Dahms and Swedzinski talk labor, housing concerns

Legislators hold mid-session update on Wednesday

MARSHALL — Southwest Minnesota residents asked questions involving issues ranging from business to housing policies with two Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday.

State legislators Rep. Chris Swedzinski and Sen. Gary Dahms, held a mid-session update over Zoom.

“We’re right in the middle of everything,” said Swedzinski, R-Ghent.

With seven weeks left in the 2024 legislative session, most bills have had first and second readings, said Dahms, R-Redwood Falls. Dahms said senators have also had an education omnibus and labor and industry bills come before them.

Potentially important changes could come for Minnesota labor laws, including proposed increases to minimum wage in Minnesota, Dahms said. The proposal would get rid of the lower minimum wage rate for small businesses, as well as increasing the 2.5% wage inflator to 5%, he said.

“There’s no question that it’s hard to make a living on minimum wage in Minnesota,” Dahms said.

But while something may need to be done to address that problem, he said he questioned whether the proposal was the right way to go about it.

“We tried to make some amendments on that, but to no avail,” Dahms said.

It would likely require Republican control of the Legislature to make amendments to the proposal, he said.

Brad Gruhot, president of the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce, said he had been hearing a lot of concerns from the public about a bill that would open up more lots to multi-family housing in Minnesota. The worry was that the state government would be pre-empting local rules on housing, Gruhot said.

Swedzinski said he believed that local governments should be in charge of regulating housing density in their communities. However, support for the proposal was “kind of a split, both ways” at the legislature, he said.

“It’s a very unique group of folks that have coalesced around this bill,” Swedzinski said.

Dahms said the housing density proposal was something that had been “floating around” in the Senate for a few years, but kept getting sidetracked.

“I’m quite concerned, this year there might not be a side track on this bill,” Dahms said. “I do believe the bill will make it to the Senate floor.” He thought it was likely that the bill would be used as a tool to negotiate for other political goals, so there might possibly be some changes made to it.

Another concern brought forward by area residents was whether a religious exemption, protecting religious organizations and schools against claims of gender identity discrimination, could be added back into the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

“That is a big deal,” Swedzinski said. Without an exemption in the language of the HRA, religious organizations would be at risk of lawsuits, he said.

Dahms said so far, Democratic legislators have not accepted any amendments for an exemption.

“I think another thing that we really need to look at in this is participation,” Dahms said. He said he has been encouraging members of the public to get statewide religious denominations to protest, or advocate for a religious exemption. “I think they need to get involved,” he said.


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