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Austin senator will chair ag committee

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 12/27/2012 8:43 AM

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AUSTIN. Minn. — Sen. Dan Sparks expects to be working on some of the same issues in the agriculture committee that he was involved with when he was on the panel 10 years ago.

Things will be a little different this time around because Sparks is the new chairman of the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. Sparks represents District 27, which includes all of Mower and Freeborn counties, three townships in Faribault County, three townships and the city of Hayfield in southern Dodge County and the city of Blooming Prairie in Steele County.

Sparks, of Austin, said his phone has been ringing with people seeking meetings since it was announced he will chair the Senate committee. He has begun setting up those meetings, as well as others in his district. He will be meeting with ag commissioner Dave Frederickson and representatives of agricultural organizations and economic development groups.

The agricultural industry has been strong and he hopes to do what he can to make sure that continues. He's a supporter of value-added agriculture — his district is home to both ethanol and biodiesel plants — and he wants to continue the proud tradition of the agriculture committee of working in a bipartisan way.

Sparks doesn't yet know the first bill that will be heard in his committee and said bills can't even be introduced yet for the upcoming session. Democratic senators are moving into Capitol office space and Republican senators move in office space in the State Office Building. Representatives are also moving offices in the State Office Building. Staff are being hired and legislators assigned to committees.

Members list their legislative priorities and then caucus leadership make assignments, Sparks said.

The Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee will have oversight over the Agriculture Department and the Department of Labor and Industry, where economic development is located. The committee also has jurisdiction over telecommunications issues.

Senator-elect Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, is vice chairman of the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, will chair the Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Finance Division. Sparks will also serve on the finance committee so he is able to follow legislation that first comes through his committee.

Sparks said he works well with Sen. Tomassoni, having served as his vice chairman for four years when Tomassoni chaired the economic development budget division.

He credits the late Sen. Linda Scheid fpr being his legislative mentor. She taught him many things that will be helpful in his new role, he said.

Aside from the perennial issues in agriculture, Sparks expects the Legislature to deal with perennial issues of its own in 2013: Taxes and school funding. He heard many comments about fully funding education and the elimination of the market value homestead tax credit while campaigning. Eliminating the credit shifted the property tax burden to small town businesses and the agricultural sector, Sparks said. Rising land values have also increased agricultural property taxes.

The Senate has a tax reform committee and he expects discussions about the state's tax system. DFL Sen. Rod Skoe, a farmer from Clearbrook, will chair the Senate Tax Committee.

Sparks and his wife, Andrea, have three daughters, Hailey, 20, Rylie, 17, and Maddy, 16. They have one son, Niklas, 9 months, who has already ridden in a John Deere.

His office will be 328 State Capitol.