Sleepy Eye was the first stop for Town Hall meetings on Jan. 6.

In just a few weeks, on Feb. 11, the 2020 session of the Minnesota Legislature will convene. The session is required to end no later than May 18. As they do each winter, our state legislators, Senator Gary Dahms and Representative Paul Torkelson, traveled to several area communities for town hall meetings on Monday, Jan. 6. Their first stop was the Sleepy Eye Event Center at 7:15 a.m.

Despite the early hour, on a Monday morning, a dozen citizens were there to hear what Dahms and Torkelson expect will happen in the coming session, as well as ask questions on a variety of topics.

Senator Dahms opened the presentation with a brief review of the 2019 session. He said one issue they did not get addressed before the session ended was relief on the price of insulin. Dahms said there have been several meetings of the insulin task force and the DFL House and Republican Senate are pretty close to an agreement. “The insulin bill should be passed relatively quickly once we get back in session.”

“Of course, this is a bonding year,” said Dahms, “and there is quite a difference in the wishes of both sides of the aisle as far as what we are going to spend in bonding. I would say it will probably be $1 billion; the Governor is at $3.5 billion and we have somewhere between $5.7 and $6.3 billion in requests, so there’s a lot going on there.”

Representative Torkelson said the balanced budget for the next two years was passed at last year’s session, and now there is a small surplus.

“Many of us would like to use that for more tax relief,” said Torkelson, “but whenever there is a little money in the second year of the biennium, there are lots of folks with ways to spend it.”

Torkelson said he continues his work on transportation. “We finally seem to be getting over the hump with MNLARS, with the driver’s license, tab and title process,” he said. “It’s still in the works, so we’re still operating part of it on the old software — I say a little prayer every morning that the old software keeps working until we get the new software in place, it’s got to hang on another 18 months or so.” Torkelson is pleased with the work of the contractor writing the new software.

Earlier Senator Dahms mentioned the problems uncovered in the Department of Health and Human Services — specifically with funds being paid out incorrectly. Greg Bartz asked what can be done, splitting the department or what?

Dahms said they are trying to get the various leaders of each division of HHS to be proactive and find out what’s going on in their portion of HHS.

“The problem is, between the legislative audit [when the incorrect disbursements were identified] and now, the paper trails are gone,” said Dahms.

“What happened to the paper trails?” asked Bartz.

“Well, you can surmise what happened to the paper trails as well as I can,” said Dahms.

Dahms said the new commissioner is pretty aggressive and wants the problems fixed. He said the Governor is putting together a task force to look at splitting HHS up if progress is not made.

Torkelson said splitting the department doesn’t make a difference unless there is a restructuring of accountability within the agency.

“We need those resources to go to the people who really need them,” Torkelson said. “I have worked with the new commissioner in the past and believe she is a very competent and sincere person.” He said rather than split the agency up, he thinks some serious housecleaning within the administration is what’s needed. “It’s going to get a lot of attention and will get politicized because it’s an election year.”