Several weeks into the 2021 Minnesota legislative session, two northwest Minnesota lawmakers have introduced bills that include bonding and preventing livestock depredation.
And both of the region's representatives – Rep. John Burkel, R-Badger, and Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston – are backing an idea to increase career and technical education for the state's high school students.
The 2021 session began Jan. 4 and will run through May 17.
Kiel has so far been working on “cleanup” legislation, she said. Kiel, a farmer and six-term lawmaker, mostly has been working from home so far this legislative session because there are no in-person House of Representative meetings being held due to the coronavirus pandemic. The number of legislators and staff allowed in the Minnesota State Capitol is limited.
While Kiel’s legislative colleagues who live near St. Paul drive to the Capitol two or three days a week, she has elected to stay at home because of the 10-hour round-trip commute.
“I do a lot on the computer,” she said. “I miss the people part of it a lot, but it is what it is.”
One of the bills Kiel introduced is changing some of the wording in the $5 million bonding bill for the Ag Innovation Campus in Crookston. An earlier bonding bill is one of several that had missing language, or language that was too vague, she said.
“The language did not allow the money to go in planning directions as well as shovels in the ground,” Kiel said. "It hindered the ability to do the planning."
Another bill that Kiel has introduced would increase the load limit on a stretch of Minnesota Highway 75 and another on Minnesota Highway 2 East. The first stretch is a 2.5-mile section of 75 that runs from the Ag Innovations Campus soybean crushing plant on the southwest edge of Crookston to U.S. Highway 2 East, east of the city. The Highway 2 section runs from the bypass to the North Dakota border.
The weight increase would allow haulers from the crush facility to move soybean meal north to Canada via Interstate 29 by the most direct route.
Kiel also is the House of Representatives author of a “living organ donor" bill, which would guarantee leave for people who are transplant donors. Meanwhile, she is co-sponsoring the insurance coverage portion of the bill.
“Donors have medical costs, as well as loss of income,” she said.
Besides the introduction of those bills, Kiel is talking with co-members of the Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance and Policy committee about drafting legislation that would open avenues for high school students to begin working on a postsecondary degree in technical education.
“I have been very enthused about it, the importance of exposing students to more career and technical education,” Kiel said. She believes that if high school students are exposed to, and taught skills for, careers such as plumbing and electricity, some will pursue them at trade schools.
“We are really going to be lacking in those industries, whether plumbing or electrical,” Kiel said.
Burkel, who represents District 1A and serves on the Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee, also believes teaching career and technical education in high school is important.
“It’s really relevant. We’re short of people like plumbers and electricians," Burkel said. “Get those kids employable skills. Especially in our area with the industry we have – you look at DigiKey, Central Boilers, Mattracks. We have some really good employers.”
Burkel, who is in his first term as a state representative, has been in St. Paul most weeks during the legislative session.
“If you're not here every week, it is hard to educate yourself,” he said.
Burkel has introduced bills that include changing some of the job requirements for county engineers, renaming two state highways and funding for farmers whose livelihoods have taken a hit from wolf and elk depredation.
The wolf and elk depredation bills would ensure that funding is replenished. The funding, which reimburses farmers for economic losses, typically is $350,000.
The bill changing the job requirements of county engineers is important because northwest Minnesota counties, including Kittson and Roseau County, are having difficulty filling vacant positions, Burkel said. He believes Pennington and Marshall counties will experience similar hiring difficulties for county engineers in the future. His bill strikes a requirement that the engineer must be a Minnesota resident.
“It’s a conversation starter to help loosen things up a bit,” he said.
Another bill Burkel introduced is to name a stretch of Minnesota State Highway 11, between Roseau and Warroad, and Minnesota Highway State 310, between Warroad and the Minnesota-Canada border, after fallen police officers.