Combating crime and giving law enforcement the support officers need (2/21/2020)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 2/21/2020

Hello from St. Paul,

This week, House Republicans unveiled a comprehensive plan that’s designed to keep Minnesotans safe by combating crime and giving law enforcement the support officers need in order to better protect the public.

There’s little doubt that crime, particularly violent crime, is on the rise in the Twin Cities.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently reported that two thirds of neighborhoods in Minneapolis saw an increase in overall crime in 2019—including a 70 percent spike in the Minneapolis Downtown East neighborhood. 2019 saw an all-time high in serious crimes committed on Metro Transit Light Rail, and St. Paul saw a doubling in the homicide rate in 2019, much of it connected to gang violence.

In addition, Minnesota’s Violence Crime Enforcement Teams saw major increases in the amounts of meth, heroin, and cocaine compared to 2018—much of it being trafficked by gangs and produced and smuggled into the United States by Mexican drug cartels.

To combat this issue, we’ve unveiled a series of proposals designed to improve public safety. They include more funding for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for gang and drug trafficking efforts; strengthened penalties for gang members who use firearms in a crime; increased enforcement of light rail fare evasion, more officers for Metro Transit police, and interactive cameras installed on light rail platforms.

While it’s true that inner city crime does not have a direct impact on East Metro communities, many local residents travel to Minneapolis and St. Paul for any number of reasons: to dine, take in a ball game, or attend the theater, to name a few. They deserve to feel safe if they’re walking around the downtown areas or riding the light rail. It’s an issue that affects us all. If you want to hear what a light rail operator deals with on a daily basis, watch this.

I have seen first-hand the challenges being faced by those in the law enforcement community. Ride-alongs with Hastings, Cottage Grove, and Roseville police and Dakota and Washington County deputies have shown me that no two calls or traffic stops are ever alike. Those who keep us safe always deserve our support. Approving these public safety proposals would be a step in that direction.

Now that we are back in St. Paul, constituent visits are on the rise, which is always good to see.

Mark Gallagher from Cottage Grove distributed information for Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance. Mark has been an advocate for those who have suffered from traumatic brain injury.

Amy Zellmer is Editor-in-Chief of The Brain Health Magazine. She stopped by to deliver a copy of her magazine and to visit about possible legislative ideas.

I had the good fortune of sitting with Hastings Chamber members Derrick Jaeger, Naomi Senter, Kristy Barse & Kellie Akin at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Session Priorities gathering. The statewide chamber is pushing for tax competitiveness, health care, workplace management, and more.

You might remember Mark Zuzek as the Hastings Middle School principal, but for the last year and a half he has been Superintendent at Intermediate School District 917 which is a specialty school district that provides defined student services in the areas of special education, area learning centers, career technical programs and online learning. Minnesota has 4 intermediate school districts that serve more than 20,000 students. Mr. Zuzek took me on a tour last week at two ISD-917 locations where they shared amazing results with their students.

Janet and John Bremer, dairy farmers from Nininger Township near Hastings were at the Capitol with Minnesota Milk Producers. They joined me in the House chamber during our floor session to talk about dairy issues.

I attended a Dakota-Scott Workforce Development discussion with other legislators to discuss workforce issues. Minnesota has high workforce participation, low unemployment and too many young people moving out of state which results in hiring challenges for growing Minnesota businesses.

Have a good weekend,
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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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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