Capital Investment Committee and other news (3/29/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 3/29/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

This week the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee heard two of my bills, one that would secure state funds for Hastings’ Highway 316 improvement project, the other that would address Cottage Grove’s ice arena.

You’ll recall the Highway 316 project is moving forward as a result of an agreement I reached with MnDOT in 2017, with the goals being to increase pedestrian safety, lower speeds and provide better ways to control traffic.

MnDOT’s plan, which has been endorsed by the Hastings City Council, would install roundabouts at Spiral Boulevard, as well as Tiffany and Tuttle drives, construct bike and pedestrian paths on both sides of the highway and add a center median. The project is scheduled to begin in the year 2021.

According to projections, there is a funding gap of roughly $1.5 – $2.5 million to complete the project. My bill would dedicate $1 million in general obligations bonds to help with construction costs, and close the gap with other sources for the additional need.

Hastings Public Works Director Nick Egger joined me at the hearing.

My thanks to Nick for his solid testimony during the hearing. Hopefully, there’ll be good news to report from the capital investment committee in the future. As I’ve said before, I believe this project is going to be funded by accessing several pots of available revenue from the state level. Anything we can get from this capital investment proposal is that much less we’ll have to find elsewhere, and will ultimately result in lower costs to the City of Hastings.

My thanks also go out to Cottage Grove Director of Parks and Recreation Zac Dockter for testifying before the capital investment committee this week. He spoke in favor of my bill that would allocate $5 million in Mighty Ducks grants to help convert ice arenas from R22 Freon cooling systems. This is the second time Zac traveled to the Capitol to discuss this issue, and he did a fantastic job.

As you are aware, flood concerns are at the forefront of many in our district these days. Like many of you, I spent last Saturday filling sandbags in Hastings and Cottage Grove. At the Hastings gathering, I had the opportunity to visit with Governor Walz and told him about my legislation that would provide needed funds to our disaster relief account so he would have money at the ready when he needed to declare a disaster.

On Thursday I tried to put my plan into action by attempting to transfer $43 million from our budget surplus into Minnesota’s disaster contingency account. While House leadership was promoting a plan that put $10 million into the account – and that bill was ultimately approved by the full House – my proposal would have added an additional $13 million to the account in 2019 and another $20 million in 2020. Of that amount, $3 million would have been used to provide the state match for FEMA public assistance cleanup efforts from the Duluth and Brainerd floods in 2018.

While some money is better than no money, I am disappointed in the result. We had an opportunity to set needed funds aside from our budget surplus to clean up after the floods, repair infrastructure, and just be prepared for whatever else Mother Nature hands us over the next two years. Hopefully the needs of disaster relief victims will not get lost at the Capitol as budget negotiations begin, as we do not want to have to come back into special session to deal with disaster relief.

Congratulations are in order to the owners of the Muddy Cow restaurant in Cottage Grove. I attended their ribbon cutting ceremony this week, and they are now open for business in the former Ruby Tuesday location. Welcome to the community!

Though not all of them were special education teachers, a group of educators from the Hastings School District stopped by this week to discuss the importance and need for special education funding, among other issues.

I also had a nice visit with parents, staff and kids about Head Start. I love when kids come to the Capitol with their parents. What a great way to teach them how they can influence policies that impact them.

Have a great weekend,
Tony

Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-3135
E-mail: rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn

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The week in review (3/22/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 3/22/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

I was pleased to be joined at the Capitol by South Washington County Schools Superintendent Keith Jacobus and Special Services Supervisor Jo Park who testified before the Minnesota House Education Finance Division in St. Paul this week. They spoke in favor of my bill that would increase funding for school-linked mental health grants by $10 million. Current annual funding is $11 million.

School-linked mental health uses community mental health agencies to place mental health professionals and practitioners in partnering schools to provide mental health services to students. One of the strengths of this program is reaching underserved children who have never received mental health services.

The next stop for the bill is the health and human services finance division. My thanks to Superintendent Jacobus and Ms. Park for sharing their thoughts on school-linked mental health grants to the committee.

This week the full Minnesota House approved legislation that would require hands-free cell phone use for drivers, which I believe is necessary in order to reduce the number of accidents that occur due to drivers who pay more attention to their cell phones than the road.

The bill would allow voice activated cell phone use only, along with one-touch or headsets. It’s far from perfect, but it will hopefully keep more drivers’ eyes on the road.

Legislation addressing opioid addiction was also approved this week. The bill establishes new registration fees for opioid wholesalers and manufacturers which will total $20 million based on the percentage of opioid units for which each manufacturer and wholesaler is responsible. $12 million is paid by manufacturers, and $8 million is paid by wholesalers.

Under the approved legislation, these funds would go into a designated account, which would then be allocated to address the opioid epidemic through programs focused on prevention and education as well as intervention, treatment, and recovery.

Earlier this week, I attended a meeting in Hastings with local, state, and federal lawmakers and staff to discuss flooding expectations and preparations in the city.

There’s little doubt we are going to see flooding, but how significant it will be remains to be seen – both in our area and statewide. This is why I’m chief-authoring a bill would transfer $20 million in Fiscal Year 2019 and another $20 million in Fiscal Year 2020 to Minnesota’s disaster assistance contingency account, which currently sits empty.

It’s critical that we have available funds for the disasters that will soon be here. Putting money in this account now gives Governor Walz the opportunity to access it as soon as he declares and emergency, whether the Legislature is in session or not.

In other news, as part of Asian Pacific Islanders Day at the Capitol this week, Zoe Zhi, Sifang Wu and Qin Tang stopped in to talk about my bill that would eliminate language in law that disaggregates student information that they feel is discriminatory.

Tony Manaforte from the Cottage Grove VFW Post 8752 was at the Capitol for the Veterans Day on the Hill rally. His biggest concern is getting veterans the help they need to prevent suicides.

David Welshons from DCA Title was at the Capitol with Minnesota Land Title Association.

Amanda Husie from Cottage Grove is a school counselor for 600 children at Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary School in St. Paul. Minnesota School Counselor Association counselors would like to work with kids on preventive matters but spend more time in reactive mode.

Have a good weekend,
Tony

Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-3135
E-mail: rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn

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Radio Interview (3/20/2019)

kdwaHere’s my latest KDWA InDepth radio program. We’ll be doing these on a weekly basis during the 2019 legislative session.

Today’s InDepth on KDWA Hastings, we discuss the Disaster Assistance account, the proposed Gas Tax, Re-insurance proposals, and a bill that could assist local Ice Arenas to upgrade their coolant systems.

Listen to our InDepth radio conversation on KDWA.

Listen to our InDepth radio conversation with Kelly Casey on KDWA.

Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account (3/15/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 3/15/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

Anyone that ever had a child in the Scouting program remembers the motto: be prepared. It should be the motto for the state legislature as well.

Unless you’ve been hibernating, you understand we received record-setting snowfall for the month of February. Very soon, that snow is going to turn to water – and lots of it.

You can’t turn on the news these days without hearing reports of future flooding concerns, as the weather experts are predicting major flooding throughout Minnesota in the coming weeks. With the St. Croix River and the Mississippi River bordering our communities, we are definitely going to notice the rising waters. In fact the directors of public works in both Hastings and Cottage Grove say they expect the highest waters to hit within the next two weeks.

Days ago, flood preparations began. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already filled 20,000 sandbags at the lock and dam in Hastings, just in case they’re needed. Much like a good Scout – the Corps is prepared.

Now I want to make the State of Minnesota is prepared.

Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account – created to allocate funds to communities impacted by natural disasters, sits empty. To rectify this problem, I am authoring legislation that will replenish this needed funding so cities damaged by floodwaters will be able to immediately begin recovery efforts.

The account is now in the red after Minnesota responded with $11 million in relief to flooding events in Brainerd and Duluth last year – a year where significant spring flooding was not projected. Governor Walz and other lawmakers have proposed putting $10 million into the account for 2019, but that amount would be woefully inadequate based on last year’s use and this year’s flood predictions. Let’s also not forget this account is used to help the state pay for damage caused by other natural disasters as well, such as tornadoes, straight line winds, drought, and torrential rainfall. This is why I believe a significant funding infusion is critical.

My bill would transfer $20 million in Fiscal Year 2019 and another $20 million in Fiscal Year 2020 to this account from our $1 billion General Fund surplus. It’s not unusual for this account to contain more than $10 million. Since its creation in Fiscal Year 2014, the account held $17.466 million in Fiscal Year 2015 and $20.4 million in Fiscal Year 2016.

Putting sufficient, stable funding in this account is imperative for disaster response preparedness, otherwise lawmakers will continue rushing to appropriate money during session by declaring urgencies.

It’s worth noting that this account was created to allow state money to be allocated for disaster relief without calling the state legislature into a special session to appropriate funds. This was a sound move. That said, our non-partisan House research staff points out that money in this account is available to our governor 365 days a year should an emergency be declared, regardless if lawmakers are in session. This was also wise.

As many who have followed politics in this state over the years already know, most issues of significance aren’t solved at the State Capitol until the final days of session. We don’t want a serious disaster event competing with other end-of-session needs, and we don’t want our flood victims to potentially become an unintended pawn in end-of-session budget negotiations.

Sure, we could wait for the flooding to hit over the next few weeks, assess the damage and come up with a total, hold committee hearings in the House and Senate, listen as lawmakers grandstand during debate, take floor votes, and eventually send a bill to Governor Walz to sign – if all of that can happen before session ends.

Or we could pass a bill that puts disaster relief money into Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account, and allows Governor Walz to allocate the amount needed after he declares an emergency. By ensuring the account has funds available, the state and federal governments could immediately begin engaging with local communities around the state without having to wait on legislative action.

To me, it’s just common sense to properly fund this account now. We want the State of Minnesota to appropriately respond to communities struggling with flood waters – and any other natural disaster – whether lawmakers are in session or adjourned. Let’s be prepared.

LOCAL VISITORS

Tommy, Jonathan, and Grace Braucks of Hastings traveled to St. Paul today to discuss education choice for kids initiatives with me – and Governor Walz.

John Strohfus, joined by his daughter Addison, was in St. Paul to testify before the Minnesota House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law division in support of a bill I’m co-authoring that allows Minnesota hemp growers to sell Minnesota grown hemp to medical cannabis program manufacturers. I brought them onto the House floor following the hearing.

Farmer’s Insurance agents Katy Lindberg from Hastings and Anne Doerrer from Shoreview were here for Insurance Day at the Capitol.

Hailey, Julie, Joe, and LaRae from Cottage Grove were part of this group advocating to protect Legacy Funding for the Arts.

Nininger Township dairy farmers John and Janet Bremer and Alan Overland from southern Minnesota were in for Dairy Day at the Capitol.

Pastor Greg Snow from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Chaska was Chaplain of the Day in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Greg and I went to high school together in Watertown, SD. He did a great job and I was glad to reconnect with him after so many years.

Sharon, Beth, and Saciido with Community Mediation & Restorative Services stopped by. Their mediation service resolves issues and prevents costly evictions which is good for both landlords and tenants.

Bill and Andrea from Ally Supportive Services, LLC were in this week advocating for the homeless. In January I went out with Amber from Ally as part of homeless outreach in Dakota County. It was nice to get an update from Bill and Andrea on some of the people I met that night.

Surrogacy advocates including Elizabeth and Traci from Hastings were in this week with Resolve. Surrogacy helps couples who are unable to have children start families, and we need structure to protect the women and children.

Have a good weekend,
Tony

Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-3135
E-mail: rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn

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