OPINION

Minnesota Views: New legislative committee has impactful first year

District 28A State Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona

Despite being a new committee in the Minnesota House, the Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee navigated the unfamiliar waters of pandemic legislating successfully, delivering on the primary goals built around the committee’s inception - funding an industrial technology teacher licensure and certification program, investing in statewide broadband, and replenishing the state’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account. As chair of the committee, I worked in a bipartisan manner with my colleagues to ensure these nonpartisan measures received the support they deserve.

In the October 2019 Winona Mini-Session, House members were first introduced to Winona State University’s Education Village, and a plan to partner with Minnesota State College Southeast in recreating the licensure and certification program needed for the next generation of industrial technical teachers for Minnesota’s high schools. This would become the basis of the committee’s directive, to create an educational model ensuring every high school senior in Minnesota has the option of graduating not only with a traditional high school diploma, but with an employable skill set as well.

After several committee hearings during the regular session, the resulting legislation to create the licensure and certification program was directed to the larger Jobs, Economic Development, and Labor Budget, which was finalized and passed into law during the June Special Session. The final bill contained $400,000 for the new programs at Winona State University and Minnesota State College Southeast.

In a similar fashion, our committee’s work on broadband would also get wrapped in a larger bill during the special session. As chair, I was appointed to the Agriculture conference committee, which also included broadband in its purview. Made of House and Senate members, the conference committee - later referred to as a working group after the regular session - crafted legislation that would fund operations for the Office of Broadband Development. In addition to this, $70 million in federal funding over the next two years in broadband infrastructure was included in the Jobs, Economic Development, and Labor Budget. 

Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account, signed into law in 2014, speeds up the recovery process for communities burdened with damages to public property and infrastructure like roads, utilities, and public buildings. Prior to the passage of the law, the Legislature was required to convene each time a disaster was declared in order to appropriate state money toward community recovery efforts, often in a special session. Though special sessions have become an unfortunate norm in the past year, their regularity should decrease moving forward with the end of the peacetime emergency. This account ensures swift action can be taken without a special session, though it needs to be properly funded. 

As part of our final compromise Public Safety and Judiciary Budget, our committee’s work to fund the Disaster Assistance Contingency Account was included. The language recently signed into law by Governor Walz will ensure the account has at least $30 million in it, prepared for disasters that may occur between now and the Legislature’s return in January 2022.

Though different, all three of these proposals are important investments in ensuring Minnesotans have the tools and resources they need, whether in education, accessing the internet, or making sure their communities are supported in dire moments. I’m extremely proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish this year, and I look forward to building on this success. 

State Representative Gene Pelowski is a Democrat, serving the Winona Area and surrounding communities in the Minnesota House of Representatives since 1986. Rep. Pelowski’s office can be reached at 651-296-8637 or at rep.gene.pelowski@house.mn