On Friday, June 25, the Minnesota Senate passed a comprehensive state government budget that immediately ends Gov. Tim Walz's emergency powers, funds state agencies, increases transparency, holds government accountable and supports Minnesota's veterans.
It is time for Gov. Walz to acknowledge that the emergency is over. At this point, Gov. Walz has gone past the intent of the emergency powers, and there is nothing about the state's response to the pandemic that can't be managed by working with the Legislature. Outside of ending the emergency, this legislation increases transparency and accountability and audits how Minnesota handled COVID-19 to ensure your government is working for you.
Sixteen states have removed their emergency powers, including New York. Fifteen to 20 more states have announced their plan for the end of emergency powers within the next month.
The state government budget adds a legislative audit of COVID-19 funds, requiring the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) to audit the state's response to COVID-19. This audit would conduct a comprehensive analysis of programs that provide testing, vaccinations, and public outreach, along with contracting and other state purchasing to facilitate the response and methodology used in modeling and forecasting the course of the outbreak. The OLA will then make recommendations based on what improvements and inefficiencies it finds in the audit.
Other provisions in the state government budget include:
- Establishment of the Legislative Commission on Cybersecurity to ensure the Legislature has the needed resources to keep government technology secure. With so many hacks and data breaches worldwide, this is a needed change for the Legislature's security.
- Election security provisions, including physical security of elections equipment and electronic recording of absentee ballot drop boxes to increase election security.
- Daylight Savings Time elimination if/when the federal government permits the change.
- Pharmacy Benefit Manager Reverse Auction of Drug Benefits, which will save taxpayers money on the state employee pharmaceutical benefits.
- Addition of State Historic Preservation Office for state archaeologist report.
This bill provides significant resources to support veterans across generations. Many veterans return home from service with post-traumatic stress disorder or injuries that lead to substance abuse and are in need of intervention, empathy and kindness. This bill provides significant resources for suicide prevention and crisis support.
It also includes a compromise for the Veterans Restorative Justice Act, which provides alternative sentencing options for veterans who have committed certain criminal offenses. Veterans who are in the program would be diverted to receive therapy, substance abuse support, or treatment for needs that are so often tied to service.
Sen. Jason Rarick represents District 11 in the Minnesota Senate.