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Capitol Chatter: Minnesota should have say in farm bill

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee holds a hearing during the 2017 FarmFest in southwestern Minnesota. Members listened to the public's thoughts about what should be in a new farm bill due for debate in 2018. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Don Davis of Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL — Minnesota would seem to have an outsized influence on the next farm bill.

Both of the state's senators are on that body's Agriculture Committee and three of the state's eight congressmen are on the House farm panel, including Rep. Collin Peterson, the top-ranking Democrat and former chairman.

All Minnesotans on the committees are Democrats, in a Congress controlled by Republicans. However, agriculture policy, including the farm bill, usually is decided on a bipartisan basis.

Minnesota congressmen Tim Walz, Rick Nolan and Peterson are on the committee. They represent the most rural parts of the state.

While both senators from North Dakota and Iowa sit on the Senate panel, the House panel has fewer members from the region.

New Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith, who just days ago was assigned to the ag committee, scheduled two farm bill-related meetings Friday, Jan. 12, in Minnesota to hear about what the bill should contain. The House ag committee held an August hearing at southwest Minnesota's FarmFest to learn what farmers and agri-businesses wanted in the measure.

While lawmakers and their staffs have been working on the multi-year farm bill for months, committees are expected to get down to serious work in the next few weeks. Peterson has said it could be up for a full House vote in the next couple of months.

Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said that with President Donald Trump not getting many major bills through Congress, he might be able to help get the farm bill passed. "I think if the president is looking for victories, this could be one."

However, many Republicans who support the farm portion of the legislation do not like the food assistance part, formerly known as food stamps. Some would like to remove food stamps from the farm bill, something farm state lawmakers warn could kill it.

Klobuchar is not so worried the two parts will be split. In the Senate, she said, there are not enough votes to pass a farm bill without the food section,

"We need a coalition to get it done," she said.

The farm bill always has needed that coalition of people who support food aid and those who back the farm provisions. If they are separated, many observers say, neither is likely to pass.

Congress passes a farm bill every few years that contains a wide variety of farm policies. For instance, a major issue the past few years has been continuation of insurance that pays farmers if their crops are destroyed by a natural disaster.

It's tax time

Americans are entering a season few like: tax filing time.

The Minnesota Revenue Department says it and federal officials will open income tax filing season on Monday, Jan. 29. The deadline to file will be Tuesday, April 17, for both state and federal taxes.

State Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly said electronic filing and choosing direct deposit for refunds "helps improve the accuracy and security of your return."

Minnesotans may qualify for free tax preparation help from certified volunteers at locations around Minnesota. Qualified taxpayers are age 60 or older, have a disability, speak limited or no English or have income less than $54,000 per year.

Information about where to get free help is available from the Revenue Department website.

Offender OK'd for release

A sex offender has received approval to get out of a state-mandated treatment program, but state officials plan to challenge the decision.

A state judicial panel said it would conditionally release Thomas R. Duvall, who has spent 30 years locked up after a series of rapes. The judges said he should be released because he has made significant progress in treatment.

The 62-year-old man, like more than 700 other serious sex offenders, was placed in the prison-like Minnesota Sex Offender Program after he served all of his prison time.

Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper, who oversees the treatment program, promised to appeal the judges' decision.

Dayton looked ahead

Before he was U.S. senator, before he was Minnesota governor, Mark Dayton had a different view of his future.

Here is an excerpt from the Jan. 10, 1993, Becker County Record:

"Dayton stands aside; auditor's speech historically candid: In an announcement that astonished political insiders, State Auditor Mark Dayton Wednesday removed himself from the 1994 Senate and gubernatorial race. The wealthy department store heir was expected to be one of a number of DFLers who would contend for party endorsement. ...

"Instead, Dayton told reporters that he would spend his time trying to do a good job as auditor. Dayton says he has no desire to run for the U.S. Senate in 1994 and does not feel qualified to be governor.

"'Despite my hopes for the Clinton presidency,' Dayton said, 'I consider Washington today to be a political cesspool in which it is almost impossible to keep one's honesty and integrity."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.