Q&A with District 60 state senator

Kari Dziedzic is running for reelection this year to continue searching for solutions to housing and public safety issues.

District+60+Minnesota+State+Sen.+Kari+Dziedzic+%28DFL%29+poses+for+a+portrait+in+front+of+Folwell+Hall+on+Thursday%2C+Aug.+4.

Shalom Berhane

District 60 Minnesota State Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL) poses for a portrait in front of Folwell Hall on Thursday, Aug. 4.

by Olivia Stevens

Kari Dziedzic (DFL), the incumbent candidate for state Senate in District 60, is running unopposed for reelection in November. Dziedzic, who has been the senator for the district encompassing the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus for 10 years, spoke with The Minnesota Daily about her accomplishments and goals for the upcoming Legislative session.

How do you reflect on the past decade you’ve spent as a state senator?

“I think anybody that has been in a job for 10 years kind of thinks, ‘wow, this is a long time.’ But what’s different in the Legislature is just everything is constantly changing and there’s things that we’re dealing with every single day. In that 10 years, I think I’ve had a good relationship, working a lot with the Minnesota Student Association on different bills and different issues.”

Which bills that you’ve worked on are you most proud of?

“As lead on the housing committee in the Senate, housing is kind of a passion of mine. Everybody needs housing … One of the bills we did pass [in 2018] I called the ‘bait and switch’ bill. Some larger apartments had you come in and look at a room and you think that’s the room you’re renting, so you sign the lease thinking you’d live on the fourth floor. But then you get there and you’re renting ground level, and for safety purposes, you think, ‘I don’t really feel safe on this ground level,’ but you signed the lease. We required them to put the unit number on the lease … We [also] made them put your move in date and move out date on the lease so [tenants] can make plans.

Last year, we worked on expanding the bus options [on the University of Minnesota campus] because there wasn’t a full service grocery store nearby, and then this year to get Universal Transit Passes. That’s something that I think was a very big issue for students.”

What are your top priorities for next year’s session?

“I’m on the tax committee as well, so a lot of student loan credits for student loans and then how to just help people with student loans. Because that debt is crippling. We didn’t pass a tax bill [this year] so that wasn’t included in the tax bill. And then just working on how we keep the cost of tuition down. Because I believe education shouldn’t just be available for the wealthy. So how do we help people do that?

I plan on continuing in this session to work on some additional tenant protections. A lot of places will charge fees, just random fees, to pay your rent. That’s ridiculous … Some tenants and landlords will say, ‘as things get more expensive, we want to build things in,’ but again, then put that on the lease, so you’re not surprising people. It’s a consumer protection issue.”

What is your position on affordable housing and its availability near campus?

“Housing is just tight. We’re 40,000 units short across the state, and so how do we address that? Spending a lot of time looking at multiple layers that impact students, and like with Winona and St. Cloud students are kind of held hostage to a degree because you need a car. The further away you get you might have cheaper renting, but in some college towns, not necessarily. So how do you balance that and how do you find that affordability? And so what can we do to help increase that affordability? So looking at it from bonding and looking at what are some of the underlying issues impacting that affordability.”

How do you think campus public safety should be addressed in the Legislature?

“The University proposed $100 million for public safety [last session], and a lot of it is just basic infrastructure … I think that was a reasonable request and I think we should be looking at that, and that is system-wide not just the Twin Cities campus. The end bill at the end of the session unfortunately did not include some of that money … As I sat on the floor, I heard the call for more public safety. [Republicans] had an opportunity to put their money where their mouths were but did not. So that was a little frustrating, but we’re continuing to have conversations.”

Is the state doing enough to keep tuition affordable?

“I think we need to hold the line, and I think the Legislature needs to fund it. Education shouldn’t just be for the wealthy. And so a lot of people take out loans. I mean even 20 years ago, you didn’t have to take out as much of a loan … It’s just hard to build up out of and so that impacts people’s whole future going forward … We need to look at putting more into help at the University to keep tuition down, and then also the state grant program.”

How do you feel going into next year’s session?

“I think the governor should call us back into a special session. I think families are hurting, students are hurting, seniors are hurting. I think coming back and passing at least some of those bills [from the budget surplus] would help. I would adjust the higher education bill for more public safety money and the state grant program … With all the retirements, [next session] will be different. You will have a lot of new people in, and it’s a huge learning curve coming in. Hopefully it doesn’t get too partisan, and new people often come with new good ideas. We have to get to work.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.