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Capitol Chatter: Lawmakers say meetings can help fight childhood hunger

Minnesota state Rep. Rod Hamilton says on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, that he would like to expand state programs that help provide fresh fruit and vegatables to schools. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
Cheryl Jogger of South Washington County schools, in the southeast Twin Cities, says on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, that children need good meals if they are to learn. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 3
Don Davis of Forum News Service3 / 3

ST. PAUL — Some Minnesota lawmakers say they can be more effective in fighting childhood hunger if they regularly meet with organizations in and out of government who deal with the situation.

So state Reps. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, and Erin Maye Quade, D-Apple Valley, launched the Child Hunger Caucus.

"We cannot allow childhood hunger to continue to be a silent issue," Maye Quade said.

Added Hamilton: "Children shouldn't have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Let the adults find solutions for that so our kids can simply focus on being kids."

The caucus has no specific legislation in front of it. Instead, its purpose is bringing together folks trying to find solutions to the problem.

One of those advocates is Cheryl Jogger of South Washington County schools, who said, "If these students are coming to school hungry, how can we expect to teach them?"

Hamilton said the Legislature already has helped school districts obtain more fresh fruits and vegetables, but programs like that could be expanded as the new caucus discusses solutions.

Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove, said the Hastings schools send food home with food on weekends if a student likely will not have access to healthy meals.

But, he said, "the solution is not always going to be a government solution."

Feels like change

A gun debate pops up in almost every legislative session, but many people who work under the dome are saying this year feels different, feels like something will pass.

Even some of the strongest gun-rights supporters appear to expect legislation to become law after the Florida school shootings, but few are predicting just what that will be.

"The subject is one we can't avoid," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chairman of a committee where most gun bills originate.

However, there are just three months to pass bills.

One of the senators who could accept some changes owns more than 20 guns, six to eight of them inherited from his father. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, is an Iron Ranger who values gun rights, much like many of his rural colleagues.

He said he can support tightening the law so everyone who buys a gun gets a background check.

"My personal gun dealer ... expressed to me that the background system is totally broken," the senator said.

Bakk said he would like to see help for schools to hire support staff that can spot problem students before they decide to take guns to school to kill people.

"I want to do things that are going to make a difference," Bakk said, and proposals like banning assault rifles probably would not.

Federal law changes are needed, he said, because if Minnesota enacted an assault rifle ban, for instance, someone could go across the border to another state and buy one.

Gun issues often come up in election years, he said, but in 2018 "it has been brought to a completely different level."

State 'ignored' reward law

Republicans on a House committee are upset that the Dayton administration's Minnesota Management and Budget office has not followed through on a 2011 law that is supposed to reward state employees who find ways to save money.

The legislative auditor recently released a report revealing the law has not been followed.

The law would give employees up to 10 percent of the first year's savings, with a $50,000 limit.

Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said the state "essentially ignored the law."

The agency's deputy commissioner, Eric Hallstrom, said his staff is working on following the law, but blamed lack of money and the fact that the law is "unworkable."

Another bipartisan effort

Attempts to reduce partisan tension in the Legislature have come and gone over the years, the most recent effort being called the Purple Caucus.

Rep. JoAnn Ward, D-Woodbury, is leading the 2018 version, called the Civility Caucus.

Several lawmakers dined together as the 2018 session opened and plan to meet over lunch every other week. They also plan to get training on negotiation and collaboration.

"I look forward to the opportunity to bring a new level of bipartisanship to the Capitol as a leader in civil discourse," Ward said. "Only when we work together can we achieve more effective results across the board for all Minnesotans."

When the four legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton met at a Forum News Service-sponsored forum a week before the session began, they got along famously. But there is doubt in the Capitol whether that will last.

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.