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Legislators get feedback from business people

BAXTER - Four Minnesota House members, including the chair of the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, met with a small group of business representatives in a listening session Friday at the Northland Arboretum.

Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, chair of what used to be the Commerce and Labor Committee, told business people who attended the Brainerd Lakes Area Chamber session his goal was to make it easier to start, grow and run businesses.

"We don't have anything we want to do," he said. "We're smart enough to know we don't have all the answers."

Issues that were discussed ranged from tort reform to the possibility of expanded gambling to fund a Vikings stadium.

Brian Lehman, Nisswa mayor and a representative of the Good Samaritan Society, addressed the disadvantage nursing homes sometimes face because of the disparity between Medicare pay and private pay clients. He also talked about the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency mandates that place a burden on Nisswa businesses.

"We all want to protect and care for our water," Hoppe said. "We can try to inject some common sense into it."

Hoppe said the first bill Republicans introduced dealt with permitting and regulatory reform.

Other lawmakers who attended the session included the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee vice chair, Rep. Tim Sanders, R-Blaine; Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, and Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls. Ward and LeMieur are not members of the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee.

Responding to a question on the possibility of expanded gambling, Hoppe said there has been a lot of talk but he didn't know what gambling measures might come before the Legislature. He said the Legislature has to find a way to prevent the Minnesota Vikings from leaving the state without spending money in the general fund. He said Gov. Mark Dayton has expressed a willingness to consider gambling revenues for the Vikings.

"I don't know what the appetite is (in the Legislature) but it's certainly going to be talked about," Hoppe said.

Ward said he thought that new revenue, whether it be fees, fair taxes or gambling, might have to be a piece of the solution to the state's deficit problem. The Brainerd lawmaker also noted there are social costs that accompany an increase in gambling.

"I would be concerned if Minnesota became the Las Vegas of the Midwest," Ward said.

Both Hoppe said the Metrodome, with its roof, was useful for a variety of events. 

Rep. Sanders predicted there would not be any legislation for a new stadium unless a roof was a part of the plan.

Brent Gunsbury of Bercher Design and Construction said he would like to see changes in the legal system so that those who bring a lawsuit against a company have to pay the firm's legal expenses if their case is considered to be unwarranted. Time spent defending lawsuits hurts a company's productivity and discourages hiring, he said.

One business person complained of the documentation required of dental offices by the Department of Health relating to pharmaceuticals and radiation equipment.

Jim Kraft, president of Frandsen Bank and Trust, said the government needs to control the deficit and reduce its own size. It also needs to take on tough issues, including those relating to unions.

Hoppe said there is a growing awareness about government spending and pay raises in the public sector among people he talks to around the state.

"People (in private businesses) aren't getting increases right now," Hoppe said. "It seems unfair."

Mike Riley, president of Bremer Bank, said his clients are reluctant to take chances in this economy.

"There's a real wait and see mentality," he said.

MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at or 855-5860.