Dan Sparks: Spring has sprung, and it is busy at the Capitol
Published 8:02 pm Friday, March 22, 2019
Senate Report by Dan Sparks
The first official day of spring was Wednesday, and after the winter we’ve had, more sunshine and warmer temperatures is something we all need. However, the amount of snow we’ve had is presenting major challenges that all of us will face over the coming weeks.
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We had one of the snowiest winters in Minnesota history, which has hit our farmers particularly hard. Heavy, wet snow caused numerous roof collapses throughout the state, affecting dozens of farms. Repairs to these facilities, sheds and other buildings can cost tens of thousands of dollars per building. At a time when many family farms are struggling, repairing these buildings can be a major burden for families.
This is something that we are working to address at the Capitol. My colleagues and I came together to pass necessary legislation to allow the Rural Finance Authority Board to extend low-interest loans to farmers who have been affected by a collapse. I want to thank Gov. Walz for quickly signing this legislation into law to move this money as quickly as possible into the hands of farmers. I encourage any farms affected by these issues to reach out to my office or the Department of Agriculture if they need assistance.
I’m optimistic that we’ve seen the last of the snow for this year, but with the rise in temperatures the snow we do have is now melting, and that brings another set of challenges with spring flooding. Across the Midwest, many states are facing record flooding threatening farms, infrastructure and communities. Our own area is experiencing the effects of flooding already, and the potential is there for it to continue over the next few weeks.
The Legislature is preparing for the effects of this flooding, and other potential disasters that could happen. Our biggest priority is refilling the state’s disaster relief contingency fund, so that we have money that can be used immediately to address needs. This fund is currently empty, but bills are swiftly moving through the legislature to provide $10 million to be ready and available for this fund. It’s important to have immediate funding available that does not rely on a special session.
Another issue that we have been working on is reimbursing deputy registrars who experienced difficulties during the roll out of the Minnesota Licensing and Renewal System. I have heard from deputy registrars throughout our area who are struggling due to the issues related to MnLARS. It’s only right for the state to step in and help assist them, and to make sure they are receiving support they need.
Albert Lea also received some very good news for those who are ready to get outside this spring. A nearly $1 million federal grant has been awarded for the Blazing Star Trail. This funding will be used build a bridge over Albert Lea Lake to connect Blazing Star Trail from Albert Lea to Hayward. Completing the trail has been and continues to be a major priority for me, and we are one step closer to making it a reality.
Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the District 27 senator.