress was made there too. We will continue to support this industry as our partnership strengthens.
Wage Theft Penalties Increased
There was a major effort, led by the Carpenters Union, to significantly increase the penalties for contractors that do not pay workers for the work they have done. This is a rampant problem in different sectors of the construction industry and hopefully increasing penalties for contactors that steal from their workers will stop some of this awful behavior. Much credit to the Carpenters Union for leading on this, it is a very positive development for workers that will make a real difference in people’s lives.
That is the update, I thank the members that came to lobby day, called their legislators, and paid attention to the session. We will always have more work to do, and we will continue to do it in a non-partisan fashion.