Peggy Bennett: Many bills have passed with bipartisan support

Published 6:25 pm Friday, May 18, 2018

Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

Peggy Bennett


By the time you read this column, we’ll have just about finished the 2018 legislative session in St. Paul. Though much can change between the time of writing and when you read this commentary, I wanted to keep our area as up-to-date as possible. I’m hopeful we’ll pass our major initiatives, like tax conformity, school safety, and others, and the governor will sign them into law. I’ll be sure to keep you updated once we’ve concluded the legislative session, and I’m confident we’ll have good news to report. Regardless of how the final hours turn out, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished between this session and last session.

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Working with a divided government has had its challenges, but we’ve shown an ability to get things done for Minnesotans. Last year, we passed a multi-billion-dollar road and bridge package that will have a big impact around the state. This means real money for our area. For example, Freeborn County will receive over $1.7 million in increased funding over the next four years. Likewise, the city of Albert Lea will receive an additional road and bridge investment of $272,000 of new funding from 2018-21.

Also, we invested $1.3 billion of increased funding for schools, which allows for a 2 percent yearly increase to the per-pupil formula. Again, the local impact of this legislation is extremely positive. Our funding increases meant $2.2 million of additional, new investment for Albert Lea schools. As a former teacher, I know how big of an impact this can make on a district like ours.

Though there are still matters being discussed late in session, there are some great bills that we’ve already passed with bipartisan support. On Wednesday, I took part in a conference committee to fix the minor differences between the House foster care legislation, and the one passed in the Senate. The final agreement includes my legislation: the Foster Sibling Bill of Rights.

This creates guidelines to help keep foster youth connected with their siblings who are in the care of different foster parents. It does so by promoting close connections for foster siblings (when it is in the best interest of each sibling), including visits, phone calls and taking part in important celebrations like birthdays. I see this as an important way to make the difficult process of foster care just a little easier for some of our most vulnerable Minnesotans. Now that we have agreement in the Legislature, I hope to see Gov. Dayton sign this bill into law.

As session winds down, I’m continuing to push for bills that matter to our area. The first bonding bill we passed contains two of our local projects: funding for Riverland Community College and funding to complete the Stables area water and sewer project. Our tax conformity bill has my legislation to create tax incentives for health care facilities that locate in medically underserved areas in rural Minnesota. Though these bills are currently in flux, I’ll continue to advocate for their inclusion in any final proposals this session.

I’ve enjoyed hearing from so many of you throughout the legislative session. It’s an honor to be your voice in St. Paul, and I’m daily humbled by this position and the responsibility I have to local residents. As we finish the legislative session at the Capitol, I won’t stop advocating for our area. We’ll wrap things up shortly, and I look forward to sharing all we’ve accomplished.

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 27A representative.