Monthly Archives

February 2015

Safe Roads Safe Communities

By | Transportation | No Comments

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

By | Agriculture, Education, Environment | No Comments

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.


More for Long term Care

By | Health Care | No Comments

Last week I visited the Millstream Commons Assisted living facility in Northfield.  Over the years, I have visited several long term care facilities and nursing homes in my district.  Meeting and talking with the administrators and staff in these facilities is always illuminating.  It is also emotional and from a policy perspective, it is frustrating.  As a state, we need to do more to support these workers and these facilities.

Two years ago, the Minnesota legislature passed the “5% campaign” which gave a 5% increase in state funding to our long term care facilities statewide.  Last year, we passed another 5% increase to community based care facilities that support individuals with special needs.  That was a start.  We barely made a dent in addressing the long term fiscal health of these facilities.

Workers once again shared their stories of low pay while administrator spoke of the difficulty in attracting and retaining quality workers.  One employee is holding 3 jobs to make ends meet for her family.  Workers with years of experience talked about how little their pay has increased since they were hired over 2 decades ago.  Workers are lost to grocery stores or restaurants that pay better, even at a starting wage. How does this profession attract new employees thinking about a career in health care?

We should be concerned.  Many long term care facilities are losing money and turning clients away.  As our parents and grandparents mature and the need for care increases, facilities in my district and across Minnesota struggle to meet the demands.  The state’s funding mechanism is broken leading to inequities and a lack of adequate services across the state.

These employees are passionate about the work they do.  They love working with the clients they serve. They are doing everything they can to provide the best quality of life for them.  We need to focus on fixing the funding formula, increasing long term care worker’s wages, and ensuring adequate options for people and families across the state.  We can and must do more.


Letting Our Youth Have a Say

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Last Friday I had the pleasure of presenting a bill before the Minnesota Youth Council’s January committee meeting held here in the State Office Building.  This is one of several legislative meetings planned by The Youth Council, an initiative of the Minnesota Alliance with Youth. In 2013 I passed a bill to give standing to the Minnesota Youth Council as a legislative committee that would provide advice and recommendations to the legislature and the governor.  The Council focuses on issues affecting youth, to serve as a liaison for youth around the state to the legislature and the governor; and submit an annual report of the council’s activities and goals.  The committee consists of four members from each congressional district in the state and four members selected at large. Members are selected through an application and interview process conducted by the Minnesota Alliance with Youth. Members, of diverse backgrounds, are between ages of 13 and 19 of and serve two-year terms.  This is an excellent opportunity is to engage young people and allow them to practice important leadership skills for civic engagement, policy research, and to really understand how the legislative process works.

My bill, SF 76, was one of 5 bills presented that day.  The bill would allow school districts to levy for long term deferred maintenance projects.  Currently, the largest 25 school districts receive this “alternative facilities revenue” and my bill would extend that revenue option to the other 300 plus districts around the state.  The 30 students at the committee table asked great questions about my bill, eventually calling for a roll call vote.  My bill passed and I gained some valuable insight on what students were thinking as it related to school facilities and how we work to try and maintain them.  Other Senators and representative presented their bills on varying topics ranging from health care, higher education, and workforce development.  You could tell the students relished the opportunity to interact with legislators, on real bills, in a real committee room.

As a high school teacher for the past 31 years, I know that our young people have a lot to offer.  They love to discuss the issues of the day and they all have opinions to share.  I have noticed over the years that some of the best testifiers in our committees come from our youth.  They tell it like it is offering a glimpse into their life challenges and experiences.  As legislators we would do well to consider how our legislation affects all Minnesotans, young and old.  Our policies we put in place now have long term ramifications.  Let’s be sure to allow the next generation to weigh in every once in a while.   I look forward to future committee meetings with the Minnesota Youth Council.