On Tuesday March 8, 2016 the legislative session officially convened. While the 2016 session is shortened to only 10 weeks, the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans (“the Council”) will continue to provide meaningful support to issues identified by the community. In 2014, the community helped to shape our 2015-2016 biennial legislative agenda: community members said the areas of greatest need within the API community are employment and training programs, violence against women and children, affordable housing, and linguistically and culturally responsive services. The Council continues to advocate on behalf of the community on these issues and more.
During the 2015 legislative session, the Council initiated two legislative proposals. Of these two bills, the legislature passed the Working Group on Violence Against Asian Women and Children bill; the Exploited Women and Children Rental Assistance Program bill (H.F. 310/S.F. 335) did not survive conference committee. During the interim, we worked with key stakeholders to improve on this bill and are cautiously optimistic about its chances of success this session. In addition to the title change, the 2016 version requests that the state funds a rental assistance program that serves families from “emerging communities” who have been victims of gender-based violence and are at risk of becoming homeless. As opposed to last year’s language of “Asian women and children and others”, we decided to use “families from emerging communities” and defined this phrase in the bill as “refugee and immigrant communities who are less established, who are unfamiliar with mainstream government services, or who have limited English proficiency.” Additionally, we are now asking for only $2M instead of $2.5M. The rationale for this change was the result of our understanding that a request for service dollars will most likely ensure that this bill does not succeed in the House.
Additionally, the Council continues to actively communicate with legislators and our community-based organizations as the Governor and the legislature take up economic disparities as one of their key legislative priorities this session. To this duty of the Council, we have helped to facilitate conversations between legislators and their constituents, provided input on legislative language, and helped to explain to our community-based organizations the legislative process and the importance of weaving their voices into that process.
Last week, the Governor laid out his plan for the state and his budget proposal. Governor Dayton’s proposed use for the $900 million budget surplus included key provisions for minimizing taxes on families, and reducing racial and economic disparities. His proposal includes additional funding to address inequity through the expansion of home ownership, post-secondary education, and workforce programs amongst minority groups. With only eight weeks in the session remaining, it is up to the Minnesota House and Senate to adopt these recommendations. Legislators have laid out a plan to focus on issues of transportation, other bonding, support for the Iron Range, and the Real ID transition. As Council staff, we plan to continue monitoring the session closely, so that we are ready to advise the legislature, if and when it moves to take action on the various equity bills. We hope to be able to call on our community leaders when appropriate to testify and provide their personal stories.
As we continue through the 2016 session, we rely on our community members whenever possible to provide support and perspective on issues of importance to us and other Minnesotans. The Council will continue to advise the legislature throughout the session on behalf of our community and consequently, assist them in ensuring that our community’s needs are reflected in this year’s legislative achievements.
The legislature will be on Easter break this Friday and next Monday; however, our office will remain open during these days. Should you have any questions regarding any of the legislative proposals introduced thus far this session, please do not hesitate to call our office.
Thank you for your continued support in improving the lives of Asian and Pacific Islander families across Minnesota.
Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans
Centennial Office Building
658 Cedar St., Suite 160
St. Paul, MN 55155