Agendas filling as legislative session nears
Funding for Dakota County Technical College, pedestrian safety on Farmington roads, lower prices for natural gas and the reduction of bullying in schools are all on the minds of local legislators as the 2014 session of the Minnesota Legislature draws near.
The session doesn’t start until next week, but the pace of meetings is already starting to pick up at the capitol, and the delegations from Farmington and Rosemount are making plans for agendas that include issues with both local and statewide focus.
At the local level, Sen. Greg Clausen and Rep. Anna Wills both say they support a request in the state’s bonding bill to provide $7.6 million for the second phase of a renovation project at Dakota County Technical College. The first phase, which focused on the school’s automotive and welding programs, was completed last fall. The second phase would focus on transportation and emerging technology programs.
“I think that’s an excellent use of bonding dollars, because it’s allowing us to have cutting-edge classes,” Wills said.
Wills toured the completed first phase of the project in December and said she was impressed by what the school had done.
“They work really hard to make sure they have actual equipment on hand so the students can work with the most current cars or technology available,” she said.
Clausen and Wills are also working with the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District on a waiver that would allow the district to use what is called lease levy money to buy a building in Eagan to house some of its buses. The district operates the largest district-run school bus fleet in the state, but with all of the buses housed in Rosemount drivers have to travel miles in some cases just to get to the start of their route.
Opening the Eagan facility could save the district about $500,000 per year, Clausen said.
The district needs intervention from legislators because the lease levy money it would like to use for the project is not technically available for the kind of purchase the district wants to make.
Also on the subject of schools, Clausen, a former principal at Rosemount High School, is working on legislation to strengthen statewide anti-bullying policies. He is working on a bill with Sen. Scott Dibble that would require schools to draw up detailed anti-bullying policies.
The current state law regarding bullying is just 37 words long.
“It’s too weak to be really effective,” Clausen said.
In Farmington, Rep. Pat Garofalo is looking for changes along 195th Street to improve safety for pedestrians and bikers. He said he’d like to see a bike path along the road near Meadowview Elementary School and a tunnel to get people from one side of the street to the other.
“That’s not a road that we should have kids riding bicycles on,” Garofalo said. “I’m very concerned about that.”
Garofalo is also concerned about recent spikes in the cost of propane. He said he supports building new, regional storage facilities and construction of the Keystone oil pipeline to make space on trains for the transportation of propane.
“Right now the railways are jammed with oil tankers coming out of North Dakota and it’s stopping propane,” Garofalo said. “Propane prices have been four times what they normally are and people in our area are hurting.”
Lakeville Sen. Dave Thompson, who also represents Farmington, said he would like to work on reforming the state’s MNsure insurance system.
But Thompson, a Republican who is running for governor this year, sounded pessimistic about getting anything done in a year when the governor is a Democrat and Democrats have majorities in both the house and the senate.
“As much as we will work hard to suggest common sense solutions and try perhaps to get some things done to mitigate the harm that’s been done by MNsure, the Democrats have control of the gavel,” Thompson said.
With the state facing a likely budget surplus, all four local legislators have said they support repealing some of the business-to-business taxes enacted last year.
The new legislative session starts Feb. 25.