ST. PAUL -- Officials of the Little Falls School District joined state Rep. Steve Wenzel, DFL-Little Falls, at the state Capitol last week for a hearing on a proposal to provide $600,000 in special state aid to the district.
Wenzel, along with Superintendent George Maurer, board clerk Betty Ring, board treasurer Susan Prosapio and board member Herman Pietrowski, told the House K-12 Education Finance Committee that a dispute concerning the number of pupils enrolled in an all-day kindergarten program shortchanged the school district.
Wenzel's bill would provide retroactive aid of $300,000 for the 1998-99 school year and another $300,000 for the 1999-2000 school year.
The committee will meet this week to decide whether to include the Little Falls measure in a statewide education funding bill.
"This is clearly an emergency measure, so I am hopeful we will have the support of the committee and eventually of the governor," Wenzel said.
One obstacle might be a tight budget for education this year, Wenzel said. The House Ways and Means Committee recently set budget targets. Wenzel supported a move to put $115 million from the budget surplus into K-12 education, but the committee voted to allow only $28 million.
Otremba bill would protect farmers
ST. PAUL -- With contract farming growing more prevalent every year, state Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba, DFL-Long Prairie, and other rural DFL lawmakers have introduced legislation designed to protect family farmers from unfair and abusive practices by grain and meat processing giants -- a "Contractor's Bill of Rights."
"This bill is designed to even out a David-and-Goliath situation in farming," said Otremba.
The bill is modeled on a Kansas law, and has eight key points:
-- Coercion, intimidation and retaliation against contract producers are prohibited.
-- The corporation may not break or fail to renew a contract without notice and reimbursement for damages.
-- A "covenant of good faith" is implied in all contracts between producers and corporations.
-- Corporations must give producers 60 days' notice if they wish to modify contract provisions.
-- Producers and owners of livestock must share responsibility for the environmental impact of animal production and the cost of compliance with environmental rules.
-- Contracts will be required to provide for mediation to resolve disputes.
-- Producers may sue for damages or other relief if the contract provisions are violated. Also, corporations may be subject to criminal fines of $200 to $1,000 for violations.
-- Owners of livestock are required to file a statement of ownership with state and local government, so it will be clear who owns the hogs, cattle or poultry on an operation.
Contract farming has grown rapidly as the food processing industry has become concentrated through mergers and acquisitions, such as last year's Cargill-Continental Grain merger.
Kinkel bill would let schools delay start
ST. PAUL -- A bill authored by Sen. Tony Kinkel, DFL-Park Rapids, allowing school districts to delay the start of school was approved by the Senate Education Committee last week.
"I am pleased and, frankly, a bit surprised the committee approved the bill," said Kinkel. "This type of bill usually meets a lot of resistance at this stage of the legislative process. The bill still has a long way to go, especially since Republican leaders in the House are refusing to give its companion bill a hearing. Still, I am cautiously optimistic about the bill's chances for getting passed by the Senate, passed by the House and signed by the governor."
In 1998, the Legislature passed a law allowing schools to start classes before Labor Day, but not before Sept. 1. That law is a departure for Minnesota, which -- with a few exceptions -- has prohibited school starts before Labor Day. The new law went into effect for the school year that started last year, in September 1999.
The Kinkel bill would require schools to delay the start of classes until after Labor Day next year. Classes would start on or after Sept. 5, 2000.
"School calendars are an important consideration in northern Minnesota where tourism is the lynchpin of the economy," said Kinkel.
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