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End of Session
Published On: 17th May 2015 | Published By: Kevin Dahle For Senate

With the end of this year’s legislative session fast approaching, the final touches on our state’s two-year budget are swiftly coming to a conclusion. While the Governor, Senate, and House leaders have been negotiating a high-level agreement, other elected officials (including myself) have been working harder than ever to promote the policies we have championed throughout the five month session.

It is no secret that my major legislative focus has been on education. As I’ve written before, preparing the youngest Minnesotans for a successful life after high school is one of the most important things we can do as a state. By the time of this printing, I expect the House and the Senate to be deep in the final stages of assembling our final education omnibus bills. The Senate has come to the table with a set of proposals that take steps to strengthen Minnesota’s students and economy for decades.

Of course, any final deal will incorporate House proposals put forward by the Republican and Democratic Representatives, as well as proposals from Senators of both parties. Many of the news stories reporting on the end of session focus on points of strong disagreement, but despite inevitable conflict on some issues, the two parties agree on much of what must be done for Minnesota schools. Expanding the state’s successful concurrent enrollment program for high school students to earn college credits is just one example. Plans to reduce the number of tests we give to students and to further strengthen teacher development and evaluation also find wide bipartisan support, and I expect these kinds of initiatives to be signed into law.

In other cases, the difference between the House and Senate come down to a matter of scale. While everyone at the table wants to increase the funding formula for schools, how much we allocate to that formula has been a long-standing discussion. Everything from a .5% increase to a 1% boost has been officially proposed, with some Senators joining me to push for a 2% or 3% increase that would keep our schools from losing staff and programs to inflation. Similarly, the facilities funding bill I have brought forward might receive a minimal amount of funding, or could be scaled-up to give our school districts significant resources to fix and modernize our aging infrastructure.

As a member of the conference committee tasked with putting together the education finance and policy bills, I will work hard to ensure that our students and our schools get the support they need and deserve. While it is too early to say for certain what will happen, I am confident that Minnesota’s elected officials will settle on a resolution that will be good news for students, families, and schools across our state.


As the session ends, I will be spending more of my time in the district again to share what the Legislature has accomplished this year and to hear your feedback. If you have questions about anything the Senate has done or thoughts on how we can keep moving Minnesota forward, please contact me. I can only be an effective representative for you if I hear your thoughts and concerns, and I promise to remain accessible in the legislative “off-season.” Thank you for following the political ups and downs of the last several months. It has been an honor to serve you in the Minnesota Senate.

Education Omnibus Bill
Published On: 4th May 2015 | Published By: Kevin Dahle For Senate

Education at Forefront of Legislative Session

 As a long-time teacher and as a parent, education is often at the forefront of my mind. As a legislator, my energies can become scattered between the Avian Flu outbreak, funding for nursing homes, and the hundreds of bills that come across my desk, but the legislature’s work on education is always at the core of why and how I serve.

This Wednesday, the legislature took up two important bills that will shape how our schools are financed and managed. The Education Policy and Finance Omnibus bills both passed the Senate after healthy discussion, and I am confident that both bills make important steps toward making our schools the strongest in the nation.

As I have mentioned in the past, my major initiative to better finance maintenance needs for our crumbling school buildings in Minnesota is included in this bill. Another appropriation will address the state’s shamefully low number of counselors and support staff in Minnesota schools, and funding for career and technical education will help to bridge the gap between high school and the workforce.

One of the big themes this session is the importance of early childhood education, and I’m pleased to report that the Senate has earmarked $65 million to significantly expand our state’s school readiness model. This will allow Minnesota to increase its support of publicly funded pre-school programs, allowing parents more flexibility while giving our youngest learners a stronger start. Programs like these are proven to reduce our achievement gap and help at-risk Minnesotans prepare for Kindergarten.

There is still more we must do.  We must address the inadequate level of funding currently earmarked for the general fund formula. I have held discussions with leadership and my committee members to share concerns that we are not doing enough for students. A 1% increase over each of the next two years doesn’t even match inflation, so my colleagues and I will continue to work with Governor Dayton and others to ensure our schools don’t have to cut staff and programs while the state enjoys a budget surplus. The final budget number has yet to be determined, but unfortunately the House proposal contains an even lower funding level than the already-modest Senate version. House provisions that include tax cuts for the wealthy and one-time funding for transportation threatens to eat away at available general fund dollars. We will have to fight hard to ensure our schools remain strong.

Despite some inevitable disagreement, there was strong bipartisan agreement among Senators on many provisions. The Education Omnibus Policy bill passed with an overwhelming 53-13 vote, and will bring reforms to teacher licensure, raise student accountability, and reduce the number of tests that burden students and get in the way of actual teaching time.

I will be appointed to the Education Conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills. It is my goal to work with them and build on the strong bills passed by the Senate this week.  Together we must continue to make good progress toward our shared goal of strong schools and successful students.


“Will Work for Change”
Published On: 20th April 2015 | Published By: Kevin Dahle For Senate

“Will Work for Change,” emblazoned the yellow tee-shirts of about 25 students from the Social Work program at St. Olaf College, at the Capitol this past Monday. They joined about 700 other undergraduate students from colleges around the state to talk to us about specific legislative policies that truly make a difference in people’s lives. Unfortunately, these occupations don’t offer a great salary, underscoring the passion these young men and women have for a career choice that satisfies them in so many other ways. These students have a clear desire to empower individuals and advocate for their well-being within the communities in which they live. Minnesota would benefit immensely from many more young service-oriented professionals like them. Unfortunately, few follow a professional path in this direction because a common theme spans social work and related career fields: low wages and worker shortages. This was reinforced at recent meetings with nursing home workers at a meeting in Owatonna and a town hall meeting for persons with disabilities in Faribault.  Potential employees take better paying jobs at hospitals and clinics or choose other career options perpetuating the problem.

Providing high quality community services requires not just social workers, but also transit drivers, housekeepers, cooks, crisis managers, medical care providers, not to mention those who help with bathing and dressing. The people who work these jobs are passionate, caring people who love their clients and the sense of purpose it brings them. Unfortunately, they really do work for “change,” averaging just $11.55/hour with many making much less. Too often, low wages lead to higher turnover, which reduces the quality of care. The people who want to do this work are out there, but low pay is a severe barrier to continuing their careers. Too often, they don’t even start because of it.

My soon to be 16-year-old daughter will be looking for a summer job in the next month or so. I suggested she consider one of our local care facilities, hoping she would learn some of the skills that come with a tough job that provides dignity, safety, and hope to our community members. She looked at me quizzically and mumbled something about a job at a cash register with flexible hours. When a retail job can earn just as much or even more, it was difficult for me to make a compelling case for this industry to someone just entering the workforce. Of course, we need retail employees too, but I have concerns about the future of our seniors, people with disabilities, and our community’s most vulnerable. Unless we address the low pay and the current funding model for our counties, nursing homes, and home and community-based services, we will face a crisis within a few short years. Some would argue we have already reached that crisis point.

Listening to social workers, care providers, nurses, administrators, and others share their passion for their rewarding careers reinforces the need that we as a state must do more. The quality of life of our seniors and citizens with disabilities depends on it. There are bills in legislature that offer solutions. They include Medical Assistance reform and another 5% campaign (increasing compensation to care providers). The time is now. I applaud those who really do “work for change.”


Rice County Drug Court
Published On: 8th April 2015 | Published By: Kevin Dahle For Senate

This past Thursday I sat in on a weekly convening of the Rice County Drug Court.  The Rice County Drug Court (RCDC) was established in July of 2014 joining several counties that have started drug courts as way to ensure offender accountability, improve efficiencies in processing drug cases, and  reduce overall social and economic costs of illegal drug activity to society. Most importantly, the RCDC hopes to establish and support a pathway to success for each participant.

On this particular afternoon, young men and women each took their turn standing before Judge Thomas Neuville, each sharing the challenges of the past week while the judge asked questions about a job, their treatment program, family matters, or other personal reflections.  Each participant handed over a journal with entries specific to their challenges of staying clean and chemical free.  The judge takes the time to read these journals weekly and provides written notes to the participants with the goal of ensuring compliance and regular feedback about expectations, not only from the judge, but other supporters including the county attorney, the drug court administrator, parole officers, social workers, and chemical and mental health advocates.   Other aspects of the program include required drug treatment, possible electronic monitoring, and random drug testing. Later phases of the program allow successful participants to meet bi-weekly or even monthly as long as the rules of the RCDC are being followed.

Not everyone “graduates” from the drug court.  A successful program can save the state money in the long run.  The courts are less crowded and many young people can avoid lengthy prison terms.  Success relies on positive enforcement strategies. For example, after each participant shares their few minutes with the judge, he announces “how many days” the participant has been chemical free.  This cues everyone in the courtroom to applaud.  Judge Neuville acknowledged the need for a “different set of skills” for this type of courtroom and participant interaction.  But, building these relationships focused on participant reflection helps guide the phases to successful conclusions.  These offenders need the support to stay drug free and on productive and relevant in our communities.  A recent offender who fell out of the program found his way in front of Judge Neuville in the regular court proceeding knowing he would now face a prison sentence.  His first words to the judge were “I’m sorry. He knew he had let the judge down.

I hope we can fund the Drug Court through the judicial budget.  It is an innovative approach in reducing the adverse impact of serious and repeat offenders on the citizens and criminal justice system in Rice and other counties while creating a system that is more effective for participants.  And it seems to be working.

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.

Vote Kevin Dahle 2012