A note from Senator Relph

It’s truly an honor to represent the St. Cloud area in the Minnesota Senate. During my four years in the Minnesota Senate, I’m proud of the work I’ve done to make sure our government is working for the people. But don’t take my word for it. Take a look at my record of working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to deliver for our communities.

My promise

I have truly lived the ‘American Dream’. As your state senator, it has been my privilege and honor to work to preserve that opportunity for our children and our grandchildren.

The Founders of this country had a vision that the people, not the government, should rule. Our governing document, the United States Constitution, is a blueprint for a country where the government could do only what the people said it could do. The Minnesota Constitution also limits the powers of the state government in a similar way. As your State Senator, I promise to continue to abide by the Constitutions of the United States of America and Minnesota.

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Education

We are fortunate to live in an area with great schools. Over the past four years, I’m proud to have supported record levels of funding for schools, allowing them to invest in programs that have been proven to yield results while affording them the flexibility they need to attract, hire, and retain great teachers. I’m a strong proponent of workforce development and training through public-private partnerships with area businesses, career and technical education, training, apprenticeship opportunities, and more – all of which I’ve advocated for at the State Capitol. In our schools, I have worked to develop programs that provide kids the opportunity to learn more about careers that do not require a four-year degree but still provide an income that will support a family and a fruitful, comfortable life.

I led the fight to reform teacher licensure laws, making it easier for schools to find and hire qualified teachers, and voted to provide schools with funds for critical needs, such as expanded school readiness, early learning with parental choice, and special education. Finally, I supported increased funding for schools to make necessary safety upgrades and hire more counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals.

I believe local school boards and administrators are best equipped to make decisions for the population they represent. I am against universal, mandatory pre-kindergarten, and believe parents should have the option of keeping their young children home during those highly formative years. Instead, I support early childhood education scholarships that allow low-income parents to give their children a fighting chance at the school of their choice.

Finally, I secured millions more in funding for both St. Cloud State University and St. Cloud Community and Technical College. With a boost to the need-based state grant program, this will allow more students to take advantage of more financial aid.

Health care

Minnesota is home to a world class health care system – and I’m proud of the work I’ve done to lower health insurance premiums and enable more families to receive the care they need. I supported the successful ‘reinsurance’ program that lowered Minnesota’s individual health insurance premiums to among the lowest in the nation, voted to increase transparency with Pharmacy Benefit Managers that ultimately drove down the cost of prescription drugs, and supported the landmark bill to crack down on the state’s opioid crisis. I led the fight to get needed funding to expand mental health services for veterans, farmers, and students, and was the chief author of the initial legislative response to the coronavirus pandemic. Finally, I serve on the Task Force on Medical Cannabis Therapeutic Research.

After I heard about the backlog of rape kit tests that kept so many Minnesotans waiting for results, I sponsored the Victim Rights to Sexual Assault Evidence and Information Act – giving the explicit legal right for victims to receive prompt and easy access to test results.

And as the vice chair of the Senate Family Care and Aging Committee, I play a leading role in crafting the state’s long-term care policy. I was a co-author of the historic elder care protections passed last year, which brought a new bill of rights, cameras for loved ones, and enhanced protections for Minnesotans living in senior care facilities. Finally, I pushed back against the disastrous cuts to nursing home funding by the Walz administration; instead, I partnered with our area nursing homes and assisted living facilities to make sure our seniors are getting the quality care they deserve.

Delivering for the St. Cloud area

  • Authored the first legislative response to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Supported record levels of education funding for the St. Cloud Area School District.
  • Secured $18.5 million for the overhaul of Eastman Hall at St. Cloud State University.
  • Passed $19 million for badly needed security upgrades to Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud.
  • Delivered necessary funding to study extending the Northstar Commuter Rail to St. Cloud.
  • Authored legislation to bring much needed improvements to the St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex.

Transportation

I support a long-term view of our transportation infrastructure. This means policymakers must use informed judgments to plan ahead for the most efficient use of our dollars. I believe we can leverage the state’s bonding power to finance needed improvements, such as the Interstate 94 corridor between St. Michael and St. Cloud. I’m also committed to working as hard as I can to bring regular, reliable commercial air service to the St. Cloud Regional Airport.

In the legislature, I supported the largest investment in roads and bridges in over a decade – without raising the gas tax or increasing tab fees. I do not support an increase to the gas tax. Instead, I believe we need to direct income from the motor vehicle lease tax, sales tax on auto parts, and rental car taxes into an account dedicated to road and bridge improvements.

Finally, I believe the Northstar Commuter Rail should be extended to St. Cloud if it can be done in a fiscally responsible manner. The line would ease the burden on our roads and reduce congestion in the metropolitan areas. This is a legitimate cost of government; however, these dollars must be spent efficiently and effectively. Last session, I successfully secured the funding needed to study the potential impacts on our communities and we are awaiting those results.

Taxes & spending

I believe in a government that spends within its means and respects our state’s hardworking taxpayers. We need to control government spending, so Minnesotans’ tax burdens do not interfere with growth. I support the use of ‘zero-based budgeting’ as one method to help control the explosive cost of state government and am proud to have supported extensive measures to root out fraud, waste, and abuse within government – including the waste and fraud present in the Department of Human Services Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).

I supported the first middle-class income tax rate cut in nearly two decades, conformity to the federal tax law, and further cuts to the income tax on Social Security benefits as we work to eliminate the tax altogether. Recognizing their enormous impacts on our communities, I also supported cuts to small business property taxes and authored reforms to homestead and estate tax provisions for farmers and landowners. I worked to reduce or eliminate the tax on sick people known as the Provider Tax and secured a reduction in that tax.

Jobs

Our economy depends on the small businesses that generate the majority of job growth. Removing regulatory barriers to the creation and growth of entrepreneurship – and reducing the tax burden placed on them – is critical for good, high paying jobs.

Jobs are going unfilled in the St. Cloud area primarily due to a lack of qualified people to fill them – and that’s why I’m a staunch supporter of career and technical education in our schools and other public-private partnerships that bring on-the-job training to all who want it.

Minnesota businesses pay a statewide property tax in addition to local property taxes. This places an additional burden not found in neighboring states on smaller businesses – and puts us at a real disadvantage. I support a reduction to, or elimination of, the statewide tax levy to make our state more attractive to small businesses. I also support expanding and simplifying well managed low-cost loans, tax credits, and similar incentive programs that provide needed startup capital and support for small businesses at little or no net cost to the public.

Human services

Protecting our most vulnerable populations and delivering critical services to them are two of the most essential services of government. I’m particularly passionate about this area, which comprises the second-largest portion of Minnesota’s biennial budget. I’m proud of the work I’ve done to root out the fraud, waste, and abuse that has permeated the state agency tasked with administering these programs for too long. I spearheaded the effort to tighten up benefit eligibility, called out the partisanship of the Human Services Inspector General’s Office, and authored extensive reforms to increase accountability and prosecute those responsible for fraud.

In addition, I’m the author of the state’s first increase to the Minnesota Family Investment Program in three decades – a bipartisan effort to bring long-overdue assistance to more than 90,000 families across Minnesota. I wrote the successful foster care ‘bill of rights’ to protect siblings in foster care, and I carried the bipartisan bill to expand the state’s Home Visit Grant program – a vital program for thousands of Minnesotans who need social, emotional, and health-related support for parenting infant children until age three. I co-sponsor the ‘Prenatal to Three Policy Initiative’, a bipartisan coalition that meets quarterly to formulate policy ideas in the Legislature and raise awareness for the importance of brain development in a child’s earliest years.

Named in honor of a brave young Minnesotan who spoke up to protect other kids, I proudly authored ‘McKenna’s Law’. The law makes sure children who are removed from their home and placed in foster care know their legal rights, including their right to speak to an attorney and personally attend court hearings.

Finally, recognizing the need for affordable childcare in our communities, I’ve worked to reduce the regulatory burden that was crippling many in-home childcare providers. I also wrote a bill to provide grants for childcare, particularly in our rural communities.

Policy focuses

I proudly serve on the:

  • Family Care and Aging Committee (Vice Chair)
  • Capital Investment Committee
  • Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee
  • Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee
  • Local Government Committee
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