The 2018 Minnesota legislative session begins Feb. 20.
In an effort to hear what their constituents are concerned about and what they can be working on during the session, District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls and District 16B Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska held a series of town hall meetings in the area.
That included a stop at city hall in Redwood Falls Jan. 26.
How the session unfolds this year will have a lot to do with the first few days. After a contentious end to the 2017 session that resulted in Gov. Mark Dayton cutting off funding for the legislative body, an ensuing battle in the courts, and failed mediation between the governor and the legislature, Dahms said there was no real cut and dried decision about the governor’s veto.
The issue made it all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, added Dahms, who said in the end the courts determined not to do anything.
“As we begin the session the first action will be to reinstate the funding for the legislative body,” said Dahms. “The governor said he will sign it.”
Torkelson said the hope is that the governor will not use this as leverage to get something that he wants, adding for the session to be productive there needs to be a level of trust that will be gained if he signs the funding bill.
Dahms added as the session begins majority control in the Senate is up in the air, as one member of the Senate has resigned, and an election is being held to determine who will serve in that role.
In addition, with the move of Tina Smith from the role of lieutenant governor to that of U.S. Senator, the lieutenant governor seat opened up.
According to state law, the President of the Senate becomes lieutenant governor when that post is vacated.
Dahms said this has happened in the past, and in those cases the leader of the Senate has been able to maintain both positions, and the current leader in that role wants to do that as well.
However, the final decision on whether or not one person can hold both roles is still to be determined. A change of one seat could alter the outcome of what happens in the Senate, said Dahms.
While these issues will be sorted out in the early days of the session, the bigger picture for the session is what is known as the capital investment bill, also known as the bonding bill.
During the legislative session held in the second year of a biennium, the primary task of the legislature is to determine the amount funding it will borrow for projects across the state.
As always, said Dahms, there is more money coming in the form of requests than there will be in dollars that are available, which means a lot of work will be done the capital investment committees to narrow down that amount and do what is best for the state.
Torkelson said one issue that will have to be dealt with this year is the outcomes for the state related to the tax bill approved at the federal level.
“There are substantive changes coming down to states as a result of that tax bill,” said Torkelson.
Torkelson, who serves as chair of the House transportation committee, said another issue that came up last year and will likely be addressed again this year is ditch mowing on state roads.
“For years farmers have been mowing these ditches,” said Torkelson, adding leadership in the department of transportation determined that needed to be regulated. “I believe the farmers who have been mowing these ditches are doing the state a favor. I am hoping that we can just get back to what was being done.”
Torkelson and Dahms believe one of the topics for discussion will be the issues the public is facing when they go to license centers and try to do things like transfer titles.
“The state paid $93 million for a program that was supposed to streamline this work,” said Torkelson. “That has not happened. In fact, it seems to have gotten worse. That is disappointing to me.”
Those attending the forum had the opportunity to raise concerns, with topics, such as the buffer law and broadband addressed. One of the major issues discussed was the childcare crisis.
“If you look back 10 years you will see that we had a lot of very good childcare providers then. The program was working well,” said Dahms. “However, greed came into the picture, as some of the larger providers were looking to try and unionize daycare.”
As that plan to create a childcare union progressed, some of those quality providers opted to step out of the industry when they saw what all of that would entail for them.
Although the vote to unionize childcare failed, the effort had a negative impact on the industry, said Dahms.
In addition, Dahms said the state department of health and human services has implemented a number of rules and regulations hampering the efforts of people who are trying to run a daycare.
“We all want our children and grandchildren to be safe at their daycare,” said Dahms, “but there are a lot of unnecessary rules that are keeping the providers who just want to take care of children from doing that. There is so much paperwork they have to do, and we need to find a way to back that off.”
Dahms said the childcare crisis is getting on the radar of more members of the legislature, as it is starting to hit more of the larger, more metro areas of the state.
Torkelson added the recent announcement that the University of Minnesota is talking about closing its childcare facility that has been in existence for decades is going to bring this issue to the surface even more. That, he said, should be a good thing.
“We need to reduce the regulations and make it more feasible for people who want to provide daycare,” said Torkelson.
While the state announced a $188 million deficit in its November forecast, Dahms said he is confident that number will change before the forecast comes out this month.
In fact, he thinks that the economic improvement that has been seen in recent months across the nation will be reflected in a forecast that shows a small surplus for Minnesota.
Torkelson and Dahms both said they know there are many other issues that will come up as the session begins, and they encouraged everyone to contact them with any concerns they have during the session. They can call, e-mail or mail in their concerns.