State must protect infrastructure, children’s health

/ 21 April 2012 / jennifer

Kim Norton, Rochester Post-Bulletin, April 21, 2012 –

There is much work yet to be done in this session of the Minnesota Legislature. Typically, in the even-numbered year of a biennium, the main focus is on a Capital Investment bill, also known as a bonding bill.

Bonding helps build the infrastructure our businesses and communities need to be successful. Good roads and bridges, updated college campuses, wastewater treatment plants and other projects directly contribute to Minnesota’s quality of life and help our businesses sell more goods and services, expand, and hire more Minnesotans.

Unfortunately, work on the bonding bill has been slow. The House bonding bill is too small, won’t put enough people back to work, and won’t address the many infrastructure challenges and economic needs facing our whole state.

The Senate bonding bill includes far more projects — the Mayo Civic Center among them — but is viewed in that body as too partisan. Because of the supermajority needed to pass a bonding bill, they must have bipartisan support and that’s as it should be. Partisan politics should have no place in our bonding bills.

Even-numbered year sessions are also a great opportunity to pass smart, common-sense policy reforms. This year, we have a number of important Health and Human Services reforms in omnibus bills. Dental provisions for Hiawatha Homes and Apple Tree Dental are included in theoOmnibus bill along with multiple provisions for children and families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Many of the measures in this bill would have positive impacts for people in our community and across our state. Including controversial or partisan provisions in the bill could derail it. We need to work in a bipartisan fashion and finalize a bill that can gain final passage and Gov. Dayton’s signature.

Another issue deserving attention this session is the Safe Routes to School program.

The Minnesota Legislature’s Childhood Obesity Working Group, which I co-chair along with Rep. Bob Dettmer, was created to consider policies and strategies for Minnesota to reduce the obesity epidemic that is gripping our state and many others. We believe that if we can get youth to eat better and exercise more, there will be a resulting positive impact on the rates of obesity and overweight, which combined today stands at 61 percent of all Minnesota adults, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The key legislative recommendation from the Working Group to the 2012 Minnesota Legislature is to create and fund a Safe Routes to School grant program for Minnesota’s towns and cities. We made that recommendation because we believe that doing so will help Minnesota children become more physically fit, active and safe.

Creating and funding a Minnesota-based Safe Routes to School grant program will enable children to more safely walk or bicycle to school. The existing federal program has demonstrated success in many schools and communities across the state by improving the transportation infrastructure to and from schools. Unfortunately, the federal grant program is currently unable to meet the demand in Minnesota for infrastructure improvements related to school safety.

The safety issues associated with children who walk and bike are well known. Nationally, 25 percent of all children’s traffic fatalities and 15 percent of all children’s traffic injuries occurred when they were walking or biking. Safe Routes to School is the only program designed to address these tragic statistics.

Finally, if left unchecked, by the year 2020 nearly 31 percent of the overall increase in Minnesota’s health care costs will be due to projected increases in obesity alone. And if current trends continue, treating Minnesota’s overweight and obese populations will cost an additional $3.7 billion by 2020.

Few bills have the endorsement of so many organizations and strong bipartisan support at the legislature. I am proud to be one of twenty-two House authors, and Sen. Nelson is one of the ten Senate authors. The thirty-three supporting organizations range from health groups, like the American Heart Association, to school interests such as the Minnesota School Boards Association, and individual cities as well as the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to establish and fund the Minnesota Safe Routes to School program.

Creating and funding this program for Minnesota will not only help to encourage more youth to walk and bike to and from school — and help to keep them safe while doing so — it also will benefit taxpayers, health insurance policy holders and those who pay into the health care system. It’s seldom that any program has that broad of a positive impact on Minnesota and its people.

It’s clear that we have a lot of work left to do. In the time that is left, I hope we avoid distractions and accomplish some positive work for the people of Minnesota.

Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, represents District 29B in the Minnesota House.