Over the past week, Gov. Mark Dayton took his veto pen and struck down key measures to protect students from gun violence and new funding for districts facing budget shortfalls. These shortsighted decisions will undermine the ability of schools to retain teachers, keep class sizes low and make physical improvements to prevent the kind of tragedies we’ve seen in other states.
Republicans have given the governor three separate opportunities to sign into law more funding for school safety — one in the school funding bill, another in the supplemental budget and a third in the bonding bill. The governor has chosen to veto two of the three and has yet to make a decision on the final measure.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board mused last week that a stand-alone bill would have garnered the governor’s signature (“Shortchanging kids and school safety,” May 25). Given the governor’s track record of vetoing common-sense legislation over relatively minor objections, as well as the administration’s public opposition to other student safety provisions, I am not so sure.
As chair of the House Education Finance Committee, I was troubled by the lack of involvement by the governor’s office throughout this session. Not once was I contacted or asked to meet with him to discuss his priorities. His disinterest in working with the Legislature made it difficult to reach final agreement despite our good-faith attempts to compromise and meet him more than halfway on numerous issues.
A stand-alone school safety bill would have included more than just funding for physical safety enhancements. Republicans identified a number of loopholes in current law that put students at risk and took action to address them.
Chief among them was a provision to expand the background checks conducted when teachers are hired to include stays of adjudication. Stays of adjudication occur when someone pleads guilty to a crime, but as part of the agreement with the courts, the offense does not go on an individual’s criminal record if the person completes probation or other terms of the plea deal.
Investigations by local television stations revealed that individuals including school bus drivers who had been given stays of adjudication for sex crimes against children had passed background checks due to this glaring loophole. That meant that sexual predators were put in close contact with schoolchildren without the knowledge of school district officials or parents.
Our bill would have required stays of adjudication to be included in background checks. Had the Legislature chosen to send a stand-alone school safety bill, we certainly would have included this provision — which ultimately could have led to a veto.
I can’t begin to comprehend why the governor’s office opposed this legislation — to me this is a common-sense measure to keep our kids safe. Nonetheless, it was included in his list of 117 objections sent to the Legislature. I still have yet to receive a satisfactory explanation why the administration opposed more thorough background checks for those who work closely with students.
While the Editorial Board seems certain that a school safety bill would have earned the governor’s signature, his behavior makes that assertion dubious at best. He vetoed a stand-alone bill to provide funding for deputy registrars hurt by the MNLARS mess, and offered only vague objections that caused him to veto the supplemental budget.
Sadly, the governor’s actions over the past week have made clear that he is more interested in politics and taking vindictive action against the Legislature than in doing what’s best for the people of Minnesota.
We will begin next session with a new governor who will hopefully be more engaged and interested in working cooperatively to fund priorities like school safety and closing loopholes that put dangerous criminals in proximity with children. I am committed to working with that governor, regardless of party, to do what’s best for our kids and to keep them safe.
Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, is a member of the Minnesota House.