Kristian Evans, Senior News Editor
State Senator Kari Dziedzic as well as State Representatives Diane Loeffler and Mohamud Noor hosted a listening session at Van Cleave Park for the constituents of State District 60 on Jan. 26. The district includes Augsburg, encompasses the northeast neighborhoods of Minneapolis as well as Cedar Riverside and Seward. The three elected officials discussed a variety of issues that are set to be debated during the legislative session.
Healthcare was discussed, both the rising cost for senior citizens and the inability for young people to access quality care. Loeffler, an Augsburg graduate who serves on the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee, discussed the possible options for the state. “Federal regulations such as ERISA stop the state from taking certain steps to provide a single payer system … But we have looked at what a public option or a buy-in would look like and how it could expand healthcare,” said Loeffler. A buy-in would allow Minnesotans to purchase insurance on a Minnesota Care plan, a public health insurance program for residents who fall within a certain income bracket. The buy-in would change or eliminate those requirements so Minnesotans could purchase a state-run plan and pay a monthly premium.
As District 60 contains both the University of Minnesota and Augsburg, college affordability was linked to a number of other policy priorities. Noor, a first term legislator, mentioned a bill he has authored that would allow students to take advantage of tax credits in order to afford rent and the cost of living in neighborhoods with high student density such as Dinkytown and the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis. “We can’t put more debt on kids who are already paying for school,” said Noor.
Loeffler also discussed the idea of creating mixed-generation housing that could help stem the rising cost of senior care and the diminishing amount of affordable college housing.
Newly elected Governor Tim Walz expressed support for the legalization of marijuana during his campaign, and the DFL won control of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms, setting up a fight in the divided legislature. Dziedzic, who serves on the Senate Tax Committee, noted that the DFL supports the measure but has work on certain specific elements. “Part of the decision is how to tax [marijuana] if and when we legalize it,” said Dziedzic. “Do we tax it like tobacco or alcohol? What public spaces do we allow it in? The details are important to iron out.” Noor mentioned the criminal justice element of the issue, citing he has a bill that would end cash bail to attempt decriminalization.
Constituents also raised concerns about climate change initiatives, the changes of leadership at Metro Transit and tax conformity to the federal bill. The session concluded with a discussion about bridging political divides, and one constituent mentioned that bipartisan support seemed to have disappeared from public discourse. Loeffler agreed but offered a caveat: “You’d be surprised that amount of bills that pass with bipartisan support. There are many things that are nonpartisan, but they just don’t make the headlines.”
This article was originally published in the Feb. 2, 2019 issue.
From left to right State Rep Mhamud Noor, State Senatoir Kari Dziedzic and State Rep Diane Loeffler discuss state government issues with constituents. Photo by Karl Smith.