Senate Report: City of Austin showcased at the Minnesota State Capitol

Published 8:45 pm Friday, March 17, 2023

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Senate Report by Gene Dornink

Gene Dornink

Friends and neighbors,

Universal school lunches

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All Minnesota students should have access to a nutritious breakfast and lunch. However, legislation for the state government to provide these meals to every student is unnecessary.

Our state programs already go far beyond federal requirements — and far beyond most states. Minnesota provides free meals to students who only qualify for reduced-price meals.

And, due to legal interpretations, current state law is understood to require every child to be served a meal — even if they have unpaid school lunch debt. Therefore, this bill will not help provide lunches to families who cannot afford them, it will provide meals to families who can already afford them.

With the cost of this program estimated at $400 million per biennium, the tax dollars of hard-working Minnesotans can be much better spent elsewhere. Right now, nearly half of Minnesota students cannot read at their grade level. That is why I believe we must focus our state resources on improving academic achievement, particularly addressing our literacy crisis.

Community updates

The city of Austin is on showcase at the Minnesota State Capitol through a recently opened photo exhibit — Our Austin, Our America. William Taufic, who grew up in Austin and is the son of an immigrant, is the artist behind this collaborative community project.

Taufic has spent the past 41 years as a photographer. After learning that Austin is now home to a great number of immigrants and refugees from more than 50 countries, Taufic was inspired to tell their personal stories through a book of portraits. And now at the Capitol, Taufic’s vision is brought to life through an immersive photo gallery display.

Our Austin, Our America will be on display at the Capitol’s third floor exhibit gallery through June 30. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and closed every Sunday. I invite you to visit St. Paul to see the photos and learn about some of the amazing people in our community.

Additionally, I am thrilled to share that the University of Minnesota recently announced the school will purchase nearly 750 acres of land in Mower County, just outside of the city of Austin. This means that plans are moving forward to create a new complex — the Future of Advanced Agricultural Research Minnesota (FAARM) center — for agriculture research and teaching.

This new center will provide researchers with greater opportunities to utilize innovative technologies to study changes in soil, crops and livestock. The university’s aim is to find more sustainable farming techniques to feed a growing population. Not only is this new complex important to our state’s agriculture future, but it is also a much-welcomed addition to our community. I look forward to seeing the positive impacts the new FAARM center will have in our local area and throughout the entire state.

And finally, legislation I am carrying this session to provide Mower County an appropriation for the alternatives to incarceration program was heard in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. I would like to thank Austin Mayor, King, for his expert testimony and leadership on this bill. The funding in this bill will be used by the commissioner of corrections to facilitate access to community treatment options. If passed, Mower County would become the fourth county to offer this pilot program.

Our community has experienced a notable increase in overdose deaths. Therefore, instead of just focusing on the high-risk offenders, this legislative increase in funding will allow Mower County to provide support to people on probation who are experiencing mental illness and substance abuse disorders, such as fentanyl addiction.

This legislation was laid over for possible inclusion in a larger public safety package, and I will continue to share updates on this bill as session advances.

Contact me

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me. I want to hear your thoughts and your priorities for this legislative session! Feel free to email me at or give me a call at 651-296-5240.

Gene Dornink, R-Brownsdale, is the District 23 senator.