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Viewpoint: Successes, disappointments at close of session

Karla Bigham

By Karla Bigham, Senate District 54

The legislative session ended Sunday, May 20, and it's my pleasure to announce a major investment in east metro public safety I helped secure in the final hours.

Funding for Cottage Grove's HERO Center and Dakota County's SMART Center was in serious jeopardy, but the need for these facilities is so large that I refused to back down. Senate Republicans softened their opposition, listened and heard me loud and clear. The projects will now be funded (at $9.5 million and $6.2 million, respectively) as part of a larger public construction package. Getting a bipartisan coalition to move local public safety and jobs projects across the goal line is by far my top accomplishment this year.

I'm also extremely proud of bipartisan cooperation to establish transparency and accountability for the $850 million 3M settlement. Working together, Republicans and DFL lawmakers put into statute a plan that deploys settlement dollars to provide safe, clean drinking water to east metro communities affected by PFCs.

The plan protects settlement resources, identifies in statute the geographic boundaries of where pollution occurred, and establishes a process for testing private wells. I have worked with local officials on this issue for years in my capacities as a Cottage Grove city councilmember, a state representative and as a Washington County commissioner.

As the daughter of a retired firefighter and the sister of a longtime captain of the Cottage Grove Fire Department, caring for our first responders is especially near and dear to my heart. That's why I helped author legislation that will add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying workers' compensation condition for our courageous police officers, firefighters and EMTs. The Senate approved the plan with unanimous support.

Heroes who protect and assist us during times of death, disaster and chaos see some very ugly sights, which has a big impact on their mental health and quality of life. By adding PTSD as a workers' comp condition, we as a state are doing right by the men and women who work in this important profession.

Disappointments

While some groups and issues found success at the Capitol this session, far too many good ideas died.

Dozens of pharmaceutical industry lobbyists prowled the Capitol in the final weeks of session. Their goal? To kill a bipartisan plan my Senate colleagues and I approved (by a 61-6 margin) that would have required opioid manufacturers to share in the rising cost of treatment and public safety related to the opioid epidemic. Instead of holding Big Pharma accountable for the opioid crisis they helped create, Republicans helped kill the bill, and now taxpayers will shoulder 100 percent of the costs of the opioid crisis.

Distracted driving is one of the No. 1 issues people contacted me about this year, yet it stalled in the Legislature. Families who have lost loved ones visited the Capitol, told heartbreaking stories, and were turned away time and time again. Despite unanimously passing all committees, along with robust support from law enforcement, auto insurers, and the trucking industry, Republican leadership refused to bring a bill up for a vote.

I first joined the Legislature more than a decade ago as a state representative. My first observation since returning as a state senator in 2018 is that the process has changed, and not for the better. We hear a lot of talk in our state, and across the nation, about the public's lack of confidence and trust in its government. Passing 990-page bills at the last minute in the dark of night with little to no discussion will certainly do nothing to address those concerns. I believe in a better way, where lawmakers listen to all voices and show our neighbors the respect they deserve.

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