Lunch shaming in schools (3/6/2020)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 3/6/2020

Hello from St. Paul,

A bill I’m chief-authoring that would address lunch shaming in schools will soon have a full debate on the Minnesota House floor. It’s illegal for schools to demean students in order to collect lunch debt, yet we continue to hear stories about how students with negative school lunch balances have their meals tossed in the garbage.

The good news is these incidents aren’t happening locally. But they shouldn’t be happening in any other Minnesota school either, which is why I’m taking action.

Students should not be demeaned or stigmatized because their lunch fund balance is below zero. As I’ve said before, schools should be paid for meals they provide, but that transaction should be held between the district and the parents – not kids.

GOOD NEWS FOR FARMERS

A popular state loan program could soon be available to farmers thanks to recent action taken by the Minnesota House of Representatives.

With strong bipartisan support, the House voted in favor of a bill I’m co-authoring to dedicate $50 million to the Rural Finance Authority (RFA) loan program, which ran out of funding on February 21.

The RFA is Minnesota’s main agricultural lending arm. It partners with agricultural lenders to provide low-cost financing to farmers on terms and conditions not otherwise available from other credit sources.

The bill now heads to the Minnesota Senate for its approval.

READ ACROSS AMERICA DAY

This week I was able to read to 3rd grade students from Ms. Kielsa’s class at Armstrong Elementary School in Cottage Grove as part of “Read Across America Day,” which is held every March 2 in order to encourage and celebrate the joy of reading. It also falls on the same day as author Dr. Suess’ birthday. Thanks for having me!

LOCAL VISITORS

Students Meghan McNamara and Natalie Sorenson as well as Amy Rowan and Derrick Jaeger from the Hastings YMCA stopped by. Meghan and Natalie are very supportive of activities at the Y and have also been active in the Youth In Government program.

FFA Day at the Capitol took place on Tuesday. I was pleased to visit with Annabelle and Leah, representing the Randolph Chapter of Future Farmers of America at the FFA Legislative reception.

Troy Weathers from Hastings was at the Capitol this week for Bank Day.

Hastings constituent Mike McCartney was in for a quick visit with Bike Walk Summit.

Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA) visited recently including Tim Powers, Cody Olson, Pete Olson, Joby Nolan and Scott Frampton.

Justice Alan Page and Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis have been traveling the state to talk about their proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment to the state’s education clause. They spoke at a House education event today.

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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Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account (2/28/2020)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 2/28/2020

Hello from St. Paul,

For the past two years, our communities have been forced to deal with concerns of spring flooding, and this year will likely be no exception.

When disasters strike, cities often utilize Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account to help pay for their damage. The account was created to allocate funds to communities impacted by natural disasters and to avoid calling special sessions to authorize the appropriation of these funds.

Much like last year, the Disaster Assistance Contingency Account sits nearly empty. But legislation I’m co-authoring that would refill the account has taken a major step forward.

The plan allocates $30 million in Fiscal Year 2020 to Minnesota’s disaster assistance contingency account, effective the day after final enactment. The bill, which reflects Governor Walz’ recommendation, would cover the projected $3 million deficit, provide $20 million for anticipated spring 2020 disaster expenses, and provide $7 million for disaster assistance for the remainder of the 2020-21 biennium. It was recently approved in the Minnesota House Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division.

We want impacted cities to immediately begin recovery efforts when trouble arrives. Even with a similar budget surplus last year, it took a while to put money back into the account. Now both Governor Walz and members of the House majority are on board, and I look forward to a faster success story.

I think its great news that Republicans and Democrats are now on the same page when it comes to having disaster relief money available, and that’s only going to benefit cities like Hastings, Cottage Grove, and Afton down the road. Longer term I’d like to look at finding a mechanism where the account is automatically refilled and we don’t have to continue going through this process, but for now I’m pleased with the immediate momentum for this proposal.

February is “I Love to Read Month” and I had the privilege of reading to several groups of students recently. It’s truly one of the highlights of being a state representative. The groups included Kindergarten students in Ms. Gibson’s and Ms. Wenzel’s classrooms at Kennedy Elementary School in Hastings, kindergarten students at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton school in Hastings, and first graders at Newport Elementary. Thanks to all of these schools for allowing me to participate!

Minnesota School Bus Driver Appreciation Day also took place this week, and I stopped by the Hastings Bus Company to thank these professionals for helping get our kids safely to and from school each day.

Recently I had the privilege of attending an Eagle Scout Court of Honor and personally presenting Minnesota House Resolutions congratulating Ben Storm, Rick Fillmore, Sam Storm and Jason Fillmore for earning the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest achievement in scouting. These young men are members of Boy Scouts of America Troop 9907 in Cottage Grove.

Afton constituent Ruth Ann Michnay visited with the Minnesota Society of CPAs to advocate for reduced complexity and federal conformity including Section 179, uniform application of partnership audits and creating a private letter ruling program.

Hastings constituent Paula Rabaey and Stephanie de Samlazano with Minnesota Occupational Therapy Association visited to discuss licensure updates including a reduction in physician paperwork, a license renewal date proposal and continuing education requirements.

Cottage Grove constituents Katelyn Woehnker and Austin Rose stopped by advocating for several bills on behalf of the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota including Seizure Smart Schools, patient access to prescription drugs, and prior authorization reform.

Cottage Grove constituent Morgan Kielsa is a U of MN dental hygiene student and was at the Capitol with the Minnesota Dental Hygienists Association.

The Church Ambassador Network coordinated a visit with Hastings Pastors including Pastor Paris Pasch, The Journey Church, Carl Bower, Mission Pastor at The Harbor, Pastor Randy Berg, Calvary Christian Church, Pastor Neil Johnson, River of Life, Director Jeff Evans, Church Ambassador Network and Pastor Jim Anderson, The Harbor Church.

It was Biker Day at the Capitol recently and I was joined by St Croix Valley Riders members including President Mark Koon, Michelle Moreno and Rhys Moreno. Issues include opposing mandatory helmet laws, motorcycle insurance choice, anti-profiling and having a greater portion of driver license motorcycle endorsement fees going to motorcycle safety courses.

We also had Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Day at the Capitol this week. I had the pleasure of visiting with Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce members including President Wayne Butt, Director Ramona Westerberg, Chamber Executive Director Laurie Gibson Levine, Director Randy Bachman, and 2nd Vice President Dan Myers.

Kristy Barse, Chamber President at the Hastings Minnesota Area Chamber of Commerce also stopped by. I had the pleasure of having Kristy join me in the House Chamber during our floor session and in the Retiring Room.

Minnesota Academy of Physician Assistants Kelsey McFarlane and Rachel Reamer, constituents from Afton and Hastings respectively, were at the Capitol with MAPA.

Wendy, Stephanie, Kaitlyn and Hastings resident Anna are Physical Therapy students at St. Kate’s. They were in recently with the Minnesota Physical Therapy Association to advocate for unrestricted direct access to physical therapy.

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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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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