There is plenty to do at the Capitol this year (2/17/2020)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 2/17/2020

Hello from the State Capitol,

The 2020 session is now underway! It remains such an honor to represent your interests in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

There is plenty to do at the Capitol this year. Even though a budget was approved last session, we now have a projected $1.3 billion surplus to allocate before session ends. One of my top priorities this year will be to look at ways to give surplus funds back to the taxpayers – especially senior citizens.

I’m chief authoring a bill that would do just that by ending the taxation on Social Security benefits – a move that would benefit every Minnesota senior citizen. Besides tax relief, another option would be to use some surplus dollars to pay cash for statewide infrastructure projects – such as road and bridge projects – to reduce the amount needed in this year’s capital investment bill.

Along those lines, Sen. Bigham and I have each filed bills that would secure the remaining funding needed to complete the Highway 316 renovation project in Hastings. The proposal would dedicate $800,000 from Minnesota’s projected $1.3 billion budget surplus for this specific purpose.

As you know, I’ve been exploring multiple ways to fund Highway 316 since I reached an agreement with MnDOT in 2017 to leave speed limits alone and increase driver and pedestrian safety. Recently the City of Hastings announced that it successfully obtained an additional $1 million through a Department of Public Safety program to help fund Highway 316 improvements, leaving an $800,000 funding gap.

I continue to look for creative ways to help the City of Hastings find the funding it needs, and to me, utilizing one-time surplus funds for Highway 316 safety improvements is a common-sense option.

Another is securing proceeds from this session’s capital investment bill. The only portion of this project where capital investment dollars can be used is for the creation of bike and pedestrian paths, so I am seeking bonding funds for this purpose.

I’ll also continue pushing to secure $2 million in bonding proceeds to assist with the Hastings City Hall project, as the building needs numerous repairs and updates. As a member of the House Capital Investment Committee, I’m happy to carry these two bills for the City and will work hard to keep these projects at the forefront.

The Governor’s Office has also requested $500,000 in capital investment funds to study law enforcement training centers, the first step in addressing the growing need for training facilities for first responders. This gave me the opportunity to once again tout the HERO Center in Cottage Grove, which has become a model, state-of-the art facility that would not have occurred without state investment. Many other cities want what Cottage Grove has, and everyone who helped make it reality should be proud of the local accomplishment.

Speaking of local issues, I’m also looking into a matter involving the Hastings School District and MnDOT.

Prior to the renovation of Todd Field last year, the District had a 50-year lease agreement with MNDOT at $1 per year for use of land owned by MNDOT and used by the District.

Improvements to this area forced a change in the lease agreement. MNDOT cannot lease property with building structures so the land that was being leased was assessed to be conveyed or sold to the District at fair market value of roughly $137,000.

In addition, details are still being worked out between MNDOT and the District on the terms for the use of MNDOT owned land for the parking lot west of the field. Rather than the previous $1 per year lease, MNDOT policy now requires fair market value, which could mean the School District would pay over $10,000 per year for the use of the parking lot.

MnDOT has also noted that some of the property may be needed for an upcoming Highway 61 improvement project. Once that determination has been made, it could then renew the lease or possibly sell some of the property – or the remainder of it – to the District.

These unanticipated expenses could cost the Hastings School District – and ultimately taxpayers – nearly $200,000.

I’ve discussed this issue with a number of school board members and have also had multiple conversations with MnDOT to see what can be done. I’m told talks remain ongoing, and I’ll keep you updated as things move forward.

Talk to you soon,
Tony

Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-3135
E-mail: rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn

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Homeless Outreach in Dakota County (1/23/2020)

Last night was the annual Point In Time count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people. As I have in the past I went out with Amber from Ally Supportive Services, who does homeless outreach in Dakota County. The PIT count isn’t perfect but it provides insight into the scope if the issue. Thankfully, this time of year there is more “couch hopping” and other resources to get people out of the cold. The unsheltered population grows in the warmer months. No one was home when we visited these camps but Amber left information about available services and a bag of toiletries and other items. We were joined by Caleigh, a staff person from Congresswoman Craig’s office. We need federal and state lawmakers to each do our part to cut red tape and expedite the process when there is an opportunity to house someone.

Last night was the annual Point In Time count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people. As I have in the past I went out with Amber from Ally Supportive Services, who does homeless outreach in Dakota County. The PIT count isn't perfect but it provides insight into the scope if the issue. Thankfully, this time of year there is more "couch hopping" and other resources to get people out of the cold. The unsheltered population grows in the warmer months. No one was home when we visited these camps but Amber left information about available services and a bag of toiletries and other items. We were joined by Caleigh, a staff person from Congresswoman Craig's office. We need federal and state lawmakers to each do our part to cut red tape and expedite the process when there is an opportunity to house someone.

Last night was the annual Point In Time count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people. As I have in the past I went out with Amber from Ally Supportive Services, who does homeless outreach in Dakota County. The PIT count isn’t perfect but it provides insight into the scope if the issue. Thankfully, this time of year there is more “couch hopping” and other resources to get people out of the cold. The unsheltered population grows in the warmer months. No one was home when we visited these camps but Amber left information about available services and a bag of toiletries and other items. We were joined by Caleigh, a staff person from Congresswoman Craig’s office. We need federal and state lawmakers to each do our part to cut red tape and expedite the process when there is an opportunity to house someone.

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Appreciating the work of local law enforcement (12/22/2019)

Over the past two weeks I have stayed up way past my bedtime to ride along with law enforcement officers in the district I represent.

I saw them treat the public with respect, empathy, and understanding without being judgemental. I saw them give tickets and I saw them give breaks.

I saw a man on the worst day of his life, whose decisions that night will have repercussions for years. I saw officers with guns drawn take a non-compliant man into custody safely, with no one getting hurt.

Officer Rob Swanson, Cottage Grove Police Department

Officer Rob Swanson, Cottage Grove Police Department

I saw a woman who could barely walk back to the squad car and failed to even attempt a field sobriety test, then blew a 0.0 on the breathalyzer. A cornucopia of illegal drugs were found in her vehicle. There’s no question she would have attempted to drive home when she woke up had someone not called police when they saw her slumped over the steering wheel, passed out.

I saw a ticket issued for driving 107 MPH, but a break given by not adding careless driving to the charges.

I was involved in executing a felony arrest warrant and rescuing a cat from a burning building.

I saw a man who wanted to end his life, talked off a bridge by two young women who happened to drive by at exactly the right time.

These are every day occurrences for law enforcement officers. What I witnessed is nothing compared to what they experience on every shift.

I learned that these officers back each other up physically and emotionally, not only their partners from their own department but across departments.

I saw an officer pull over to take a call from a partner to advise on a situation, then minutes later watch his back when they both responded to a domestic disturbance.

Deputy Tony Wilen, Dakota County Sheriff's Office

Deputy Tony Wilen, Dakota County Sheriff’s Office

I want to thank Officer Rob Swanson from the Cottage Grove Police Department, Deputy Dave Eichman of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Officer Jake Willers of the Hastings Police Department and Deputy “Tropical” Tony Welin from the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office and their partners for tolerating me and teaching me about their jobs.

They educated me about the many challenges in their work but also how much they love the job.

I also want to thank Sergeant Pat Nickle and Chief Pete Koerner of the Cottage Grove Police department, Commander Doug Anschutz and Sheriff Dan Starry from Washington County, Sergeant Dave Bauer and Chief Bryan Schafer from Hastings Police Department and Sergeant Matt Regis and Sheriff Tim Leslie from Dakota County who all approved and supported the ride alongs.

To all law enforcement officers who protect and serve all day and all night, every day and every night, I want to say thank you and ask that you get home to your family safely after your shift.