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Wright County News

Posted on: January 30, 2020

County Officials Meet with State Legislators to Discuss Key Issues for the 2020 Legislative Session

On Tuesday, Jan. 28, the Wright County Board of Commissioners and several staff members had a sit-down visit with three state legislators that represent Wright County in St. Paul – Sen. Bruce Anderson (IR-Buffalo Township), Rep. Eric Lucero (IR-Dayton) and Rep. Marion O’Neill (IR-Maple Lake).

It was the third time the county had met with legislators prior to the start of the annual state legislative session, which convenes Feb. 11 this year. What differed from the previous two meetings was the dynamic of how the meetings were conducted. The first two were held in the county board room with the legislators sitting in the commissioners chairs and county officials seated below them asking questions and explaining their needs and concerns.

It had all the appearances of a public hearing or a court proceeding, not a discussion. A change in décor made a significant difference. County officials and legislators sat together at series of connected tables and the setting helped make this session much more productive than the previous two.

“This year, rather than putting the legislators up on the dais, which created a formality that we didn’t necessarily want, we sat in a roundtable atmosphere that brought about much more of a back-and-forth discussion,” Wright County Administrator Lee Kelly said. “We were able to talk about issues, explaining what we’re working on and what we’re trying to do. Conversely, we asked what can we do to help move these issues forward and what do the legislators need us to do to get that done?”

The give and take of the conversation was markedly different than the previous meetings, where commissioners, administrators and department heads would take turns explaining what their needs were. This time around, the exchanges expanded to break down what was at the heart of the issues the county feels strongly about.

“I thought the new format went very well,” Wright County Commissioner Darek Vetsch said. “We were able to ask how do we accomplish our goals and how can we help you to help us? In the past, we threw a lot of information at them, but never got to the point of asking them what we could do to help move these issues forward. We had a lot of good dialogue of what they need from us and more clarification on what their challenges will be. It was much different than just having a list of things we want.”

A key element of Tuesday’s discussion was to avoid barraging the legislators with information, concerns and complaints. The biggest change was to narrow the focus of the discussion to critical items that the county wants to see happen at the 2020 legislative session.

It was an approach that worked and led to a more thorough dissemination of those topics.

“In past years, we kind of came with a laundry list of issues and walked through them by department,” Kelly said. “This time, we focused in on three main issues and that became the bulk of the discussion.”

Those three issues were the county’s hope for bonding to include a dental clinic for families on medical assistance in the new Government Center when it is completed, attempts to take down barriers the Department of Natural Resources puts in the way of counties to manage their ditch systems and drainage issues, as well as a push to avoid a sharp reduction in the state-assessed value of the Xcel nuclear plant property in Monticello.

Whether any of the legislators will champion one or more of these causes during the 2020 session will play out over the next four months, as the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives create new laws and pass bills. But, the biggest positive that came out of the Jan. 28 meeting was that everyone at the table came away from the meeting with a better understanding of the issues that are important to each other and what both county officials and legislators can do the have a positive impact on those issues.

“The dialogue back and forth was huge,” Vetsch said. “They all had a really good grasp of why the issues we brought up made sense and what they would be up against in the Legislature when it comes to trying to get some action of those big three items we discussed. It turned out much better than most of us had anticipated it would be. It was a night and day difference from what we had the last couple of years.” 

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