The 2013 Legislative session is in the history books -- and there were certainly historic moments. First-term Rep. Barb Yarusso (D-Shoreview), who represents the newly-established District 42A, spoke with FOX 9 News about her experience.
1. What motivated you to run for office?
I'd been looking for some kind of new service thing, and the new district we had was wide open. I kind of felt like I should step up and try to get some more diverse backgrounds in there. There are not very many engineers.
2. When did you first get the idea?
I hadn't really thought about running for the Legislature before the vacuum of redistricting. I had considered the school board and had been involved in campaigns and caucuses before. My first caucus was when I was 17. Richard Nixon was in office.
3. Campaign vs. office: Which is harder/more work?
They are really different from each other. Campaigning is physically difficult because of the door-knocking in 103-degree heat.
Being in office, you have to be patient and multitask a lot. You're always being pulled from committee to committee, and as a freshman, you don't have a lot of control. You have to be flexible, and even that gets physically taxing.
Civil Law Committee
Environment and Natural Resources Committee
Energy Policy Committee
Education Policy Committee
It was a good year to be a freshman though because there were so many in the House. We got to work together and so many came from tough races that you knew anyone who made it was going to be tough and capable. They really did a good job training us.
4. Tell me about your district:
We have a large group of people who are independent. That makes door-knocking more important -- to meet to connect -- since there's no party affiliation. That also teaches you what issues need to be addressed since you don't know all the issues coming up in the session.
5. In one word, how would you describe the session? Why?
Packed. There must be a more elegant word, but we'll go with the Anglo-Saxon. You could go with "historic" because of the marriage and education bills, but there are a lot of efforts that don't get a lot of media attention -- like consumer protections having to do with fraud; eliminating the statute of limitations in civil suits involving sex abuse of a child; elderly care protections against power of attorney abuse by allowing someone to be an agent on a bank account who can write checks to cover bills. Previously, the person was a co-owner.
A lot of good stuff got done. A lot of things got left on the table, but a lot of good stuff got done.
If someone's been a victim of a crime and judgement is reached but the victim dies, the families can still collect for survivors.
Estate sale conductors are now required to post a bond to protect owners of property to be sold.
6. Where there any surprises? What was the biggest?
The staff spends the time between the election and swearing in memorizing faces … so they all know who you are. I'm not big on titles.
I do kind of wonder when was the last time we had 6,000 people on the Capitol lawn because they were happy with government. It was amazing to be a part of the marriage passage because so many people had worked on it for so long.
7. In your opinion, what were the greatest accomplishments and why?
The education bill, and the diverse group of educators in the Chamber helped reinforce that bill due to the variety of experience. There was a community college professor, a former superintendent, a special education teacher, and I have experience teaching high school and college. A chunk of the teacher licensure legislation regarding the MTLE basics skills test is my bill. The shift in focus of the graduation requirement away from the punitive, high-stakes testing to working with a student to help them achieve what they want to is huge, and new revenue is important.
The marriage bill was historic, and it was an honor to be a part of that process.
VIDEO: Rep. Yarusso's Floor Speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCQirIjr3hE
We also had a small solar project. It wasn't as much as we'd hoped for in the House, but it is a start. Focus on groundwater issues is going to be extremely important going forward.
8. Were there any missed opportunities?
Anti-bullying and minimum wage, those are the two big ones. The thing that limited the bullying bill was simply time. With minimum wage, more negotiation needs to go on. Rather than settle, we need to keep working on it to have a good outcome.
The bonding bill was also something that had been worked on all session, but it will be back in 2014.
9. The end of the session involved a lot of long nights and saw a lot of passages. Did you feel stressed, rushed? How did you cope?
You do get stressed. I lost track of how many cups of tea I had. There were a lot of long nights and you have to steal a few hours of sleep. It was a little easier for me because my committees were for policy and weren't meeting toward the end, but my knees can't handle sitting for 20 hours. So, the people in the lobby got used to seeing me walk laps in the Capitol rotunda. You also have to make an effort to eat decent food so you're not just eating junk food.
10. Gun control fell apart in 2013. Do you think it will be revived? What do your constituents say?
My constituents are mixed, very mixed. I don't think we should try to do one big bill, and I think it was an issue that wasn't planned, more forced by events. … It's not very good to work on those issues in a charged environment.
11. Do you have any personal projects or issues you plan to pursue in 2014?
I'll still be involved in the anti-bullying bill and the groundwater issues.
Across the state, we have naturally-occurring sinkholes, and those pose a real risk to aquifer contamination. It's a supply and quality issue. Some portions of the state have contamination from previous processes and we do not have enough information. We really need the ability to beef up our models of groundwater systems.
I'm also focused on transportation in my district, particularly the bridge at Highway 96 and Interstate 35W and the other bridges in my district that require maintenance or repair. Mass transit is also lacking. Shoreview only has commuter buses to downtown.
12. Did your perception of the legislature change after one year? How so?
I knew about the committee process, but I don't think it's something people outside understand -- that that's where the work is done.
I was also surprised to see some of the bills are years in the making with slowly evolving tweaks. You really appreciate how much work goes into crafting a bill and how much time committees spend discussing it.
Also, you really rely on people to come forward. If I have a constituent with business concerns, I need him to come to me and explain why -- and to understand it could take years to get something done.
13. Are there any misconceptions about lawmakers or lawmaking you'd like to debunk?
There are 38,000 people in a district, so you can't vote the way everyone wants you to.
A big misconception is the idea that you can judge anything that happens on the floor. Everything that is said there has been said before and the real work comes months before that.
I think people also don't realize -- unless they're already taking advantage of it -- how much access to information they have: online transcripts, committee video, and if you come down and meet with your legislator they'll talk to you.
That said, issues take time to work on. If one comes up in April or May, it's probably not going to get done that session unless it's an emergency. Probably the best time to come to your legislator with an idea is June because then they have time to work on it.
14. Are there any little-known facts you'd like to share?
There are a lot of staff members who work really, really hard to keep the session going. For example, when we stay up all night on the floor, security guards, the Reviser's Office, the Clerk's Office, and the sergeant at arms, they all have to stay there with us. They endure as many sleepless nights as we do.
The pages are high school kids who keep changing because they're only there for one or two weeks, but some people -- like the chief clerk -- have been there a long time. Without their experience, things wouldn't move as smoothly. The knowledge and efforts of those people keeps things running.