I hope you are enjoying our summer and getting the opportunity to get outside and enjoy all our great state has to offer. The legislative session wrapped up in May and since then, I’ve been busy traveling the district connecting with folks. I had the opportunity to attend the Ribbon Cutting at the International Wolf Center with Ely Mayor Chuck Novak, Nancy Gibson and others.
Minnesota Public Radio had a good story about the booming attendance figures at our state parks and the DNR’s efforts to keep this interest going well into the future. I got to visit some of our state parks recently with DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen.
On June 21, I attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Ely trailhead complex which will serve the Taconite Snowmobile Trail, Prospector’s Loop ATV Trail, and the Mesabi Trail. Following hard work of local leaders, the Legislature delivered funding for this in the 2018 Capital Investment bill, and I’m proud to have been a part of making that happen. Residents and thousands of tourists will get to take advantage of this every year, and I can’t wait to see the final result.
Chairing the House Veterans Affairs Committee is a tremendous honor. Last month, we not only had the opportunity to visit Camp Ripley, but we got to fly there from Saint Paul in a Black Hawk Helicopter. It was good to get a first-hand look at the operations to train the men and women of the Minnesota National Guard who keep us safe.
Veterans Restorative Justice
Our military veterans deserve the opportunity to fully reintegrate back into our society when they return home, and as we know, they face many challenges. Sometimes due to their experiences abroad, they might do something to get in trouble.
One of my major efforts this session was the Veterans Restorative Justice Act. The bill would expand the use of veterans courts, which have been successful in diverting certain offenders away from incarceration and into treatment for mental illness or substance abuse disorders. The concept provides a pathway to redemption for those who have served bravely, but due to the physical, psychological, or emotional scars from combat, have made a mistake. Despite bipartisan support at the Legislature, as well as support of prosecutors, defense attorneys, veterans advocates and judges, not to mention an endorsement from Governor Walz, the Republican-led Minnesota Senate failed to consider the proposal. With the successful track record this model has had for our veterans in counties where it’s available, we should expand it statewide.
The Star Tribune recently published this column from Tom Hanson, past commander for VFW in Minnesota, in support of the initiative. I’m committed to renewing my efforts to pass this by the 2020 session at the very latest.
According to the Minnesota Constitution, after prize distribution, 40 percent of the proceeds from the Minnesota State Lottery are directed to the Minnesota Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund. These funds are used to restore, enhance and protect wildlife habitat, stop the spread of invasive species, protect our water quality and more. Currently, about $61 million is available to invest each year.
The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources is charged with making recommendations to the full Legislature for these funds, and I’m honored to serve as a member of this panel. This month, we’ve had several meetings listening to and evaluating 126 different proposals. Among the proposals are a new campground and visitors enter in Crane Lake -- our gateway to Voyageurs National Park, and a new dock in Ranier to increase public boating access on Rainy Lake, increasing the capacity of large vessels. Later this month, the LCCMR is scheduled to act on a full package of funding recommendations.
Please continue to contact me with what’s on your mind or if I can ever be of assistance. It’s an honor to represent you at the State Capitol.
Best wishes for a safe and fun Independence Day holiday with your family and friends.
Rep. Rob Ecklund
409 State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55155
Chair, House Veterans and Military Affairs Policy and Finance Division
Legislative Assistant: Grace Doyle, 651-296-5355