Legislature takes up immigration, water, vets and other issues

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 5, 2006

Dan Sparks, State Senator

Wednesday marked the first day of the 2006 legislative session, and lawmakers wasted no time getting to work. Committees have been meeting throughout February and the slate of issues on this year’s short, 12-week agenda is already long.

Bonding: At least every two years, the state passes a capital investment package that funds construction projects statewide. This year, the state’s budget will allow us to borrow nearly a $1 billion, but almost $2 billion worth of projects are requesting funding.

I will be pressing hard for our local projects to be included in the final bill-money for Shooting Star Recreation Trail expansions; heating and ventilation improvements at Riverland Community College; improvements to Kathryn Island and some sewers in Albert Lea; $5 million for Austin flood relief; and additional money for regional, long-term flood solutions such as retention ponds.

Immigration: Immigration reform is something only the federal government can do, but several proposals addressing legal and illegal immigration have been floated in Minnesota this year. Everything from asking local police to take on federal immigration-enforcement roles to supplying more resources for English language and citizenship classes has been discussed.

Because this is an area not familiar to state governments, there is a lot of learning to be done on the part of every lawmaker, but I believe this is a discussion definitely worth having.

Eminent domain: In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling authorizing local governments to seize private property under certain circumstances. Minnesota is just one of several states that will be refining its laws to ensure private property owners’ rights are thoroughly protected.

Clean waters: The goal of the Clean Water Legacy Act is to protect Minnesota’s waters by meeting federal standards that require cleanup of polluted water. The Senate passed this policy in 2005, but it failed in the House. If no cleanup plan is put into place soon, the state risks federal sanctions, including prohibitions on economic development.

Veterans: This year, we hope to follow up on last year’s success on initiatives to support our troops. Items on the 2006 agenda include in-state tuition for nonresident soldiers and veterans; tax exemptions for military retirement pay; increased funding for the State Soldiers Assistance Program; and bonuses for Minnesotans serving in the Global War on Terrorism.

Identity theft: A package of legislation to protect Minnesotans from identity theft includes a bill I am carrying, which requires credit bureaus to notify consumers when someone requests their credit information. Consumers would be allowed to freeze their credit report if they detect unlawful access to their information.

I have been working with an Austin couple experiencing great stress resulting from their identity information being stolen. What I have learned from them has convinced me this is one of the top issues that should be addressed in 2006.

Regional issues: In February, the I-90 Group was announced-a group of more than 30 lawmakers representing districts along the I-90 corridor. I am a co-chair of this bipartisan group, which is stressing cooperation on several issues important to Southern Minnesota. Together, we are supporting funding for a Mayo Clinic-Hormel Institute bioscience partnership, increased alternative energy development initiatives in our region, rural road and bridge funding, and several other pieces of legislation.

If you have any questions or concerns during the legislative session, do not hesitate to contact my Capitol office at 651-296-9248; sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn; G24 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155.

(Dan Sparks is a DFL Party state senator from Austin.)