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A legislator's day: it's not all fun

Posted at 11:47 AM on February 14, 2007 by Bob Collins

There are days when I think it would be fun to be a legislator in Minnesota. But this isn't one of them. Frankly, I sometimes wonder how they avoid going home at night in total despair.

I like to watch the legislative coverage on TV and I started fairly early this morning with the Housing Policy and Finance and Public Health Finance Division Committee, which heard three bills -- HF678, HF462 and HF315, First, from an MFL perspective, they're all dead in the water since all three were laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. But fantasy isn't real life.

What caught my attention was HF315, which restored suicide prevention grants. Suicide, last time I checked (and that was about 5 years ago), was the second leading cause of death of teenagers in Minnesota. As usual at hearings like this, the testimony was sobbering, including the fact that since the prevention grants were cut, the state's suicide rate is inching up.

Rep. Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury, who serves on the committee, relayed the story of an AP student she had who killed himself last year. That story I already knew. He was a friend of my son.

After the hearing was over, legislative TV coverage replayed a hearing held yesterday in the Housing Policy and Finance and Public Health Finance Division, discussing HF537, which appropriates money for a program to help homeless kids.

Again, I was more interested in the testimony, than the debate among lawmakers and this time I learned that at one shelter, so many kids show up for a place to sleep each night, that they have lotteries and the winners get a bed, the losers hit the streets. One woman who runs the shelter relayed the story of a girl who performs oral sex as a child prostitute up to 10 times a day in exchange for a place to live. You can hear the audio here.

I try to keep up with news as well as I can and I've heard a lot of stuff before and this was only two hearings over two days (both of which won't get any mainstream media coverage) but, geez. How do you as a legislator decide what problems to try to solve. There's only so much money to go around, even if the state raises taxes and "fees.' Who gets help? Who doesn't? Not everyone will, and that fact has got to send lawmakers home every now and again with a fair amount of despair.