In The News
Senator Kari Dziedzic on State Budget Forecast
St. Paul, Minn. – Today, Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) released the November budget forecast, estimating a $7.7 billion positive budgetary balance. The dramatic change since the May forecast is due to strong growth in individual income, consumer spending, and corporate profits.
In response, Senator Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis) released the following statement:
“The last 20 months have presented tremendous challenges and many uncertainties still remain surrounding the pandemic. But today’s budget forecast projection shows that Minnesota’s economy and many Minnesotans are rebounding from the recession and the pandemic.
Many are doing well in the K shaped recovery and with this forecast, we have a unique opportunity to help those that are struggling. As Senator Paul Wellstone said, ‘We all do better when we all do better.’
Although there are many critical inequities that need to be addressed by the budget surplus, one area I’d like to highlight is how Minnesota is experiencing an affordable housing crisis that is impacting local economies across the state. As DFL lead on the Senate Housing Committee, I will be advocating for housing investments. Stable, affordable housing improves health and education outcomes for students and families and, in turn, improves local economies.”
Additional information on the forecast can be found on MMB website. MMB will release the next forecast in February 2022.
Star Tribune: 10th Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis Reopens after $60M Makeover
With the snip of scissors cutting a red ribbon, Minneapolis city officials on Tuesday opened the historic 10th Avenue bridge marking the end of a $60 million rehabilitation project that took almost two years.
Barricades will come down Wednesday allowing traffic and pedestrians to cross the span adjacent to Interstate 35W that connects the Marcy Holmes and Cedar-Riverside neighborhoods, and provides a direct route for scores of University of Minnesota students needing to cross the Mississippi River each day.
“It will be very much a time saver,” said Adam Dickey, a U of M junior studying at the Carlson School of Management who on Tuesday strolled across the bridge before its official opening.
For the past two years, Dickey has had to find alternate routes from his student apartment to class, a trip he makes two to three times a day. “I’ve have had to find other ways. This will save 10 to 15 minutes.”
First opened in 1929, the 2,174-foot-long bridge with its seven distinctive arches had not received a lot of attention in its lifetime. The sidewalk and bridge railings were replaced in the 1950s, and the driving surface was replaced in the 1970s. Those were the last major upgrades to the bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
While they were at it, crews also removed a failing water main on the underside of the bridge. It was replaced with a new one five feet in diameter placed beneath the river. The bridge deck was also reconfigured with bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, adding another chapter to the bridge’s storied history.
“We have multi-modal transportation for the first time,” said Bryan Dodds, deputy public works director and city engineer.
Mayor Jacob Frey was impressed with the outcome, and said the reopening is emblematic of the city coming together.
“It looks brand new,” the mayor said during the bridge opening ceremony. “This is an example of how old things can be exciting and redone in a functional and modern fashion. This critical asset deserves to be celebrated.”
Among those at Tuesday’s celebration were state Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, who helped secure original funding for the project in 2012 when needs were first identified, Minneapolis City Council members, city public works employees and architects and engineers from contractor Lunda Construction.
University of Minnesota Senior Vice President Myron Frans said the U was proud to partner with the city and the state on the project, and is glad to have restored an important amenity serving the campus.
“This bridge is much older than me, but it looks so much better than me,” he said.
Senator Dziedzic appointed to serve on the Tax Expenditure Review Commission; Co-Chair of the Legislative Commission on Housing Affordability
Senator Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis) was recently appointed to serve on the Tax Expenditure Review Commission and elected co-chair of the Legislative Commission on Housing Affordability.
“Tax expenditures should be reviewed regularly to determine if their intended goals are being met,” said Senator Dziedzic. “This commission will continue the hard work we have done at the Legislature to be fiscally responsible and to ensure targeted tax relief helps those in need.”
This year the Legislature established a Tax Expenditure Review Commission to review Minnesota’s tax expenditures and evaluate their effectiveness and fiscal impact on the state. A list of Minnesota’s current tax expenditures may be found in the Tax Expenditure Budget Report at: www.revenue.state.mn.us/tax-expenditure-reports.
“We had a housing crisis before the pandemic. The pandemic highlighted the importance of stable housing and the need for more affordable housing options so that our seniors, working families, and low-income neighbors have a place to call home and be safe,” said Senator Dziedzic. “We also need to improve homeownership opportunities for people of color to close the homeownership disparity gap. I look forward to working with commission members, stakeholders, and cities to find creative ways to preserve and add more affordable housing across Minnesota.”
The Legislative Commission on Housing Affordability was established in 2019. The goals of the commission can be found at: LCHA (leg.mn).
Senator Dziedzic Named a LMC Legislator of Distinction
The League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) named Senator Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis) a Legislator of Distinction for 2021. The honor recognizes legislators for specific actions that aided efforts of Minnesota cities during this year’s legislative session. Legislators of Distinction are annually approved by the League’s Board of Directors to recognize that in order to successfully serve commonly shared constituents, state and city officials must work together to meet the unique needs of rural, suburban, and urban residents all across Minnesota.
Senator Dziedzic, the only Senate DFLer on the list, was recognized by the League for her “collaboration on issues related to housing, taxes, and economic development.” Furthermore, Senator Dziedzic was praised for being regularly accessible to members of the League of Minnesota Cities and consulting with members on issues.
“Building connections and working together is part of the legislative process and important when crafting any legislation,” said Senator Dziedzic. “It is an honor to represent my district and to work with the LMC on issues important to my constituents and Minnesota cities. I look forward to continuing that relationship and working together to help find solutions to the pressing issues that are affecting my district and the state of Minnesota.”
Star Tribune: New Minnesota Law Requires Sprinklers in Public High-rise Apartments by 2033
Now, more than a year and a half after the fire, Minnesota lawmakers have passed a new law requiring sprinkler systems in public high-rise buildings like the Cedar High Apartments. Proponents are celebrating the move as a first step in making sure no other community faces a similar tragedy.
“This was closure for some of the family members that came to testify to make sure that this does not happen again,” said Noor, a two-term Democrat who carried the legislation in the House. “This is a really significant first step.”
Tucked into a broader jobs and economy budget bill signed by Gov. Tim Walz, the requirement means out-of-date public housing buildings built before the 1970s and 1980s now must be retrofitted with sprinklers by 2033, bringing them in line with current state requirements.
It affects public buildings across the state that have people living in spaces above 75 feet, the highest reach of many fire department vehicles. A large number of those buildings are in Minneapolis, but there are others across the state, said Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, who worked on the proposal. No comprehensive data exists on how many buildings need to comply with the new law.
The half-century-old Cedar High Apartments had sprinklers on the main floor and in a mechanical equipment room, but not in residential units.
“Every time I hear about a fire now, I look at how many stories it is and did it have sprinklers,” said Dziedzic. “It will save lives, plain and simple.”
An 18-page report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Fire Marshal Division one year after the fire blamed the lack of sprinklers and outdated stairwells for the fatalities. The report recommended multiple changes, including the installation of sprinklers in all high-rise buildings.
Noor initially pushed for requiring sprinklers in both public and privately owned buildings as well as residential and office spaces, but the Republican-controlled Senate pushed back on including privately owned buildings because of concerns about using public dollars to pay for those projects.
Finding money for these projects over the decade is the next step, which Noor said could come through numerous funding streams, including a proposal from Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith to create a $25 million competitive grant program for public housing agencies to install sprinkles. Noor said he’ll also push for funding through a package of construction projects.
Public housing organizations requested $100 million in a state bonding bill to pay for unmet construction needs last session, including retrofitting older buildings with sprinklers, but the Legislature adjourned without passing a bonding bill.
Housing groups say they support the call to add sprinklers, but they’re concerned the law was passed without any funding to pay for it, said Shannon Guernsey, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.
Public housing developments, which serve low-income households, are federally funded and cannot raise rent to cover costs of major projects.
“In addition to the importance of sprinklers in high-rise buildings, there are also many other competing needs,” said Guernsey. “Updates to elevators, roofs that need to be repaired, many of our HVAC systems are decades old. There’s a whole host of things.”
The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority says 16 of its 42 high-rises already have sprinklers retrofitted, and it plans to start sprinkler installations at another 10 buildings this year. But that work, estimated to cost more than $9 million, will consume roughly half of its capital funds from Congress in 2021.
The MPHA’s high-rise buildings are all over 50 years old and together have $152 million in deferred capital needs, said Abdi Warsame, the authority’s executive director and CEO. “MPHA would have hoped that the state Legislature would have recognized the scale of the expense and public housing’s overall unmet capital needs along with its recognition of the need for sprinklers.”
State lawmakers passed proposals in 1993 and 1994 to require that old high-rise buildings have sprinklers on almost every floor, but then-Gov. Arne Carlson vetoed the bills after objections about lack of funding. Carlson has since said he thinks the state “failed in that regard.”
After those efforts failed, St. Paul’s public housing authority started independently adding sprinklers to every unit on every floor in each of its 16 high-rise apartment buildings. The move took two decades.
Tom Brace, a former state fire marshal who serves as a regional coordinator for the National Fire Sprinkler Association, was there advocating for the change in the 1990s. He hoped the new requirement would extend to private buildings, but he’s relieved that at least something has passed after decades of trying.
“I felt after Cedar-Riverside, absolutely this is the time. We watched as probably the best-equipped fire department in the state tried to fight it, and it was an all-out effort for them,” said Brace. “We can’t afford another tragedy like that.”
Star Tribune: Op Ed: Minnesota's Outdated Sexual Harassment Laws Continue to Let Survivors Down
For far too long, Minnesota’s arcane sexual harassment policy has failed both employees and employers. A 2018 Star Tribune Minnesota Poll reported that nearly two out of three women in the state have personally experienced sexual harassment. We hope that 2020 is the year we can finally provide clarity in our laws, so that neither employees nor employers must continue to tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace.
Minnesota courts have held that the harassment must be “severe” or “pervasive” in order for a sexual harassment survivor to hold their abuser accountable. This means individuals experiencing sexual harassment must be subjected to the abuse over a prolonged period of time — or endure the abuse until it finally becomes “severe.” According to Minnesota case law, unwanted intimate touching and kissing is not considered “severe.” We simply cannot keep asking Minnesota employees and employers to put up with this oppressive and outdated standard that puts their health, safety and dignity at risk.
Last session, the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee heard from survivors on the limitations of the current sexual harassment standard. A.S.K. shared her heartbreaking story of repeatedly being stalked and physically assaulted by a group of customers at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. (To protect her identity, only her initials are given here.) Her multiple requests to managers to not serve these customers were ignored. Her managers forced her to serve these customers or end her shift. This abuse occurred weekly for more than a year. Each week, A.S.K. had to choose between paying her rent and protecting her physical, emotional and mental well-being. A.S.K’s legal case was dismissed for failing to meeting the severe or pervasive standards. She deserves better. We all deserve better.
Minnesota employers want to create a company culture where all employees feel valued, respected and safe. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many have begun the work to root out harassment in the workplace. But the lack of a practical sexual harassment standard not only prevents them from doing so, it actually increases the gap between harassment that is “illegal” and harassment that employers are seeking to address. We can support employers in creating safer company cultures by passing sexual harassment reform legislation. Under House File 10, no employer will be liable if it responds reasonably to a claim of sexual harassment. This bill gives employers the ability to do the right thing for their employees.
Sexual harassment reform is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This affects all Minnesotans. In the 2019 session, this bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support. We are grateful for the leadership and progress that former House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, made on this important issue in the 2018 legislative session. We invite our legislative colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike, to join us in fighting for a safe working environment for all Minnesota employees and employers.
Star Tribune: Omar, Dziedzic, Noor: Cedar-Riverside high-rise fire must prompt action
Omar, Dziedzic, Noor: Cedar-Riverside high-rise fire must prompt action
Star Tribune | Opinion Exchange by Ilhan Omar, Kari Dziedzic and Mohamud Noor
December 19, 2019
The day before Thanksgiving, families across the country gathered around their dining tables to give thanks and break bread. But many families in the Twin Cities were not sitting down for a holiday dinner — instead they were facing indescribable tragedy. On Wednesday, Nov. 27, a fire broke out in a 25-story public housing building in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, near where all of us grew up. Five people lost their lives that day. And weeks later, residents are still in the hospital recovering from their injuries and from the devastating effects of smoke inhalation.
The community knows pain and loss, but they also know the power of unity and hope. The Cedar-Riverside community has been tirelessly working to help the families affected by the fire. In the wake of this tragedy, groups like the People’s Center Clinics & Services and the Dar Al-Hijra Mosque raised more than $80,000 to help those impacted by the fire. That includes financial assistance, medical assistance and more. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s staff has been helping distribute food to those in need and will continue to aid the families impacted. Cedar-Riverside truly understands what it means to live in community. They survive and thrive together.
But as we work to recover from this fire, we must also address the root causes. After the brave men and women of the local fire department cleared the scene and controlled the blaze, we discovered an almost unbelievable reality: These homes were not equipped with sprinklers. The building is so old that it’s exempted from laws that require such lifesaving equipment.
And that isn’t the only egregious safety issue that our public-housing residents are forced to endure. There’s been a ban on building new public housing since the 1990s. In fact, the Cedar-Riverside building that sustained the fire was built in the 1960s. And the federal government has been underfunding the repair and maintenance needs in this housing for years. In Minnesota, the backlog of repair needs totals more than $350 million. So not only are these homes half a century old, they are practically being held together with little more than hope and duct tape. Make no mistake: We as lawmakers bear responsibility for the deplorable conditions of our public housing and for the deplorable and unsafe conditions that millions of Americans are living in today.
We cannot pretend that we cannot see the crumbling buildings in our district. We cannot ignore the hundreds of thousands who experience homelessness because of the waitlist for housing assistance. And it goes beyond the homeless and public housing population. Millions of Americans are living every day in fear of eviction. Twelve million Americans are paying more than half their income in rent and about 6,300 people are evicted every single day.
How can we as lawmakers call ourselves leaders if we continue to ignore this crisis? We refuse to continue down that path. It’s time for solutions at both the local and federal level.
We have been diligently working in the community to ensure that this tragedy does not happen again. We know a requirement for sprinklers would have saved lives. It is a simple, highly-effective tool that should be fully employed in all high-rises, new and old. As Shane Gray, the president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association, has pointed out, it costs a lot more money and a lot more lives to have a fire and not be prepared than to install sprinklers. That is why we are partnering at the state and federal levels to pass legislation to require retrofitting older public-housing buildings with lifesaving sprinkler systems. This is a simple way to ensure that Minnesotans feel safe and secure in their homes. Along with U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum, Dean Phillips and Angie Craig, Rep. Omar is requesting that the Department of Housing and Urban Development determine how many facilities are currently exempted from the sprinkler requirements and how much it would cost to install them. By requiring sprinklers in each unit of public-housing buildings, we can avoid another preventable tragedy.
But without a historic investment in our public-housing stock and greater accountability for the safety of residents, we’ll continue to face tragedies like the one that claimed five lives in Cedar Riverside. Last month, Rep. Omar introduced the Homes for All Act — which would make a historic $1 trillion investment in public- and low-income housing and build a record 12 million new homes over the next 10 years. It would also ensure that public-housing residents are guaranteed access to important wraparound services like employment assistance, child care and financial literacy courses. And just as important, the bill would make public-housing funding a mandatory part of our federal budget, meaning the government wouldn’t be able to abandon these new homes or neglect their maintenance. Public housing would be treated just like other basic services such as Social Security and Medicare.
The Cedar-Riverside community is doing its part to ensure that the families affected are taken care of. Its resilience and compassion are more than inspiring; they require action. Now, it is our turn to do our part.
Ilhan Omar is the U.S. representative for Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District. Kari Dziedzic represents Minnesota Senate District 60. Mohamud Noor represents Minnesota House District 60B.