In an interview with State Representative Deb Kiel this week at the Times, several topics concerning the people of northwestern Minnesota were discussed.
Kiel began the discussion talking about this year in comparison to her prior term as the district 1B representative. "There is a real difference in the legislature in general with having both the governorship and legislature under democratic control," said Kiel. "I have asked senior members (of the House) what is is like to be in a total minority, but haven't been given many answers." To summarize her experiences in the beginning of her second term, Kiel commented "We have voted on very few bills in committee. We will vote on bills as a package in omnibus hearings."
Kiel's biggest concern surrounds the budget deficit and additional taxation. " We had over a $5 billion deficit when I first started two years ago. We were able to work with that budget without increasing taxes. At this point, we have just six million in deficit. Do we really need to raise taxes?" Kiel asked. She believes some taxes, such as the cigarette tax and liquor tax are inevitable. As far as taxing the wealthy, Kiel said, "There is only so much they can withstand. A business owner in this area contacted me and said he understands there is a cost to doing business and he understands the tax part of it, but there is no encouragement to want to start or expand business in Minnesota." Kiel finds this a very troubling statement.
Worries in the world of business continue with a shortage of housing for Northwestern Minnesota companies such as DigiKey, explained Kiel. "Employees accept jobs and can't find housing. Then, they end up finding work elsewhere and don't move to our area. We need more starter homes that accommodate families and more senior housing. If seniors are able to move to a one-level home or to an assisted living center, their former larger homes would open up for families. We have a lot of seniors in our communities. We need to encourage young people to live and work here."
Rep. Kiel is a member of the Education Reform Committee at the Capital. She discussed her concerns about the proposed Safe Schools bill, which would require school districts to report incidences of bullying to a newly formed department housed within Department of Education. If the bill passes as written, " Schools would have to report incidences of anything perceived as being an issue," said Kiel. "In the heat of a game, a coach could say, 'Oh you knot-head! What are you doing?' and this could be considered harassment." She expressed concern over the cost of training school district personnel to follow the requirements of the Safe Schools bill could add up to more than $900 in additional costs per student. She does not expect this bill to pass on its own, but an amended option could pass as part of a package during an omnibus hearing.
Page 2 of 2 - Speaking briefly about the possibility of funding for all-day, everyday kindergarten for school districts throughout Minnesota, Kiel commented, " The all-day everyday kindergarten the governor has proposed would give stability to children who don't have it, but statistically it (all-day, everyday kindergarten) doesn't show a lot of student improvement, except in reading." At this time, It is unclear how Kiel will vote on this matter.
Kiel is passionate about changes to the basic skills test currently required to obtain a Minnesota teacher's license. " It is very important to our area that we get some wording changed. There has been three or four bills addressing this topic. I expect there will be a one year time frame for new teachers to pass the test and still teach. There has been some discussion about not just using the test to identify quality teachers, but having a superintendent, principal and other school personnel evaluate a teacher's performance as an answer for those who miss one or two points on the test and fail. There is also some talk about going back to a teacher's ACT scores to prove they have been learned the material at some point," Kiel explained. "We want to know teachers are academically ready to teach our students, but we can't make it too difficult for them to get a job, or they will go elsewhere. Ag education is a prime example - teachers can easily pick up another job with their skills. We need to be able to encourage them to teach. It is vital to our students."
When the legislative session reconvenes after the Easter break, Representative Kiel expects things to move much more quickly, with bills reaching the floors of the House and Senate at a rapid pace. She also encourages area residents to contact her office with any questions or concerns. She can be reached at her St. Paul office by calling 651-296-5091 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.