A family medical leave bill likely won’t see a hearing in the Minnesota Senate this year, Rochester GOP Sen. Dave Senjem said Sunday.
Senjem joined Rep. Duane Sauke, DFL-Rochester, for a community meeting Sunday afternoon hosted by interfaith political organization ISAIAH at the First Unitarian Universalist Church.
GOP Rep. Duane Quam, Byron, and Nels Pierson, R-Stewartville, did not respond to invitations to the event. Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, was in St. Paul on Health and human Services committee work. Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, attended the previous ISAIAH event.
A DFL proposal to provide Minnesotans with paid medical leave was deemed too costly by GOP Senate leadership.
“Something that prominent, if it was going to have a hearing, it would have had one by now,” Senjem said during an interview after the forum. “This is a major policy change.”
The proposal would allow people to take up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave for emergencies, births or adoptions. The state’s budget office estimated the plan would cost about $450 million if implemented as planned in 2021 and about $900 million to maintain each year after.
Senate GOP leadership and business groups have voiced opposition to the proposal.
Senjem told a crowd of about 100 people at the public forum he didn’t know the specifics of the medical leave proposal or where the funding would come from.
“Societally, it’s certainly a wonderful idea,” Senjem said, adding it would give families stability and could save the state money in other areas that support struggling families.
“We pay and pay and pay because families are unstable,” Senjem said.
Sauke said he supports the plan, but added it’s everyone’s responsibility to help support it and the businesses that buy into it.
“We are all personally taking on the responsibility to help the businesses survive,” Sauke said. “We all need to say this is something I personally need to participate in.”
The two lawmakers also differed on supporting expansion of MN Care. Senjem reiterated his support for allowing a healthcare provider tax to expire.
“There are ways to find that $500-$700 million,” he said.
The two did agree on setting a policy allowing undocumented immigrants obtain drivers licenses. The license wouldn’t allow the holder to vote or meet Real ID requirements.
“The benefits, to me, are very straightforward,” Sauke said. “This should be solved and behind us.”
“We’re a better state and a safer state when they’re trained, insured drivers,” Senjem said.
On affordable housing, Senjem noted the Senate is likely to approve an increase to $100 million to support affordable housing programs.
Sauke said the responsibility goes beyond legislators and developers.
He noted that construction of apartments and houses is not making it possible for developers to build a supply of affordable housing to address the problem. He said trailer developments can help create a more cost effective supply of housing.
“If we’re going to bring the price of housing down, it’s the only product in the economy,” Sauke said.
Such developments usually encounter vocal resistance from the community and neighbors. Sauke said affordable housing proponents need to be vocal too.
“I’m challenging you all who can hear me, we are part of the problem as well,” he said.
The two also touched on fighting Islamophobia and clean energy.
Both said progress is being made this year to encourage utilities to generate more power from renewable sources. Sauke called such legislation pragmatic and encouraged people advocating for definite plans to achieve 100 percent renewable energy to keep working.
“The challenge in the House is a few pure 100 percenters … but there’s space for pragmatics,” he said. “Keep pushing, keep saying that, keep calling Dave (Senjem) every other day,” Sauke joked.
Alexa Howart, ISAIAH organizer, said she was disappointed Senate leadership has again failed to take up family medical leave.
“To just say, ‘We missed the window on this, it’s too late’ is abdicating leadership,” she said.
Each issue featured a speaker who had first-hand experience with the topic. A pediatrician relayed experiences of mothers struggling to find care for their newborn and being forced to return to work early for financial reasons.
Howart said the family leave plan was introduced five years ago but no action has moved it forward. She said the DFL bill doesn’t necessarily need to be the solution.
“If that’s not your preferred solution, let’s hear something else,” she said. “It’s past time to figure this out.”