Local successes mark this legislative session

Published 10:03 am Friday, June 13, 2008

For two years now, I have had the honor of representing you in the Minnesota House of Representatives. It is a responsibility I take very seriously, and I want to thank the voters in District 27A for giving me this remarkable opportunity.

As I reflect on the two sessions I have served, I feel a real sense of pride in all we have accomplished. One of the first things we did under the new DFL majority was to set our top priorities. We committed ourselves to focusing on the issues Minnesotans care most about — education, health care, property tax relief, transportation and energy. I’m very pleased to say we have made significant progress on all of these issues, and we did it with bipartisan support and cooperation.

I have worked hard since I’ve been in office to listen to the needs of residents in our district and pass legislation to address those needs. One of my top priorities was to secure bonding money to complete the Edgewater Park project, a critical environmental concern for Albert Lea. This year, I was able to get this project included in the bonding bill, and as a result, the work can now move forward.

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Staff and residents of nursing homes in our area have talked to me about the struggles they face as a result of budget cuts in the past years. Over the last two years, we have succeeded in offering them a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for both 2008 and 2009. This funding will help many nursing homes stay open, and will offer better pay for the people who work there.

Early in my term, area farmers contacted me about adding brothers and sisters to the list of relatives who must be occupying and actively farming land in order for it to receive homestead classification. This session, this provision was added to the final tax bill.

Since session ended, I have been visiting residents in the community to tell them about this year’s legislative accomplishments. I recently spoke with a woman who said our success in passing property tax relief will help make it possible for her to stay in her home. It is very gratifying to learn that property tax relief is working in our area.

Now more than ever, Minnesota’s economic health depends on the strength of our state’s small businesses. Over the last two years, we have passed several measures to ensure the success of Minnesota’s largest job creators. Foremost has been the support we’ve offered to the three cornerstones that support small businesses: strong schools that consistently deliver highly-skilled workers; an efficient transportation system that keeps people and goods moving, and a comprehensive approach to the rising cost of health care that poses great challenges to small business.

A provision requiring health insurance companies operating in the small business sector to make employers aware of low-cost health care coverage plans available for their workers was signed into law at the end of the session. This will give small employers flexibility to pick and choose which coverage they want to include or exclude, and the ability to tailor their health insurance policy to better meet the needs of their employees.

Over the course of two years, the Legislature has approved $850 million for K-12 schools, including an additional funding increase this year of $51 per student. A landmark education funding reform plan that simplifies and increases public school funding, reduces property taxes and lays a foundation for every student to succeed when they graduate from high school was introduced, and will be a major focus of the next session.

Our transportation bill has been touted as a “triumph” by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. While the final package will not solve all of our transportation problems, it does bring over $10 million into Freeborn County for our local roads and bridges. This funding has the added advantage of creating jobs, helps curtail rising property taxes, and puts our state’s economic prosperity and the safety of Minnesota’s traveling public first.

Voters also told me they want to have a voice in protecting our environment and natural resources. Next fall, they will be given the opportunity to dedicate a portion of the state sales tax (three-eighths of 1 percent) to Minnesota’s environment and natural resources, parks and the arts. We also continued to build on our 2007 accomplishments by passing several environmental and natural resources initiatives.

As we look to the future, it is my hope that in upcoming sessions we can build upon the significant achievements that were enacted this year, and continue our progress toward keeping Minnesota a great place to live and work. As always, I am honored to serve. Please continue to be a part of the process by contacting me with your concerns and suggestions. I can be reached at (507) 438-9086, or by e-mail at rep.robin.brown@house.mn.

Robin Brown, DFL-Austin, is the state representative for District 27. She lives in Moscow Township in Freeborn County.