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Fenton figures to make impact at State Capitol

As bills head for passage into law, state Rep. Kelly Fenton will be in the loop.

The Woodbury Republican is serving as vice chairwoman on House Rules and Legislative Administration, a committee that plays a key role in setting the agenda on the House floor. Dozens of bills are referred to committee each legislative session, and during this year’s abbreviated session — with construction at the State Capitol causing issues and an election year coming up — legislators are feeling additional pressure to get the job done.

“It’s going to be fast and furious,” Fenton said.

As a committee member, she will get a heads up and a chance to look at each bill before it gets to the House floor for approval.

“You get to see what’s out there, on the hopper,” Fenton said. “When you’re serving on these other committees, your focus is really in those areas.”

The advantage of serving on the rules committee is that a legislator can look up each bill and get organized to offer amendments that if passed on the floor might better the legislation, she added.

Fenton also serves on the House education finance, environment and natural resources policy and finance, government operations and elections policy committees, as well as the House Select Committee on Affordable Child Care and the House Subcommittee on Metropolitan Council Accountability and Transparency.

And she has introduced 17 bills already this session.

Overall, Republicans are focusing on transportation and tax relief, Fenton said, but several smaller bills authored by Fenton — including her own tax relief measure — might be very impactful, as well. With the budget set and its surplus down from the original estimate, Fenton expects policies that are revenue neutral to stand the best chance of passage this year.

Go-to for elections

As a former deputy chairwoman of the Republican Party of Minnesota, she has been a “go-to person for elections,” she said, and has enjoyed working with Secretary of State Steve Simon, a DFLer, on the Emergency Elections Committee.

The committee dealt with the question: “What happens if there’s an election-day emergency?” said Fenton, who is carrying the legislation recommended by the committee. It’s a guideline or a template, she said, for how to send voters to different polling places so they can vote despite any emergency.

Fenton is part of a bipartisan effort to move the primary from August to June. Turnout has been low since the primary was moved from September to August, and Fenton said a legislative task force on the subject hopes voter turnout would increase with the move to a time when schools are not closed for the summer and a segment of the population might not be vacationing quite yet.

Listening tour

The affordable child care task force on which Fenton sits traveled the state, visiting Greater Minnesota towns where she said child care is not plentiful nor affordable. Parents and providers weighed in, and Twin Cities metro centers are also on the list for visits.

“It’s basically a listening tour,” Fenton said. “What are the main issues? That’s just starting. The goal is to take our committee on the road.”

Economic development

Fenton is carrying a bill to create a Washington County Community Development Agency, combining the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority with the economic development authority for economic development purposes.

“It’s been done in other cities,” Fenton said. “It’s worked really well.”

The county’s move, which needs legislative approval due to the organizations’ ability to levy special taxes, would streamline the economic development process for any incoming businesses.

School-related bills

A former school administrator, Fenton knows there is “no one-size-fits-all, especially when it comes to schools,” she said.

So she has introduced a bill to allow school districts authority to shift money from funding categorical mandates to paying for urgent educational needs. In response to the complex school funding formula in Minnesota, a school district would be able to transfer money to general fund.

“It’s a temporary fix,” Fenton said, “but in listening to our superintendents, they say invest in the general fund.”

In the long term, the formula should leave no school district behind and allow districts to decide for the needs of their students, she added.

Fenton has proposed a teacher licensure reciprocity bill that she believes could help solve a teacher shortage in Greater Minnesota.

“We should open the door to qualified teachers from other states,” she said.

Fenton also believes that teacher talent could come from a pool of people with corporate experience who wouldn’t be interested in going back to school for a teaching degree. Her Grow Your Own Teacher legislation and another bill that would create alternative teacher preparation grants do carry price tags of $375,000 and $1 million, respectively. The goals: attract teachers of diversity, and get good teachers into the state’s classrooms.

“It doesn’t matter what zip code you are, but every child deserves the highest-quality education with the best teachers,” Fenton said.

Unelected body

On the Met Council committee, Fenton and other members are examining how to improve regional governance.

“It’s an unelected body with huge taxing authority that are only accountable to the government,” Fenton said.

Some opponents of the council are interested in changing the makeup of the council, by possibly creating an elected board.