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Kurts Bills learned a lot his first year in office

When Kurt Bills finally wrapped up his first session in the Minnesota House of Representatives earlier this week, he turned his attention to jobs a little closer to home.

Yard work, mostly.

"I'm just still trying to catch up on stuff around the house," Bills said last week. "I have a very long honey do list."

Getting to that list took longer than expected thanks to a budget stalemate that forced an extended shutdown of state government. But Bills, a social studies teacher at Rosemount High School, still enjoyed his first session at the capitol.

Bills continued to teach his first-period AP economics class, and he stopped in from time to time to talk to students in freshman government classes.

"It was a great experience for a teacher," Bills said. "You can't ask for anything more."

Bills was a student as much as a teacher during his first session in St. Paul. He had to learn the ins and outs of the committee process and of getting things done at the capitol.

He also had to adjust to a new workload, both in his legislative duties and keeping up with people at home. He said he was surprised at how much time he spent meeting with constituents.

"The biggest shock was probably email," Bills said. "I did not realize that a person could get that much email.... It's kind of the go-to communication system. Trying to manage that was probably the most -- not shocking, but I would say the most amazing thing of it all is how much people can get involved with their government through it."

On busy days, Bills said, he'd get 150 messages or more. He learned quickly he couldn't respond to each one individually.

Bills also learned that the reality of work at the capitol does not always match the image portrayed to the outside world.

"In the world of the media and everything, we get the, 'Oh, it's just Republican and Democrat,'" Bills said. "What's amazing is to get to know individuals who are DFL and Republican. It's so amazing to see them as unique people."

That Republican-Democrat divide received a lot of attention during the shutdown that stretched through much of July.

Bills is not a fan of the budget deal that ended that shutdown. He doesn't like the idea of borrowing money from the state's tobacco settlement or balancing the budget by delaying payments for students.

"I don't think anyone is even 80 percent happy with what we came to," Bills said. "The good thing is, with Governor Dayton where we found common ground was some of the reforms we wanted to do."Bills said he was happy the budget included an additional $50 per student in school funding.

Bills did not accept any pay during the shutdown. He tried to introduce legislation that would have required legislators to pay back their salaries if their work was not done by the end of the session, but he found little support.

Bills enjoyed his first session, and he feels better prepared for the remainder of his first term. He expects to take a more active role next session.

In the meantime, he's getting to work on his curriculum for the coming school year. And he's getting those chores done around the house.