East Side legislators sit down for community town hall

More than a month into the legislative session, East Side legislators held a town hall with community members to talk about priorities at the Minnesota Capitol and to hear what constituents had to say.

The town hall was Feb. 13 at Hope Community Academy in the Railroad Island neighborhood. 

About 40 community members stopped by to talk with DFL Rep. Tim Mahoney of District 67A, DFL Rep. Jay Xiong from District 67B, and DFL Sen. Foung Hawj, who represents District 67. 

Questions from constituents covered a variety of topics, including legalization of marijuana, ranked choice voting and climate change. 

 

Legalization of weed

One of the first questions of the evening was posed by Patricia Enstad, a licensed social worker who works with people dealing with chronic pain. 

She wanted to know if each legislator would support the legalization of recreational marijuana, as she knows many people who use it for pain management but can’t afford to get medical marijuana. 

Xiong said he would support it, especially as an alternative to opioids, the painkillers he said have deeply affected the state and country. He said he also believes the illegality and punishment of marijuana possession has disproportionately affected communities of color.

Mahoney said he has supported the legalization of marijuana for years, adding that it’s “long past time to legalize it.”

If a bill went through this session, he said it would probably pass the DFL-controlled House, but not the Republican-controlled Senate, so it may take a few years before it would make any headway. Mahoney added that he’d want to be careful of how the state would regulate legal marijuana, as he has worries that it would be over-taxed.

Hawj said he would support it as well, but echoed similar sentiments to Mahoney’s that a bill probably wouldn’t pass this session. He said the St. Paul City Council recently voted on a resolution to support the legalization of marijuana statewide.

 

Clearer path to citizenship

Roger Allmendinger, a retired pastor, asked what was being done locally to make sure immigrants know how the process to citizenship works. 

Hawj said he supports creating more accessibility for people to become citizens. He added that he sees the census as a great opportunity to get a better understanding of the demographics of the East Side, which could offer help to better understand what the community needs. 

Mahoney said that citizenship issues fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, but that the state can press the federal government to work on them.

Xiong also mentioned that citizenship is a federal issue and that the state doesn’t have much control of it. He said one thing he has worked on with other legislators this session is crafting a bill to designate Minnesota as a sanctuary state, meaning that state agencies would not be required to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. 

 

Ranked choice voting

Another question regarded where the legislators stood on ranked choice voting and whether they would support using it statewide. 

Both Hawj and Xiong said they would. Hawj added his main concern when it comes to voting, however, is how to get more people engaged, especially people of color on the East Side. He said he wants to see more resources used to get people out to vote. 

Hawj and Xiong added that while working on accessibility for voting, they’d like to print ballots in multiple languages or provide voter assistance for those whose primary language is not English. Xiong said he’s working on bills with other legislators to address the issue.

 

Climate change

An East Side constituent asked the legislators what they are doing about climate change.

Mahoney said he signed onto this session’s clean energy bill, as he wants the “earth to be in good shape” for future generations. He added that he also wants to see the state provide job training for clean energy jobs, and more preparation on how to deal with climate change in the future. 

Xiong added that more locally, he is working with Rep. Rick Hansen on a bill to continue cleaning up the Pig’s Eye Lake dumpsite. Hawj said he is also working on Pig’s Eye with Xiong, and that he’s on the Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Policy Committee, where he hopes to draft legislation protecting pollinators. 

 

Affordable housing

One of the final questions of the evening was on what role the state has in providing safe and affordable housing, and what the legislators will do to provide it on the East Side.

Hawj said he would continue to support and work with Dayton’s Bluff Housing Services, which has helped create numerous types of affordable housing on the East Side. He added that the former Hillcrest Golf Course in the northeast corner of the East Side will provide an opportunity to create more housing.

Xiong said having safe and affordable housing is at the center of many issues, like education and health care, and that he continues to have conversations with the City of St. Paul on what the city requires from the state to work on the issue.

Mahoney said he will be the chief author on an upcoming housing bill, and that he wants to see the East Side maintain its low-income housing stock. He added he wants to see vacant lots filled with different types of affordable housing, like multi-family buildings.

 

East Side legislators can be contacted at:

 

• Rep. Tim Mahoney, 67A 

365 State Office 

Building, St. Paul, 

MN, 55155 

651-296-4277 

rep.tim.mahoney@

house.mn

 

• Rep. Jay Xiong, 67B

423 State Office 

Building , St. Paul, 

MN, 55155 

651-296-4201

rep.jay.xiong@house.mn 

 

• Sen. Foung Hawj, 67

95 University Avenue W.

Minnesota Senate 

Bldg, Room 3413 , St. 

Paul, MN, 55155 

651-296-5285

sen.foung.hawj@

senate.mn

 

–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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