On Saturday, Minnesota District 1B State Rep. Deb Kiel, rural Crookston Republican, held a Town Hall Meeting at the Irishman’s Shanty. Approximately 20 people were in attendance to hear Kiel speak about concerns Governor Dayton’s proposed budget, northwest Minnesota agriculture and education issues. Following her talking points, Kiel opened the floor for questions.
“I’ve learned how to be in the majority and now I’m learning how to be in the minority. It doesn’t matter where you are in life; you have to learn to build relationships,” Kiel said as she began her presentation.“That is starting to be much easier in my second term.”
Kiel serves as a Republican representative on several House committees, including the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee, the Agriculture Policy Committee, the Property Tax Committee and the Education Reform Committee. Although her mainstay has been Education Reform for the last four years, Kiel is pleased to have been asked to participate in the newly formed Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture committee as well as the Agriculture Finance committee. The former Agriculture Committee was recently split into these two subcommittees.
An agricultural advocate, Kiel expressed concerns about the chair of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee, Jean Wagenius. Kiel feels Wagenius is not “agriculture friendly” as she does not vote for any bills concerning farm needs, which are particularly relevant to this area. “We’ll see how that goes,” said Kiel.
According to Kiel, property tax debates are heating up at the Capitol. “We are talking about the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) credits that were vetoed in the last session. We are starting to hear all those bills again. The one big thing we talked about was the $500 rebate the governor has offered. I think we won’t hear that bill. I think it is probably dead in the water. These are the problems with it.”
“The $500,000 (to cover the governor’s proposed property tax rebate) is not financed very well. It is not covered unless we raise taxes even more,” Kiel added. “You get the money inthe first year and in the next year when you itemize your taxes you have to claim it as federal income, which would allow the federal government to see between 75 and 100 million dollars of Minnesota money. I think what people are really looking for is a restructuring of property taxes.”
Kiel has a bill in progress that addresses the basic skills test for teachers. Recently the test requirements for Minnesota teacher licensure have changed. New teachers and teachers coming from out of state are have a difficult time passing the current test. Although the test is referred to as a basic skills test, the questions asked are often far beyond what one would consider general knowledge, as demonstrated by Crookston Schools Superintendent Chris Bates who recently brought a math question from the basic skills test to a calculus class at the high school. One student out of 23 was able to answer the question correctly.
Page 2 of 2 - Kiel would like to find alternative ways to pass seasoned teachers through the testing requirements. If these teachers have passed most of the sections of the tests, but are experiencing difficulty in fully meeting requirements, Kiel believes there should be a way for the school system to assist them.
Also up for discussion is the option to start Minnesota schools before Labor Day. While there are pros and cons in both directions, more conversation will be taking place during educational committee meetings at the Capitol this week.
Second Amendment rights bills have been heard in the house. They are now in the senate. “Some people seem to want more control and others want it to stay the way it is,” said Kiel. “I believe that most of those bills are probably going to die in committee. A majority of them will probably not come to the floor. They are just too restrictive and don’t make sense with our second amendment rights.”
Kiel recently took a permit to carry class in Crookston and believes everyone should take one of these classes, even if it is just for the educational component. Although she will not carry a weapon, she realizes some other Minnesotans may feel threatened and may wish to do so.
Questions from the community
Questions from community members in attendance ranged from daycare unionization to healthcare options under “Obama Care” and taxation of services, such as construction work, as well as LGA funds. Although Representative Kiel could not speak specifically on several of these matters as they are still in the proposal stage, she did comment on how much she values hearing concerns directly from community members, encouraging the public to feel free to contact her anytime or to stop by her office in St. Paul.