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Local legislators focused on the issues in 2017 session

Photo by Deb Gau Rep. Chris Swedzinski and Sen. Gary Dahms spoke to Marshall area residents during a town hall meeting Friday at the Marshall Area YMCA.

MARSHALL — There’s a lot of Minnesota legislators’ plates this session, but area representatives said they’re getting down to work.

“It’s been a fast and furious two weeks,” said Rep. Chris Swedzinski.

Swedzinski (R-Ghent) and Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) were in Marshall Friday afternoon as part of a series of town hall meetings. They gave area residents an update on the current legislative session and took questions from the audience.

Relief for Minnesotans coping with health insurance premium hikes was a major focus for the legislature in the opening weeks of the session, Swedzinski said. Both the state House and Senate have insurance relief bills, although they will need to work out the differences between the two in a conference committee.

“There’s probably quite a bit more reform in the Senate bill than in the House bill,” Dahms said. However, he thought there were some areas where legislators could find common ground.

One of the features of both the Senate and House relief bills was a 25 percent insurance premium rebate for some Minnesota residents. Other proposals like a reinsurance program could also help bring down insurance costs, Dahms said.

Minnesota’s new buffer law was another major topic of discussion. Redwood County Commissioner Lon Walling asked whether there would be any clarification of the law.

“I believe there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Swedzinski said. For example, there are a lot of private ditches that are currently being included in the bodies of water that must have buffers of vegetation. The law “really has a lot of unintended consequences,” he said. There are some bills in the Legislature calling for either a full repeal of the buffer law, or a delay in putting it into effect.

Dahms said hopefully some clarifications on privately owned waters could be taken care of this year. However, he said Gov. Mark Dayton is “pretty hard set” on keeping the original timeline for implementing the law.

Dahms said he was encouraging county commissioners to elect to be the enforcement authority for buffer strips in their counties. If counties don’t elect to do so, that authority goes to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

“You are going to have no local control at that point,” Dahms said. The BWSR is likely to be less responsive to appeals from landowners, he said.

Audience members also spoke up to ask Dahms and Swedzinski to repeal rules from the Minnesota Department of Transportation on mowing and baling hay in the right of way of roads. Swedzinski said the rules dictate when and how landowners can mow on the roadside, and require a permit to do so. Swedzinski has introduced a bill, H.F. 124, that would prohibit road authorities from requiring permits for mowing in the public right of way, or restrict mowing or haying.

Both Swedzinski and Dahms noted that it wasn’t local MnDOT offices that were pushing enforcement of the mowing rules.

Area businesspeople also brought up concerns about a shortage of workers in southwest Minnesota and asked what the legislature could do to help.

Dahms said that was an area where legislators had been falling behind. While the state does have adult education and job training resources, he said more emphasis needed to be placed on encouraging young people to get vocational and job training.

“We’re really struggling to get these programs into the high schools,” Dahms said. Addressing the problem would require long-term solutions, he said.

“It’s a culture shift that we have to get through,” Dahms said.

A lack of child care available in southwest Minnesota is another barrier for workers, one audience member said.

Dahms said overregulation was a problem for child care in Minnesota, and the Legislature did have a special committee looking at child care issues.

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