APPLE VALLEY - Dakota County legislators discussed a range of hot issues in the current legislative session at a town hall on Saturday.
Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, Rep. John Huot, DFL-Rosemount, and Rep. Robert Bierman, DFL-Apple Valley, took a series of written questions at the event at Falcon Ridge Middle School. Across an hour and a half, the DFL legislators talked to a modestly sized and mostly polite crowd - aside from one brief outburst over a question on gun control.
At the onset, Huot addressed the way his first session has gone and noted the perceived division among the state political parties.
"Regardless of what side of the aisle we sit on, [we all] have the same goal," Huot said. "We're all going to Duluth, but ... there's 10 different ways to get there ... so it's that different pathway we're taking and where we really get in the grind."
Clausen said that he's been lucky to have 18 of his bills heard in the Republican-controlled Senate so far.
Education legislation often took the center stage at the town hall.
Clausen is the ranking minority member on the Senate's Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee and sits on the E-12 Finance and Policy Committee. In an interview after the event, Clausen said that the Republican education budget bill is not "realistic."
The current state budget has $22 billion devoted to education and current proposals vary wildly on increase amounts. The House DFL has proposed $1.2 billion in new education spending, up from Gov. Tim Walz's $882 million increase, while Senate Republicans are offering a $307 million increase.
"Well I don't think the spending targets that the Senate has put together are very realistic," Clausen said. "I don't know if they're positioning themselves for a compromise ... but I'm hopeful we'll provide a funding that will help our local schools."
Other questions on education asked about support for vocational programs in schools. Clausen acknowledged that career technical education has been de-emphasized some in state schools, but noted efforts to improve it.
He pointed to a welding partnership in a school, a bill that would ease the licensure process for career skills instructors and others.
Huot, who at times popped jokes and at others answered questions forcefully, said he was surprised more questions didn't arise over controversial topics like gun control.
In a response to a question insinuating "waste in schools," Huot grew animated in his defense of district schools and noted the increasing funds districts pay in special education costs.
"These people are so strapped," he said. "When we look at the waste in schools ... man I can't find it."
In other questions, all the legislators indicated support for environmental protection legislation, gun control legislation, senior care improvement efforts and others.