Rep. Peterson, legislators Baker and Lang discuss various issues
SPICER — U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said he has co-sponsored a bill to allow foreign agricultural workers to work legally in this country.
However, the bill has not had a hearing in 15 years, he said at a town hall Saturday.
State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, and state Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, joined Peterson in the 90-minute meeting.
About 50 people attended the meeting at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center in rural Spicer. The town hall started at the close of the center's Earth Day event.
The town meeting had been planned to discuss opioid and health care issues, but the conversation quickly moved on to other issues, including immigration, taxes and infrastructure.
Farmers and food processing businesses rely on foreign labor, and would not be able to operate without them, he said. For those who are undocumented, he'd like to wanted to find a way to let them work legally.
There's no chance the more than 11 million undocumented people in the country will be deported, he said and joked, "We are not competent enough to do it," to chuckles from the crowd.
A representative of Affiliated Community Medical Center in Willmar said rural areas also rely on foreign doctors who come here on H-1B visas for workers with special skills. The Trump Administration is reviewing that program.
Baker said the state's discussion of RealID issues is also tied to immigration. Before 9-11, undocumented immigrants were able to drive legally, and some in the Legislature would like to see that possible again.
Minnesota can't fix any federal immigration issues, he said, but can do something about the problem of immigrants driving without licenses or insurance.
Responding to questions about refugees, Peterson said the number of refugees the country takes in is driven by the United Nations. "We take our share" as part of being a member, he said.
Refugee and immigration issues have been "politicized in Washington, just like anything else," he added.
Peterson said he would favor an increase in the federal gas tax to help pay for a major infrastructure plan. The tax hasn't been increased in 25 years, he said.
He thought the state ought to consider it, too, he said to the legislators, "but I don't think you're going to."
Baker said the Legislature is looking at a change in license tab fees to fund road work.
On the issue of finding affordable housing for immigrants and others, the state legislators said there are proposals in St. Paul to address the issue. Lang said the tax bill offers tax relief for builders, and Baker said provisions in the jobs and energy bill are also intended to encourage affordable housing.
Peterson has told health care negotiators that he might support a health care overhaul bill that gave Minnesota a waiver to return to its original system. The state's system was working well before the Affordable Care Act was adopted, he said.
Partisanship has been a hindrance to finding solutions in healthcare as it has in other areas, Peterson said.
Peterson said thanked the crowd for a "good, productive meeting" and joked a bit about the difference with the raucous town meetings that have occurred in other areas.
"I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing," he said. "My job is to go to D.C. and work with whoever is there." He didn't agree on many things with either Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi or former Republican leader John Boehner, he said, but he found ways to get along and work with both of them.