Meindert Zylstra and his wife, Wilma, stand with Sen. Carla Nelson at J.W.'s Silver Grille on Saturday, Oct. 19, where Nelson hosted "Conversations with Carla," an opportunity for her constituents to share their concerns.   GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Meindert Zylstra and his wife, Wilma, stand with Sen. Carla Nelson at J.W.'s Silver Grille on Saturday, Oct. 19, where Nelson hosted "Conversations with Carla," an opportunity for her constituents to share their concerns. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Sen. Carla Nelson was all ears over her salad.

"I've found it important for constituents across the district to have the ability to contact their senators and representatives," said Nelson as she enjoyed a salad at J.W.'s Silver Grille in Chatfield on Saturday, Oct. 19. This was the first of three "Conversations with Carla" events she has chosen to host at the restaurant in order to make herself available to the people who live in her legislative district, Minnesota Senate District 26.

"That's why we've been going to towns in the area - we started in Rochester, then went to Stewartville, we're here in Chatfield and we'll finish our day in Eyota," Nelson continued. "It's a chance for anybody who wants to show up and tell what's on their minds, whether they have any constituent issues, ideas for us, or if there's any legislation or laws that aren't working as they're intended to."

Nelson explained that she had just finished a tour of southwestern Minnesota with the Senate bonding committee, and now she is making stops to listen to people throughout southeastern Minnesota to find out if they have any issues with state services or any questions.

"It will help me prepare for the new session at the end of February," she added.

Nelson spoke specifically on Chatfield's economic development and the transformation of the Chatfield Center for the Arts from a vintage school building to an art consortium.

"It's exciting to see new development and enterprises coming to Chatfield," she said. "I'm a fan of the Chatfield Center for the Arts and I will continue to work for funding for it. I love the volunteers' 'get 'er done' attitude and that they're working so hard to make it happen. It's interesting to see how the members of the community use the center. Southeast Minnesota is the fastest-growing economic area in the state."

Transportation safety is one of Nelson's concerns, as she related that at her next stop in Eyota, there would be discussion regarding the intersection of Highways 14 and 42, where numerous accidents have taken place and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has had to take a hard look at what can be done.

"Highway issues...I've met with the MnDOT District 6 engineer two weeks ago. After the Jech fatality this spring and a meeting in April, MnDOT has worked with me to find more permanent solutions," she said. "They've assured me that it's a high priority on their list, and they're looking for the very best solution - they think a roundabout would work - but that means acquiring right of way."

The project, at first, didn't meet the guidelines for a state highway improvement plan, but after second examination, it might.

"We're hoping to get a more accurate view of how dangerous the intersection is, and we're also hoping to get more funding," Nelson added.

The implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act has troubled her, she noted, because while she supports the legislation, she has heard from constituents and staff that the online exchange, MNSure, has glitches that prevent citizens from finding the insurance information they're seeking.

"My concern is that the people of southeast Minnesota are paying double premiums because there's not enough competition. I'm hoping there will be more insurance providers soon," Nelson said. "Also, as people go online to search for insurance, the drop-down menu of medical providers is not working, so they can't find out how to keep their doctors. It's a real issue if they can't pick their doctors."

Nelson is on the Senate tax committee and she spoke about how a budget surplus might return revenues to the schools after the state borrowed from its education budget in a tax shift that left districts receiving only a portion of what they were promised.

"The Republican-majority budget closed out on Sept. 30, and they finished their accounting and found that additional dollars came in and that expenses were less than they'd expected, so there's a surplus that's allowing them to send checks back to the schools," Nelson explained. "It's allowed them to pay back the schools from the budget shift - 40 percent of the state's budget goes toward education, and the state borrowed from it - right or wrong - so it's good that there's a surplus there and it's being sent back to the schools."

Issues that Nelson will be working on for the coming session include repealing a warehouse tax that was meant to raise 7 percent revenue for the state but instead has had the effect of sending goods to other states where there is no warehouse tax. "If someone has something they're moving to a warehouse, they're going to keep rolling through Minnesota and right on to La Crosse or Iowa" before stopping in Minnesota, she said. "I don't think any other states have a warehouse tax, because the other states found that the industries that it taxed dried up."

A bill that's in the Senate would provide $400 million for low-income daycare participants to have preschool education as part of their daycare experiences.

"I think they should be prepared for kindergarten...there's no quality measure there right now, but they should be learning instead of just being babysat," Nelson said. "I think any childcare should get them ready for kindergarten."

Nelson is going to return to the Silver Grille again on Saturday, Nov. 9, and Saturday, Dec. 14, and she asked constituents to be sure to make a list of their concerns and bring them to her table.