Committee: Legislative Committee

Contact: BJ Jungmann, Chair –  [email protected]

2020 Mission: The mission of the Legislative Committee is to provide focus, representation and visibility for the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association in legislative activities by advocating, supporting, sponsoring, opposing and actively participating in the legislative process involving those issues, areas or proposals as directed by the President of the Association.

2020 Report: The 2020 legislative session was the second year of the biennium, which means that the focus of the session is generally on policy changes and bonding projects for the state. The regular legislative session must adjourn in May by statute, but due to COVID-19, there have been a number of special sessions that have kept the Capitol lively throughout this year. This also marked our second legislative session with our lobbying firm from Lockridge Grindal Nauen (LGN). Working with LGN over the past two years has been very productive and informative. We now have over ten lobbyists working on our behalf at the capitol. LGN has a wide net of relationships within the state government on both sides of the aisle and in many of the departments within the state. These relationships proved to pay dividends throughout the session to ensure that key decision makers are informed about our legislative initiatives.

We also continued our partnership with the Minnesota Fire Association Coalition (MNFAC) which is comprised of our Association, Minnesota State Fire Department Association (MSFDA), Minnesota Fire Marshals Association (FMAM) and the Minnesota Chapter of the International Arson Investigators Association (IAAI). This group hires our lobbyist together, and we work off a single legislative agenda to provide a united front from the Minnesota Fire Service at the Capitol. The MNFAC group meets bi-weekly throughout the legislative session to address any issues and discuss legislative strategy. Although we don’t represent the career firefighters from the Minnesota Professional Firefighters (MPFF), we do work very closely with their President Chris Parsons on the Fire Service Day at the Capitol and our legislative initiatives to ensure we are all working together to advance the Minnesota Fire Service at the Capitol.

We had a very successful Fire Service Day at the Capitol. I appreciate everyone who attended and helped make an impact in educating our local legislators. We were fortunate to have Governor Walz and Department of Public Safety Commission John Harrington speak at our briefing.

The legislative session was going as expected until COVID-19 appeared. Following the pandemic’s arrival, the priorities and operation of the Capitol changed. The session quickly turned to focus on supporting COVID-19 efforts and how to manage the CARES Act money. The operations changed at the Capitol that no longer allowed visitors, which required all lobbying to take place virtually. If that was not enough, civil unrest occurred following the tragedy in Minneapolis which trigged a focus on police accountability. In October during the fifth special session, a $1.9 billion dollar bonding and tax bill was approved.

As part of the regular session, one significant accomplishment was the passage of a pension bill that allows for more flexibility of the use of the fire state aid, a dissolution process has been established and the maximum lump sum was increased. We will continue to work on pension clean-up language in future years. We have a separate update on the pension changes if you are interested in the details. The pension update will be on the legislative committee page of the MSFCA website or you can contact me directly to get a copy. Thank you to everyone who served on workgroups to work on the pension changes.

Looking forward, we have big tasks ahead of us, and I need everyone’s assistance! This next session our top priority will be to maintain the Fire Safety Account (FSA) funding which is a biannual issue that we work on. Going into next year’s session, we know the state is facing a budget deficit. and they will be looking for funds to balance the budget. Previous budgets have transferred money from the FSA to the general fund, and our goal is prevent that from occurring. Ensuring the funding in FSA remains intact is important as this is the primary funding source for the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education and the State Regional Response Teams.

A new initiative for 2021 is to pass enabling legislation to move the Minnesota Fire Service Certification Board (MSFCB) under the Department of Public Safety following the expiration of the current Executive Director contract. This will streamline the certification and licensing process. All of the fire service Associations and the MSFCB Board of Directors support this transition.

Another big initiative that we will need your assistance to pass is the creation of Fire Protection District Authority. The Senate heard this bill in the last biennium and included our proposal in the Senate Tax bill. Due to opposition from the House, this bill was removed during conference committee negotiations between the House and Senate. The framework proposed to allow Fire Protection Districts is important to the future of the Minnesota Fire Service. It would give departments another option for collaboration, equity between communities, staffing, equipment, transparency in budgeting and sustainable funding through collaboration. This initiative would allow two or more local units of government to create a fire district with its own taxing authority. This would be similar to how school districts operate with their own tax levy and ability to bond. Forty-two states already have enabling legislation and operate departments very successfully under this model. We have a number of departments in our state interested in this initiative, but it will take everyone’s assistance to be successful. The House Property Tax Sub-committee currently has reservations about allowing another special taxing district.

Without our proposed statewide framework, it is likely that each of the individual departments interested in fire districts will then need to pursue special legislation in order to get their taxing authority set up. Currently, most collaborative departments are set up through joint powers agreements/agencies which are not as stable in governance and funding as a fire protection district. In addition, there have been concerns from some local governments about the existing process of contracting for service and the sustainability of the current options for providing sustainable fire protection services. Given the makeup of Minnesota’s Fire Service, Fire Protection Districts will be key to providing a sustainable path forward for many departments in the state. The Cloquet Fire District is currently set up as a fire protection district through special legislation.

Please contact me if you would like more information or are interested in assisting with this initiative. We are looking for departments and personnel who are willing to assist in getting this initiative passed.

We started to work on educating legislators on a new multiyear initiative this year. Local control of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is a new initiative for us that will likely take multiple years to accomplish. The initiative would allow for local cities or townships to determine who their ambulance provider is. Currently, the ambulance provider is determined by the state Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board (EMSRB). Most of the ambulance provider Primary Service Areas (PSA) were determined in the early 1980s, and there is no local accountability or input for the ongoing service that is being provided. This would allow the local policy makers to determine who is best situated to provide service to their community and what level of service they can expect.

Two of our big defensive positions were also successful this year. Again, we held off the expansion of fireworks in Minnesota. The second perennial defensive position was the residential fire sprinkler ban. Surprisingly, neither of the topics made it to the Governor’s desk.

Outside of the legislative session, our committee continues to work on building relationships and educating stakeholders on our policy issues. As you are reading this, the committee has already started to work on the legislative agenda for the 2021 legislative session. While there is a committee to work on legislative issues, it is imperative that all members of our Association communicate with their local legislators to advance our legislative agenda. The state legislators like to hear from and trust their local fire officials more than any of us can accomplish by meeting with your legislators at the capitol. If the legislators understand how this affects your department and their constituents, they will likely take more of an interest in our legislative issues. We can provide you with talking points, and our lobbyist may be available to join you.

I would ask that all of you get involved in the legislative initiatives of the fire service! Please contact me (BJ Jungmann) at [email protected] and 952-895-4571, or Ann Lenczewski at [email protected] and 612-396-6439 or any legislative committee member if you have any questions or need any assistance. Please also contact Ann or I if you have any ideas for legislative issues that would be appropriate for the Association to potentially adopt. We are also looking to get committee members from each region so please consider joining the committee.  

2020 Legislative Committee Members

  • Chair: BJ Jungmann, Fire Chief, Burnsville Fire
  • Allen Lewis, Fire Chief, Virginia Fire
  • Charlie Smith, Fire Chief SBM Fire
  • Dan L’Allier, Deputy Public Safety Director, Lino Lakes Public Safety Department
  • Dale Specken, Fire Chief, Hopkins Fire
  • Erik Jankila, Fire Chief, Hibbing Fire
  • George Esbensen, MNFIRE
  • James VanEyll, Fire Chief, Long Lake Fire
  • Jared Gapinski, Fire Captain, Sauk Rapids Fire
  • Jim McCoy, Fire Chief, Austin Fire
  • John Cunningham, Fire Chief, Brooklyn Park Fire
  • John Fruetel, Fire Chief, Minneapolis Fire
  • John Piper, Fire Chief, Coon Rapids Fire
  • John Vance, Fire Chief, Minnetonka Fire
  • Kevin Schroeder, Fire Chief (Ret), Cloquet Area Fire District
  • Mark Marcy, 2nd Assistant Chief, Windom Fire
  • Mark Juelfs, Fire Chief, South Metro Fire
  • Mike Mondor, EMS Chief, Maplewood Fire
  • Mike Scott, Fire Chief, Eagan Fire
  • Rich Duysen, Fire Chief, Moorehead Fire
  • Ryan Knust, Deputy State Fire Marshal, State Fire Marshal Office
  • Ryan Schroeder, Fire Chief, Watertown Fire
  • Steve Koering, Fire Chief, St. Louis Park Fire
  • Wayne Kewitsch, Fire Chief, Richfield Fire

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