'We've got a little ruckus there': State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen outlines his legislative priorities during town hall meeting in Perham
Days before the legislature started its latest session in St. Paul, State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen met with constituents in Perham on Thursday, Jan. 3 during a district wide tour to present his legislative agenda and hear the community's concerns.
Ingebrigtsen was joined by State Rep. Bud Nornes and about ten community members in a conference room at Pizza Ranch in Perham.
Ingebrigtsen said he anticipates a busy legislative session, but the change in balance leaves room for uncertainty. Since the last session, control of the house has flipped from Republican to Democratic control by 20 votes. Among the Republicans, four are wildcards, and it's uncertain which direction they'll be voting, according to Ingebrigtsen. "We got a little ruckus there," Ingebrigtsen said.
Ingebrigtsen's District 8 includes most of Otter Tail County and the northeastern section of Douglas County that includes Alexandria.
The state senator is vice chair of the State Senate Finance Committee and has worked on committees dealing with the environment and capital investment.
Ingebrigtsen kicked off the policy discussion by explaining the need to get the tax conformity law passed. The bill would have simplified tax forms and reduced taxes for Minnesotans, according to Ingebrigtsen. He imagines the legislature will pass the same bill Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed last spring with the hope that Gov.-elect Tim Walz passes it.
Mental health is a major priority of Ingebrigtsen,and he says he will continue to ensure resources and infrastructure exists to treat people with mental illness. He and Nornes both agree that more alternatives are needed to assist the mentally ill in the wake of regional treatment center closings in recent years. Many of those same people who would have received help in RTCs oftentimes end up in county jails.
Other facilities do exist, but there are not enough beds to meet the needs of those afflicted with mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse.
Ingebrigtsen is looking into converting the now empty Appleton Prison into a mental health facility to ensure more emergency beds are available.
He says there is a need to increase staff at the Department of Corrections following a series of assaults in Minnesota jails. As the former Douglas County Sheriff, Ingebrigtsen said he knows the job isn't easy, and it's difficult to put yourself in harm's way on a daily basis if the wage isn't worth it. Ingebrigtsen mentioned staff in administrative roles could be trimmed back to cover the cost of more hires and wage increases.
As the conversation steered towards the Second Amendment, Ingebrigtsen voiced his displeasure with gun control legislation and supported arming teachers and faculty in schools. "The governor wants 'gun safety,' I don't know what that means," Ingebrigtsen said. "People want something, even if it doesn't make sense."
Ingebrigtsen said teachers and faculty must have the option to be trained and certified through the sheriff's office and given a stipend to carry a gun in school. "When 911 is called they're going to go in and shoot the person committing the assault, but that response can take six to eight minutes," Ingebrigtsen said. "A teacher who is trained could stop the casualties at six or seven kids instead of 15 kids."
An increase in the gas tax isn't off the table with gas prices hitting record lows, according to Ingebrigtsen. "My only fear is they're going to come real hard," he said of Democrats introducing legislation. "This is permanent stuff." The gas tax is currently at 28.5 cents and is the 24th highest nationwide.
When asked what people in the district can do to help, Ingebrigtsen said "Pay attention. If you see something bothersome, you got to let us know."
When an attendee said she was troubled by the increasing Muslim population in the state, Ingebrigtsen said it only matters if they're here legally. "Either you're Minnesotan or American. I don't work for anyone else."
Otter Tail County Correspondent Tom Hintgen contributed to this story.