Trade agreement will bring good news to local soybean growers

The 2011 legislative session is well underway, and this year, I’m participating from a very different perspective. The November elections triggered big changes at the Capitol, meaning I am writing this column from a new office with new committee responsibilities and a whole slate of new colleagues.

They say change is good, and I do believe that will prove to be true for the 2011 legislature. Minnesotans sent a message that they wanted a change in how state business was handled, and I intend to heed that advice. However, I have no plans to change my priorities in this new role. I am returning to the Capitol just as intent on putting people back to work, getting more money in the pockets of middle-class Minnesotans, and standing up for our Southern Minnesota communities.

We’ve already made good progress on some of these goals. On Wednesday, I attended lunch with Governor Mark Dayton and representatives from the People’s Republic of China to talk about the signing of a trade agreement between Minnesota and China. The trade agreement will increase the state’s soybean exports to their country, sending an estimated 25 percent of Minnesota-grown soybeans overseas. This, of course, could be great news for our local soybean producers that are so important to our Southern Minnesota communities. I was thrilled to be part of the process.

Also this week, the Governor announced that Minnesotans will be eligible for early enrollment in the Medical Assistance program by March 1, not October as originally thought. The 2010 legislature granted the governor authority to begin early enrollments because we saw the important cost savings and job-creation potential in doing so; Gov. Dayton quickly took advantage of the authority as soon as he was sworn into office.

Allowing Minnesotans to enroll in this program now is important for the entire state but also has vast impacts on our local communities. It means 95,000 Minnesotans – mostly families with children, the elderly and disabled – will get better quality health care. Also, hospitals, clinics, doctors, and other health care providers throughout our state will receive fairer payments from the federal government for their services. Locally, Austin Medical Center stands to gain $2.2 million to help them absorb the cost of caring for vulnerable patients.

On a legislative front, we are beginning to hear important budget reduction bills, a topic that will dominate most of the discussion in the coming months. This year, I am a member of the Agriculture Committee, the Energy Committee, and the Commerce Committee. While those issue areas will demand much of my focus, I encourage you to contact me with any concerns or questions you may have: sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn; 651-296-9248; Room 19 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155.

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Senator Dan Sparks
Dan Sparks represents District 27, which includes all or portions of Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Mower, and Steele counties in the southeastern part of the state.

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