A nearly $1 billion bonding bill unveiled by Minnesota House Democrats earlier this month sets aside less money for St. Peter Security Hospital improvement than originally proposed.
Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this year recommended investing nearly $64 million in the Minnesota Security Hospital and facilities that house those in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, releasing a bonding proposal in January that set aside money for both the construction and renovation of several campus buildings.
In contrast, a bill proposed by the House includes $41.32 million for what would be phase one of a two-phase expansion of the hospital’s facilities. The Senate has yet to unveil its bonding proposal, but is expected to do so after returning from spring break April 21.
Dayton addressed the hospital upgrades during an April 2 press conference, saying he’d like to see more money invested in the facility.
“I have tried for three years now in my bonding proposals to get funding for a significant upgrade for St. Peter, the security hospital and the sex offender program,” Dayton said. “Both are really decrepit and the Legislature has refused to support either one of those for the last three years.”
Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, said during an April 12 St. Peter town hall forum that ultimately he would also like to see more money put aside for the hospital. But the initial investment is a good start, he added.
“The $41 million does allow for the completion of the first phase,” Johnsons said April 12. “$41 million is a large construction project. [The bonding bill] also allows for planning of stage two, and if funding allows, starting phase two.”
Johnson has said in the past funding improvements to the Security Hospital is one of his top priorities.
The money would give Minnesota’s Department of Human Services the ability to split the campus into two distinct areas and move its forensics program to the upper half, freeing up space for on the lower campus for MSOP.
Upgrades would also make it safer for staff to care for clients, which Johnson has said is of vital importance. Plans include changing the layout of patient rooms so that staff have clear view of them at all times and do not have to turn tight corners to see them.
Many of those upgrades will occur during phase one of the project, show project outlines.
Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said during the April 12 forum that the upgrades will create efficiencies at the hospital, specifically by cutting down on the number of staff injuries and the amount of workers compensation paid each year to employees assaulted by Security Hospital clients.
She said the Senate version of the bill has yet to be released, but that she is hopeful adequate funding for the Security Hospital will be included.
Johnson was hopeful too, but said that the initial $41 million would at least be a start toward making the facility safer.
“I’d love to see all the money and maybe the Senate will come through with the full amount,” Johnson said April 12. “But this will dramatically change that facility and clear up some of the safety issues.”
Money set aside for local projects
The House bonding bill contains funding for several other local projects and includes:
$5 million to renovate classroom and lab spaces at South Central College in North Mankato.
$14.5 for the Mankato Events Center.
$17.2 for the Clinic Sciences Building at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
$400,000 for the Minnesota River Trail between Mankato and St. Peter, which would have connections to the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail and the Red Jacket Trail in Mankato.
Absent from the bill is the $126 million needed to finish renovation of the state capitol — $15 million for the project is included in a second House bill that would spend $125 million in direct appropriations from the state’s almost $1.23 billion budget surplus.
Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, sponsor of the House bill and chair of the capital investment committee, called the bonding bill as a whole ‘inadequate,’ encouraging Minnesotans who want a larger bill to contact the legislative leaders who established her committee’s target number.
“I’m hoping for a miracle, and that is that there would be such a loud voice for Minnesotans saying, ‘This is under-investing; that’s not how we were writing bills like this 16, 20 years ago,’” she said.