Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I hope you have enjoyed the month of August as we soak in the last weeks of what’s been a great, albeit short, summer. Here’s a brief update on the latest from the Legislature.
DHS Problems Persist
Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (DHS) has been in the news all summer as they have dealt with a wide array of issues including the abrupt resignations of its three top officials, allegations of retaliation against employees, impermissible payments totaling $25 million to two Minnesota tribal nations, and an additional $48 million in improper payments to institutions for mental health services.
Taken together, it’s clear that the culture at DHS is toxic, and it’s apparent that next-to-no effort is being made by the agency to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used wisely.
Health and Human Services represent our largest budget area at 30 percent of the state’s spending – totaling nearly $17 billion over two years. The agency is responsible for administering programs like Medicaid, MinnesotaCare, the Childcare Assistance Fund, MFIB, and SNAP.
The chaos and leadership turnover has real-world consequences for taxpayers, millions of Minnesotans served by DHS, and legislators as we look ahead to the 2020 session.
I have joined Minority Leader Kurt Daudt in sending two letters urging Speaker Melissa Hortman to hold interim hearings as soon as possible. My colleagues and I wish to directly question DHS officials on the scandals that have plagued the agency this summer. An upcoming House mini-session scheduled for early October should also provide an opportunity to show Minnesotans that we are taking this issue seriously.
Ultimately, fixing DHS should not be a partisan issue.
Meanwhile, this past week, Governor Walz directed his state agencies to prepare for implementation of a state law that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The directive—which will set a whole series of actions in motion in the Executive Branch—seems ill-timed, at best. DFL Representative Jen Schultz and I were both interviewed this week on the topic; see the story here.
One of my favorite events every year is Senior Day at the Itasca County Fair. In addition to serving free meals to over 600 seniors at lunchtime, I was honored to present Senior Volunteer of the Year awards to Susan Hayes and Marn Flicker who went on to win runner up status at the Minnesota State Fair. Congratulations Susan and Marn!
You can read local news coverage on the event here.
Over in Cass County, I was pleased to be invited to the groundbreaking for the growing and popular Lakes Bluegrass Festival. Initiated by Bluegrass enthusiasts Tim and Cindy Roggenkamp, the festival is now overseen by the Pine River Area Foundation. To make room for increasing attendance and campers, the festival will be moving next year from the Cass County Fairgrounds to the beautiful grounds of the former Pine River Community Golf Course. In this photo, I share a shovel with Pine River Chamber of Commerce President (and owner of Bites Grill and Bar) Roger Hoplin as we mark the spot for the future stage.
Looking ahead to September - Capital Investment Tour
The first leg of the biennial capital investment tour begins next week. As a member of the Capital Investment Committee, I am looking forward to heading out on the road to tour a number of the proposed infrastructure and bonding projects that will be considered for funding during the upcoming legislative session. Mid-month, I will also have a chance to host visits to the proposed bonding projects here in our area.
Next week’s tour focuses on the northwest portion of the state with stops in Moorhead, Fergus Falls, Thief River Falls, and a handful of other communities.
Back to School
As we approach Labor Day weekend, I am reminded of our successful action last session to defeat a measure to start some metro school districts BEFORE Labor Day. This move was broadly opposed by tourism businesses in Minnesota as shortening an already short summer season would especially hurt our economy here in northern Minnesota.
Finally, I’d like to wish students and teachers the best of luck as they head back to school next week! Our wonderful teachers, staff, and parents are dedicated to educating the next generation make a real difference in the lives of our youth. Thank you to all of the outstanding educators in our community!
So to all the students, families, teachers, school staff and volunteers—have a wonderful, safe and happy school year.
Please Contact Me
As always, please contact me if you have any questions or concerns. I value your input and enjoy hearing from you.
Have a great weekend and Happy Labor Day,