Legislators talk about session, marijuana

Chisago County Commissioner Mike Robinson asked the same question of both Sen. Sean Nienow and Rep. Bob Barrett when they showed up at the Chisago County Board of Commissioners meeting Aug. 7 to talk about legislative actions that happened this past session: “What was the best thing that happened in the session, and what was the worst thing?”

Nienow was the first to field that question.

Sean Nienow
Sean Nienow

In Nienow’s opinion, the best action taken during the session was in relation to education.

“Locally, what had the best impact was getting some monies into the education formula,” he said. “I didn’t vote for the bill at large; we don’t get to vote on portions of bills.

“We got rid of graduation standards, and I find that highly problematic,” he added.

Even though Nienow said he views the reworking of the state education funding formula as a step in the right direction, he noted it does very little to address the overall problem of inequity among school districts.

“It did almost nothing to address that particular problem,” he said. “It’s disappointing when we have roughly $2.5 billion of new revenue at the state level and we put a bunch of new money into K12, but we don’t address a significant and expanding problem. Every time we put more money into the base, the disparity gets bigger.”

In terms of the worst part of the session, Nienow said he thought the Legislature spent far too much time on the home day care unionization issue.

“None of them want it, and it doesn’t fit or make sense,” he said. “Who knows if it’s actually going to get to a vote. If it doesn’t, that just means you have a lot of organizations, both pro and con, that have spent a lot of time, money and effort.

He added, “I have no problem if they want to do it, but I would say that nine out of 10 of those day care owners that I have talked to are saying, ‘Why are we even doing this?’”

Nienow continued that he attended a day care forum in Wyoming to explain what the Legislature was attempting to do, and about 20 day care owners showed up.

“There was one there that was supportive and all the rest were not,” he said.

Bob Barrett
Bob Barrett

Barrett’s responses

Barrett agreed with Nienow when it came to the first part of Robinson’s question.

“I think what was good is that our school districts got more funding,” Barrett said. “I don’t think it was in the way that I would have liked it. We’re not necessarily eliminating the gap between low-funded and high-funded school districts.”

Barrett then explained he voted for the education bill, but not the tax bill, which he deemed the worst part of the session.

“I thought the taxes were a little too high for me — lot of tax increases,” he said. “It did fund a lot more government, about a 10 percent increase in state government spending.”

Medical marijuana legislation

After addressing Robinson’s query, Barrett touched on what will likely be a hot-button piece of legislation next session: House File 1818.

“That is the issue of medical marijuana,” he said. “It will be coming up for a vote next spring. Right now, Gov. Dayton has said he will not support it unless he can get public safety to buy into it.”

Barrett said the bill is a tough sell to the public safety community.

“A lot of folks in public safety do not want it because it blurs the line between the illegal use of marijuana and medicinal marijuana.”

Barrett said he realizes people with severe illnesses can and do use marijuana for pain and nausea management, but he’s not in favor of the proposed legislation, which has more than 30 cosponsors.

“Marijuana is the second most addictive drug in the country behind alcohol — about 4.2 million people are addicted,” he said. “I really worry about the health and safety of our youth. They’re doing fewer hard drugs, drinking alcohol less, smoking cigarettes less, but they’re doing two things more: Smoking more marijuana and using more prescription drugs. This is an issue that is deep in my heart. … You can tell where I’m at with it.”

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