With the legislative session is well underway, Sen. Jason Isaacson (DFL-Shoreview) and fellow lawmakers are tackling issues related to education, transportation, jobs, among others. Working to better the lives of Minnesotans, Isaacson highlighted some of his goals and priorities for the session ahead.
Isaacson is a strong advocate of preparing the next generation for a diverse workforce, ensuring that trade schools and technical colleges are equally as important as the four year degree in today’s society.
“About 20 years ago, we began to disinvest in vocational education, which is now called career and technical education,” Isaacson said.
He said that disinvesting in those type of programs in junior and high schools caused a shift in skills. Now that the state is in a ‘manufacturing renaissance,’ Isaacson said there is a shortage of workers in this form of work.
“I think that can be traced directly back to the fact that we have really devalued career and technical education in favor of the four year degree,” he said.
Isaacson said he believes that career and technical education need to be brought back to schools, starting in sixth grade. He noted that students can have an array of interests and talents, and not every student wants to go to college, and trade schools are equally as important.
Last year, Isaacson wrote a bill that he described as an audit of the state system of what programs were being offered.
“It was embarrassing, we’ve really moved away from [technical education in grade schools,]” Isaacson said. “So my goal has been to really move towards that again.
That’s been one of my focuses here at the Capitol.”
Isaacson is an instructor at Century College, teaching communications-related courses. He also formerly served on the board at the PEASE Academy, a recovery high school located near the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus.
Although he is no longer on the board, Isaacson said he still remains very engaged with the program.
“I’ve been in recovery for 27 years myself, so I take that pretty seriously. I wish there had been something like that when I cleaned up when I was 18,” he said. “Now I’ll be doing much more of a consulting role with them, both legislatively and as they begin to build the board into something bigger.”
Isaacson said he is also on a mission to support higher education. He noted that as the Federal Government raised interest rates for student loans, more burden is being put on students.
“What we’ve effectively done is made these ridiculous barriers in higher education,” he said. “Why would we put barriers in the way of something that only benefits our society? Why wouldn’t we make sure that everyone has that chance?”
Isaacson said this is one of the biggest pushes he has been working on. He referred back to a discussion that was held in committee, noting that for every dollar that is put into the University of Minnesota, the state gets back $13.
“I defy you to tell me where there’s a better return on investment than that.”
Livable wage jobs
Isaacson said for the past two sessions, he has offered and passed legislation that connects small businesses with education and training opportunities through the MnSCU system of community colleges.
“It basically starts with the businesses hiring someone and then giving them the time they need to also pursue training and a degree at a local community college,” he said.
Isaacson said that many small businesses cannot afford to spend money on employees for additional training, and often times, specific training doesn’t reach a critical threshold to offer a course in through the MnSCU system. He explained that if these courses aren’t filled, students aren’t able to receive this training. Since professors are paid through the per-credit model, a certain amount of students must sign up for these certain classes.
“What my legislation did is paid the professors’ salaries outright, and instructed them to go out into the community, find these small businesses and provide them with customized training opportunities for these local businesses that will allow them to develop their employees and get them better equipped to do their jobs, and their future jobs.”
“The reason why it’s so important is that we have a very specific flavor of customized business in each region of Minnesota,” Isaacson said. As each region moves quickly in the business realm, he said that they are moving faster than schools can keep up with, so it becomes necessary to create programs to meet the needs of the people in those regions.
“So what my bill does is that it gives the nimbleness to the local school to be able to meet them in real time.”
I-694/Rice Street Interchange
Although the project has yet to be fully funded and construction could be far on the horizon, the I-694/Rice Street interchange project is a top priority and will affect the many residents of District 42. With a goal to improve traffic flow, Ramsey County is proposing three roundabouts in their preliminary design. Although roundabouts have been a popular alternative for intersections in other areas, many residents expressed concerns at a recent open house meeting at Vadnais Heights Commons on Feb. 21.
Isaacson said that he stands with his citizens who are against it. He said that although roundabouts can effective and have a purpose, he struggles with the idea when there will be three or four in a row within 300 yards.
He said he is awaiting to hear results back from the open house from both the county and residents.
“I don’t think roundabouts are the end of the world,” Isaacson said. “You get used to them just like anything else, but I think there is a lot of misinformation and a lot of education that needs to occur if they are going to put those in.”
“If my citizens are going to be really opposed to it, then I need to figure out a course of action that I need to take as well.”
In early February, Isaacson voted against the preemption legislation that would prohibit the enactment of labor compensation and benefits at the local level. Isaacson said this bill is a significant overreach, which would strip local governments of their ability to serve those who elected them.
“I’m a big fan of local control,” Isaacson said. “ I think local municipalities know how to represent and take care of their people, and any issue that occurs specifically their jurisdiction. It should be theirs to figure out.”
He said although this issue may not directly affect the communities he represents, he wants to ensure that city council members, school board members, and similar officials continue to have these options open.
Isaacson said his stance on Sunday liquor sales was constituent-based this session. Although he voted against similar legislation for the past two terms, he said that an overwhelming majority of constituent outreach requested for the removal of the ban on liquor sales.
“Unless I have a really strong moral feeling, or I’m guided by something that I care about, I think it’s important to really listen to what [my constituents] said and they were overwhelming, it wasn’t even close,” Isaacson said. “And that’s why I decided to vote for it.”
He said that although the law is arbitrary, this has been around for so long that the Minnesota economy has grown around it, which will make it difficult for small businesses to compete with big box stores. Isaacson said that this was part of the reason that he had voted against the legislation in the past.
Isaacson said he added an amendment to the current bill, one that would capture half the sales tax from liquor sales on Sundays and donate them to the Minnesota Department of Health and help those struggling with addiction issues. He said that although he’s not sure this will go through, the Chair of the Jobs Committee said that he will work with him on the bill and he hopes to receive bi-partisan support.
Contact Sarah Burghardt at [email protected]