Politicians look ahead to ’14 session

MARSHALL – Subzero temperatures didn’t dissuade local residents and Minnesota legislators from meeting up Monday.

About 20 people gathered at the Marshall municipal building for a town hall meeting with Rep. Chris Swedzinski and Sen. Gary Dahms. Topics of conversation ranged from health care to the upcoming “Un-session” at the Legislature.

Swedzinski, R-Ghent, and Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, were on an area tour to discuss the 2014 legislative session, and to hear constituents’ concerns. The session begins Feb. 25, and Swedzinski and Dahms said some legislative committee meetings may be held in the last week of January.

“Hopefully, it will be a productive session,” Dahms said.

Audience questions and concerns covered a wide range of topics.

Some audience members made requests for state laws to be reformed during the upcoming. Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Klint Willert asked if unfunded education mandates would be on the agenda.

Swedzinski said he hoped legislators would get to reconsider measures like the anti-bullying bill, both for its cost to taxpayers and to help preserve school districts’ local control for bullying policies.

Dahms said this year an even stronger anti-bullying bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate. However, he said he shared concerns about the bill being too far-reaching and costly. “We shouldn’t make schools accountable for things that happen outside of school,” like cyberbullying, he said.

Swedzinski added that there were other reforms he hoped the Legislature would consider during the session.

“My hope is, we will undo some of the taxes we’ve seen,” Swedzinski said.

Dahms said he hoped lawmakers could get rid of some of the “mission creep” going on between different government departments and increase their financial accountability.

Willert and Southwest/West Central Service Cooperatives Executive Director Cliff Carmody urged Dahms and Swedzinski to consider reforms of special education mandates beyond those required by federal law, teacher evaluations and “excessive” standardized testing requirements.

Transportation issues also got a lot of attention at the meeting. Cal Brink, director of the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce, asked Dahms and Swedzinski if they thought the Legislature would be looking at the possibility of a gas tax increase to raise funds for state roads and infrastructure. Swedzinski said it wasn’t likely that the House would re-visit that issue in the upcoming session. Dahms said he didn’t think the Senate would look at a gas tax increase this year.

John Bornhoft of Buffalo Ridge Concrete asked Swedzinski and Dahms to lend their support to the Better Trucks Initiative, a bill which would increase the maximum size and load weight of semi trucks permitted on Minnesota trucking routes. The measure would allow six- or seven-axle trucks hauling loads of 90,000 to 97,000 pounds. Bornhoft said passing the bill would lower hauling costs for businesses and simplify Minnesota’s current rules and exemptions for trucking.

“The end result is it would save the public money,” Bornhoft said.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation also endorsed increasing the weight and axle limits in a 2006 report, Bornhoft said.

Audience members also asked Dahms and Swedzinski what they thought of problems with MNsure. Dahms said he hoped health care reforms at both the state and federal level would be brought back before legislators.

“Yes, there are things we can do to make it better,” Dahms said.

In particular, he said there needed to be more accountability in getting the system running, and making it work without causing many Minnesotans to lose their current health insurance plans.