Senator Dan Sparks: 2018 Legislative Session Concludes

The 2018 legislative session concluded Sunday, May 20. This year, our part-time Legislature met in St. Paul for three months. Although we do not always agree, every lawmaker cares deeply about our state and wants to do right by the people who elected us.

Minnesotans are well known for taking their civic responsibilities seriously. I applaud everyone who participated in the legislative session this year, whether you sent emails, made phone calls, wrote letters, or drove up to visit the Capitol on your own or as part of an organization. I especially want to recognize Save Our Hospital for setting an extremely high example for positive legislative advocacy. It is an honor to work with you in support of a full service, acute care hospital in Albert Lea. Your determination and passion is incredible.

As is the case with every legislative session, some things got done and some things did not. While everything I had hoped we could accomplish did not get done, there was significant bipartisan agreement on a number of priorities, such as addressing a $3 billion backlog of statewide construction projects, elder abuse, the opioid epidemic, and school safety, among others.

Last year, the Legislature established the state’s two-year budget. In non-budget sessions such as this year, the Legislature’s top responsibility is to pass a nonpartisan capital investment bill. We got the job done, and a number of job creation and economic development initiatives in Albert Lea will receive funding if the governor signs the bill into law, including:

$10.2 million for Riverland Community College’s “Transportation, Trade and Industrial Education Center” project, which will pay for substantial renovations and new space on campus. As a result, Riverland can relocate the Truck Driving and Collision Repair programs from Austin to Albert Lea, allowing for integration into shared spaces with Auto Service and Diesel Technology programs.

$3.23 million from the Clean Water Revolving Fund/Drinking Revolving Fund to connect sewer and water lines to the Stables area, a project that has been in the works for decades.

$25 million in grants for public school districts to make safety improvements to facilities and classrooms, such as secure entrances and bulletproof glass.

$300,000 for the Shell Rock River Watershed District to develop and implement a pilot water-quality credit-trading program for storm water that provides voluntary and cost-effective options to reduce pollution on a watershed scale. The Shell Rock River Watershed also received funding via the Legacy bill.

Much of the Legislature’s other work on issues like elder care, opioids, taxes, and pensions came down to the final hours of the session, which hurt lawmakers’ ability to reach compromise before the clock ran out. Many good ideas got cobbled together in a 990-page budget. I supported the bill, but the governor vetoed it on May 23. I’m disappointed that a bill providing financial assistance to deputy registrars got vetoed, and I will continue to work with all stakeholders to reach a solution.

We were, however, able to extend a moratorium on new rules governing mowing or haying trunk highway rights-of-way. I’m also very pleased we approved unanimously in the Senate and near unanimously in the House a plan to shore up the state pension fund, which includes sustainability measures for the Teachers Retirement Association (TRA).

If you have questions or comments about the 2018 legislative session, please contact me. Lawmakers return to St. Paul for the 2019 session in January.

This commentary was originally published in the Albert Lea Tribune.

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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