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AUSTIN EDITION COL Session presents challenges, opportunities

The 2005 legislative session officially got under way Jan. 4. I certainly appreciate the privilege given me to serve the residents of District 27B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

It's an incredible honor, and I'll work hard to uphold the trust you've placed in me.

As you might imagine, the first two weeks have been a whirlwind getting to know colleagues, staff and the process of doing business. The days go by quickly and are filled with meetings and what I like to call "relationship-building experiences."

I am acutely aware our first priority in this new session has to be getting the bonding projects through the process and addressing the needs of the people in our state.

Budget issues

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We need to come to grips with the state's budget and deal with it honestly. Otherwise, the deficits are only going to get worse and eventually threaten the things that make Minnesota such a great place to live.

Still, I don't want to make it sound like the budget will prevent us from accomplishing much this year. I remain optimistic that we can address some of the ongoing challenges facing the state, including equity in education funding, rising health-care costs and economic-development issues.

Cooperation

Voters across the state made it clear they wanted state leaders to work together and find common ground on the issues important to us all.

I know that was a message I heard repeatedly this fall, and I've been working hard to find common ground in the opening weeks of the session.

Last week, I was able to attend a two-day workshop sponsored by the Humphrey Institute and the National Council of State Legislators on dispute resolution in a legislative setting. The workshop offered some practical steps to help find consensus on contentious issues, something sorely needed at the Legislature in the past.

More than 60 legislators, including many of my fellow freshmen representatives, attended the event. The fact that so many legislators attended a workshop designed to encourage bipartisan cooperation gives me real hope that we can address the budget deficit, and then turn our attention to other issues.

Education

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One of our first bipartisan efforts should be finding a way to adequately fund K-12 education to prevent local school districts from further increases in class sizes and cuts to staffing and programs.

It should make no difference where you live when it comes to expecting good quality education and fair funding. Many of the rural (Greater Minnesota) school districts have similar issues. In fact, I will join some of the rural legislators to meet weekly to work on how to address our common issues including education. We recognize this critical need and expect our working together to give us the voice and force we need to make a difference.

Health care

The governor pointed to health care as the main cause of the state budget deficit, and we'll spend quite a bit of time at the Capitol this year looking for new ways to reduce health-care costs. However, we also need to make sure that any health-care cuts don't end up costing us more in the long run.

On a local level, I've already begun working with Sen. Dan Sparks and Rep. Dan Dorman on a bipartisan request for flood relief dollars for the city of Austin. I also have introduced bonding requests for science labs at Riverland Community College and the Shooting Star recreational trail.

I'm quickly finding out that good government requires a great deal of citizen input. I can't do this job without you, so I hope you'll feel free to contact me with your thoughts, concerns and suggestions about the upcoming session or any other issue facing our area. Together with Sen. Sparks, we will hold town meetings in the district over the course the legislative session.

In the meantime, please don't hesitate to call or write.

I can be reached by phone at (651) 296-4193, 231 State Office Building, 100 Martin Luther King Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155, or via e-mail at rep.jeanne.poppe@house.mn.

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