State Sen. Karla Bigham and State Reps. Tony Jurgens and Keith Franke connected with constituents on Zoom for a virtual town hall meeting Thursday night. The three gave descriptions of items …
State Sen. Karla Bigham and State Reps. Tony Jurgens and Keith Franke connected with constituents on Zoom for a virtual town hall meeting Thursday night.
The three gave descriptions of items they’re working on through committees and gave details on some things of interest to local residents.
Even though in-person meetings with groups of constituents can’t be held because of COVID-19, the virtual meeting format has been helpful for lawmakers.
“It’s good that we’re able to do this,” said Bigham.
Bigham represents Cottage Grove, South St. Paul, Newport, Saint Paul Park, Hastings, Afton and Denmark in Senate District 54. Franke represents District 54A in the House of Representatives which includes St. Paul Park, South St. Paul, Newport and most of Cottage Grove. Jurgens represents District 54B in the House of Representatives, including Hastings, Afton, Denmark, Nininger and parts of Cottage Grove.
Franke and Jurgens both serve on the Workforce and Business Development Committee which passed a bill on legalization of marijuana, which heads for other committee votes.
So far, three committees in the Minnesota House have approved the bill, which is expected to get a full House vote this session, though it likely won’t get Senate Approval.
The measure now heads to the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee.
Both have some reservations about legalization of marijuana but are hopeful their concerns can be addressed as the bill moves through committees.
“Representative Jurgens and I both voted for it out of committee,” said Franke.
“Excellent,” replied Bigham.
Franke said he voted for it “not because necessarily that I think it’s the right thing to do 100 percent. I’m still on the fence on that.”
He said the bill would free up the minor marijuana cases in the state court system. He does fear the effects it will have on the Department of Health Services budget because of increased addiction.
“It will help relieve some of the overload on our judicial system. On the flip side, sometimes it will increase the burden on our Department of Health Services, and it will increase our mental health issues.
“Your DHS budget shoots way up,” Franke said in what he learned from researching other states. “I’m going to follow this.”
He said that the thought that it will bring in significant money by taxing marijuana is false, because of the impact the marijuana use has on other parts of the budget.
“These discussions need to happen. If we’re really going to do this in this state, we’re going to have to have hard discussions,” said Franke.
Jurgens’ main concern revolves around impairment.
“My concern with that is the same it always has been since I came into the House, and I’ve been asked the question,” he said. “My concern isn’t what people do behind the privacy of their doors at home, but I do get concerned when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. You can’t test for impairment like you can with alcohol. That’s my concern. I’ll see where it goes.”
Bigham said, “From what both of you have said, I have the same concerns. People are doing this. See MARIJUANA Page 3 MARIJUANA
The product they are buying on the street can be laced with things. If it’s legalized, you can monitor it through dispensaries.”
She said that legalizing it would be similar to the argument about her drive for legalized sports betting in Minnesota.
“You don’t pass it to balance the budget. You do it to have consumer protection,” she said.
On the issue of the COVID-19 vaccine, the three lawmakers urged constituents to keep trying to get hooked up with a health care provider to get their shots. Many pharmacies need to be contacted directly, and if you can travel out of the Metro area, it might be easier to find available vaccine.
“I’ve been getting emails, and I’m sure we all have been about ‘Where can I get the vaccine’” Fr4anke said. “It is kind of the Hunger Games of trying to figure out how to get the vaccine.”
Jurgens credited the governor’s office for elevating Minnesota to being the top state in getting vaccinations out to residents.
“We’re probably the top state. Number one. Credit to the administration for turning that around,” he said, noting Minnesota’s rollout was initially criticized as being too slow.
“Hopefully we’re on the downward slide on this. We all want to see the restrictions lifted. We want to see the economy back to where it was. I think we’re headed in that direction. At least I hope we are,” said Jurgens.
“Get your vaccine,” urged Bigham. “Numbers are increasing. Hospitalizations are increasing. The best way we can do this is get the vaccine, mask up and keep sanitizing.
The 40-minute sessions came to a close so Bigham and Franke could make it to a Bingo event, and Jurgens departed for another meeting.