Legislative Update

We had a busy week at the Capitol that included votes on a few major bills and a hearing focused on agriculture education and research in Minnesota.
On Thursday, the Senate heard amendments to the federal conformity bill. The bill updates Minnesota’s tax code to match federal provisions for tax year 2012. For example, Minnesota does not currently recognize the $250 educator expense tax deduction available to teachers; however, the federal government does. If we conform to the federal law, teachers would be able to take advantage of the $250 tax deduction on the state level.
Other federal conformity provisions included in the bill recently passed by the Senate were extensions of the higher education tuition expense deduction and the ability for those age 70 ½ years or older to transfer up to $100,000 from an individual retirement account or Roth IRA directly to a qualified charity.
Last year’s fiscal cliff debate in Congress caused delays, which slowed Minnesota’s ability to conform to the federal tax deductions. Nevertheless, lawmakers and I are hopeful that the Governor will sign this legislation soon so people can take advantage of these federal tax deductions immediately.
In addition to voting on the federal tax conformity bill, the Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development committee had a chance to hear updates about agricultural education programs and research work associated with the Minnesota State Colleges and University (MNSCU) system, the U of M, and the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI). As chair of this committee and as a member of the Higher Education and Workforce Development committee, I found this to be an invaluable hearing regarding the great agriculture programs in our state.
A common theme in all of the presentations was the energy and interest in agriculture education. These are programs that help our youth and strengthen our economy. Starting with our young learners in 4-H and FFA, on through higher education opportunities that produce the next agriculture researchers and teachers, and resources for current agricultural business owners and farmers like the Farm Business Management program and AURI.
I was pleased to have Riverland Community College’s interim President, Kent Hanson, presenting as part of this hearing. We are fortunate to have an institution in our area that is an example of how quality agriculture programming is run.
Having grown up and now raising a family in rural Minnesota, I am inspired by the success stories coming out of these college programs. Our agriculture and rural industries are major components of Minnesota’s economy.
As always, feel free to contact my office with questions regarding legislation or these great programs being offered by the U of M and MNSCU schools. I look forward to your continued input and I encourage you to learn more about the incredible higher education programs Minnesota has to offer.

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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