I hope this message finds you well, even amid these challenging circumstances. My office at the State Capitol remains open and we remain at work on solutions that bring relief to the many Minnesotans that are suffering. I want to share with you an update on where a few key issues stand.

Coronavirus pandemic

While we have enacted temporary social distancing and telework practices, the state Legislature continues to work in St. Paul. As you know, Gov. Walz has extended his peacetime emergency declaration until June 13. The regular legislative session adjourned Monday, May 18; however, per state law, if the governor decides to extend his state of peacetime emergency declaration beyond its June 13 expiration date, he will need to call the Legislature back for a special session.

When we began this legislative session, we were looking at a projected budget surplus of more than a billion dollars. The landscape has rapidly changed in the past two months, however, and the latest projections have us confronting a budget deficit of more than $2 billion. The good news is that our budget reserve has more than $2 billion in the account, but this also means that we must be even more careful about our budget as we move forward.

Small businesses

I am pleased the governor decided to end the stay-at-home order and allow certain retail businesses to resume operations. However, I remain deeply concerned for the thousands of small businesses in Minnesota — salons, bars, restaurants, gyms, etc. — that remain shuttered. These businesses (including many in Scott County) have been working hard to develop their own safety measures and enhanced sanitation practices, and I was disappointed to see they were not included in the governor’s guidance until at least June 1.

More than 700,000 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment benefits since the pandemic began. I have met with many small businesses who are ready to resume operations in a way that prioritizes the health and safety of employees and customers. These businesses have been working for two months on plans for enhanced sanitation and safety in accordance with CDC and MDH guidelines. We need to give them a plan for moving forward.

Additionally, the Minnesota Senate passed legislation earlier this month to create a grant program for small businesses affected by the pandemic. These are the hometown small businesses on which we rely every single day and that support our communities — and many of which are at real risk of never opening again. While the best way to jump start our economy is to get people working again, this is action we can take right now to deliver some relief. If the legislation passes the House and is signed into law, small businesses would be eligible for grants of up to $10,000 to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility bills, and other related expenses. I will keep you posted on this bill.

Other legislation

One in five Minnesotans over the age of 65 have been the victims of financial fraud or exploitation — and in many cases, they are unaware what is happening. We passed legislation that provides additional safeguards for elderly and vulnerable Minnesotans against financial exploitation. The bill allows banks, credit unions, and other financial services providers to delay a transaction if they have a reasonable belief it would result in the financial exploitation of a vulnerable person or an individual 65 years of age or older, and permits them to disclose their suspicion to the Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center or other third parties.

We also passed a bill that exempts freelance hair and makeup artists — those who clean, dry, arrange, and style hair, or apply cosmetics to the face and skin — from the Board of Cosmetology’s licensing requirements. These artists — who do not cut hair, use chemicals, perform waxes, or any related services — will still be required to take a four-hour sanitation training course from a state-approved continuing education provider. This is a bipartisan bill that protects the livelihoods of more than 1,000 freelance artists in Minnesota.

Take care

The next several weeks and months are full of unknowns — but we are strong and this, too, shall pass. As people begin to go back to work and our economic engines roar again, I am confident we will emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.

As always, I will keep you updated on the latest from St. Paul. Please let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to help.

State Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, represents Scott County in the Minnesota Senate. He is chair of the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee and is an assistant majority leader. He can be reached at sen.eric.pratt@senate.mn or by phone at 651-296-4123.

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