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Lawmakers: Bonding, minimum wage among '14 session priorities

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, makes opening remarks Saturday during a League of Women Voters legislative forum in Oakdale. (Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker)

Public works projects and a long look at the state’s minimum wage will take center stage at the Capitol this year, members of south Washington County’s legislative delegation predicted.

Four lawmakers shared what they see in their crystal balls Saturday during a forum sponsored by the Woodbury-Cottage Grove chapter of the League of Women Voters.

A significant portion of even-numbered years at the Legislature is generally set aside to tackle public works projects from around the state, and local lawmakers said 2014’s session won’t be any different that way.

South Washington County lawmakers said local projects slated for this year’s bonding bill will include funding for two transit projects — the Gateway and Red Rock corridors — and a bike trail linking up to the new Hastings bridge.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, serves on the Senate Capital Investment Committee, which will compile the bonding bill. She expected the Senate bonding bill to be about $975 million and be comprised largely of higher education projects, in addition to municipal projects.

Sieben noted that a bill seeking to build a joint law enforcement training facility — a collaborative effort between the city of Cottage Grove and Inver Hills Community College — will also be presented, despite potentially long odds this session.

“I’m not sure that will get done this year,” she said.

Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, made clear she likely won’t be supporting this year’s bonding bill. Jam-packed public works bills are simply asking too much in a shaky economy, she told the 20 people in attendance at the forum.

“It’s very frustrating to me,” Kieffer said.

Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said she will be sponsoring bonding legislation for improvements to Fish Creek in Maplewood and for a science building at Metropolitan State University and added that going into debt to fund projects can be beneficial if they are “really smart, planful investments for our future.”

Since the state’s budget is generally completed during odd-numbered years, lawmakers also devote more time to policy-related legislation in addition to bonding during even-numbered years.

That will mean a continuation of last year’s effort to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage, the legislators said.

Rep. JoAnn Ward, DFL-Woodbury, echoed her message that the discussion needs to be centered on a “living wage” for Minnesotans.

“We need to value people,” Ward said. “We’re not just talking about a teenager working at McDonald’s.”

Kieffer said she might be willing to consider support for the House minimum wage bill if it includes a tip credit provision, which she said is “very important for these border areas.”

Kieffer, who is not seeking re-election this fall, noted that she may also be supporting legislation allowing medical marijuana use and will support an effort to allow Sunday liquor sales.

League members also probed the delegation’s support for online voter registration.

Sieben, who was involved in a high-profile disagreement over the issue last year with Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, said she remains supportive of allowing voters to register online.

“It is a priority of mine,” she said.

Though Ward suggested that precedent set by other states paves the way for online voter registration here and Kent said she would back the effort “as long as the process is secure,” their Republican counterpart stood apart.

“After MNsure, I don’t want to see the government do anything else on a website,” Kieffer said.

Reps. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, and Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, were unable to attend the event.

This year’s session begins Feb. 25.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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