Rena's work at the State Capitol
Helping Minnesotans Afford Prescription Medications
Many Minnesotans count on affordable prescription drugs to live healthy, fulfilling lives, but they continue to feel the squeeze due to Big Pharma’s greed. We worked together to pass the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act – named after a young man with diabetes who couldn’t afford a refill of his insulin prescription – to help Minnesotans access insulin in an emergency and develop a plan to ensure affordable access to the drug long-term. Lawmakers also passed the Prescription Drug Price Transparency Act which will require drug companies to justify their extreme price hikes.
A Brighter Future for People of Color
Families belong together, but unfortunately, state officials have too often separated Black children from their parents leading to emotional and developmental harm. I successfully championed legislation providing for family reunification, allowing parents whose parental rights were terminated for non-egregious harm to petition to reestablish the parent-child relationship. We also created a new Child Welfare Training Academy for child protection workers, and I fought successfully to require that training be informed by racial disparities and implicit bias. We created a process and practice called Kinship Care that focused on placing African American children and all children placed in out of home displacement with a family member first.
This year the House passed the CROWN Act, my bill to prohibit discrimination based on hair appearance and texture. While racial discrimination is against the law, discrimination of someone wearing their hair in a culturally-appropriate manner – like braids, dreadlocks, or twists – is not. No one should have to change their hair just to conform to antiquated, unjust policies at school or work. Unfortunately, the Senate didn’t consider the bill, and I’ll keep working to ensure Black Minnesotans can fully embrace their heritage.
Delivering for Our Community
I worked hard to ensure our voices were heard and the needs of our neighborhoods were met in our current state budget. Our budget included several of my bills to directly fund our community priorities. These include:
$2.6 million for the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood and the Education Partnerships Coalition.
$1.3 million for the Neighborhood Development Center for small business grants.
$250,000 for the Rondo Community Land Trust to develop the Selby-Milton-Victoria Project (future home to small, local and minority-owned businesses and affordable senior housing).
$300,000 for Minnesota One-Stop for Communities, a parent mentor program.
A new law exempting hair braiders from licensing requirements, removing a barrier for businesses important to our culture and heritage.
Protecting Public Health and Economic Security During COVID-19
Once COVID-19 emerged, Governor Walz and the Legislature quickly worked together to ensure our state can confront the unprecedented public health crisis. Lawmakers invested in:
Funding for our public health preparedness and response
Resources for health care providers to ensure those who need care can receive it.
Emergency assistance for workers families, and businesses
Protecting frontline workers by ensuring they will be eligible for workers’ compensation if they become afflicted with COVID-19.
Above all else, Minnesotans deserve a responsive government with the needed flexibility to protect our health, safety, and economic security during the pandemic. We will keep working to ensure people can have access to food and affordable housing, vulnerable Minnesotans receive the services they need, and small and minority-owned businesses receive the support they need to thrive.
Criminal Justice Reform and Police Accountability
Seeing George Floyd’s murder – on video for the whole world to see, with the lack of humanity, emotion, and care on display – will be etched into our memories for a long time. Black, Indigenous, and communities of color have experienced police violence for generations, and the tragedy on Memorial Day highlighted the need for bold, systemic change to ensure every single Minnesotan can go home at the end of the day and be safe in their community.
Following Minnesotans’ demands for change, Rena was integral in negotiating the Minnesota Police Accountability Act the Legislature passed and Governor Walz signed into law. This bill – developed by the POCI Caucus – improves accountability for the use of force, prohibits chokeholds, reforms arbitration which has for too long protected officers found to have committed misconduct, increases transparency, and more. This legislation is only the first step in our work to deliver racial justice and reimagine public safety.
An Excellent Education for all Students
In our most recent state budget, I’m proud we delivered substantial funding for schools and children of all ages and abilities, including pre-K and special education. We know that children of color experience better outcomes when they have a teacher in the classroom who looks like they do. I’m proud we delivered grants to support the development of mentorship, induction, and retention programs for teachers of color and American Indian teachers and Collaborative Urban Educator Grants. We also delivered funding to support the City of Saint Paul’s College Savings Account Pilot Program and new school-linked mental health grants to help reach students where they spend most of their time outside the home.
Strengthening Economic Security for Minnesotans
Minnesotans deserve to get paid fairly for every minute they work. Unfortunately, every year in our state, an estimated 39,000 workers experience wage theft, taking the form of forced work off the clock, management pocketing tips, or simply not being paid at all. In response, lawmakers enacted the nation’s toughest wage theft prevention and enforcement law to hold employers accountable for the basic expectation of fairness.
Benefits for families enrolled in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), a critical safety net program for Minnesotans working to emerge from poverty, had not been increased in 33 years. After Minnesotans shared their stories, we were able to strengthen this ladder out of poverty with a $100 per month increase.