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May 26, 2019

4/26/2019 10:49:00 AM
Sen. Koran uses holiday session break to meet with constituents

The community room at Wyoming Giese Memorial Library was standing-room- only with people who came  to hear local State Senator Mark Koran last week.  Lawmakers had some time away from the capitol, as the MN Legislature was on Easter-Passover break from Friday April 12 to April 23.

Senator Koran lives in Lent Township and is in the midst of his first term representing District 32--Isanti and Chisago counties. (With the exception of the southeast corner, where Karin Housley represents Franconia, Shafer Township and over to Forest Lake and  to the south end of Washington County.)

Koran summarized his committee work, goals, specific votes or why he thinks some issues won’t be voted on in this session.   The final 45 minutes or so of the two-hour plus event,  was opened to the audience for questions.  The crowd was well-behaved, except one voice that was raised--declaring that if Koran was going to claim to be “pro-life” he should start “doing something” about hands free cellphone phone use.  

The  speaker said his daughter had been killed several years ago, in a crash caused by a driver using a mobile phone.

Sen. Koran voted no on the hands-free bipartisan measure that the governor recently signed.  It goes into effect on Minnesota roads August 1, this summer.  Koran told the man,  this is an example of a bill “that sounds good” but there are “lots of distractions when you are in a vehicle,”  and Koran felt the bill, as presented, wasn’t comprehensive enough.  He would have liked language requiring additional training of new drivers  and he didn’t see the value in focusing on just one technology.

The audience contained a number of people who said they work in public education and some questions were about school funding.  Sen. Koran said he’d like detailed information from those people who gave personal anecdotes about mandates that result in budget waste, and he wants to know which state mandates are dragging down education. He’ll introduce bills to cut wasteful bureaucracy and “standardize” forms used in academic record-keeping, when possible.

Special Education expenses have skyrocketed in recent years and one teacher said that’s because the districts are doing a better job identifying students with limited abilities and behavioral issues.

North Branch School District instructor Barb Swanson, stated there’s three and two percent increases in formulas for the next two years being supported in the MN House,  but she asked Koran to explain why the Senate has just a one-half percent education funding increase pending.   

He responded that there’s still negotiations on education funding in St Paul,  but he also wants to see districts trim waste, that which does nothing to “add value to your time in the classroom.”  

Koran noted increased state funding is a tough sell when citizens see new athletic facilities and building additions and improvements.  He said pots of money for capital projects and operational expenses  are kept separate in district budgeting, but ultimately the dollars all come out of the same taxpayers’ wallets.
There were many questions regarding healthcare and prescription costs and pleas for Koran to do whatever he can to correct the problems in this sector.  He said his GOP party wants to bolster the private insurance marketplace because when there’s viable options to government plans, that’s how the system works best.

He promised,  “nobody is proposing to get rid” of coverage on pre-existing conditions.  Also, the more transparency required for pharmacies and drug companies to operate under,  the better for the consumer, who should be able to shop and compare prices.

Gun controls will not move forward in this session, Koran told a constituent. He does not support the two main bills-- red flag (seizing firearms when owner is a threat) and enhancing background checks. Sen. Koran mentioned the gun control bills have been a House priority, but not so much in the Senate.  The gun control bills were rolled into a Dept. of Public Safety omnibus measure which will “put a vote on that in jeopardy” in the Senate, he predicted.

 On the Child Care Assistance Program waste and fraud (story Press March  21) Sen. Koran said the status quo is unacceptable. He was looking forward to April 24; when  a plan to shift the inspector general duties out of Health & Human Services and fully under authority of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was to be reviewed.

On the governor’s gas tax request as part of the budget-- Koran said he doesn’t like that Governor Walz raided other state spending areas and hasn’t made those budget shifts “whole” while arguing that he needs 20 cents a gallon.  Koran said 10 cents maybe is al that’s left after “backfilling” and he can’t support that approach.  He could see “a nickel or a dime” but not 20 cents per gallon increase.  Koran also supports using state revenues from all other vehicle-generated taxes first,  to fund roads and bridges.

He is also unconvinced that issues related to MNLARS (the deputy registrars) are the result of poor technology.  

He does support funding to reimburse branches of the licensing and registration services for extra costs they incurred during systemic problems.  He also wants to see MNLARS agency officials spend some time working in their customers’ world-- such as dealerships-- and become job “attached” to the reality of MNLARS  procedures and their practical application, saying some in MNLARS “...don’t understand their users’ needs wholistically.”

Sen. Koran ended saying he hopes to schedule these public Q and A exchanges more frequently and maybe dedicate individual events to one topic and look at them more deeply.

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