WILLMAR - Representative Dave Baker said he is proud to be - and will remain - a Republican despite his vote in support for the Freedom to Drive bill. The bill, if passed, would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver's licenses in Minnesota.
"I will never change parties. I will always be proud to be a pro-lifer, I will support Second Amendment rights. I stand to try to cut costs any time we can because our government is getting too big," Baker said at a town hall meeting Saturday at Cornerstone Coffee in Willmar.
Baker also said he stands by his vote on the Freedom to Drive bill, even if it ends up being the issue that ends his time in St. Paul.
"If this is the one, I understand. It has been great to serve you, if this is my last time to do this," Baker said. "It has been an honor to serve."
Baker and Senator Andrew Lang, who both spoke on a wide range of issues at the town hall meeting to a large crowd of constituents, shared their differing opinions on the Freedom to Drive bill. For Baker, it's about safety on the roads, not immigrantion, which he feels is a federal issue that needs to be fixed.
"I am trying to make it so are roads are safer," said Baker, R-Willmar, District 17B. "It is not about immigration. I took this vote for safety."
The Freedom to Drive bill, House File 1500, passed the House on April 5 on a 74-52 vote. Baker was one of two Republicans to vote in support of the bill.
"It gives them (undocumented immigrants) the ability to drive on the roads. That is it, period. It doesn't give them the vote, they can't get on an airplane, it doesn't give them Social Security benefits," and it can't be used as documentation for employment, Baker said.
Lang, R-Olivia, District 17, said he doesn't separate the two issues from each other. He wants people to become immigrants legally and gain the benefits of citizenship lawfully.
"I will not vote for it," Lang said. "Legal immigration provides a few things. It provides you citizenship, it provides you a driver's license."
The Senate probably won't vote on the bill this session, because there isn't enough time for it to make its way through the Senate before the end of the session, Lang said.
Those in attendance were also split on this issue. A group of supporters from Montevideo tried several times to get Lang to agree to come to Montevideo to discuss the issue. Lang seemed hesitant, saying he had met with those supporters on several occasions on the issue.
"You obviously don't respect how I view this, because you keep asking again and again and again after our meetings," Lang said.
MNLARS, child care, more
Other issues discussed at the town hall session included the hands-free device bill, taxes, the troubled Minnesota License and Registration System and fraud in the Child Care Assistance Program.
"We are at the halfway point for the state legislature. We are miles apart in the House and the Senate to do different things," Baker said.
One area that did have bipartisan support was the hands-free cell phone bill, which will require drivers to place calls or send texts by using voice-activation software. It passed the House, Senate and was signed into law Friday by Governor Tim Walz.
"Here is the deal, Aug. 1, you can no longer have the cell phone in your hand, period," Baker said. "That is a really good bill."
Lang, as an air ambulance pilot, has seen the horrible consequences of distracted driving.
"When you start scraping people off the road, and four or five people go into the ditch, or flip their car over, they have their cell phone in their hand when they did it," Lang said. "That is why we do the things we do in St. Paul."
As for the Child Care Assistance Program, both Lang and Baker hope to get to the bottom of the fraud allegations.
"Some day cares are not following the system," Baker said.
Lang said the Legislature will be getting a report on May 1, done by an independent party, that has been doing a deep dive into the program. Until that report comes out and lays out what exactly is going on, Lang said there is a bill to cut funding to the program. Lang calls his vote on the bill a "hard right" because he doesn't like the idea of cutting people's child care, but cutting funding is one of the few things the Legislature can do to make the Department of Human Services act.
"It is not easy," Lang said. "I think it is the right decision."
With a DFL-lead House and a GOP-lead Senate, disagreement is common on a whole range of issues and no one is sure how everything will play out.
"We are kind of in the mix of it right now, the throes of session," Lang said. "In all honesty, it is going to be a tough last few weeks of session, it is going to be."