The 2019 legislative session is now behind us (6/4/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 6/4/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

Minnesota’s state budget has been approved, and the 2019 legislative session is now behind us.

As is usually the case, there are positives and negatives to be found within every budget area of state government.

Most people I’ve spoken with are pleased that a 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase plan championed by Governor Walz and Minnesota House Democratic leadership was stopped, as was a $68 million funding cut to nursing homes.

Remember, the legislature approved a law last session that provides a permanent funding solution to transportation needs without raising taxes. The governor and House leadership wanted to eliminate that this session and force you to accept a 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase instead.

If someone tells you we need a comprehensive transportation funding solution at the State Capitol, this is a non-transparent way of saying they want to take more of your money by raising gas taxes, tab fees, motor vehicle sales taxes, or even adding another ½ cent to the Metro Area sales tax.

As part of this approved budget, $6 billion will be allocated for statewide transportation needs without raising anyone’s taxes. In addition, $13 million will be sent to our deputy registrars who are struggling with our MNLARS licensing system. $200,000 of this will assist our deputy registrars in Hastings and Cottage Grove.

Among other good news provisions: middle class Minnesotans will receive a ¼% income tax reduction; and Minnesota schools will receive a 2% funding increase over each of the next two years.

We’re also cracking down on fraud in our Child Care Assistance Program. This includes stricter reporting requirements, stronger oversight, and a case-tracking system at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to help track fraud cases. While there’s still more work to do, these provisions are a good first-step toward restoring integrity in CCAP and our other public programs.

On a personal note, you’ll recall during our flooding season earlier this year that I offered legislation that would replenish Minnesota’s Disaster Contingency Account – which was created to allocate funds to communities impacted by natural disasters and to avoid calling special sessions to authorize the appropriation of these funds.

While the final total is far lower than the $20 million I sought, at least there’s something there for our disaster victims.

Among the biggest disappointments is the continuation of Minnesota’s sick tax, which is a 2% tax leveled on anyone who makes a doctor or dentist visit. By law, the sick tax was going to expire on December 31.

Originally, the sick tax was created in order to help provide health care to low income Minnesotans. Minnesota now receives federal money to accomplish this goal. That means money raised through the continuation of this program – the cost of the tax has dropped from 2% to 1.8% – will likely be spent in other areas of state government, which is not the original intent and not what most Minnesotans are being told.

With the 2019 session now over, I’d like to remind residents that I am always available to answer your questions or concerns. Please email me any time at rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn, or call my office at 651-296-3135.

Have a great summer!
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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Budget negotiations (5/9/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 5/9/2019

Hello from the State Capitol,

Just wanted to provide you with a quick update on where things stand with budget negotiations.

The short answer is there’s been very little movement.

May 6 was the date the House, Senate, and Governor were to agree on budget targets. That deadline was missed, and we’re still no closer to having budget targets as of this writing than we were a week ago.

The reason for the lack of progress is simple – a debate over whether or not we should approve $12 billion worth of tax increases.

Governor Walz and House leadership are supporting the $12 billion in tax increases – which includes the 20-cent per gallon gas tax and raising taxes on your health care. To date, they have not eliminated one dollar of that amount during budget discussions. The Senate has stated that with a $1 billion surplus it wants no tax increases of any kind this budget cycle, so they obviously have refused to accept any tax increase ideas.

In other words, neither side is blinking. Yet.

The reality is progress needs to be made soon, as session will end in 11 days. I will keep you updated on any news made here at the Capitol.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. I’d like to recognize all the teachers throughout the area for their work with our youth and their commitment to education. Thanks for all you do.

May is also Mental Health Awareness month. Its purpose is to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses, and strive to reduce the misconceptions that surrounds mental illnesses. My thanks to all who are doing their part to raise awareness.

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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The biggest problem with this budget (5/3/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 5/3/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

This week, Minnesota House Democrats finished approving their remaining budget bills. The most talked about proposal was their transportation finance plan, which includes a 20-cent per gallon gas tax hike – a 70% increase that would give Minnesota the fourth highest gas tax in the nation – and over four years raises taxes by more than $4 billion.

Do you recall the County Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) fiasco from a couple of years ago, which took millions in tax dollars from Dakota and Washington counties and sent them to Minneapolis and St. Paul for transit-related projects? Well, this proposal contains CTIB 2.0 by adding another half-cent to our sales tax and once again sends our tax dollars to the Twin Cities.

Back to the 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase for a moment. It’s important to remember that we already have a law that dedicates hundreds of millions of dollars to state transportation needs without raising taxes. It’s also worth noting that if put into law, not all of this massive gas tax increase would represent new spending.

As part of this plan, House Democrats want to cut $417 million in revenue currently dedicated in state law to transportation needs and spend that road and bridge money in other areas of state government.

The 20-cent per gallon gas tax would replace this law, yet between 1/3 to 1/2 of that increase would be used to backfill the money that had been raided from the transportation budget in the first place.

It’s basically an expensive shell game, and one where low to middle income Minnesotans will feel the most financial pain.

And in my opinion that’s the biggest problem with this budget. There are $12 billion in tax increases across all budget bills, and Governor Walz’s own administration issued an analysis saying these tax increases would hit low and middle income families the hardest. Add in the fact that the House DFL budget also funds a pay raise for legislators while cutting $68 million from nursing homes, and increases health care costs, and it’s a tough budget to support.

From the people I’m hearing from, they’re not in favor at all of these new taxes and spending priorities, especially when we have a $1 billion budget surplus. We do not need new ways for the State of Minnesota to dig into our wallets.

In other news, after wasting $173 million of your money on a failed driver’s license and registration system, Governor Walz has finally pulled the plug on MNLARS. The change over to a new software system developed by a private vendor will take roughly 2 years.

MNLARS has caused lawmakers some of the greatest headaches over the past two years, as Governor Dayton repeatedly insisted the MNLARS problems were fixable. In 2018, Republicans successfully passed legislation requiring the Dayton administration to issue a request for information (RFI) on the feasibility of a private vendor to replace MNLARS. The Dayton administration declined to take any action to pursue private vendor options that were detailed as a result of the Republican-led RFI legislation.

Dayton’s inaction caused even more of your tax dollars to be wasted on this money pit. Meanwhile, many of our deputy registrars are struggling to make ends meet with a program that didn’t work forced upon them. House Republicans have made repeated attempts to provide them with some relief, but those efforts continue to be rejected by the majority.

Credit where it’s due: unlike his predecessor, Governor Walz has made the right MNLARS call. Early in session I met with the governor and we discussed MNLARS. He committed to me to get it right, saying that he inherited the problem but accepted ownership to fix it.

It makes me sick that the previous administration wasted millions of your tax dollars in order to save face, but it would make me even sicker if Governor Walz had chosen to continue throwing good money after bad.

Thursday was recognized as the National Day of Prayer. A ceremony was held on the front steps of the State Capitol.

It was a nice opportunity to take a break from the House floor debate and stand with Democrats and Republicans and many of you from our district that came to the Capitol to participate. One of the most humbling parts of representing you is when I’m told “I’m praying for you,” so thank you for the kind words.

May is National Melanoma Month. Ahead of Melanoma Monday, which is the first Monday in May, Patrick Guddal and other black ribbon warriors met in the Capitol Rotunda on Friday to raise awareness and distribute information about this aggressive form of skin cancer.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that can spread rapidly to other areas of the body if untreated so advocates encourage us all to get checked.

It was good to get out in the community last weekend following some long days and nights at the State Capitol. Hastings had a number of local events going on, and it was good to meet up with a lot of residents at the Rotary fundraiser, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Spring Fling event, and the Starkson Family Life Celebration Chapel open house. After a week of 15 hour days in St. Paul, it was nice to reconnect and hear what was on people’s minds.

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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There’s no need to raise anyone’s taxes (4/26/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 4/26/2019

Hello from the State Capitol,

We had many late night floor sessions this week as budget bills began arriving on the House floor. These are the proposals that would fund all areas of state government.

Interestingly, many of these proposals mirror what Governor Walz had proposed in his budget earlier this session. This week, the governor’s revenue department analyzed the tax increases that had been proposed. It was bad news for low and middle income Minnesotans.

This tax incidence report found that the governor’s tax changes would increase the tax burden for Minnesotans making less than $45,000 by double digit percentages. It would also raise taxes on Minnesotans of every income level. Minnesota’s tax code would also become more regressive because the proposals would significantly increase low and middle-income Minnesotans’ tax burdens much more than those with higher incomes.

These proposals include a 70% increase in the gas tax as well as raising taxes on Minnesotan’s health care. Not included in the study is paid leave legislation that has been proposed by House majority, which would cost taxpayers another $1.6 billion over four years.

In the face of a $1 billion surplus, there’s no need to raise anyone’s taxes.

One of those bills, the health and human services finance bill, weighed in at twelve pounds and more than 1,100 pages.

In short, it will raise health care costs, cut funding for nursing homes, and allow rampant fraud to continue.

Included is an extension of the provider tax – also known as the sick tax because everyone that makes a doctor’s visit pays it – that adds more than $2 billion to the cost of Minnesotans’ health care over the next four years.

We attempted to make this bill better. For example, I supported 3 separate proposals that aimed at exempting cancer treatments, diabetes treatments, and pregnancy care from being taxed with their continuation of the sick tax. The House majority voted all of them down on party line votes.

The bill also cuts nursing home funding by $68 million due to changes in reimbursement rates, and did little to tackle fraud that’s been found in public programs like the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).

While, as you’d expect, the largest omnibus bill in the history of the Minnesota House did have some good provisions, the bad far outweighed the good in my opinion.

More omnibus bill will be debated in the days ahead.

Last weekend I was pleased to help plant some trees in Hastings at Riverwood Park in honor of Arbor Day.

I also joined thousands of other bikers and riders in taking part in the Flood Run, which benefits Gillette Children’s Hospital.

I had fewer visitors this week as we have been on the House floor by 9:00 AM and don’t finish until close to midnight every day, but I stepped out of the House chamber for a few minutes to visit with Dakota County Technical College students and faculty who stopped by for a Capitol visit. Thanks for coming!

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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Put your phone down when you’re behind the wheel (4/18/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 4/18/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

It won’t be long before you won’t be able to use your cell phone while driving unless it’s through hands-free operation.

Governor Walz has signed bipartisan hands-free legislation into law in hopes that it will reduce the number of accidents that occur due to drivers who pay more attention to their cell phones than the road.

Under current law, it is illegal to text while driving in Minnesota, but it is not illegal to type in a phone number or program a GPS system while behind the wheel. This legislation would allow voice activated cell phone use only, along with one-touch or headsets.

Current law makes it difficult to enforce because officers have no idea what you’re doing with your phone. Making it illegal to have a phone in your hands removes the guesswork, eliminates a distraction for drivers and ultimately will save lives and prevent accidents.

This legislation sends a strong message to the citizens of Minnesota to put their phones down when they’re behind the wheel. This measure is designed to improve safety and to keep a driver’s eyes on the road.

GOVERNMENT SPENDING BILLS MOVING FORWARD IN MINNESOTA HOUSE

Our House Democratic majority has moved forward several bills that would fund state government for the next two years. They will be debated on the House floor over several days, beginning on April 23.

Together, these bills total $50 billion in general fund spending – which would represent an increase in state spending of 11% from the current budget cycle. It would be the largest budget in Minnesota’s history.

Also worth noting: if these proposals became law, Minnesotans would pay $12 billion in new taxes over the next four years. This includes a well-publicized 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase that was initially proposed by Governor Walz.

There’s no doubt the House majority will approve this budget. The Minnesota Senate will soon pass a budget of its own and then both sides will need to reconcile their differences. It’s my hope that when the final compromise is reached, it will come back much less expensive than when it first left the House floor. With a $1 billion budget surplus, I believe these tax increases and significant, permanent spending increases are unnecessary.

PROVIDING INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR TWO RARE DISEASES

If I told you that a disease exists that impacts 1 out of every 200 kids, yet some health insurance companies don’t provide coverage for their treatment, would you believe it?

This sad but true story impacts children with PANS and PANDAS.

PANS occurs when an infection, environmental factors, and other possible triggers create a misdirected immune response resulting in inflammation on a child’s brain. In turn, the child quickly begins to exhibit life changing symptoms such as obsessive compulsive disorder, severe restrictive eating, anxiety, tics, personality changes, decline abilities in math and handwriting, sensory sensitivities, and more.

PANDAS syndrome occurs specifically following a strep infection, where a child experiences obsessive compulsive disorder and tics, or the symptoms worsen after acquiring strep.

Not long ago, a number of families came to the Capitol to share their stories and advocate for change. Legislation is now moving forward that requires all health plans provide coverage to Minnesota residents for PANDAS and PANS, which includes medication and behavioral therapies.

In 2017, Illinois became the first state requiring insurance coverage for PANDAS and PANS. Hopefully, Minnesota will soon follow suit.

Our Passover/Easter break gave me an opportunity to do something I love – read to kids. I used the time off as an opportunity to share my love of reading with kids of all ages throughout our communities.

At Grey Cloud Elementary in Cottage Grove, I was able to read “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” to Ms. Wilds’ kindergarten students.

“Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear” was the story of choice for the 2 and 3 year olds during Toddler Storytime at the Park Grove Library.

The 3 to 5 year olds at the Newport Head Start Center in the Newport United Methodist Church loved the Dr. Suess book, “My, Oh My–A Butterfly!”

Thanks for all of these invitations to read to our kids! It was truly a pleasure.

On Wednesday, I was able to take part in the Randolph FFA Alumni Tractor Parade after being invited to attend by some local FFA students.

I got to drive this little 12hp 1947 Farmall Cub, which is similar to the Farmall B my Grandpa Bob taught me to drive on his farm in South Dakota when I was a kid. What a blast!

Washburn Center for Children offers therapeutic services to help children experiencing depression, anxiety, behavioral difficulties, trauma or other mental health challenges. I toured Washburn Center with CEO Tom Steinmetz today to see School Linked Mental Health Grants at work this week.

I have a bill that would increase state funding for the grants that Washburn and many other providers and schools around the state access to help kids.

Wishing you all a Happy Easter holiday,
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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Hastings projects included in bonding proposal (4/15/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 4/15/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

The City of Hastings received some good news recently, as the Minnesota House Capital Investment Committee has included two bills I sponsored in its proposed $1.5 billion bonding proposal.

The bills would provide needed funding in order to help the city pay for construction costs relating to Highway 316 improvements as well as renovating its historic city hall building.

I’ve been working hard in the House to promote these projects so I’m pleased they were included in this capital investment plan. It’s definitely good news, but we still have a long way to go.

The Highway 316 project is moving forward as a result of an agreement I reached with MnDOT in 2017. My goal for the Highway 316 corridor agreement was 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 City has noted there is a roughly $1.5 million funding gap that needs to be rectified in order to complete the project. This bill would dedicate $1 million in general obligations bonds to help with construction costs relating to the creation of the bike and pedestrian paths along Highway 316.

The Hastings City Hall 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.

So where do things go from here? A number of significant hurdles remain before this proposal could reach Governor Walz’s desk.

As there are dozens of projects included in the House capital investment bill, the Hastings proposals must first survive scrutiny from the House Ways and Means Committee as well as the full Minnesota House.

Then there’s the Minnesota Senate, which to date has shown no interest in moving a capital investment bill forward this year. Historically, the second year of the legislative biennium is recognized as the “bonding” year at the State Capitol. If the Senate does not agree to approve a capital investment bill this year, this House proposal will not move forward and the fate of the Hastings projects would have to wait until the 2020 session.

Despite the potential roadblocks, I’m pleased with the progress made with the Hastings bills in the Minnesota House. With both of my city hall and Highway 316 bills in the House capital investment plan, there is nothing more I can do on the House side other than continue to work with leadership and committee members to advocate for these projects then let the process play out. I am pleased House leadership recognized the importance of these bills, and my thanks go to the Hastings city officials who came to St. Paul and testified in favor of my proposals.

Not long ago, I did an interview with the South Washington County Telecommunications Commission regarding legislative issues. To watch the report, click here. (https://youtu.be/5s3-EbnqLAI)

To hear my most recent In Depth report on KDWA, please click here.(http://kdwa.com/wireready/indepthnews/16192_TonyJurgens_0410.mp3)

Congratulations to Ken Brittain on being named Cottage Grove Volunteer of the Year and thank you to everyone who volunteers their time to make our communities stronger. Ken’s list of involvement is a mile long including several boards and commissions we served on together.

Last week I joined Governor Tim Walz, Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, and Senator Karin Housley at Stillwater High School to hear from students, faculty, school board and staff on a variety of topics including the Peer Helper program where students help counsel each other. A number of Afton students in our district attend Stillwater High School, so I was pleased to make the trip.

Hastings constituent Dean Birnstengel visited with Minnesota Utility Investors.

Nurses including Jolene from Hastings and Michele stopped by my office to discuss safety issues in the nursing profession.

Members of Teamsters Local 320 visited recently, including Alston Dutchin and Maureen Acosta from Cottage Grove.

Hastings constituents and LIUNA Minnesota & North Dakota Local 563 members Diane McClain and James Mackey visited last week on Building Trades Day at the Capitol.

Kyrsten Wagner and Alix Paularena, Carpenters Local Union 322 members from Hastings, dropped by as part of Building Trades Day at the Capitol.

Regions Hospital Emergency Room doctors Dr. Jacob, left, and Dr. Alan Okada from Cottage Grove were at the Capitol to talk about issues they face including identifying those doctor shopping for opiates, mental illness and workplace safety.

Finally, PANS/PANDAS affects as many as 1 in 200 kids, some more severe than others. Families affected by this neurological disorder gathered at the Capitol recently to ask for help.

This is treatable and reversible with awareness, diagnosis and proper medication. PANDAS is brought on by strep or another infection with a sudden onset of intense anxiety, mood swings, OCD, and tics. The child can go from no symptoms to appearing autistic, but this is not a form of autism. In some cases antibiotics can reverse the symptoms but in more severe cases costly IVIG treatments are needed. 20/20 did a segment on Parker, which you can watch here (https://abcn.ws/2JFTeKB). His parents Brian and Natalie are pictured. As an update, Parker has improved but not without symptoms – yet.

Talk to you soon,
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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Legislative Update (4/5/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 4/5/2019

Hello from the State Capitol,

This week, Governor Tim Walz gave his first State of the State Address in the Minnesota House. I was joined at the event by Hastings High School teacher Mike Harp.

Following the address, Mr. Harp and I attended a Capitol reception and had the opportunity to meet with Governor Walz. My thanks to Mr. Harp for making the trip to St. Paul!

In the Minnesota House, omnibus spending bills – which are the proposals that will fund state government over the next two years – are being brought forward by our Democratic House majority.

In the Education Finance Division where I serve, the bill has been reviewed and sent to its next committee. Their transportation funding proposal includes a 20-cent per gallon gas tax increase, which if my emails are any indication, is strongly opposed by drivers in Dakota and Washington counties. And I’m not quite sure what to say yet about the health and human services bill, as it is 998 pages long. I know some people in the past have complained loudly about the use of omnibus bills and their overall size; these folks should know a change in party leadership hasn’t changed the way business is conducted in the House one bit.

I will keep you updated on these proposals as they move forward.

On Monday, Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, visited Minnesota.

A reception in his honor was held at the Governor’s residence in St. Paul hosted by Gov. Walz and the First Lady Gwen Walz.

You also may recall I was honored to have been asked to visit a number of local schools in February to read to students as part of “I Love to Read” month. Well you can imagine my surprise when I received dozens of handmade thank you cards this week from the students at Pine Hill Elementary in Cottage Grove! My day was made!

During the visit, I read a chapter from my favorite book from when I was their age, and left them a copy to read if they were interested. I was pleased to learn several have done just that. My thanks again to those schools that gave me the opportunity to read to their students.

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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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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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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