Dan Sparks: Work begins for the 2017 legislative session

Published 9:00 am Sunday, January 8, 2017

Senate Report by Dan Sparks

The start of the 2017 legislative session kicked off the first week of January.

The DFL lost its majority in the November election, but the Republican majority is very thin, just 34 members to the DFL’s 33. This margin will likely appear in the press frequently — as it means there is going to need to be much more collaboration in the Senate to get things done. As one of the DFL’s few rural members, I share many of the same issues as my rural Republican colleagues. From agriculture to transportation, I look forward to working across the aisle to get important work done for southern Minnesota.

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This session I have been named the DFL lead on the Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Committee. I am excited to return to working with commerce issues, after not serving on the committee last term, but serving as its vice chairman in my two previous terms. As the committee with jurisdiction over insurance, I expect we will spend a significant amount of time discussing MNsure-related legislation.

Dan Sparks

Dan Sparks

I will also serve on the Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Finance Committee. After serving as chair of the Jobs and Agriculture Policy Committee the past four years, I’m looking forward to continuing this work. This is an important committee that is focused on issues that uniquely affect rural parts of the state.

Finally, I will serve on the Capital Investment Committee, also called the Bonding Committee. Governor Dayton just recently announced his jobs bill, totaling $1.5 billion which could create around 23,000 jobs. That kind of investment really helps the statewide economy and communities in our district with local road and bridge funding, wastewater and drinking water projects and higher education investments, among other items.   

While no committee hearings have happened yet, I’m expecting there to be a lot of discussion about how to help lower premium rates for people buying their health insurance on the individual market. Premiums skyrocketed last fall, and the Senate DFL along with Governor Dayton proposed credits to reduce rates in order to offer immediate relief to Minnesotans not receiving federal aid. If the Legislature approves this plan in the next few weeks, relief could happen as soon as early March. I know many families are struggling with these high monthly payments in southern Minnesota and it’s very important to me that we act quickly to provide relief.

Minnesotans should also expect to hear further discussions about a transportation package. Investment in our aging road and bridge infrastructure is something that’s dominated discussions for the past few years. However, there is disagreement on how to pay for a long-term transportation funding package. I hope this year we can make headway on resolving this issue and find a path forward; our roads and bridges are in desperate need of more money!

Finally, this session I hope to finalize a tax relief proposal for all Minnesotans. We passed a comprehensive and quite progressive tax bill last year that enjoyed considerable bipartisan support. Unfortunately, due to a drafting error that would have caused a substantial loss of state revenue, Governor Dayton vetoed the bill, and a special session to fix the bill never materialized. Passing tax relief for farmers, middle class families, veterans and students is very important to me this session.

If there are any pressing matters you’d like to see addressed this legislative session, please don’t hesitate to contact my office.

Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the state senator for District 27.