It’s an honor and a privilege to represent the Iron Range communities of District 6A in the Minnesota House. Every day, I hear from many people experiencing difficulties, sharing their frustrations, and offering their ideas for how we can make our state better. I’m deeply committed to helping individuals, families, and businesses navigate the COVID-19 crisis, while also looking to the future to ensure we’re able to come back from these challenges stronger. In December’s special session, we enacted a robust COVID-19 economic assistance package, and now, we’re moving on to the next chapter in our work overcoming the pandemic. In this work, I’m committed to prioritizing people’s wellbeing.
I recognize many people in our region are frustrated with some of the executive actions taken in response to COVID-19, and I too want us to get to normal as soon as possible. We’ve made some great progress in several areas including case numbers and hospital capacity, but we’re not out of the words yet. While vaccine distribution is underway, the supply we’ve received from the federal government has been limited and we need to quickly develop strategies to get shots to more people.
It’s important to recognize that Minnesota isn’t an outlier; 49 of 50 states currently have some type of state of emergency declared. When COVID-19 arrived in March, we needed to act quickly; much more quickly than the process of introducing bills, having committee hearings, debating them in the House and Senate, and taking votes would allow. By Governor Walz taking swift, decisive action, Minnesota was able to take steps such as: expedited state purchasing of personal protective equipment and other critical care supplies, rapidly ramping up our testing capacity, workplace protections to ensure safety and prevent retaliation, a ban on price gouging on essential goods and services, and accelerated unemployment benefits, among other things.
But make no mistake, the Legislature needs to have a say as well. Businesses have shown the commitment to operate safely, protecting the health of their patrons and employees, and more of them should be able to open. More activities should be able to resume with fewer restrictions. This summer and fall, when lawmakers met in special session monthly, I voted to have the conversation about the path forward. With the Legislature not in session full time, and no regular committee meetings, this was the only way in which we could start talking about whether or not to keep, modify, or eliminate any of the governor’s executive orders.
Now that we’re in session, we have the time to devote to a deep dive not just of the governor’s current emergency powers, but the state’s entire section of law devoted to emergency management. I serve on the Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform where we’re taking on this important job, and we will work together on a bipartisan basis to make recommendations to the full Legislature. It’s important though that we do this thoughtfully, and ending the current peacetime emergency entirely could jeopardize the progress we’ve made in response to the pandemic.
This explanation may not fit on a slickly-produced radio ad or direct mail piece, but when dealing with something with as many complexities as a once-in-a-century-pandemic, I hope we can all move forward based upon the facts. Minnesotans are being fed a wide variety of tightly woven narratives without sharing the whole story. Be sure to fact check claims you see made on social media and elsewhere; without the full context of actions at the legislature, you may not be getting the whole truth.
I’ve offered a proposal to let Greater Minnesota restaurants and bars serve as a pilot project of sorts to help them open up fully. I’ve also introduced a proposal to change the rules regarding executive orders in a peacetime emergency, requiring more buy-in from the Legislature. Rep. Dave Lislegard of Aurora and I are working to find consensus with other members on a proposal to rework the section of emergency management law. This is hard work for which there are no easy answers.
The pandemic has caused more than just health and economic difficulties. As a teacher and as a parent, I’ve experienced how this pandemic has impacted learning. I serve as Vice Chair of the House Education Finance Committee, and we’re working to provide programming to address reading and math deficiencies, improving special education services, and prevent revenue losses for school districts in light of declining enrollment. We’re also working to address full-service community schools, a proven model to enhance academic growth while providing critical wrap-around services for students. Additionally, I continue to advocate for increased investments in high-speed broadband to ensure students, teachers, and families – as well as workers and businesses – have access to fast, dependable, secure internet service.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also hit mining – the bread and butter of opportunity for our region – particularly hard. While we hope the global economic turmoil will soon pass and the taconite mining will resume, at the Capitol, I continue to be a vocal proponent for projects like PolyMet and work to educate my colleagues about why anti-mining proposals are harmful to our economic health. I’ve also been pushing the Walz administration to take action regarding the former Essar Steel site. The minerals on that site don’t belong to any single company or any single politician – they belong to all of us. It’s time to move on from Essar and its successor companies, and instead get a proven company with integrity operating on that site. As ore is set to run out within five years, we also need to secure the viability of Hibbing Taconite and the important jobs there. It’s important for me to keep HibTac open at full capacity and I will continue to keep my eyes on the Mesabi Metallics site as the probable solution.
I’m committed to being available to residents in our region. To get a hold of me, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com or call me at the Capitol at 651-296-0172. I also recently held my first Virtual Town Hall meeting and I plan on having more. Be sure to follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/repjuliesandstede to find out details about the next one.
When this pandemic first emerged nearly a year ago, the frequently used mantra across the nation was “we’re all in this together.” Unfortunately, at some point that seemed to change and divisions grew. The problems converging from a public health crisis, an economic disaster, and setbacks for many students are all converging to create the most challenging time many of us have ever experienced. The heated rhetoric, misinformation, and vitriol exhibited at each other will only set us backward in our goal to experience shared success and prosperity.
Despite the disagreements we might have, the fact remains we will only get through this together. Let’s commit to being kind to one another, to listen to one another, to lift up one another, and to protect one another. There’s no sugar-coating how tough times are now, but there are reasons to be optimistic. A COVID-19 vaccine is here, and the light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter. I’m confident we can come together and emerge from this rough patch a stronger, more unified state.
Rep. Julie Sandstede represents the communities of Hibbing, Chisholm, Keewatin, Buhl and several other Iron Range cities and townships. She encourages constituents to reach out to her about any issue by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 651-296-0172. Her Facebook page can be found at facebook.com/RepJulieSandstede, which she encourages constituents to “like” or “follow.”