Monthly Archives

March 2009

Whose Priority?

By | Education | No Comments

bullyingA recent newspaper editorial criticized a legislative committee for taking up a bill which further defines bullying in the public schools. The bill (SF971) would require school boards to develop policy for training educators on dealing with bullying, reporting such instances, and for instituting disciplinary action should it happen. The final sentence of the editorial wondered why, with a multi-billion dollar deficit, we would be discussing these types of issues.
While the budget crisis is real, rest assured, each finance and tax committee continues to work on a budget with a long term solution as our goal. Each week we discuss the budget through caucus or committee meetings, with local government officials, interest groups, and with constituents. But policy bills will continue to be on the table as well.
Bills like SF971 are not a trivial issue to those affected. It is not a trivial issue to the teen who quits school because they are victims of bullying and harassment. It is not a trivial issue to the openly gay teen who experiences abuse and intimidation on a daily basis. This legislation did not seem trivial to the testifier who shared the fact they had suicidal thoughts because of how insecure they felt in their particular school setting.
Quite often, an idea can take several years before it comes to the Capitol in bill form. Stakeholders meet over time to try to created good legislation or make improvements on existing law. A committee can kill a bill one year, but an improved policy bill can make headway the following year.
The budget remains our biggest concern at the legislature. But our citizens may have more personal concerns besides the budget, whether it involves health care, unemployment, foreclosure, consumer protection, college tuition, eminent domain, child safety, crime, or the quality of one’s education.
Minnesota citizens care about quality of life issues and often they turn to the legislature to meet those needs or perhaps as a last resort. They really help set our agenda. To turn them away or ignore their concerns would be a poor way to legislate.

Lows and Highs

By | Kevin Dahle MN Senate District 20 | No Comments

aThis was the week of highs and lows. I had a great bill up in the Commerce Committee on Tuesday that would have brought some badly needed oversight to the Payday Lending industry. So many good people worked on this bill since the last session, only to see it go down in flames on Tuesday. The bill would have allowed consumers to get three payday (short term) loans within a 6 month period. Inquiry into a fourth loan would have triggered a conventional loan allowing the consumer to pay off any debt in installments at much more reasonable interest rates. Payday loans are a booming industry where consumers find themselves caught in a debt trap that tends to spiral out of control. This bill would have offered an escape route for costumers beholden to an industry that is growing across the United States at an alarming rate. I feel I was on the right side of this issue. Unfortunately, fellow committee members did not agree.
On Thursday I presented a bill that attempt to level the playing field in eminent domain cases. Farmers and residents in the northern part of District 25 are up against CapX2020, a Public Utilities transmission line project that runs across Minnesota. In 2006, the Minnesota legislature enacted some changes to eminent domain laws that included several positive steps in trying to bring fairness and protections to property owners. Not only did they set the rules on the use of eminent domain for redevelopment activity, but they also tried to curb abusive practices that gave an unfair advantage to the condemning authority. While the law applies to cities, counties, and state governments…oddly, the law exempted Public Utilities. One of my testifiers shared his recent financial and emotional difficulties in negotiating with those Utility companies. This bill, SF1112, seeks to remove those exemptions. After some tough questioning and passionate testimony, the bill passed the Judiciary Committee.
Also on Thursday, I was allowed to chair the Education Committee. This was my first chance to hold the gavel and lead the discussion on a couple of bills. The last bill, involving an alternative teacher licensure plan, passed on a voice vote just before we adjourned before session.
It was a busy week with plenty of late nights as each committee tries to move policy bills before the March 27 deadline. Some bills will continue on while others fade away, leaving plenty of time for more highs and lows.

Careful Consideration

By | Economy, Le Sueur County, Rice County, Scott County, Sibley County | No Comments

state On Thursday, the Minnesota Senate set targets to resolve the budget deficit. Last week we received the final budget forecast which gives us the most accurate picture of the kind of revenue Minnesota can expect over the next several years. It may not come as a surprise to know that the news is not pretty. We are in one of the worst economic downturns in recent memory.
I would like to respond to my constituents who have criticized the legislature for not presenting its own budget in a timely manner. Every Senator and every Representative has been working on this issue from the start. There is a complex array of factors involved when making budget decisions that affect so many Minnesotans. Difficult and gut wrenching cuts will be made that affect our elderly, the disabled, our children, and the poor. Budgets impacting cities and towns, police and fire protection, libraries and homeless shelters are being considered. Farmers, veterans, small and large business owners, nurses, and college students will be affected. Each cut comes with tentacles that reach deep into other programs. We, as legislators, are not only listening to what the public has to say, but also striving to understand the consequences of each cut. Given the choice between a hastily assembled budget for expediency sake and one that represents deep consideration to those affected, I believe my constituents would prefer the latter.
Some have criticized our desire to take time and listen to Minnesotans as a meaningless excursion. I attended one of these sessions in Burnsville where nearly 300 citizens attended (6500 persons attended similar sessions statewide) to weigh in on the budget process, sharing their hopes and fears, concerns, and advice. The old, the young, the strong and the frail, and some of our most vulnerable citizens welcomed the opportunity to say a few words to members of the legislature. We listened. In a representative democracy, if we cease to listen, we cease to represent. That experience, more than anything, gave meaning to the tough decisions that stand before us.
The Senate DFL plan balances the budget and addresses the long-term budget problems. It does not raid the Health Care Access Fund that providers pay into to help those who have difficulty paying their medical bills. Seven percent across-the-board cuts ensure that no one group unfairly shoulders the entire burden. Our difficult choices will save owners from increased property taxes, which have skyrocketed to almost 70% from 2002-2008, mainly because of cuts in Local Government Aid.
I have never criticized the Governor’s budget. There may be much I do not agree with, but I realize that we will need to recognize the same factors that went behind his decisions as we hope he does ours. These difficult economic times call for compromise and cooperation and the opportunity for all citizens to have a say in the process every step of the way. In two months the legislature will adjourn. We welcome input from Minnesotans on proposed solutions. As we have done so successfully in the past…let’s figure this out together.

Tuesday

By | Education, Energy, Health Care, Kevin Dahle MN Senate District 20, Le Sueur County, Scott County, Sibley County, Transportation | No Comments

It has been a busy time at the Capitol, but Tuesday March 10 was especially hectic. Tuesdays are typically full. I have committee meetings scheduled throughout the day, but on this day five of my own bills were moved in several committees. The day went like this:

• 7:30am – Rural Caucus: discussed the State budget and the Green Acres bill, scheduled to go to the floor of the Senate on Thursday.
• 8:30am – Education Committee: bill on Mandate reductions
• 9:28am – I have a bill up in the Tax Committee to increase the LGA (Local Government Aid) for Green Isle, a town in my district…the bill passes committee.
• 9:45am – Back to the Education Committee in time to defeat a provision in the Mandate bill that would have cut teacher prep time 80% in future contract years.
• 11:03am – Step out of committee to meet with some friends from Faribault representing the Friendship House which serves adults with mental disabilities.
• 11:20am – Freshman DFL Caucus with Senate leadership – discussed the budget
• 12:05am – Grab a bag of chips and a Diet Coke for lunch. Discuss bills and afternoon schedule with Legislative Assistant.
• 12:30am – Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee meets. We discussed bills related to Homeowner Insurance and Health Care Insurance coverage.
• 1:12pm – Run to the Transportation Committee. I have a bill that keeps Hwy 19 in New Prague closed one weekend in Sept. for the Dozinky Festival. Bill passes.
• 1:35pm – Back to the Commerce Committee where I present a technical bill on behalf of the Commerce Department which updates statutes relating to measurements and the definition of biofuels. Bill passes out of committee.
• 2:15pm – Meet with constituents representing the Pork Producers in my office
• 2:30pm – Called my wife to see how my daughter’s allergy appointment went.
• 3:00pm – Energy, Utilities, Technology, and Communications Committee – Presented two bills on behalf of the Public Utilities Commission, dealing with technical changes and consumer refunds for unlawful charges by Utility companies. Both passed out of committee. Heard a bill dealing with refunds for unauthorized cell phone use from a lost cell phone.
• 5:00pm – Just enough time to run across the street to the Kelly Inn to meet with the Snowmobilers Association. Chatted with constituents from Faribault and New Prague.
• 6:45pm – Commerce Committee reconvenes to discuss the Homeowners- Lender Mediation Act. After a thorough discussion, the bill passes out of committee.
• 8:45pm – Drove home in icy, windy, and snowy conditions.

While Tuesday was busy, there will be longer and even busier days ahead.

March-ing Forward

By | Economy, Education, Energy | No Comments

capitol-innardsWith the recently announced budget forecast projecting a $6.4 billion deficit, each week takes on a new sense of urgency. With the target established, developing a budget solution remains at the forefront of committee and caucus discussions. However, we continue to discuss other issues – meeting with constituents and citizens to hear their concerns and hopes for the session.
This week, in the committees on which I serve, we have heard testimony regarding a wide range of issues; these include community based energy development, reverse mortgages, statewide teachers health insurance, and K-12 testing and assessments. In the context of our budget crisis we carefully weigh the pros and cons of specific legislation keeping in mind the short and long term implications.
One of the best parts of my job is visiting with the dozens of people each week representing multiple interests. This week I visited with volunteer firefighters, persons representing the Mill Towns trail, labor unions, nursing homes, energy and utility companies, local high school and college students, home school students, landscapers and arborists, and local farmers, to name a few. These concerned citizens weigh in on current or proposed legislation, share concerns about budget cuts, or stop in just to say hello.
While the legislature continues to do the work of the people, their input is invaluable in helping us reach our goal: crafting a balanced budget, passing meaningful legislation, and completing our work on time. We appreciate your help.