Baker, Lang optimistic going into 2022 Minnesota legislative session
Rep. Dave Baker and Sen. Andrew Lang spoke Monday to the Willmar City Council about what happened in St. Paul this past year and what could happen in 2022. This includes a bonding bill and continued work on getting opioid lawsuit settlement money to the local level.
WILLMAR — It has been a little strange in the halls of the state Capitol the past couple years thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. From emergency powers to closed buildings to billions of dollars in relief funds flooding into the state, lawmakers have had a lot on their plates.
"It felt different for me," said District 17B Rep. Dave Baker , R-Willmar.
"It was a quiet but semi-productive year," Lang said.
Thanks to federal coronavirus relief funds, more than $8 billion came to the state, money the state needed to figure out how to spend. In the end, most of it was allocated to counties and cities.
"We've had a lot of agreement between the Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate as to where those dollars should be spent," Lang said. "I feel like most of those dollars have been spent in the right place."
The Legislature increased funding in education and human services during a summer special session, Lang said, as well as ended the emergency powers held by Gov. Tim Walz because of the pandemic.
Baker said both the legislative and executive branches are having to learn how to trust each other again after the unprecedented 2020-2021, when the fast-changing public health emergency caused quite a bit of upheaval.
"It was unusual. We never have seen that before," Baker said. "We didn't have a choice last year, doing it how we did."
Baker has been working closely with the Attorney General's office in regard to the massive settlement against opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and three distributors, Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen. Baker, who lost his son to opioid addiction, said the manufacturers and distributors deceived the nation's medical providers about the risks of prescribing opioid-based pain relievers.
"Now they pay the price.," Baker said of the $26 billion settlement. "Unfortunately, they are only paying a price out of the checkbook. No one is going to jail, which is frustrating."
Minnesota is set to receive more than $330 million over 18 years from the settlement, as long as enough cities and counties sign on to the settlement. The money will be used for substance abuse treatment and prevention. Baker said counties and cities with more than 30,000 people will receive 75% of the funding, while the state hanging on to the remaining 25%. Kandiyohi County has signed on to the settlement .
"We're trying to make a difference," Baker said.
City Councilor Andrew Plowman urged continued support of addiction and behavioral health programming and facilities. He said the two issues are very intertwined and are needed now more than ever.
"All the advocating we can do locally, all the better," Plowman said.
Baker said Willmar should be proud of how it has maintained itself as a base for such care, even after the state shut down the former state hospital. Willmar is home to the Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Hospital operated by the state and the nonprofit Project Turnabout organization has a campus in Willmar. Such facilities provide important services for people statewide.
"This area gets it," Baker said.
Probably the largest item on the Legislature's 2022 to-do list is the bonding bill. Kandiyohi County has a handful of projects being considered for funding, including the Willmar Water Treatment Plant, the County Road 55 Highway-Rail Grade separation project and an expansion project for the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative 's Educational Learning Center in Willmar.
Both the House and Senate committees for the bonding bill visited Kandiyohi County in the fall, which was appreciated by the council. Baker said projects that have to do with education, road and bridges and water infrastructure are usually positively received. Both he and Lang feel Willmar and the county have a good chance of getting some, if not all, of their requests funded in some way.
"We could do OK," Baker said.
Council members also asked about how redistricting was going and whether there was any new direction on early childhood education and the child care shortage facing the state.
Following the every 10-year U.S. Census, the legislative districts across the country are redrawn, which could mean changes to the territory each lawmaker oversees. Baker and Lang expect changes to District 17, but it will most likely be a judge who makes the final call.
With Republicans in control of the Senate and Democrats leading the House, Lang expects redistricting to end up in the courts. That decision should come by Feb. 15, the deadline for the enactment of the new districts.
"The maps that have been produced are partisan in nature and the gerrymandering is strong," Lang said.
When it comes to child care and early childhood education, St. Paul is trying to balance between getting children to school sooner and keeping day care providers in business. There is also some discussion and movement on the federal level, but not many answers.
"The need for day care has never been greater," Baker said.
The legislators were thanked for their hard work and their ongoing support of the area, including making sure other lawmakers see and experience the good things happening around Willmar and Kandiyohi County.
"You guys did some pretty heavy lifting last year," said Mayor Marv Calvin. "Thank you guys for your leadership. I thought it was a very tough time for our state and it continues to be that."