News From Peggy

Great Things Are Happening in District 27A

2020 Legislative Updates

April 9, 2020 Update

Good afternoon,

The Minnesota House has approved legislation that would ensure health care workers and first responders would qualify for workers compensation if they contract COVID-19.

The bill represents a bipartisan agreement made by legislators from all four House and Senate caucuses, and advocates from labor and business groups. The compromise was approved unanimously in an emergency meeting of the Workers Compensation Advisory Council on April 6. 

A number of professions will benefit from the change, including paramedics, home health care workers, police and fire officials, nurses, emergency medical technicians, correctional officers, and daycare providers who are caring for children whose parents are on the front lines.

The people on the front lines are working hard to treat the ill in order to keep us safe, and the state needs to show them we support their efforts. This bill ensures that if these workers are sidelined due to COVID-19, they will get the financial assistance they’ve earned.

“STAY-AT-HOME” ORDERS EXTENDED 

On Wednesday, Governor Walz announced he was extending his stay-at-home executive order until May 4. The governor has also decided his order for bar, restaurant, and other public area closure will also continue until May 4.

Under the extended order, Minnesotans can continue leaving their homes for medical attention, getting groceries and take-out food, filling their gas tanks, and taking part in outdoor activities (using common-sense social distancing, of course). In other words, what we have been doing for nearly two weeks will now continue until May 4.

You can view the executive order by clicking here. Everything highlighted in blue is a change from the previous order, as those job titles now fall in the “critical sector” category.

SAYING GOODBYE TO COLTER

My dog Colter has not only been such an integral part of my personal life (and even a part of my classroom when I was teaching), but he was also a big part of my legislative life. I often jokingly called him my second legislative assistant because he was many times my sidekick at legislative events. He loved to get out and around to see everyone, especially the kids.

Because of this, I want to let all of my District 27A family know that, Colter, my best buddy, my constant shadow, and my furry legislative assistant, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly this week at the age of eleven. It was an unexpected medical issue.

Colter didn’t really just belong to me. He kind of belonged to everyone. It didn’t matter if you were Democrat or Republican; if you liked dogs, you were his good friend. I think Colter will be missed at the Capitol – and perhaps at district events too. I sure know I will miss him.

I will close by posting this link of a fun news story about Colter at the Capitol that aired a few years ago: https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2016/05/07/capitol-dog/. In a way, a little part of Colt will always be at the Capitol because of stories like this. That makes my heart happy.

Colter

Be well, and Happy Easter and Passover to you all,

 Peggy
April 7, 2020 Update

REP. BENNETT SUPPORTS WORKERS COMPENSATION PACKAGE

ST. PAUL – The Minnesota House has approved legislation that would ensure health care workers and first responders would qualify for workers compensation if they contract COVID-19.

State Representative Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea) supported the legislation.

“The people on the front lines are working hard to treat the ill in order to keep us safe, and the state needs to show them we support their efforts,” Bennett said. “This bill ensures that if these workers are sidelined due to COVID-19, they will get the financial assistance they’ve earned.”

Bennett said the bill represents a bipartisan agreement made by legislators from all four House and Senate caucuses, and advocates from labor and business groups. The compromise was approved unanimously in an emergency meeting of the Workers Compensation Advisory Council on April 6. 

Bennett said a number of professions will benefit from the change, including paramedics, home health care workers, police and fire officials, nurses, emergency medical technicians, correctional officers, and daycare providers who are caring for children whose parents are on the front lines.

Peggy

March 27, 2020 Update

Hello from St. Paul,

 Yesterday lawmakers returned to St. Paul to approve more COVID-19 related legislation. It was a very different feel as I had to do my legislative business from the balcony of the House chamber instead of from my chamber desk.
Bennett Seat
 

This was my assigned seat as we were spread out due to coronavirus six foot distancing recommendations.

LATEST COVID-19 BILL SENT TO GOVERNOR

This comprehensive proposal was approved on a strong bipartisan basis, and included everything from a loan program for small business owners, childcare components, emergency assistance for struggling veterans and their spouses, extensions for drivers’ license renewals, and more.

 I was very proud of the way both sides of the aisle worked together in a bipartisan way to make things happen during this crisis for our state. I am also happy with the checks and balances we added to the financial components of this bill. Though I totally agree with acting during emergency situations like this, I also want to make sure that any state spending happens appropriately and responsibly as we are using taxpayer money. 
 Earlier this month, we also approved $221 million in funding to assist with COVID-19 preparation and response. Thursday’s approved legislation continues those efforts.
 

GOVERNOR ISSUES ‘STAY AT HOME’ ORDER

Governor Walz has announced a “Stay at Home” executive order, which will limit movement outside homes beyond essential trips until Friday, April 10.

 The governor also extended the current closures for bars, restaurants, and other public accommodations under previous executive orders until May 1 and extended distance learning for schools until May 4. 
 So how does the “Stay at Home” order impact you? I know that a lot of you have questions about what this means for your business and day-to-day lives. I am including a link to the Governor’s full order that explains all the details and provides answers to many of the questions you probably have. Click here to see the full order: https://mnhouse.gop/EO_ShelterInPlace
 Here is a link to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development that lists all “critical” businesses that would remain open: https://mn.gov/deed/assets/naics-critical-list_tcm1045-424829.pdf. And another link with more information on business exemptions:

https://mn.gov/deed/newscenter/covid/business-exemptions/

 As always, I am available to answer any questions you may have. You can contact me anytime at rep.peggy.bennett@house.mn or by phone at 651-296-8216.
 

Take care,

 Peggy
March 18, 2020 Update

Dear Friends,

 The spread of COVID-19 has caused unprecedented changes in our communities and around the world, and it has now altered our work at the State Capitol.
The House formally will remain in session as the state addresses the pressing public health issue surrounding COVID-19, but going forward meetings and floor sessions will only be taking place on an on-call basis until April 14. Here’s where things stand.
 

CAPITOL-RELATED COVID-19 NEWS

On March 17 lawmakers passed a $200 million COVID-19 Emergency Funding bill that ensures our hospitals, health care providers, and our state, county, and local health care agencies have the funds they need to respond to this global pandemic. The bill includes protections for taxpayers including legislative oversight, penalties for unauthorized use of funds, stringent reporting requirements, and any funds not used will cancel back to the general fund in February. 

On March 16, Governor Tim Walz issued an executive order to ensure workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic have full access to unemployment benefits. According to the Minnesota Unemployment Insurance Program, the executive order makes applicants eligible for unemployment insurance benefits if:

  • A healthcare professional or health authority recommended or ordered them to avoid contact with others.
  • They have been ordered not to come to their workplace due to an outbreak of a communicable disease.
  • They have received notification from a school district, daycare, or other childcare provider that either classes are canceled or the applicant’s ordinary childcare is unavailable, provided that the applicant made reasonable effort to obtain other childcare and requested time off or other accommodation from the employer and no reasonable accommodation was available.
 The executive order also eliminates the one week waiting period to ensure applicants have access to unemployment benefits as quickly as possible, and assures business owners that benefits paid as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic will not increase their future unemployment tax rate.
 If your employment has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the department urges you to apply for unemployment benefits online. Visit the Unemployment Insurance Program website at www.uimn.org to learn more.
 

COVID-19 WEBSITES

There are a number of website links and phone numbers I want to pass along so you can receive timely, and accurate information as it relates to COVID-19.

 The Minnesota Department of Health’s COVID-19 page is: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html
 The Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 webpage is: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
 

The Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 page is : https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/symptoms-causes/syc-20479963

 

SCHOOLS AND DAYCARE

The Minnesota Department of Health  has a hotline available related to schools and/or childcare. Call (651) 297-1304 for more information.

 

Do you have questions about your school district’s COVID-19 response? Visit the following:

 

Albert Lea: https://www.alschools.org/

Alden-Conger: https://www.alden-conger.org/

Blooming Prairie: https://www.blossoms.k12.mn.us/

Glenville-Emmons: https://www.geschools.com/

Hayfield: http://hayfield.k12.mn.us/

N.R.H.E.G.: https://www.nrheg.k12.mn.us/pages/NRHEG

United South Central: https://www.unitedsouthcentral.org/

 

MOVING FORWARD

Though meetings and floor sessions will be limited over the next few weeks, residents should know that I remain available to answer any legislative questions they have. I am still working for you and want to hear from you. Please contact me at rep.peggy.bennett@house.mn or by phone at 651-296-8216.

 I also want to let our small business owners know that we understand that some of the governor’s executive orders directly impact their livelihood, as well as the good people they employ. Small business owners are the backbone of our rural communities, and I want our local employers to know that talks remain ongoing as to how the State can best assist them during this time of crisis.
 Finally, I’m hopeful residents are doing their best to stay calm as COVID-19 dominates the headlines. It is a serious issue to be sure, but if we all use some common sense it will hopefully be a short term issue as well. Look after your neighbors in need, take care of yourselves, and don’t let fear rule the day! I pray for your good health, and look forward to hearing from you soon.
 

Peggy

March 13, 2020 Update

Hello from St. Paul,

News of the coronavirus made headlines around the world this week. State lawmakers took action on the problem as well.

COVID-19 RESPONSE

Earlier this week, the legislature voted unanimously in the House and Senate to approve emergency funding for the Department of Health to continue their response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill included protections for taxpayers that would require money to be paid back to the general fund if it goes unspent. The legislature is considering additional steps to ensure our state and health care system can respond as quickly and effectively as possible — Minnesotans should have confidence that legislators, the governor, and state agencies are working closely based on the expert recommendations of the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

 

As this situation unfolds, social media could be rife with misinformation so please continue to rely only on information from trusted sources. Your best sources for up-to-date information are the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) websites.

 

MDH: COVID-19 Home Page

MDH: Prepare and Prevent COVID-19

MDH: Situation Update for COVID-19

CDC: COVID-19 Home Page

CDC: COVID-19 FAQ

 

SCHOOL SETTLEMENTS RAISE EYEBROWS

I was shocked when I heard about the amount of money that the Minneapolis Public Schools has spent in law settlements in the past few years, but even more so that these settlements seemed to be “buried” so that it was not obvious to parents and community members – tax payers – and they were not aware of this. That is not right. Taxpayers deserve a transparent government. The bill I’m working on will require that. Click here to learn more.

 

LOCAL VISITORS

Bennett1

This week I’ve had the pleasure of having a number of local people visit me at the Capitol. I love local visitors! Some of them are pictured here. A local group from REM Minnesota came to advocate for disability services; Freeborn County Commissioner Mike Lee and his wife Rene; local teachers from Ed. Minnesota; Albert Lea Salvation Army lieutenant Gloria Pelayo; Hayfield area resident Randy Demmer; and Albert Lea city officials. We had great discussions by all concerning issues that impact our local communities.

 

Finally, one of my former first grade students who is now in college and majoring in political science, Parker Mullenbach, stopped by my office while he was at the Capitol advocating for the Minnesota Utility Contractors. It always warms my heart to meet up with my former students and see how they’re doing. Thanks for stopping by, Parker!

Bennett2

Talk to you soon,

 Peggy
March 6, 2020 Update

Hello from St. Paul,

 Hope you’re having a good week so far. At the Capitol we’ve been working on a number of topics, including a fix for a tax problem that has cost some farmers and business owners more than $100,000.
 TAX CODE DIFFERENCES CAUSING FINANCIAL DISASTERS

Last session, Governor Walz signed into law a plan that directed the Department of Revenue to review federal tax code Section 179 – accelerated depreciation – claims, adjust for new expensing limits, and review any gains or losses from the equipment they traded in.

 This meant a farmer or business owner who traded in farm equipment or other machinery in 2018, and realized a financial gain on that equipment, was subject to paying income taxes on that gain immediately. Whereas on the federal level, that tax increase was negated by higher upfront expensing limits. The tax bill signed by Governor Walz only allowed the higher expensing limits over a six-year period, resulting in a tax increase in Year 1 for farmers with only a promise it would be negated over six years.
 The issue is impacting your neighbors as well. This week, Kevin Poppel of Albert Lea and Jason Hollund of Wells testified before the Minnesota House Taxes Committee about the problems being caused by Section 179 nonconformity. In Hollund’s case, he received a $700,000 bill. To view their testimony, click here.
 I am co-authoring legislation that would fully fund conformity to Section 179 in order to help those who have traded equipment and had that trade value counted as income. The legislation would also cancel any penalties and interest issued by the Department of Revenue on any unpaid debts that had been created due to this ordeal. Another bill is also moving forward that only does partial conformity, which is a good start, but does not finish the job.
 With our $1.5 billion surplus, we definitely have the funds available to fix this problem, and its my hope we’ll do so very quickly.
 

GOOD NEWS FOR FARMERS

A popular state loan program could soon be available to farmers thanks to recent action taken by the Minnesota House of Representatives.

 The House approved a proposal dedicating $50 million to the Rural Finance Authority (RFA) loan program, which ran out of funding on February 21. The RFA is Minnesota’s main agricultural lending arm. It partners with agricultural lenders to provide low-cost financing to farmers on terms and conditions not otherwise available from other credit sources.
 The bill now heads to the Minnesota Senate for its approval. 
 

CAPITOL VISITORS

It was my pleasure to attend and speak at the Minnesota Alliance of YMCA’s annual YMCA Day at the Capitol.

Bennett

I was humbled and honored to be the recipient of the YMCA Champion of the Year award there for my work in authoring and advocating for the Sibling Bill of Rights that was passed into law in 2018. It was good to see Director of the Albert Lea YMCA Dennis Dieser there this morning, as well as Sasha, a former foster care youth who was directly involved in getting this bill passed.

 

I was also pleased to have the Gassmann family from Geneva visit me as part of “Homeschool Day on the Hill.”

Gassmann

Have a good weekend,

 Peggy

2019 Legislative Updates

December 23, 2019 Update

Hello from St. Paul,

Can you believe that the end of 2019 is just days away? Hopefully you are enjoying the holiday season and have nearly all of your presents purchased! Here is a brief update from the Capitol.

State Budget Surplus of $1.3 Billion Projected

Not long ago Minnesota Management and Budget officials released the November state budget forecast, showing a projected $1.3 billion budget surplus for the remainder of the 2020-21 budget cycle. A better than expected close to the last biennium, an improved revenue forecast, and a small decrease to estimated spending created the excess.

We were also able to completely fill our state’s budget reserve account, as it now holds $2.359 billion.

With this news, it is clear to me we need to provide Minnesotans some tax relief. Twelve out of the last 13 budget reports have shown a surplus, which indicates to me that we are taking too much money from taxpayers. We need to find ways to ease our tax burdens.

One of my tax relief priorities has been and continues to be the complete repeal of the Social Security income tax. We’ve made a few good steps toward this endeavor since I’ve been in office. However, with Minnesota being one of only 13 states left that taxes Social Security income, I believe it’s high time we completely remove this tax.

In addition to tax relief, I believe we need to use this budget surplus to put more funds into the building and maintenance of our roads and bridges. Our current needs are great in this area, and prioritizing surplus money towards our transportation infrastructure makes sense.
Merry Christmas!

With the holiday almost here, I wanted to take a moment to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. I’ve enjoyed getting around and seeing people and the beautiful holiday decorations over the past few weeks, and it’s great to see so many of you with holiday spirit.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

Peggy

November 27, 2019 Update

Hello from St. Paul,

The ongoing mess at the Department of Human Services shows no signs of slowing down.

 Besides the tens of millions of dollars that have already been wasted or misappropriated, and the employees who have been fired, mistreated, or retaliated against for raising concerns, comes the latest news that the agency wants local governments to pay for its costly mistakes.

Though all Minnesota counties are going to have to pay significant dollars, this week KTTC-TV found eleven counties in southern Minnesota that have received a bill for nearly $1 MILLION from DHS stemming from the mismanagement of funds for substance use disorder treatment.

You can watch the story here.

I don’t think its right that counties – and thus our local taxpayers – should have to pay the price for a state agency’s errors. This is a lot of money for counties to have to come up with, especially when they are already financially strapped with their own financial commitments, such as roads and bridges. DHS needs to be accountable for this mismanagement. I call on the Governor to come to the table and be involved in this as well, as he is the one who oversees these agencies. Our counties and local taxpayers should not have to pay for mistakes they didn’t make.

ALBERT LEA RURAL HEALTH CARE ROUNDTABLE A SUCCESS

The rural health care roundtable in Albert Lea was well attended last evening and very informative. Thank you to all those who attended (about 80 people) for the many good questions asked and to those who watched online.

A special thank you to these panelists who traveled long distances to be a part of this roundtable: Zora Radosevich, Office of Rural Health and Primary Care Director, Minnesota Department of Health; Mark Jones, Minnesota Rural Health Care Association Director; Tony Spector, Minnesota Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board Executive Director; Holly Jacobs EMS Specialist – Southeast Region Minnesota Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board; and Matt Anderson Minnesota Hospital Association Interim president and CEO.

I’d like to recognize them, as I think they each really went above and beyond in traveling to Albert Lea for this. One of them drove all the way from his home which is just a half mile from the Canadian border. Pretty nice!

Click here and here if you’d like to watch.

OUT AND ABOUT

Not long ago I had the opportunity to walk through the cardboard mockup of the upcoming MercyOne clinic in Albert Lea. I was very impressed with what this is going to be!

I also found the whole concept of building out the clinic in cardboard very interesting. It really makes a lot of sense. Teams of MercyOne employees from the actual departments built each cardboard area according to their needs and those of their patients. Then they had walkthroughs and simulations to determine if the layout would work. They could move walls and change sizes and layouts as needed. What a great idea to do this before getting into the expensive building process!

I also was able to attend an amazing lutefisk dinner at the Emmons Lutheran Church recently!

I enjoyed spending time with these wonderful people for the meal. Fun times!

 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

With the holiday almost here, I want to wish you a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving. Hopefully you will be able to celebrate with family or friends.

 Happy Thanksgiving!
 Peggy
October 31, 2019 Update

Dear Friends,

 

Minnesota’s Department of Human Services is in the news again this week, and as has been the case lately, it’s for the wrong reasons.

 

MORE TROUBLE IN DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES

You may recall an earlier report of DHS allocating $29 million in improper payments made by the Department of Human Services to two tribal governments for addiction services over a period of five years.

 

The non-partisan Legislative Auditor looked into it, and on Tuesday the office revealed its findings – and the news wasn’t good.

 

The audit found that DHS repeatedly signaled approval for a billing practice that effectively caused double-billing to the federal government—once for an in-person visit, and multiple additional reimbursements when patients self-administer medication at home.

 

The special review blamed “troubling dysfunction” at DHS, noting the agency “did not have legal authority to make the payments; it did not document why, when, and who decided it was appropriate to make the payments; no one at DHS takes responsibility for the decision; and no one at DHS can provide a rationale for the payments. The overpayments continued over several years and did not stop until an outside inquiry brought them to light.”

 

One thing is clear, taxpayers should not be on the hook for the department’s $29 million error. With a budget of $19 billion every two years, DHS should be able to make some adjustments without asking Minnesotans to pay for its “troubling dysfunction.”

 

MINNESOTA HOUSE CAPITAL INVESTMENT COMMITTEE VISITS OUR AREA

I serve on the Capital Investment Committee, and we have been touring the state to visit and learn about projects seeking state funding. Not long ago the committee visited southeastern Minnesota.

 

The Shell Rock River Watershed District Board made a bonding request presentation to the House Capital Investment Committee at the pavilion for an additional $7.5 million dollars to continue the next phase of the Fountain Lake dredging project. Our lake, including the vegetation and animal life, is so much healthier thanks to all the work the watershed has done both up stream and on the lake.

 

In addition to the watershed request, the committee also listened to the City of Albert Lea’s bonding requests last evening, which include flood mitigation for Main Street (by Godfather’s Pizza), the Blazing Star Trail, and the Blazing Star Landing. Lots to consider for our Capital Investment Committee as we get back into session next year and put together a bonding bill!

 

I also ran into one of my “kids” – my former first graders – at Edgewater Bay Pavilion. It was especially fun to chat with Ian, who is an accomplished (and award winning!) fisherman, as I love fishing too. Ian is a member of the Albert Lea Anglers, which is a wonderful group that provides opportunity for young people to get into the outdoors and go fishing. It was great to see you, Ian!

Ian

MNDOT COFFEE AND CONVERSATION

I want to thank MNDOT southeast Minnesota District 6 Engineer Mark Schoenfelder for coming to Albert Lea to hold a “Coffee and Conversation” time for area residents. Thank you also to Freeborn County Engineer, Sue Miller, and City of Albert Lea Engineer Steve Jahnke for taking part as well.

MNDOT

All of these transportation leaders spent time listening to public input, which I believe is so critical for good government. Kudos to each of them for taking the time to do this!

 

HONORING OUR FIREFIGHTERS

It’s always a pleasure to visit the Albert Lea Fire Department open house. There were many people attending, and I enjoyed talking to them as well as our local firefighters.

Firefighters

I was excited to hear that the new fire department building is scheduled to be ready for use sometime next spring. That’s exciting! We hear about heroes in movies, but I know firefighters are our real life heroes. Thank you to all firefighters for serving to protect our lives and property. We appreciate you!

 

LUTEFISK SEASON!

First Lutheran Church in Blooming Prairie held a lutefisk meal recently, where I enjoyed awesome food and company!

Lutefisk

I was also able to attend Glenville United Methodist Church’s delicious soup and pie supper; enjoyed a tasty pork chop dinner served up by the wonderful ladies at First Lutheran Church in Glenville, and ate at another soup and pie supper sponsored by Concordia Lutheran Church in Glenville. Great events, great people and GREAT food!

 

Wishing our farmers an ongoing safe and productive harvest time as they continue to work to bring their crops in before winter arrives! 

Have a good weekend,

 Peggy

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