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Viewpoint: The legislative session, get involved and participate

Karla Bigham

Happy New Year, everyone! The 2019 legislative session begins Tuesday, Jan. 8 and will conclude no later than the first Monday after the third Saturday in May as prescribed by Minnesota's Constitution. During the next five-and-a-half months, state lawmakers are responsible for writing a new two-year budget. The Legislature's work begins in earnest when Minnesota Management and Budget releases a new forecast of state expenditures and revenue collections in February 2019.

According to MMB's November 2018 forecast, economic growth is projected to begin slowing by the end of this year and worsen into the next decade. Market volatility and a tight labor market are cited as contributing factors. State lawmakers must take these projections to heart when planning for the future. A positive budget balance today could vanish in as little as several years if the Legislature approves new permanent tax cuts or spending. At current tax and spending levels, budget experts project a positive balance of approximately $450 million in several years. Inflation, however, is not accounted for in MMB's projections. The full November 2018 economic forecast is available to the public online at www.mn.gov/mmb.

My budget priorities for 2019 include schools, health care and public safety. Specific proposals such as giving everyone the option to "buy in" to MinnesotaCare will soon be scrutinized at public hearings, on social media and in the news. I intend to author and pass new laws that address unacceptable acts of violence being committed against state corrections officers. According to the Department of Corrections, assaults against Oak Park Heights staff increased by more than 74 percent year-over-year as of June 2018. At the DOC's Stillwater facility, assaults doubled. Two corrections officers were killed on the job this year. It is the Legislature's responsibility to make sure this never happens again.

School safety is another priority that I will focus on in 2019. I am the proud author of a bipartisan plan to help schools evaluate and assess potentially threatening students or situations by creating threat assessment teams. Based on the 2002 Safe School Initiative, the threat assessment process attempts to prevent school violence by encouraging schools to increase awareness and examine potentially threatening behaviors using an integrated team approach. Members of each team would include individuals with expertise in counseling, mental health, kindergarten through grade 12 instruction, school administration and law enforcement. Each school district would have the ability to establish a committee responsible for oversight of threat assessment teams.

I believe elected officials should be responsive to the people we serve. To that end, I keep an open line of communication with the public. I invite you to visit me at the Minnesota Senate Building Room 3411, call my office at 651-297-8060, or email me at sen.karla.bigham@senate.mn. My office sends weekly email newsletters with the latest news and updates from the Capitol. You can subscribe online at www.senate.mn/senatorbigham. I also post daily updates on social media. You can follow me on Twitter at @karlabigham and on Facebook at State Senator Karla Bigham.

Lastly, I am pleased to announce three town hall meetings in the next month. This is your opportunity to ask me questions, make comments, share ideas and learn about the Legislature. Everyone is welcome!

• 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, Hastings City Hall, 101 Fourth St. E.

• 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, Park Grove Library, 7900 Hemingway Ave. S., Cottage Grove

• 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, South St. Paul City Hall, 125 Third Ave. N.

It is an honor to represent the people of Cottage Grove, Hastings, South St. Paul, St. Paul Park, Newport, Afton and neighboring townships. I look forward to a healthy and respectful debate about the issues and encourage you to follow along and participate. Our Legislature works best when Minnesota's citizenry is active and engaged!