ST. PAUL Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-rural Hanska) is working on and putting forward several bills despite serving in the minority party in the Minnesota Legislature.
He is chief author of a bill seeking to establish a Breast Cancer Research specialty license plate. It comes with a $10 fee, a $5 transfer fee and a required $20 donation to Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota. The license plate is intended to raise awareness about breast cancer and provide funding for research.
Torkelson is co-author of other bills, including a bill named "Janet's Law," which tackles the issue of minimal reporting of radon in Minnesota. The invisible, odorless, radioactive gas has been linked as a cause of cancer. The state has neither a unified system nor a database on where radon is present, The bill would require the $15 radon test be performed in a house whenever a title is transferred, allowing people to know about the presence of radon and to consider installation of a system to remove it. The bill is waiting for its first hearing in the House Finance and Policy committee.
He is part of the bills pushing for the remaining portions of the Highway 14 four-lane expansion project. The House side of the companion bill that requires the project be put on MnDOT's 20-year highway investment plan has already received a hearing and been put aside for inclusion in an omnibus bill. The House side of the companion bill providing the funding for the project will get a hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 10 a.m. in Hearing Room 5 in the State Office Building.
Torkelson is also working with fellow legislators on a bill to allow Minnesota cities to establish street improvement districts and related fees within the designated districts for future repair projects. The proposed districts would charge property owners within the related street areas a small annual fee ahead of time, instead of the of currently common system of costlier special assessments on the property owners after or during a project. He said the City of Sleepy Eye has been pushing for this bill as an useful tool for cities of similar size. He said the idea is to help people hit harder by special assessments, such as the elderly on fixed incomes, by spreading the cost to all who benefit in the designated districts and having less that has to be paid in any individual year. He said there is still a lot work to be done on the bill, especially because businesses don't like the proposal because they generally have more property. The bill is waiting for a hearing in the Government Operations committee.
Torkelson is also working on a bill to prevent the Minnesota Department of Revenue from counting fermentation and beer wells or liquefaction tanks in calculating property tax values, which is important for ethanol plants but also has incidental importance for breweries and wineries. He said the Revenue Department had started calculating these items as improvements to land due to some quirks in tax code rules.
"The point is we don't want to start taxing people for their personal property," said Torkelson.
The bill is awaiting a hearing in House Tax committee.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)