Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Week of October 28, 2007

Schedule: On Sunday, October 28th, I spent some time knocking on a few doors in the district just to keep in touch with constituents. It is very easy to become isolated from the district at the Capitol, so I wanted to see what is on their minds. On Tuesday, October 29th, I sat in on part of a House Education Finance Reform Work Group chaired by Rep. Greiling. The presenter from P.S. Minnesota outlined how the state's education formula can be changed to be simpler and to make it more effective to local needs. On Wednesday, October 30th, I sat in on a meeting of the Legislative Electric Energy Task Force, where it had presentations on nuclear energy, transmission lines, and electricity distribution. On Thursday, November 1st, I attended a meeting of the 35W/E Coalition, an effort of several north metro cities to coordinate their transportation and land use decisions. (The cities include Hugo, Lino Lakes, Centerville, Forest Lake, and Columbus.)

Visitors: On Sunday, October 28th I met with a bridge collapse survivor from the district about the experience. (In the interests of this person's privacy, I'll just leave it at that.) On Monday, October 29th at the Capitol, I met with a house researcher on a consumer issue; two staffers from Hennepin County and a county lobbyist about proposed compost legislation; staff from the Anoka County Community Action Program about energy assistance programs; legislative affairs staff from the University of Minnesota about their proposed bonding package for 2008 (watch short on-line video presentations on-line); staff and police from the City of Minneapolis about my scrap metal legislation and a bill that would change regulation of pawn shops; and staff from the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District. On Tuesday, October 30th, I met with a lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council & American Plastics Council who introduced me to their new regional director.

Constituent contacts: North Oaks resident about pay-for-performance for doctors; Shoreview resident grateful for support on environmental issues; Shoreview resident pleased with new Shoreview-to-Minneapolis express bus service; Shoreview resident upset that Governor is not supporting a comprehensive transportation package; Shoreview resident suggesting sentencing reform for drug crimes; Shoreview resident promoting Oklahoma's approach to illegal immigration; Lino Lakes resident commenting on remarks of the President of the Taxpayers League of MN about education

A West Virginia resident also e-mailed all MN legislators recommending that we work to repeal the 17th amendment, which allowed for direct election of U.S. Senators, rather than having state legislatures select them. (This amendment passed in 1913 as a way to avoid the "smoke-filled room" method of picking U.S. Senators and to combat political machines. It was a hallmark of the Progressive Era, as was the push to create a direct primary for state offices instead of just relying on endorsements by party insiders.)

The meeting on the Mosquito Control District was intriguing, since most local residents don't know when the MMCD is spraying or applying treatment in their area. Here's a link to the MMCD's frequently asked questions page. The main objective when they use helicopters is to drop a "natural soil bacterium" (bacillus thuringiensis israelensis) on wetlands, although the MMCD does "fog" with a pesticide (the neurotoxins permethrin and resmethrin) for adult mosquitoes by request from cities. Permethrin is toxic to fish and cats.

You may have seen some TV reports about the President of the Taxpayers League (and my predecessor) and his comments about education recently. Although healthy and articulate debate about education should always be welcome, I found many of the comments to be disappointing and without any basis from data.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bridge Survivors: What is the State's Role?

Blog readers will remember that a Shoreview resident was among those killed in the 35W bridge collapse. I was contacted this week by a person from the district whose car fell onto the collapsed bridge and her spouse. Because of data privacy issues, legislators were not able to get any kind of lists of those who survived the collapse. Legislators have been hearing from other survivors and their loved ones about the challenges of their recovery. My colleague Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley recently helped to convene a meeting to hear the testimony from these folks, and he is proposing that the state create a Minnesota Disaster Survivors Compensation Fund. He developed this idea during the regular session so that the legislature did not have to meet in special session to get funds flowing to assist disaster victims. It is based on a fund that was set up successfully for 9/11 victims.

I would like to hear from constituents about this issue. What do you think is a fair way to address this issue?

10/31: I thought the Pioneer Press did a good job of discussing the pros and cons of this issue in their editorial on 10/29, "Help for Immediate Needs, Caution about Precedent." A letter in the 10/31 Pioneer Press, "It All Comes from Taxpayers," left me a little cold.

Education Subcommittee on Expectations & Accountability

One of the key issues in K-12 education is testing, and it leads to a lot of questions. For example, are we testing the right things for students? How much does it cost to administer the tests? Are we testing too much and teaching too little? Senator Rummel is co-chairing a Senate Education Subcommittee on Expectations & Accountability that is looking at this issue. She and Rep. Kathy Brynaert of Mankato are also co-chairing a Joint Education Policy Accountability Work Group so that both the House and Senate can hear about the most efficient ways to measure student achievement. For more information on this work group, I encourage you to contact Senator Sandy Rummel's office.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Weeks of October 13 & October 20, 2007

Schedule: On Sunday, October 14th, I met with some Cub Scouts at the Capitol. On Monday, October 15th, Rep. Ozment, MPCA Commissioner Brad Moore, several PCA staffers, and I visited a construction and demolition debris recycling facility in Minneapolis. On Tuesday, October 16th, I attended a Freedom to Breathe Happy Hour hosted by the Ramsey County Smoke-Free Coalition at a local bar. On Wednesday, October 17th, I met with several House colleagues and research staff on solid waste and drinking water issues. On Sunday, October 21nd to Monday, October 22nd I attended a Midwest Environmental Health Workshop convened by the National Conference of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) in Iowa City. The mileage and one night hotel stay are being covered by a scholarship from the NCEL. It was a five and half hour drive each way in my wife's hybrid car! Topics included radon, mercury, and PCBs. On Tuesday, October 23rd in the morning, I attended the U of M's annual water conference in Brooklyn Park to learn more science on drinking water. In the afternoon, I attended the Recycling Association of Minnesota's annual conference, where Rep. Sailer and I presented on legislative issues. On Tuesday, October 24th, Senator Rummel and I met with Secretary of State Ritchie and the Executive Director of the State Investment Board about a constituent idea to divest the state's investment in any companies doing business in Iran. I had to join the meeting by phone because I was just diagnosed with corneal erosion in my right eye--the outer cells on the eye are coming loose and it's really painful! The eye doctor told me to avoid driving while the eye has time to heal. On Thursday, October 25th, Senator Rummel and I attended a two-hour program in Blaine on how local governments can fund transportation projects. I also attended a short program in Shoreview on the basics of tax increment financing. On Saturday, October 27, I attended the Centennial Area Education Foundation dinner in Lino Lakes.

On Thursday, October 18th, I met with a job seeker; a developmentally disabled Shoreview resident and nonprofit advocate; representatives of the Minnesota Well Water Association about drinking water; and staff from the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board about drinking water. On Friday, October 27th, I met with a House researcher on health care budget items.

Constituent contacts
: Circle Pines resident copying me on correspondence to Congress about postal delivery problem; Lino Lakes resident about visiting the Capitol; Circle Pines resident about MFIP program (Minnesota Family Investment Program); Shoreview resident against poor service on bus route 262 in Shoreview; Lino Lakes resident about that city's charter commission; a constituent who survived the bridge collapse and spouse about how the state will respond to financial needs of victims; Circle Pines resident supporting toll lanes or roads as a part of a comprehensive transportation solution; North Oaks resident commenting on MPCA's response on Highway 96 landfill issue; Circle Pines resident about social security problem; Circle Pines resident about recycling issue; Circle Pines couple supporting single-payer health care; Lino Lakes resident supporting increased funding from the state for K-12 education to make districts less reliant on levies; Shoreview resident supporting educational testing and apprehensive about legislative proposals for disaster victims; Shoreview resident about water management organizations and watershed districts; Shoreview resident supporting recent smoking ban and bike trail repair

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Week of October 6, 2007

Schedule: On Monday, October 8th, I attended the Oberstar Forum at the Center for Transportation Studies at the U of M. I just stuck around to hear Jim Oberstar and Senator Klobuchar speak. In the evening I attended a meeting of the DFL House Caucus. On Wednesday, October 10th, I visited with fourth graders from Rice Lake Elementary School in Lino Lakes at the Capitol and attended a Senate hearing on the health impacts of atrazine, a common pesticide used on corn. Two testifiers spoke about how atrazine causes feminization of male frogs and is a likely cause of increased prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. The relevant issue for us in the suburbs is that atrazine (and other pesticides) can actually reach us through rainfall because they are evaporated with surface water and end up in the water cycle. On Thursday, October 11th, I chaperoned my son's first grade class field trip to the Shoreview Library. I didn't realize that the Shoreview Library houses the technical services office for all Ramsey County Libraries. So those folks in the basement prepare books for distribution to the libraries. On Friday, October 12th, I attended an all day meeting at the MPCA on their work for a biennial solid waste policy report.

Visitors: Met Council staff about drinking water; White Bear Lake resident about water issues

Constituent contacts: Lino Lakes resident about contact information for Senator Klobuchar; Shoreview resident asking about DFL agenda for children's issues in 2008; Lino Lakes resident against rail and the gas tax; North Oaks resident, two Circle Pines residents, and Shoreview resident against Department of Commerce agreement to allow the Big Stone II coal plant

Monday, October 1, 2007

Weeks of September 23 & 30, 2007

Schedule: On Tuesday, September 25th, I attended a field hearing of the House Transportation Finance Committee in Anoka and met with the Chair of the Environmental Finance Committee about the drinking water subcommittee that I will be chairing. On Wednesday, September 26th, I met with the Mayor of North Oaks about the Highway 96 landfill issue. On Thursday, September 27th, as vice-chair of the Solid Waste, Recycling, and Resource Conservation Working Group, I toured a composting site in Chanhassen, where Carver County is mixing food waste with yard waste with great success. On Friday, September 28th, I attended a meeting of the Parker Hughes Advocacy Council Foundation in Roseville at the request of two constituents. On Monday, October 1st, I attended a press conference where Elwyn Tinklenberg announced his candidacy for Congress. On Wednesday, October 3rd, I attended an all-day hearing of the Environmental Finance Committee on DNR enforcement issues, a DFL House Caucus meeting at a gastroenterology clinic, and a meeting of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance. On Thursday, October 4th, in my capacity of vice-chair of the Heritage Finance Committee, I toured the Traverse des Sioux historic site in St. Peter (where the committee provided 2007 funding) and Farm America in Waseca at the request of Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder). On Friday, October 5, I attended a meeting of the East Metro PFC Oversight Working Group. (This group is monitoring the Health Department's work on the 3M groundwater contamination issue.)

Visitors: DNR Waters staff on drinking water issues; representatives of SKB Environmental about construction and demolition debris disposal at landfills

Constituent contacts: Lexington City Manager seeking details of manufactured home legislation; Circle Pines resident and Shoreview resident questioning MnDOT's process for managing bid for 35W bridge; Shoreview resident about parks and trails funding; Circle Pines resident asking questions about proposed Lino Lakes library (and not wanting to close the Circle Pines library); Shoreview resident about alleged North American Union and alternative theory about 9-11 attacks; Circle Pines resident about veteran's health issue; Shoreview resident updating me on bus service issues; Shoreview resident upset about Iranian President's visit to Columbia University; Shoreview resident opposed to removing the MnDOT Commissioner; Shoreview resident about issues with Board of Medical Practice