By Minn. Sen. Jeff Howe
Hello, District 13! I hope everyone has been enjoying the warmer weather. The last few weeks have been full of bill hearings and deadline details, and that will continue for the next three weeks here in St. Paul. Thanks for the groups that stopped in this week to say hello and meet with me!
If you have any questions on deadlines, my bills, or anything at all, please reach out. – Jeff
Distracted driving bill
Wednesday, March 20, legislation chief-authored by Senator David Osmek (R-Mound) to discourage distracted driving and raise awareness of the problem passed the Senate Finance Committee on a bipartisan, unanimous voice vote. Under the proposal the penalty for injuring or killing someone using a cell phone while driving will be the same penalty as driving under the influence of alcohol. The legislation includes an exemption for using devices with a hands-free setting.
Over the last five years (2013-2017) in Minnesota, distracted or inattentive driving resulted in an average of 53 deaths and 216 serious injuries each year. The Department of Traffic Safety Office estimates these numbers are underreported because of law enforcement’s challenge in determining distraction as a crash factor. In 2015, 74 individuals were killed on Minnesota roads due to distracted driving, while there were 95 fatalities due to drunk-driving.
In addition to making the penalty for operating a motor vehicle while using an electronic device and causing an accident equal to current penalties for DUIs, the legislation also increases the driver’s education requirements for distracted driving curriculum, increases the fines for texting while driving, including the possible suspension of the driver’s license after a third or subsequent violation of the current texting while driving law.
SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, should be available to only those who need it. Unfortunately, that isn’t happening – and major changes are needed to make sure we can preserve the integrity of the assistance program. As an example: a millionaire used a loophole in the law to expose how he could legally collect SNAP food stamp benefits in Minnesota. After I heard that shocking revelation, I authored a bill to close that loophole and put parameters in place to make sure the program is not being abused.
At the end of the day, the SNAP program has a major loophole. I want to ensure that anyone who truly needs this assistance has full access to it – and just as importantly, I want to ensure that these assistance dollars are ONLY going to those who truly need the assistance. Unfortunately, my Democratic colleagues will not support the bill, or even work with me to make it better. Let’s come together and fix this so we can be sure only the people who truly need the help are getting it.
Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
This week, a bill was heard in the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee to prohibit abortions once a baby can feel pain inside a mother’s womb. The bill, known as “The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act,” would outlaw abortions once an unborn child has reached 20 weeks of age.
The bill was approved by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on March 14,
and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it awaits a hearing.
Legislation to address the opioid crisis facing communities across Minnesota continues to move through the committee process. The bill spans in scope from preventing addiction in the first place to supporting children subjected to abuse or neglect.
The bill includes funding for an enhanced prescription monitoring program to prevent over-prescribing and “doctor shopping”, public awareness, prevention, and education programs. The legislation also includes statewide access to effective treatment and recovery services, continuing education for opioid prescribers, research and development of evidence-based treatment programs, and stronger reporting requirements for pharmaceutical companies. The bill creates an Opiate Stewardship Advisory Council, made up of legislators and medical and health experts, tasked with developing a statewide effort to curb opioid addiction. Funding for the bill will come from an increase in licensing fees on opioid manufacturers and distributors. Counties will receive half of the funding and the Opiate Stewardship Advisory Council will receive the other half.
Sen. Jeff Howe can be reached at (651) 296-2084 or email email@example.com.