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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Radio Interview (3/13/2019)

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

In today’s InDepth on KDWA Hastings, we discuss bonding for Metro Regional parks, funding ideas for the Highway 316 project, lights for a segment of Highway 316, and the reasons had for a vote on the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution.

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

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

Highway 316 funding, and other news (3/8/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 3/8/2019

Hello from the State Capitol,

As the City of Hastings and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) move forward with plans to improve safety along Highway 316, I am also working on a series of bills designed to help pay for the needed road improvements.

This collaboration between the City and the transportation department was what I was hoping for in 2017 when I reached an agreement with MnDOT to curb its increased speed limit plan in this section of Hastings. They have now developed a very sensible safety improvement proposal, and I’m looking at multiple ways that the State can help contribute to its construction.

The goal for the Highway 316 corridor was to increase 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, the total construction cost is estimated to be in the $4.55 – $5.56 million range. Current funding available for Highway 316 from MnDOT and the City of Hastings is $3.010 million, leaving a funding gap of roughly $1.54 – $2.55 million.

We need to pursue every avenue available to us for Highway 316 funding. I don’t want to leave any stone unturned here at the Capitol. This is why I’m authoring a proposal that would authorize capital investment bonds to fill the Highway 316 funding gap. I’ve also chief-authored a bill that would use Legacy funds to fund the trail portion of the project, which would free up money to be used on other Highway 316 infrastructure. Considering this stretch is part of the Mississippi River Trail and the Great River Road, I do feel it would be eligible for Legacy dollars. These bills are in addition to a bill seeking transportation funding.

Other options are also in play to help with the Highway 316 funding difference, including grants from MnDOT’s Local Road Improvements Program (LRIP) as well as the Local Partnership Program (LPP). The City is planning to pursue both of these opportunities and I will also lend my support to these applications.

My gut tells me that Highway 316 is not going to be funded by just one bill redirecting resources from one sector of state government. The City of Hastings asked me to look for creative legislative funding mechanisms to help fill the funding gap, and that’s exactly what I’ve done by introducing three separate bills. Again, any money we can secure from any number of available statewide resources will result in lower costs to the City of Hastings.

HIGHWAY 61 LIGHTING

Due to a number of motorist accidents that have occurred along Highway 61 over the years, I am sponsoring legislation that would provide lighting on both sides of the four-lane road.

Highway 61 has a number of unrestricted local access intersections where oncoming traffic may not see motorists at night until it’s too late. Full lighting would be a needed safety improvement for drivers traveling in all directions.

Specifically, the bill would install full lighting along Highway 61 from the Highway 10 corridor near Hastings to County Highway 22, or 70th Street, in St. Paul Park. Currently, lighting along this stretch only exists at interchanges at 80th Street, Jamaica Avenue South, and County Road 19 (Innovation Road South).

From Innovation Road to Minnesota Highway 95, there is no lighting at all, but several areas where drivers must cross one portion of Highway 61 and wait in a median before either crossing to the other side or turning onto the roadway. At night or in winter conditions, and with speed limits in the area ranging between 60 and 65 miles per hour, the lack of lighting has created very treacherous situations.

Traffic is increasing here which means these areas along Highway 61 are only going to get more dangerous. This measure is a top priority for Mayor Myron Bailey and the City of Cottage Grove, and I understand why. There’s little doubt that new lighting will cut down on the number of accidents on this road, and it is important for the safety of local drivers.

CAPITAL INVESTMENT NEWS

In other news, our House Capital Investment Committee heard several law enforcement and first responder related bonding requests this week. I’m proud to have chief authored the HERO Center in Cottage Grove and co-authored the Dakota County SMART Center in last year’s bonding bill. The HERO Center construction is well underway with an expected fall 2019 opening. I’m glad we secured funding for both of our centers last year so we are not in competition with so many similar training centers now. In fact, the HERO Center was referenced in at least two of the proposals. Imitation is the best form of flattery, right?

Speaking of capital investment, we also approved a bonding bill this week that was signed into law by Governor Walz. This included $15 million in funding for Metro Area parks, which ironically enough was one topic of conversation at a bipartisan Metro Area park meeting I co-hosted this week. More than $100 million in statewide projects were included in appropriation bonds through the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Those funds were held up in a court case, putting a hold on these much needed projects. This bill authorizes the use of General Obligation bonds instead, and eliminates the need for a court decision.

I also spent time working across the aisle on a bill that would help pay bus drivers and other hourly employees for days lost due to weather. I expect that we will have a bipartisan bill introduced early next week.

THIS WEEK’S VISITORS…

Physician Assistants Dominique Rabaey of Hastings and Kelsey McFarlane of Afton were in with the Minnesota Academy of Physician Assistants with concerns for access to care, especially in rural and underserved areas.

Members of the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association discussed several issues including fighting emerald ash borer and salt liability protection. Joby Nolan is with Precision Landscaping & Construction Inc. in Hastings.

Chris Mishkee from Hastings and Torrey Grey, members of United Steelworkers Local 662 were in to talk about right to work and other issues.

Dan Retka from Hastings visited to talk about an additional passenger train from St. Paul to Chicago.

Hastings resident Caitlin Ternes was in with the Minnesota School Social Workers Association to promote the social emotional and educational well-being of children and families.

These University of Minnesota students visited to advocate for a medical amnesty bill for victims of sexual assault. Levi O’Tool is a Hastings constituent.

In this week’s KDWA “In Depth” we talked about bill hearings, House Floor debates, I Love to Read Month and more. Click here for a listen.

Finally, click here for a Northfield newspaper article about my bill to put more teeth into the law that bans dumping a kid’s lunch in the garbage because of a negative lunch account balance.

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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Renovate the Hastings City Hall building (3/1/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 3/1/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

Plans to renovate the Hastings City Hall building took a needed step forward on Wednesday as a bill I’m chief-authoring that would provide funding for the project was heard in the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee.

I thought the hearing went very well. Many of the members on the committee toured the facility back in 2017 when I invited them to Hastings to learn more about it, so they didn’t necessarily receive new information, but rather renewed information with some updates.

I was joined at the capital investment committee presentation by Hastings City Planner Justin Fortney and Interim Hastings City Administrator and Administrative Services Director Julie Flaten, and they both did an outstanding job.

The bill would provide $2 million in bonding proceeds to repair masonry, replace dome cupola roofs and decorative metal, make HVAC improvements and work on the foundation, among other needs. If approved, a $2.6 million investment from outside sources – such as the City of Hastings – would be needed in order to secure the state’s bonding proceeds.

There seems to be legitimate interest from the committee in asset preservation. Having the second oldest courthouse in the State of Minnesota and having regional significance works in our favor.

So what happens next? I’m not aware of any hearings being scheduled in the Minnesota Senate on the Hastings City Hall bill, and the bill didn’t receive a hearing last session either, which means I’ll be pushing hard for its inclusion in the House’s capital investment plan – whenever that’s unveiled.

We probably won’t know if we’ll have a bonding bill this year, or if the Hastings project is included in it, until the final days of session. Now its wait time for everyone but me, as I’ll continue working behind the scenes and reminding the chairwoman and other members of the committee how important it is to renovate the Hastings City Hall building.

DEMOCRATS VOTE TO VOID BOAT INSURANCE POLICIES FOR HALF A MILLION MINNESOTANS

Do you have boat insurance? If a bill approved in the Minnesota House Thursday becomes law, it could be worthless by the time the fishing opener rolls around.

Thursday evening House Democrats voted to pass HF476, a bill aimed at eliminating family exclusions in watercraft and personal umbrella liability insurance policies. As written, the bill would render any policies that include family exclusions “void.” Unlike other insurance-related bills that have enactment dates well into the future to allow changes to be made during the next policy renewal, HF476 would be effective “the day following final enactment and applies to policies in effect on or after that date” which means your policy could be void before your insurer has an opportunity to notify you and rewrite a new policy.

During the debate on the House floor, I offered a number of amendments that would have solved this and other problems, but they were all voted down by the majority party.

Having an insurance background, I can tell you with certainty that this bill would instantly void hundreds of thousands of insurance policies and throw Minnesota boat owners into chaos. I’m sure that sounds like another exaggerated political statement, but we actually had the conversation with non-partisan researchers who told us this is exactly what will happen if this bill becomes law.

Worse, if your boat is covered under a personal umbrella policy, the entire umbrella policy could be void because of the way the bill was written.

While I appreciate what this bill was trying to accomplish it would be a disaster if it was signed into law in its current form. There’s simply no reason to void policies the day after the bill is signed—it’s unnecessary and creates a mess for both policyholders and insurers who would need to draft and issue hundreds of thousands of new policies.

One of my amendments would have moved the enactment date to January 2020 and called for the Commerce Commissioner to establish a Policy Exclusion Advisory Group to review these issues and report back by November of this year. Unfortunately, there was more interest in getting the current bill passed than in getting it right.

According the DNR, there were 818,000 boats in Minnesota as of 2016. Boats.com estimates that 40% of boats are uninsured, meaning that approximately 400,000-500,000 Minnesotans have insurance policies that could be rendered void under the bill.

WHAT DID YOU READ DURING “I LOVE TO READ MONTH?”

Did you know February was “I Love to Read” month? I was fortunate to be able to visit a number of area classrooms over the past couple of weeks, which is truly one of the most enjoyable parts of being your state representative. Not only was I able to read to these kids, but I was able to discuss with them the importance of reading at all ages and learn about the types of books they enjoy.

I started off in Hastings at Kennedy Elementary, visiting 3rd grade students from Mrs. Kirk’s classroom.

I read the book “Dream Big, A True Story of Courage and Determination” to these youngsters, a true story about a teenager who not only dreamed of participating in and finishing the Boston Marathon, but eventually directed the annual event for thirty years.

I was also invited to read to 5th graders at Newport Elementary School.

As well as 5th graders at Pine Hill Elementary School in Cottage Grove.

To each of these groups, I read a chapter from my favorite book from when I was their age, The Mystery of the Witches Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton. When we were done I gave the book to them so they could finish reading it if they were interested. The book was written in 1967 and I had to find used copies online. This is the first chapter book I remember reading and I couldn’t wait to go to the local library to check out another mystery to read. My hope is at least one student falls in love with reading because of The Mystery of the Witches Bridge.

Minnesota School Bus Drivers Appreciation Day also took place this week. I met these drivers at 6:15 AM before they went out on their Hastings routes to thank them for getting our kids to and from school safely.

This has been a very challenging month due to weather but drivers, aides, dispatchers and mechanics have done a great job. Their concerns include drivers putting safety at risk by ignoring stop arms and loss of pay due to weather related school cancellations.

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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