For the first time in my life, I attended yesterday a Minnesota House of Representatives committee meeting. I had no idea what to expect, but I was not prepared for it to be so depressing. Before I get to why that was, let me explain why I was there.
On December 27, I wrote in this blog about volunteering to be a bill tracker for a group called Indivisible Minnesota Local, which aims to mobilize public support for progressive legislation at the Minnesota State Capitol. Of course, we will also mobilize public opposition to bills we don’t like. It has volunteers, like me, who track bills. When a bill needs public support or opposition, an alert email is distributed to a large list of progressive individuals and organizations to encourage people to contact their legislators about the bill.
I have volunteered to track bills in the House of Representatives education committees. Another person is tracking bills in the Senate education committees. I have learned so much about the legislative process in the past three weeks. My education started by watching this video about how a bill becomes a law in Minnesota. Then I went to the Minnesota State Legislator website to read about the committees and register to receive committee emails. I learned that there are three House education committees: Education Policy, Education Finance, and Higher Education.
Yesterday, I attended a joint meeting of the Education Policy and Education Finance committees. The topic was the challenge that schools have dealing with students with mental health issues and the need for more mental and behavioral health services. Schools throughout Minnesota are understaffed for social workers, counselors, and nurses.
The committee members listened to testimony from professionals in the area of childhood mental health and from a first-grade teacher, a nurse, a counselor, and a social worker. All of them described the challenges they face. Here is a fun fact for you: 20% of youths ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition. You can read more about yesterday’s committee meeting here.
I was impressed by Cheryl Youakim, Chair of Education Policy, and Jim Davnie, Chair of Education Finance. They kept the meeting moving and were respectful to other committee members and to the people giving testimony. It was a very informative meeting.
The meeting was depressing because there are so many students with mental health conditions and so little money to fund additional staff. On the positive side, I got a chance to introduce myself to Ms. Youakim and Mary Kunesh-Podein, Vice Chair of the Education Policy Committee, and explain why I was there. They were pleased with my interest in their committee and hoped that I might help them get some bills passed in this year’s legislative session. I hope so too.