Gun violence, race, healthcare and homelessness highlight Edina legislative forum

Dario Anselmo, Melisa Franzen and Paul Rosenthal at the Legislative Forum hosted at the Edina Community Lutheran Church. (Sun Current staff photo by Ethan Groothuis)
Dario Anselmo, Melisa Franzen and Paul Rosenthal at the Legislative Forum hosted at the Edina Community Lutheran Church. (Sun Current staff photo by Ethan Groothuis)

Edina’s representatives met in front of a full house during a legislative forum moderated by the League of Women Voters Feb. 21 at Edina Community Lutheran Church.

Reps. Dario Anselmo and Paul Rosenthal, as well as Sen. Melisa Franzen answered questions about homelessness, race and equity, gun violence and health care.

The church provided a question on each topic in advance, while the other questions were from the audience.

All three legislators were in general agreement on most answers, and the loudest applause came after answers on gun reform and health care.
“I think both bills are absolutely horrible,” Rosenthal said when asked about the Barr and Nash permitless carry bills. “I’ve never seen scarier bills coming out of the Legislature.”

“These bills are just nonsensical,” Franzen added. “I can’t even fathom how you would be able to enforce them. Anyone can carry a gun anywhere? We need to look at what loopholes need to be dealt with … have bills be practical and common sense.”

Anselmo said he’s been told he will be the only Republican who will vote against the permitless carry bills, which he
characterized as “sad.”

The three also disagreed with the Nash Stand Your Ground bill, saying that the law already allows for people to protect themselves through self defense.

There was another loud applause after every legislator said everyone should have access to affordable health care.
“We need a solution,” Anselmo said, noting that several reinsurance plans are floating through the Legislature right now. “We can’t just take something away. We have to make it better.”

Franzen noted that the rebate given at the beginning of the session was just a band aid and that more needed to be done – but not at the expense of the Affordable Care Act.

“We shouldn’t strip it … but find ways to deal with the cost,” Franzen said. “I do support the public option. We need an option that is competitive, and in [some parts of the state] some people only have one option to buy.”

“There have been six years of fighting the ACA, not trying to fix it,” Rosenthal added. “There are problems, but not insurmountable. We need everybody to be a part of [finding the solution]. Cancer does not distinguish one party or another.”

During the race portion of the forum, the legislators discussed topics such as reaching underserved residents through the
census process, the protester fining bill and mass incarceration.

“I think it is a terrible idea,” Anselmo said about HF 322, which could levy fines on protesters. “I try to figure out the intent, which you are not supposed to ask on the house floor. Are they trying to stifle free speech? Are they concerned with key transportation points? The good news is a lot of people voiced their opinions about this.”
Franzen and Rosenthal also opposed the bill, as well as urged for the reduction of the privatization of prisons.

“We aren’t doing enough to talk about [mass incarceration],” Franzen said. “Not only in incarceration, but in mental health as well. There is a correlation there from my viewpoint. We need to start investing in … jobs and training, not in jails. It is disproportionately hurting our communities of color.”
“Mental health treatment is very important,” Anselmo added. “I think one quarter in prison are suffering from major mental illnesses. Trying to make sure they don’t get in there in the first place is key.”

Rosenthal offered solutions through diverting minor crimes through drug or veteran’s courts, as well as closing the retention rate.
“Once somebody is released from jail, they should be included in our community, and they should have the right to vote,” Rosenthal said. “The more we make them feel part of mainstream life, the better off they will be.”

Rosenthal said the Homeless Youth Act, when he carried as a freshman representative, was the most satisfying bill he ever carried.
“There are 1,500 to 2,000 homeless kids every night [in the west metro],” Rosenthal added, explaining that the bill was line-item vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty in 2010, but funded when reintroduced in 2012. “It was funded, but not enough. People who don’t have a place to live should be a priority.”

All three legislators noted the importance of the Beacon Interfaith youth housing project in Edina, as well as the importance of transitional housing and affordable housing.

They agreed that choosing between many worthy programs was a constant challenge.

“You never have enough money to deal with all the needs. It becomes a process of prioritization,” Franzen said. “Sometimes you fund bills that have the biggest advocates behind them, even if … others have just as much merit. Just not enough dollars in the state coffers.”
What recurred repeatedly as an underlying theme of the night was that focusing investments on the underprivileged, early education and other general community improvement is crucial for not only maintaining a healthy society, but also financial stability.

“We actually could save money for the state in the long term if we really help individuals have a stable footing in life,” Franzen said.