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District 57 town hall meeting covered range of legislative topics

Rep. Erin Maye Quade (DFL–Apple Valley), Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL–Apple Valley), and Rep. Anna Wills (R–Rosemount) answered questions at a town hall meeting in Apple Valley March 11. (RiverTown Multimedia photo by Deanna Weniger)

A town hall meeting hosted by Minnesota legislators in Senate District 57 was standing-room only Saturday, March 11, at the Falcon Ridge Middle School in Apple Valley.

Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL—Apple Valley, Rep. Anna Wills, R—Rosemount, and Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL—Apple Valley, took audience questions for two hours on topics ranging from Real ID to protesting on the highway.

Clausen, a one-time principal of Rosemount High School serving his fourth year in the state Senate, provided background and context for many of the questions, since Maye Quade is new to the Legislature and Wills has been out on maternity leave after giving birth to twins.

All three addressed the problems of gridlock at the Capitol, explaining that this year legislative deadlines have been moved up to try to give extra time for the Democratic governor and the Republican Legislature to hammer out agreements.

Historically, the legislative finance deadline has been set an average of 28 days prior to session adjournment. Republicans have agreed to almost double that window, allowing 52 days for additional discussion.

"By moving up the deadlines, we're hoping that will make things go smoother toward the end," Wills said.

Paid parental leave was another audience concern. The benefit went into effect in November and is now available to about 32,000 state employees, both mothers and fathers.

Whether it remains, however, is uncertain. The law was implemented through an unusual process that allowed it to be enacted without a formal vote of the Legislature. Next year, the GOP-controlled Legislature will decide if state workers can keep the benefit.

Maye Quade drew cheers when she said, "I think everyone should have it."

Each had a different stance on proposed bills that would impose stiffer penalties on protesters who shut down highways.

Wills seemed to be in favor of the bill, citing the millions of dollars the state had to spend in extra enforcement.

"We need to have some sense of order," she said.

Clausen took the middle ground.

"I certainly respect the right of free speech, but when that free speech shuts down freeways and you've got people that need to get various places, maybe an ambulance that needs to get to the hospital, I have some problems with that," he said.

May Quade said the bill is a wrong reaction to protesting.

"My larger concern as a legislator is there are people that feel the need to protest in the streets. They aren't being heard. My reaction isn't to penalize them more. It's how can we fix the thing that put you in the streets in the first place," she said. "Cracking down on their right to get my attention, to inconvenience me, to get me to notice them, I think that's something I want them to do."

All three found common ground with the Real ID issue agreeing that an added measure to include immigrant status on the ID is muddying the waters.

"We're looking for a very clean bill," Clausen said.

Lawmakers must pass a bill to comply with the federal Real ID Act, which adds some security measures to driver's licenses. Starting next year, licenses that don't comply won't count as identification to pass through airport security.

Both Democrats had strong words for a bill authored by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, that would repeal Minneapolis and St. Paul's new paid sick leave ordinances and prevent other Minnesota cities from passing their own labor rules.

"It covers a lot of different things beyond just the labor needs and the minimum wage dollars," Clausen said. "What I wish is we could raise the minimum wage so everyone has a standard of living that they can survive on. ... If you get over $17 an hour, you can provide those basic needs for your family."

Maye Quade sits on the same committee as Garofalo. "I have found myself as the stand out to speak out against this terrible, terrible bill," she said. "It takes away sick time from 150,000 Minnesotans. It's a terrible bill and I just don't support it at all."

Garofalo has said the bill will provide consist labor laws that won't be in conflict as workers commute or do business in different towns.

Constituents were mixed on the answers they received at the town hall meeting.

"I think they ran it extremely well," said Susan Chabot of Apple Valley. "They expressed their views clearly."

Leslie Henschel, of Apple Valley and a Republican, was frustrated with Wills' answers.

"'I'll have to look into it,' was her standard answer," she said.

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