Senate Democrats' first six bills of the session will address a skilled worker shortage, reform the child protection system and expand early childhood education, among other priorities, DFL lawmakers said Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk in a news conference stopped short of calling the bills top priorities but said they were important. Notably absent Thursday was a bill on transportation, an issue that is shaping up to be a legislative priority for the Gov. Mark Dayton, DFLers and Republicans alike.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, is crafting that bill and said it would likely be introduced early next week.
The six bills are:
-- An appropriation of $6.85 million for disaster relief from last summer's storms that heavily damaged dozens of counties in Minnesota. It would also provide an additional $3 million so local governments can receive matching funds for roads. An additional $2.4 million would be provided for erosion, sediment and water control to benefit farmers. The bill sponsor is Sen. Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna.
-- Free two-year tuition at at Minnesota state community or technical college for new high school graduates. The bill sponsor Sen. Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said the bill would help reduce student-loan debt and provide employers skilled workers.
-- In a nod to the rural parts of the state, the third bill would expand the state's loan-forgiveness program for health professionals. Under the program, participating health care professionals who serve up to four years in a rural area would have some of their college debt forgiven. The bill sponsor is Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley.
-- Following the Star Tribune's reporting on the death of Eric Dean, a 4-year-old who died in the care of a county child-protection agency, lawmakers want to propose reforms to current practices. The bill would require reports to be maintained for five years, not one, and also require increased reviews to improve oversight of the child-protection system. The bill sponsor is Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato.
-- DFLer's fourth bill would allow high school students to take vocational training in return for academic credit. It would include a partnership with local employers interested in providing training opportunities to students. The bill sponsor is Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka.
-- Lastly, Senate Democrats want to expand access to early childhood education, also a priority Gov. Dayton plans to pursue. The bill would allow every four-year-old in the state attend pre-school for free and would go into effect in fall 2016. The bill sponsor is Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin.
Photo: Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk on Thursday unveiled DFLers first six bills of the session. (Ricardo Lopez/Star Tribune)