An update on farm safety and Rural Finance Authority funding
Published 7:01 am Saturday, February 29, 2020
On Feb. 25, I had the honor of participating in a news conference with a Minnesota family who is inspiring elected officials to improve safety on the farm after their 18-year-old son Landon died in a tragic grain bin accident last year.
I stood alongside Gov. Walz, Lt. Gov. Flanagan, Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish, Minnesota Farm Bureau’s Amber Glaeser, and state lawmakers while listening to Landon’s courageous mom, Michele, recount the pain and heartbreak their family and community are feeling. Landon’s family is not alone. At least 10 people have died in farming-related accidents in our state since last June, mostly in grain bin accidents.
Bipartisan legislation intended to reduce the number of preventable injuries and deaths is advancing in both the House and Senate. As Chair of the House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division, I listened to Michele provide painful public testimony on Feb. 20 about her son and how she is working to prevent the same tragedy from happening to another family. I’m grateful for Michele’s advocacy and want to acknowledge the tremendous courage with which she tells her story.
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I’ll have an update about the status of this legislation in a future column. If you’d like to learn about the proposal, visit www.house.mn and search for House File 3224, authored by my colleague Representative Jeff Brand of St. Peter.
Farmers are facing uniquely challenging times, from the alarming increase in preventable accidents to historically low commodity prices, extreme weather events, and trade uncertainty. As a result, resources at the Rural Finance Authority (RFA) have recently been depleted, and lawmakers are following the proper legislative processes to appropriate new funding in a way that is transparent and accountable. RFA’s low-interest loans are helping to keep many Minnesota farms in business and we are quickly moving forward to replenish the fund. It is important that lawmakers don’t turn this issue into an election year political football.
Recently, Representative Rod Hamilton, the Republican lead on my committee, sought to forego the legislative process, attempting to declare an urgency on the bill to provide new funding (HF 2959) and bring the matter directly to the House floor. As chief author of the bill, I can assure you this process is moving as quickly as possible. For reference, the last time RFA funds were depleted was December of 2016 and it took the House Ag Finance committee, chaired by Rep. Hamilton at the time, until February 19, 2017 for the bill to be processed and signed into law by the Governor.
I am concerned with the attempt now to turn this into a partisan battle over which political party more greatly supports our farmers. We all know 2019 was one of the worst years in decades for farming. Our efforts should be focused on moving policies forward and setting politics to the side. As long as I have served, the Agriculture committee members have been the proud participants of the least partisan committee in the Minnesota House. As Chair of the committee, it is my sincere intention to continue toward a collaborative and fruitful outcome, reducing partisan tensions as much as I am able.
HF 2959 seeks $50 million in general obligation bonds. This is a sizable increase from past requests in order to accommodate the need. On Monday, March 2, I will present the RFA funding bill before the Ways and Means committee. The bill will then advance to the entire body of the House with floor action taken in a timely manner.
Your voice and your stories can inspire action at our State Capitol, so I invite you to speak up and contact me with your comments, questions, and ideas. You can find my full contact information and subscribe to my email list at www.house.mn/27B. I enjoy reading your letters and encourage you to write me at 487 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155. Or, you can reach my office by phone at 651-296-4193.
Thank you for the honor of serving as your state representative. I’ll be in touch with news and updates about what’s happening at the Capitol all session long.