Surplus, bonding bill, safety top priorities for local legislators
Published 9:00 pm Friday, January 28, 2022
The Minnesota legislative session begins Monday, and Albert Lea’s representative and senator say some of their top priorities for the session will center around the state bonding bill, the projected $7.7 billion surplus and public safety concerns, among others.
District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said though the second year of the biennium is not a budget year, legislators will still be talking a lot about money with the surplus.
Bennett said she thinks the surplus needs to be spent responsibly.
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She would like to see the state tax on Social Security income be taken away, as Minnesota is one of the few states that has a tax on it. She said people who receive Social Security income are already getting hit with other increased costs right now.
She said she does not want to see new programs created with the surplus that will put the state on the hook for a lot of future payments.
“Our economy is not real stable right now,” Bennett said. “I would rather see that money go back to people in a way that makes sense.”
She said people can see relief through state funding in infrastructure, because local governments would, in turn, not have to tax their residents for these projects if they are already funded. She referenced things like wastewater treatment plants, roads, bridges and buildings.
After those types of investments, she would also support putting funding toward priorities the state has already identified that are not being adequately funded, such as nursing homes, caregivers that help seniors living at home and special education, to name a few.
“We have enough government needs without starting new programs,” she said. “I would be in favor of examining our current programs and looking at whether we’re funding adequately.”
District 27 Sen. Gene Dornink, R-Hayfield, said following the record inflation, supply chain issues and economic uncertainty, he is committed to fight for reducing taxes and stopping wasteful government spending so that hard-working residents can keep more of their own money.
Regarding the bonding bill, Bennett said though she is no longer on the bonding committee, she will do what she can to lobby for Albert Lea’s bonding requests, which include $30 million in funding for upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment plant and $8 million for the last phase of dredging on Fountain Lake.
“Both of those are very important, and I will push both of those,” she said. “It’s a priority of mine to get both of those in the bill.”
Though she recognizes it will likely be difficult to get both of the projects in the final bill, she hopes there will at least be enough money to get the dredging completed and the wastewater treatment plant project started.
Unemployment fund relief
Bennett said at the beginning of the pandemic when Gov. Tim Walz ordered businesses closed, a lot of people lost their jobs and many people filed for unemployment benefits. She said the businesses were promised the situation would not count against them, but now the businesses are having to pay more to build back the unemployment fund.
“I don’t think that’s right,” Bennett said, noting that she feels the state should feel obligated as a government to pay that back, using surplus funds or COVID-19 relief funds.
“We owe that to all the businesses that were shut down,” she said.
Dornink said all Minnesotans deserve to live and work in a safe community, and he will continue to support law enforcement officers that keep the communities safe. He will also work with law enforcement agencies to create incentive and retention policies to help the departments fill vacancies.
He said he thinks much of the crime across the state has been attributed to progressive policies like reducing or eliminating bail so criminals get released right away, as well as county prosecutors who ignore low-level crimes.
“It is time that prosecutors and our criminal justice system holds violent criminals accountable,” Dornink said.
Bennett said she, too, thinks the state needs to stop giving repeat offenders short sentences so they are able to get back out on the street, and the state needs to make sure counties and judges are following current sentencing guidelines.
COVID-19 related issues
Dornink said the closures of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been eye-opening for parents across the state.
“We need to get back to the basics and ensure our children are meeting literacy and math standards, so they have the tools needed for a successful future,” he said. “We also need to make sure schools have adequate staff in the building so kids can catch up from online COVID learning loss.”
Bennett said she has a bill concerning vaccine mandates. While she is not anti-vaccine, she said she thinks people should be able to choose what treatments and vaccines they get for their own bodies and they should also get informed consent of possible side effects regarding their choices.
She also asked why people are getting fired for not being vaccinated, when the vaccination has not been shown to stop transmission.
“It’s a treatment that helps people not get as sick,” she said. “But we don’t force cancer treatments on people. We don’t force diabetic treatments on people. We let them choose. … Things need to make sense, and right now things don’t make sense.”
The bill would address vaccine mandates for both businesses and education.
Regarding the vaccine mandates for health care workers, she said it is a safety issue for hospitals because there is already large concern about an extreme shortage of staff, and with a vaccine mandate, it will make the problem worse.
Bennett said she plans to introduce a bill for a podiatrist in Iowa who would like to practice in Albert Lea but is unable to because of licensing difference between Minnesota and Iowa.
She also plans to introduce her omnibus reform bill again, and she hopes the bill will get a hearing this year. The bill supports bringing government back to a one-bill-one-vote process, instead of lumping many smaller bills into large omnibus bills.