With June already half over, summer is in full swing as area high school and college students enjoy some time away from the classroom. For area students looking to pursue careers in a skilled trade sector, great news was recently announced in St. Paul. Last Friday, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry announced that a collaborative from Goodhue County, consisting of local school districts, Minnesota State Southeast and Red Wing Ignite, has been awarded a Youth Skills Training grant totaling $95,000.
It's hard to believe that little over a week remains until our constitutionally required session adjournment date of May 21. We started session with two clear priorities: addressing tax conformity and vetting various bonding projects to address critical infrastructure needs.
Addressing the rising health care costs Minnesota families face is a top priority of mine. In 2017, we passed an emergency premium relief refund program, as well as a reinsurance bill to help stabilize the individual insurance market. In 2018, it's critical that we continue our efforts to lower costs and ensure access — particularly in rural Minnesota.
Since last month's tragic shooting at a Florida high school, our nation has grieved the loss of 17 innocent lives. I can't imagine the pain and heartbreak loved ones are facing. In the wake of this tragedy, school safety is an increasingly pressing issue before the Minnesota Legislature this session.
In a previous column, I discussed the preliminary rates that were released by the Department of Commerce for the 2018 individual health insurance market. The reforms that were passed during the 2017 legislative session helped end a four-year run of double-digit premium increases (nearly 60 percent last year) and helped stabilize the market.
In this column I want to share an update on health insurance rates, tax benefits for the start of the school year, and a new program to promote high school apprenticeships. Health insurance One of the major concerns for residents in our region has been the rising cost of health insurance. I've written before about our legislative efforts to address this crisis and I want to update you on the initial impact we are seeing.
A common theme between the 2016 campaign and the 2017 legislative session is health insurance affordability. While Washington D.C. has had difficulty trying to enact reforms to our health insurance system, St. Paul has experienced some success. The Minnesota Premium Security Plan, which passed both the House and the Senate and has become law, is aimed at stabilizing premiums by lessening the impact of high-risk individuals on the individual health insurance market.
It has been a very productive first few months of the 2017 legislative session. With the news of an increased budget surplus, now totaling $1.65 billion, the speaker of the House and committee chairs have begun to craft the budget. In addition to continued work on health insurance reform, we are committed to supporting transportation needs and providing tax relief to hardworking families. While we work on the budget, we are also focused on policy reforms that help our students, families and businesses succeed.
My first two weeks at the Capitol have been exciting and productive. I want to thank you all again for electing me to serve you in St. Paul. It has been a great honor thus far.