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Viewpoint: Keeping eyes on the road and off cellphones

Tony Jurgens

By Tony Jurgens, House District 54B

It won't be long before you won't be able to use your cellphone while driving unless it's through hands-free operation.

Gov. Tim Walz has signed bipartisan hands-free legislation into law in hopes that it will reduce the number of accidents that occur due to drivers who pay more attention to their cellphones than the road.

Under current law, it is illegal to text while driving in Minnesota, but it is not illegal to type in a phone number or program a GPS system while behind the wheel. This legislation would allow voice activated cellphone use only, along with one-touch or headsets.

Current law makes it difficult to enforce because officers have no idea what you're doing with your phone. Making it illegal to have a phone in your hands removes the guesswork, eliminates a distraction for drivers and ultimately will save lives and prevent accidents.

This legislation sends a strong message to the citizens of Minnesota to put their phones down when they're behind the wheel. This measure is designed to improve safety and to keep a driver's eyes on the road.

Spending bills moving forward

Our House Democratic majority has moved forward several bills that would fund state government for the next two years. They will be debated on the House floor over several days, beginning April 23.

Together, these bills total $50 billion in general fund spending — which would represent an increase in state spending of 11% from the current budget cycle. It would be the largest budget in Minnesota's history.

Also worth noting: if these proposals became law, Minnesotans would pay $12 billion in new taxes over the next four years. This includes a well-publicized 20 cent per gallon gas tax increase that was initially proposed by Walz.

There's no doubt the House majority will approve this budget. The Minnesota Senate will soon pass a budget of its own and then both sides will need to reconcile their differences. It's my hope that when the final compromise is reached, it will come back much less expensive than when it first left the House floor. With a $1 billion budget surplus, I believe these tax increases and significant, permanent spending increases are unnecessary.

Insurance coverage for two rare diseases

If I told you that a disease exists that impacts 1 out of every 200 kids, yet some health insurance companies don't provide coverage for their treatment, would you believe it?

This sad but true story impacts children with PANS and PANDAS.

PANS occurs when an infection, environmental factors and other possible triggers create a misdirected immune response resulting in inflammation on a child's brain. In turn, the child quickly begins to exhibit life changing symptoms such as obsessive compulsive disorder, severe restrictive eating, anxiety, tics, personality changes, decline abilities in math and handwriting, sensory sensitivities, and more.

PANDAS syndrome occurs specifically following a strep infection, where a child experiences obsessive compulsive disorder and tics, or the symptoms worsen after acquiring strep.

Not long ago, a number of families came to the Capitol to share their stories and advocate for change. Legislation is now moving forward that requires all health plans provide coverage to Minnesota residents for PANDAS and PANS, which includes medication and behavioral therapies.

In 2017, Illinois became the first state requiring insurance coverage for PANDAS and PANS. Hopefully, Minnesota will soon follow suit.

Highway 316, Hastings City Hall plans included in capital investment bill

The city of Hastings received some good news recently, as the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee included two bills I'm sponsoring in its proposed $1.5 billion bonding proposal.

The bills would provide needed funding in order to help the city pay for construction costs relating to Highway 316 improvements as well as renovating its historic city hall building.

I've been working hard in the House to promote these projects so I'm pleased they were included, but we still have a long way to go. Going forward, I'll continue to work with leadership and committee members to advocate for these projects and let the process play out. My thanks to the Hastings city officials who came to St. Paul and testified in favor of these proposals.