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Minimum wage, health care, and the Chili Bill all topics of Eggs and Issues

Chili might not be what one would expect to take the stage at a breakfast meeting between legislators and business representatives, but that’s exactly what happened at Eggs and Issues on Wednesday morning, June 26, in Brainerd.

Six area legislators attended the Brainerd Lakes Chamber-sponsored event: Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore; Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Cass County; Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby; Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point; Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter; and Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls.

Cindy Myogeto, Crosslake director of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, expressed disappointment in the response of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to loosen up on laws that are hindering Crosslake’s annual chili cook-off.

Radinovich and Ruud worked together to craft a bill in the House and Senate, respectively, that would find a way to allow people to cook chili in a kitchen, rather than the business where it would be served, as the MDH currently requires.

Myogeto put it this way: “We feel it’s better if it’s (cooked) in a kitchen than next to a woman getting a pedicure.”

Ruud said the bill “hit a brick wall” and that she was disappointed in MDH’s response to how to solve the issue.

Radinovich said that though the bill was drafted, it was denied a hearing.

“My intent is to resurrect this bill in the next session,” he said, adding that MDH shouldn’t take away a common-sense approach to issues.

Gazelka recommended taking the bill straight to the governor and getting him interested.

“If he wants it, it’ll get into a bill,” Gazelka said.

Mark Ronnei, general manager at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, brought up the minimum wage bills in the House and Senate. He expressed worry that the last-minute bill was reactionary, and said businesses get scared when legislators don’t take the time to talk about the bill.

Ronnei encouraged legislators to bring in people who are a part of the industry to talk about the matter.

Gazelka said the House’s minimum wage bill was at $9.50 per hour and the Senate’s was at the federal guideline of $7.25 per hour. He recommended constituents be in touch with legislators, and also said Ronnei could be a voice for the issue.

Radinovich said that if minimum wage were tied to inflation, it would be over $10 per hour. He said the conversation isn’t just about businesses but also individuals and what it takes to make a living in Minnesota.

Lisa Paxton, CEO of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber, pointed out that if minimum wage goes up, it’s going to force businesses to raise everybody’s wages because it’s not fair to hire new employees at a rate similar to what employees with seniority have been making.

Health care was also a topic of conversation June 26.

Gazelka said he didn’t think the new Minnesota healthcare exchange program was going to work in the end.

“We spent about $100 million to set it up, and another $40 million a year to run it,” he said. “Basically we added another layer of bureaucracy.”

He said it’s the small business owners who are going to have to pay.

Anderson said three areas are suffering as a result of the exchange: costs, choice of doctor and privacy. He said doctors can now ask if you own firearms.

Ward called the exchange a work in progress, but said the whole Affordable Care Act is an attempt to take care of insurance costs. He highlighted the benefits of the act, like allowing children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance, and that people can’t be kicked out or not accepted for pre-existing conditions.

Other topics of discussion included business-to-business taxes and shortages of skilled workers.

All six legislators offered mixed reflections on the recent session, and encouraged constituents to continue dialogue by contacting them with comments and concerns.