WORTHINGTON — District 22 Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, was the only area state legislator available to attend a Saturday morning legislative coffee event sponsored by the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce.
District 22A Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, and District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, were also invited, but Schomacker had a scheduling conflict and Hamilton was ill overnight Friday into Saturday.
Weber spent an hour taking questions from his constituents, spanning a wide range of concerns and topics. Among topics of prime interest to those in attendance was Weber's stance on individual counties needing to vote in order to accept refugee resettlement.
"I think the governor is wrong" to penalize counties for saying no to refugees, Weber said. However, he added, he agrees with Gov. Tim Walz that the federal government shouldn't tell any local entity to accept refugees. Weber was adamant that counties should be able to decide for themselves.
His focus on individual liberty continued into the discussion on renewable energy.
There is a current requirement in place that the state must be using 25% renewable energy by 2025, and Minnesota has already met that milestone, Weber said. There is a recent legislative push to raise that threshold, a move Weber said he opposes.
"I think at this point in time, the renewable energy industry has to stand on its own," he said.
Weber explained that he favors a free-market approach based on consumer demand rather than a government mandate to produce or use a certain amount of renewable energy. He added that it's impossible for people to ever be 100% dependent on renewable energy.
"The sun doesn't always shine; the wind doesn't always blow," he said.
Weber's "individual rights" attitude does not universally apply to all policy issues, however, as he stated Saturday that he opposes abortion rights and will not support legalizing recreational marijuana.
Weber also consistently supports lowering government spending, a stance he continued to espouse when taking constituent questions.
With more than $1 billion in surplus for 2020-2021, Weber suggested that the state use it to "expand the scope of capital improvement projects," paying cash rather than borrowing money. He said he's OK with using the surplus on one-time projects, but believes the state shouldn't use it on ongoing efforts that will require future spending.
Community members asked Weber about housing and business redevelopment, a key component in rural municipal growth.
Weber said that one major reason why it's difficult to get developers to build in Greater Minnesota is that when meting out grant funds, the state often assigns a higher prevailing wage than is the reality. This means that new housing is estimated at a rent cost so high that community members wouldn't be able to live there.
Weber noted that a lot of proposed housing is planned to cost $225,000 to $250,000 per unit to build.
"That's not affordable workforce housing," he said, adding, "How much of that is a result of government regulation?" He called for fewer state requirements as an effort to support housing development.
The senator told the group he doesn't have any specific bills in mind for the 2020 session, other than a few bonding requests from some communities in the district.