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Transparency and Good Governance
Published On: 26th March 2015 | Published By: Kevin Dahle For Senate

Often times, good bills come to me from a constituent who shares their concerns or ideas on how to improve our communities and our state. Recently, I have been working on an issue that came to me after a few concerned citizens brought it to my attention. Publicly-owned municipal utilities, including the Municipal Power Agencies (MPAs) that provide energy to Le Sueur and New Prague in our district, do not have to comply with the Data Practices Act or open-meeting law that keeps public entities transparent and accountable.

Under current law, municipal utility companies are not regulated by the Public Utilities Commission or any other state body when it comes to public access. While perfectly acceptable for a private company, this can present a problem in a public setting: for example, publicly elected officials appointed to the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency board for Le Sueur, Shakopee, North St. Paul, and other cities are required to sign strict confidentiality agreements and cannot share anything discussed at board meetings with their constituents. This government-sponsored censoring of our elected officials and public servants should not be allowed to continue. I am not alone in my concern. Several mayors of Minnesota cities and representatives from Minnesota newspapers have reached out to me in support of municipal utility company transparency.

Municipal power agencies provide an invaluable service to dozens of Minnesota cities, and can be a good option for a city looking to provide affordable energy to their citizens. Certainly not all MPAs have engaged in dubious behavior, but the public should be allowed to examine the actions of those who are ultimately accountable to the voters.

It is true that MPAs are technically following the law, as a 1998 Minnesota Supreme Court decision narrowly ruled to exempt MPAs from the Open Meeting Law and the Data Practices Act. This is why I have authored a bill to clarify Minnesotans’ expectations for these agencies, requiring them to follow the same laws that allow the public and media to access school board meetings, the city council, and even the state legislature.

As the dissenting opinion from that same case argued, “Cities are not required to join together to form publicly-owned electrical utilities, but if they do, those publicly-owned entities should not automatically be entitled to a level of secrecy in doing business that other government entities are not accorded.” Increasing opportunities for discussion and public input in a utility that is formed by other elected bodies can only further the goal of serving the public good.

My bill has the support of many in the Senate, but unfortunately the House version of the bill has not been granted a hearing, stalling the bill in both chambers. This inaction is perpetuated by the widespread belief that Minnesotans do not face a problem in this regard. In fact, the website of the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association (the organization that lobbies for MPAs) falsely claims they are subject to the very transparency laws they ignore.

The core of good government is accountability and transparency, and from my perspective these organizations have neither. Anything can happen behind closed doors, and the checks and balances so critical to our democracy cannot happen without transparency. This should not be a partisan issue; it is time for legislation to correct this oversight, and to make sure these government agencies are truly accountable, especially to the people they serve.



Town Hall Meetings 2015
Published On: 10th March 2015 | Published By: Kevin Dahle For Senate

This past Saturday, I concluded two weekends of town meetings across Senate District 20.  Both Representative Bob Vogel (20A) and Representative David Bly (20B) accompanied me in their respective town meetings in libraries and restaurants in the eight communities we visited.  We enjoyed hearing from constituents as they provided input on the policy and budget issues we are discussing here at the midpoint of the 2015 legislative session.

Good dialogue on wide ranging topics were held.  Folks shared their thoughts on the budget surplus, health care, education, property taxes, and buffer zones on agricultural land.  We talked about pensions, climate change, renewable energy standards, and the scope of government.  A young teacher from New Prague passionately expressed his opposition to the “last in first out” legislation which he viewed as another attack on his profession.  Nursing home workers from LeSueur implored the legislature to fix the nursing home funding inequities that exist in our state.  Others argued for the need for a reasonable funding solution to fixing our roads and bridges and the state’s long term transportation needs.

I always enjoy face to face meetings.  In nearly every instance, pointed questions moved easily to productive dialogue and a better understanding of shared concerns.  Democrats, Republicans, and Independents left the meeting with handshakes and thank yous, with better insight on our positions and thoughts on the issues of the day or how the legislative process works.

I thank those community members who took the time to stop by to share their thoughts and concerns.  I look forward to our next meeting.



Renewable Energy Standard for the Future
Published On: 5th March 2015 | Published By: Kevin Dahle For Senate

In 2007, a broad coalition made up of entrepreneurs, businesses, labor, environmentalists, concerned citizens, and legislators came together to pass a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) for Minnesota.  That historic legislation required 25% of our electricity come from renewables such as wind, solar, and biomass resources.  The bill passed the Minnesota House and Senate with only 13 of 201 legislators voting against it.  Governor Pawlenty signed the bill into law and Minnesota became a national clean energy leader.

The current Renewable Energy Standard has been a huge success and has created thousands of clean energy jobs in our state.  Employment in clean energy sectors reached 15,300 in 2014.  Clean energy employment in Minnesota surged 78% between January 2000 and the first quarter of 2014, growing steadily through the recession.  The RES has resulted in nearly $9.4 million in wind energy production tax revenue that is paid directly to counties, primarily in Greater Minnesota and land use agreements have a generated millions of dollars of revenue for Minnesota farmers. Many utilities are already several years ahead of schedule in meeting the 2007 RES requirements.  Despite these impressive numbers, Minnesota is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

A few weeks ago, I introduced legislation that would increase the existing RES to 40% by 2030.  Currently, we get 15% of our energy from renewables, but we are using only 1% of our wind potential.  In addition, compliance with Minnesota’s existing RES has been affordable.  The state’s largest 3 utilities, representing 80% of Minnesota’s retail electricity sales, reported little impact on wages as a result of their renewable energy investments through 2012.  As wind and solar prices have dropped, several utilities have even reported savings in some years, particularly when natural gas prices have spiked.

Raising the RES is beneficial to the economy, creates jobs, reduces Minnesota’s reliance on imported electricity, benefits public health, and helps preserve our precious earth and its resources.  We are on the right trajectory to meet those goals established nearly 8 years ago.  The rules and the structure are already in place.  Increasing our renewable energy standard will send us on our way to a truly, clean, reliable, and sustainable energy future.

 



Safe Roads Safe Communities
Published On: 24th February 2015 | Published By: Kevin Dahle For Senate

One by one they told their stories.  At least 4 Latino community members from Northfield shared their experiences with the nearly 300 people in attendance at St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in Northfield on a recent cold Sunday afternoon.  The event, “Safe Roads, Strong Communities” served as a Rice County “Faith Summit” sponsored by the inter-faith public policy organization ISAIAH whose long term goals are economic and racial equity for the entire state of Minnesota.

Senators Jensen and Representative Bly joined me on stage in support of a bill that would insure ensure all persons access to a driver’s license.  The bill authors, Senator Bobby Joe Champion (DFL – Minneapolis) and Representative Rod Hamilton (R – Mountain Lake) believe that Minnesota should adhere to the principal of “one state, one license” where all residents, regardless of immigration status, be eligible for a driver’s license.  Ten states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico currently offer driver’s licenses to all residents who apply.  This same bill passed in the Minnesota Senate in 2013 but stalled in the House.  We believe this bill should get a vote in both chambers in 2015.

The American Civil Liberties Union came out in support of expanding the expansion of the granting of licenses as a way of combating racial discrimination of drivers.  Many in our Hispanic communities end up driving illegally.  By establishing driver licenses for everyone, we also ask them to respond to safety guidelines on our streets and roads. In addition to creating safer roads, we can give our neighbors and our fellow community members’ access to jobs, or perhaps a better vehicles and of course better compliance in securing automobile insurance.  This is an important issue for our Latino communities who currently live with the constant fear of being arrested or fear deportation.  These folks do pay taxes and should be able to drive on our roads and bridges that are funded by tax dollars. In addition, the law actually helps raise revenue for the states who that have implemented it.

This Faith summit was a positive first step in raising awareness on an important issue in our communities.  It asked that we, in our role as legislators, publicly support the bill and continue our efforts to ensure its passage.  As a Senator, a driver education instructor, and as a concerned member of our larger community, I see this as sensible legislation that brings us together for the betterment of our towns, cities, and state.  Our Latino friends and neighbors are counting on us.



Meeting our Agriculture Needs
Published On: 17th February 2015 | Published By: Kevin Dahle For Senate

Every Tuesday morning, since I have been here at the Capitol, rural legislators gather for a 7:30am meeting to talk about issues affecting rural Minnesota.  Senator Stumpf, a member of the Minnesota legislature since 1980, typically directs our discussion.  Sometimes we talk about individual bills we are carrying related to greater Minnesota.  Often times, committee chairs (rural or not) are brought in to talk about larger budget or policy bills that have broader implications for out-state Minnesota. Last week the Governor stopped by and took questions from the dozen or so Senators in attendance.  Today, Jerry Schoenfeld, former legislator and lobbyist for several ag groups stopped by to talk to us about several ag related issues.  One of those issues was the need to expand and retain agricultural education in Minnesota.

This issue has come up in several conversations I have had recently.  This past Saturday I met with folks in New Prague who represented several groups, including Corn and Soybean Growers, Farm Bureau, Turkey Growers, along with Bruce Mathiowetz, an agriculture teacher from Belle Plaine High School.  Concerns about the shortage of qualified agricultural educators, the impact it is having on high school vocational education programs and co-curricular activities and long-term impacts on agriculture were shared.

We should consider expanding the routes to obtain an agricultural education license.  University ag entrance requirements are rigorous.  Until recently, only the Univ. of Minnesota offers such a program and while 120 students applied to get in, they only accepted 12 students.  Those 12-15 students who graduate from the program annually do not typically end up teaching.  They are lured away by higher paying jobs in big agriculture, such as Monsanto or Cargill.  Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall just launched a new Bachelor’s degree program in Agriculture Education.  This is a welcome addition to our MNSCU offerings.

Senate File 820 (Senator Sparks) does offer some assistance on this this issue. It would pump almost $30 million into rebuilding our commitment to ag research and another $4.8 million for ag education including the Education Leadership Council, farm business management, mentoring programs, graduate debt forgiveness, and high school programs.  I am also co-authoring a bill (Senator Jensen is chief author) that would establish education grants to further expand and retain agricultural education in Minnesota.

Today, the education committee, on which I serve, talked about the need for robust Career Technical Education (CTE) in our schools.  Ag education was frequently mentioned as a necessary part of the CTE curriculum.  Some other offerings include architecture and construction, business management, family and consumer sciences. We also are well aware of the challenges in maintaining these programs due to funding, teacher supply, lack of equipment, lack of flexibility in the student school day, or lack of flexibility in regard to class choice option or dual credit option related to post-secondary education.  These are all areas we need to address as we consider long term planning to ensure our students and our workforce get what they need.

 



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