State lawmakers hear from constituents at Legislative Breakfast event
WORTHINGTON — Southwest Minnesota’s three state legislators heard citizens’ questions and comments Friday morning during a legislative breakfast event at the Travelodge Hotel.
District 22A Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton. R-Mountain Lake, and District 22 Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, were all present at the event, which was moderated by Radio Works General Manager Chad Cummings.
The recently passed minimum wage increase and the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System project were both hot topics at the session.
Cummings asked each of the legislators to share their opinion on the minimum wage increase, and their thoughts on how it will affect Minnesota businesses. An additional question from the audience addressed the possible underlying reason the bill was passed — dealing with government contracts.
“There are some contracts that are tied to the minimum wage increase,” Hamilton said. “If the minimum wage goes up, then so do some costs in those contracts.”
Weber added that the minimum wage increase will create ripple effects in the state.
“Basically the only industry that there was any provision made for was in the nursing home industry,” Weber said, “but on the floor my comment was this: ‘By in large, from the people in the district here and specifically people in the food industry, they were against raising the minimum wage.
“A common theme from supporters of the increase in minimum wage is nobody should have to work full time and still be poor,” he continued. “In reality, $9.50 isn’t going to accomplish that.”
Weber believes the increase sets the stage for cost-of-living increases, such as in food and fuel, and that there will either be cuts in hours for workers or elimination of positions.
“I just hope we don’t have to go back and look our people in the eyes, because they’ve had less income,and higher costs, and answer to them when they ask, “What have you done to us?”’ Weber said.
Officials were asked to give an update on the Lewis and Clark project, and what they’ll need to do from a statewide perspective to get water to southwest Minnesota.
“This is obviously an extremely important project, and when it comes to bonding projects, I rank this one of the highest,” Hamilton said. “The Lewis and Clark project has the governor’s support, and we have so much support and involvement back here. We have $20.2 million in the bill right now, and we also had the governor say that if there’s a bonding bill of $1.2 billion that he would fight to fund the entire project.”
Schomacker, who has been spearheading the issue at the capital, also spoke about the project.
“There are different things we can do, such as the Homestead Credits and a few other things, to present forward and say, ‘We’ll go along with the $1.2 billion bonding bill if we can get a concession somewhere else along the way,”’ Schomacker said.
Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark said that looking at the current well supply — and the circumstances the city is in — it’s a dire situation.
“I’ve told Senator (LeRoy) Stumpf (who chairs the Capital Investment Committee) that the absolute minimum we should have in the bill is $40 million —instead of the $20 million — because that at least gets us to the Lincoln Pipestone Rural Water connection to funnel some water to Worthington, because that’s the overall goal,” Weber explained.
Officials also talked about a controversial e-cigarette bill that has been moving through the Legislature that would create state mandates in addition to the current smoke-free law.
“We had 20 students from Worthington come up and talk about this, and as a legislature that is very impactful,” Hamilton said.
“There are some things that they raised the awareness on about e-cigarettes that I wasn’t aware of, as far as what are the toxins that are being emitted,” he added. “They brought up samples — they do smell really good, so you can see how you can hook children on this stuff.”
Hamilton said that while not enough is now known, he believes e-cigarettes should be in the same category as tobacco cigarettes.
Schomacker said the e-cigarette controversy isn’t over making it more difficult for kids to get them, but rather making them part of the Clean Air Act. The public sentiment is that they should be part of the legislation, he stated.
District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard brought up concerns related to education mandates and how the affect District 518.
“The first one I really want to address is the teacher evaluation, which in my opinion was the Minnesota Chamber’s version to get rid of teacher tenure,” Landgaard said. “The reality of it is, it’s made it much more difficult to address teachers.”
Teacher evaluation legislation allows local school districts to design their own evaluation systems that meet specific state mandated criteria or implement a model evaluation system that Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) will develop.
“The cost to the school right now for that is $250,000 excluding time of staff, which is doubled whether it’s administrators or teachers to complete the process,” Landgaard said. “So when you start figuring that time in, the dollar amount goes up in a hurry.”
The question of the Homestead Credit cap being raised due to the increase in land prices was discussed.
“I think, probably at this point in the session, the cap won’t get raised this year,” Weber said. “With two tax bills having gone through the Senate already, I don’t imagine that there will be anyone as far as leadership is concerned that’s going to be willing to open up that topic again.”
Hamilton concluded the event by saying that attendance of the sessions is a “great way to get your voice heard.” He also encouraged folks to travel to the Capitol on a bus provided by the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce’s Governmental Affairs Committee — which coordinated Friday’s event — to speak on issues of concern to them.
Daily Globe Reporter Erin Trester may be reached at 376-7322.