Now that I’m a month into my first legislative session, I’m finally beginning to adjust to the chaotic pace of my new role. There hasn’t been much time to ease into things, either; starting day one we have buckled down and got to work.
My early session priorities have centered on two issues that I’ve received more feedback on than anything else: health insurance costs and the Hwy. 14 expansion project.
Senate File 1 is the Health Care Emergency Aid and Access Act, which provides emergency relief to families who have been pummeled by soaring MNsure premiums, and helps seriously ill patients continue their course of treatment. There was a disagreement about how best to distribute this aid, but after a few days of discussion, the Legislature compromised with Gov. Dayton and accepted his preferred delivery mechanism.
Just as important as the relief are the reforms included in the bill, including pricing transparency changes, letting for-profit HMOs offer their products in Minnesota, and a provision that lets farmers purchase less expensive group plans through agricultural cooperatives.
Once an agreement was reached, things moved quickly. A day after the compromise, the bill passed both the House and Senate with strong bipartisan votes, and was signed by the governor.
The speed and success of the health care emergency relief bill is an encouraging sign for the rest of session. Though gridlock has been a hallmark of recent years, Republican majorities in the House and Senate were able to work with Gov. Dayton to get things done for Minnesotans.
On the local front, the project to expand Hwy. 14 is on everyone’s mind. After a study was completed on the project in 2010, it received its first round of funding under the Corridors of Commerce program in 2013. The initial phase of the project was completed in 2015; the next step is to finish the section that runs from County Road 3 east of Owatonna to Trunk Highway 56 in Dodge Center.
My first bill, Senate File 142, appropriates $183 million to finally expand this stretch to four lanes in both directions.
Officials have been talking about this expansion since the 1960s, and it becomes more urgent with each passing year. So many accidents occur on the road that it has earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the state. Increased traffic will only add to the danger.
Expanding the road is not just necessary for safety reasons. It will better connect our communities to commerce, spur economic growth, and equip us to handle population growth and growing volumes of truck traffic.
This is a long time coming. We’ve been chipping away at it for years, and recent bipartisan support has moved us closer to finishing it than ever before. This will be one of my top priorities; I will work tirelessly to make sure it gets done this year.
There will certainly be more to come. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions or concerns.