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Viewpoint: Legislature, governor deliver for state

The historically brief 2014 legislative session wrapped up in St. Paul last month with no shortage of positive news for families in our community and across the state. In just 11 weeks, the Legislature and the governor enacted a series of common sense measures to continue Minnesota’s job growth and create an economy that works better for everyone.

After more than a decade of facing deficits, the honestly balanced budget put in place last year — together with Minnesota’s improving economy — resulted in a $1.2 billion budget surplus and provided an opportunity for us to look ahead, rather than manage a budget crisis.

With broad bipartisan support, we dedicated $550 million of the surplus to direct tax relief. These tax cuts will be seen in the form of income, property and sales tax relief and will put more money in the pockets of homeowners, renters, businesses and local governments. In total, an estimated 2 million Minnesotans will benefit from these tax cuts.

Additional surplus dollars went toward a much-deserved 5 percent raise for the home- and community-based health care providers who serve our loved ones who are unable to live independently. I was also proud to support a significant investment to enhance early education opportunities. Finally, critical funding was approved to repair roads damaged over the long winter and to bolster job growth initiatives around the state.

The other major spending measure passed this session was the public works construction bill, or bonding bill. In total, the $1.1 billion bonding bill will put more than 28,000 men and women to work building and maintaining our state’s infrastructure. In our community, we will see $1.5 million in state funding for the Cottage Grove Health and Emergency Response Occupations (HERO) Center. In collaboration with Inver Hills Community College, the HERO Center will be a state-of-the-art training facility for our police officers, emergency medical providers, firefighters and other first responders.

I personally led the charge to allot nearly $5 million per year for regenerative medicine research at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic. This cutting-edge research will help our state create jobs in this promising field and may hold the key to curing chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and dementia.

As part of our work to build a stronger middle class, we also focused on creating greater economic opportunities to ensure all Minnesotans can share in our growing prosperity. I strongly supported raising Minnesota’s minimum wage (which is currently among the lowest in the U.S.) to $9.50 per hour over the next three years, with future increases tied to inflation. The first bump to $8 comes Aug. 1.

I also sponsored the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), which will require employers contracting with the state to provide women equal pay for equal work and establish nation-leading workplace protections for pregnant women and nursing mothers. In the year 2014, it is past time that we break down barriers blocking women’s advancement in the workplace.

Perhaps more than any other issue before the Legislature this year, the debate over medicinal cannabis garnered the most media attention. When the new law goes into effect next year, Minnesota will join 21 other states that allow access to some form of medicine derived from marijuana. I supported the bill, which will provide relief for children and adults suffering from seizures, cancer, glaucoma and other illnesses through pill, oil and vapor forms of the plant. The law does not legalize the smoking of leaf marijuana in any circumstance.

The 2013-14 legislative biennium has been among the most efficient and productive in recent times, and I am proud of the progress we delivered for middle class Minnesotans. Our state is stronger than it was two years ago, yet there is more work to be done. We will kick off the 2015 legislative session next January facing new challenges and another budget debate.

Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, represents Senate District 54, which includes south Washington County communities, Hastings and part of South St. Paul. She is the assistant Senate majority leader.