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Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., takes a question Saturday during an interview at the West Central Tribune offices in Willmar. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

U.S. Sen. Franken hopes for Farm Bill legislation

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By Linda Vanderwerf

WILLMAR -- U.S. Sen. Al Franken hopes to see bipartisan support for the new Farm Bill the Senate Agriculture Committee will be working on in the coming week.

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The Minnesota Democrat wrote an energy section for the bill, which includes the Rural Energy for America Program.

Franken was in Willmar on Saturday during a visit to the state.

The program offers grants and loan guarantees for renewable energy projects in rural America.

"This is all about funding the transition to a more efficient, more renewable energy portfolio," he said.

The program would help grow biomass efforts and help farmer co-ops and others complete wind projects, he said. It would allow co-ops to own their own power and have it purchased on the grid, he added.

The new Farm Bill is also expected to address advances in biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol.

Franken said he expects the bill to pass out of the Senate with bipartisan support, just as a Farm Bill passed in June 2012. The House of Representatives never took up the bill in 2012.

Franken said he believes House leadership will need to allow consideration of a Farm Bill this year, and that the renewable energy portion of the bill could gain some support. "A lot of their constituents have experienced how useful it is."

The Judiciary Committee, of which Franken is a member, will be focusing on a proposed immigration reform bill in the coming week.

The bill was proposed by a bipartisan group of eight senators who presented what Franken calls a comprehensive, common sense approach.

"It's really been a big problem, this broken system," he said, and he believes if the eight senators stick together, it could pass out of the Senate.

The bill includes fortifying the nation's borders, he said, and it offers a path to citizenship, though it is a long path. It includes paying a fine, learning English and working while waiting in line for years to get a green card.

One of the more important things the bill offers is hope for young people who were brought to this country as small children, he said.

"That makes an enormous difference," he said. "If you can't envision a path forward for yourself when you're in junior high or high school, it's very hard to do the kind of work you need to do."

Immigration reform will be good for the country and the economy, he said.

If the Senate does pass it, he believes it will be brought up in the House. "It'll be an historic moment in which they either did this or didn't do it,' he said. "If they don't do it, people will remember that. ... I think they would be going against the tide of history."

Franken acknowledged frustration with the atmosphere in Congress, where the Republican House and Democratic Senate often have trouble reaching agreement on major issues.

"This is what I'm doing with my life, and I work very hard, so yeah, there's frustrations," he said.

"I think the American people and Minnesotans want us to go there and stand for something and fight for our principals," he said, "but if one of your principals is never compromise, I don't think people want that."

Franken said he tries to celebrate the victories, small and large. He is glad when bills pass the Senate with bipartisan support.

The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is one of the big victories, he said. It was passed by the Senate and stalled in the House, then sent to the House again.

"It was passed and it was very moving," he said.

He had written a provision in the bill to give tribal courts jurisdiction over sexual assault of Native American women.

One in three Native American women in the country will be raped in her lifetime, he said, and 80 percent of the assaults are by non-native men. Tribal courts didn't have authority to prosecute the perpetrators until the bill passed.

"Basically, it became open season on Indian women and on reservations," Franken said. "That ended when the president signed that, and it was a very emotional day in a very good way.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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