Torkelson talks to Rotary
NEW ULM — State Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) spoke at the New Ulm Rotary meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Torkelson gave an overview of Minnesota’s latest legislative session. He began by reminding the Rotary Club that passing any legislative bill requires 68 representatives, 34 senators and one governor.
“Any one senator on the majority side can hold things up,” he said. “And that was at the least part of the issue this year — trying to keep all 34 senators on board to pass these bills.”
Torkelson said Minnesota is waiting to see if Gov. Mark Dayton signs the bonding bill. The expectation is he will sign the bill. Dayton can line item veto a few items, but Torkelson is optimistic the transportation funding in the bill will be approved.
The bonding bill currently includes funds for Highway 14 and Highway 23. The section of Highway 14 receiving funds is located between Owatonna and Dodge Center. Torkelson said even though this was not “our” section of Highway 14, this would increase the odds of Highway 14 being completed to New Ulm in future sessions.
Torkelson answered a question about Corridors of Commerce prioritizing Metro area roads over Greater Minnesota. Corridors of Commerce is required to split funding to Metro and Greater Minnesota roads, but the three greater Minnesota projects funded are within 50 miles of downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Torkelson was surprised these roads were interpreted as Greater Minnesota and was disappointed with this decision. He was hopeful the bonding bill should bring transportation funding back into balance.
This year the federal government passed a tax bill, and state legislators attempted to pass a bill to better conform with the federal law. Dayton did not sign the bill. Torkelson said this will make it more difficult for Minnesotans to file taxes next year.
Torkelson said he would support a special session to allow the Legislature to write a new tax bill, but felt it was unlikely Dayton would call a special session.
The supplemental budget bill was also vetoed by Dayton. Torkelson was especially disappointed to see the veto kill a proposed 7 percent pay increase to group home workers. The veto will not result in a cut to group homes across the state.
The Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) was another problem for the state. The Legislature passed a bill to give the program $10 million to fix the problems with the system, but this was vetoed because Dayton felt it did not go far enough.
Torkelson said recent tragedies involving gun violence spurred legislators to take actions by funding safety improvements at schools. The funds could be used to secure the entrances to a school, hire a resource officer or create a mental health program. The funding for the schools is $25 million and is part of the bonding bill.
The opioid crisis was another concern this session. Approximately $15 million was set aside to combat the epidemic.
A hands-free cellphone bill was proposed. It is currently illegal to text and drive, but this law is hard to enforce. Torkelson said the hands-free bill made it illegal to have a phone in your hand while driving and would be easier to enforce.
Torkelson authored a constitutional amendment bill that dedicated sales tax from auto parts and repairs to transportation. This amendment made it through the House but did not go through the Senate. Torkelson expected the amendment will come back next session.
“The truth is we are revenue short for transportation,” Torkelson said. “It wouldn’t solve the whole problem but it would be a step in the right direction.”
The 2018 legislative session was Torkelson’s 10th year as state representative. He said he would file Wednesday for re-election.