Senator Lang immersed in his work during his first Legislative session
Seven weeks into his first term as a Minnesota State Senator, Andrew Lang is learning that serving the needs on the District 17 constituents is far more than a part-time job.
His days at the state Capitol can easily be nearly non-stop for more than 12 hours. When he is back in the district, there are people who would like some of his time to talk about the issues that are important to them. There never seems like there is enough time to return all the calls that come in as quickly as he would like to.
District 17 includes Swift, Chippewa, Kandiyohi and Renville counties.
Despite the pressures of the job, and learning just how the Legislature works, Lang seems to be enjoying his time in St. Paul and has immersed himself in the process. He also finds himself with added duties as a member of the majority party in the Senate.
While Republicans felt confident they could hold on to their control of the Minnesota House in the 2016 election, they really didn’t expect to win control of the Senate. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party controlled the Senate with a 39-28 majority in the 2014-2016 biennium.
But with Democratic Presidential Candidate Hilary Clinton’s unpopularity in rural areas of Minnesota, the rising cost of health care, and the fears of refugees and immigration, helped Republicans win a 34-33 majority in the state Senate. Among those defeated was incumbent District 17 DFL Sen. Lyle Koenen. Lang beat Koenen getting 57 percent of the vote. Republicans control the Minnesota House with a decisive 77-57 majority.
But while they control the House and Senate, Republicans must craft their legislation to get the approval of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
Lang serves as the vice chair of the Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee. He also serves on the Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Policy Committee, the Rural Development and Housing Finance Committee, the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee and the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee.
Lang optimistic about progress
So far, the Legislature has been working well, for the most part, with Gov. Dayton, Lang said. Bills on tax reform, health care help for those on individual plans, and funding for the state’s Rural Finance Authority (RFA) all passed with bipartisan support in the House and Senate and were signed by the governor.
The $312 million health insurance relief package is intended as short-term relief for Minnesotans whose health insurance premiums have dramatically risen, in some cases nearing 70 percent and it will pave the way for additional, long-term reform later this session, Lang said of the bill. The bill provided discounted monthly premiums for an estimated 125,000 residents on the individual market.
“A big thing for my district is now the coops have the ability to provide some of their members insurance plans and group plans,” he said. “It is a big step, I am proud to have been a part of it and I am glad the governor signed on and provided us with a good law.”
The $21 million tax relief (conformity) package puts Minnesota into alignment with changes made to income tax policy at the federal level and puts into law several new deductions for educators, college students, and others who have been faced with a mounting tax burden in recent years, Lang said.
Lang was the lead Senate author on the bipartisan $35 million Rural Finance Authority legislation that Gov. Mark Dayton signed earlier this month. It gives the RFA the ability to continue offering eligible Minnesota farmers affordable financing and terms and conditions not offered by traditional lenders.
The investment in the RFA gives farmers faced with a credit crunch due to several years of low commodity prices and higher prices additional financial help.
“The agriculture industry is the second largest employer in our state and the cornerstone of Minnesota’s economy, but the average farmer is 57 years old,” Lang said at the bill’s signing. “These low interest loans will continue our tradition of supporting family farms, and help young beginning farmers start their own farms or take over their family farms. I want to thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for working so well together, and I am glad to have the support of Governor Dayton on such an important program.”
Senate Republicans are also working on an additional, larger tax relief package that will be introduced later this session, Lang said.
Lang says it is a good sign that the Legislature has agreed to early deadlines on getting bills drafted and acted on in the House and Senate. That will give the governor time to review the bills, react, and then let the two sides work out a compromise....
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Pictured, top: District 17 state Sen. Andrew Lang stands at his desk in the Minnesota Senate chambers where he will be casting votes on everything from education funding, to taxes, to transportation projects, to buffer laws, and, maybe, the Appleton prison.
Pictured, bottom: Minnesota’s Legislature convened Jan. 3 and must adjourn by May 22. Beween those dates, it has work to do on transportation, taxes, education, buffers, health care, and more.