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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL)

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Sun Sailor: Rep. Youakim settles in at the Minnesota House

Monday, April 27, 2015


Freshmen legislator Cheryl Youakim has not quite decided whether she prefers the Minnesota House of Representatives to the Hopkins City Council, she acknowledged in candid remarks about her new role.

As the 2015 session heads into its final stretch, with adjournment typically occurring in mid-May, Youakim (DFL-Hopkins) admitted she missed serving on the council but also appreciates her current position representing Hopkins and St. Louis Park at the Capitol.

“I miss being able to shape the community you live in so closely,” Youakim said. “I love taking the big-picture view, but it’s nothing like local government and taking care of the community – even though most of the time people had zero clue who was doing it.”

Additionally, in the House she is one of 134 representatives instead of one of five on the Hopkins City Council.

She said working as a legislator had provided an interesting learning experience, though.

“The volume of reading materials you get in the House is insane,” Youakim noted. “There are about 500 constituent emails a week. You could go to an event every night.”

Even with all the input, Youakim said the biggest challenge she has found as a legislator has been learning what people in the community think of a given issue.

To help her learn the views of her district’s residents, Youakim has been personally writing a weekly recap of session activities.

“I’m getting a lot of great feedback,” she said. “It’s nothing too wanky, but we have a pretty intelligent senate district and they expect a lot.”

She has joined with fellow legislators from Senate District 46, Sen. Ron Latz and Rep. Ryan Winkler, in seeking comments from residents in a series of town hall meetings. She has also scheduled times when constituents can meet with her at places like The Depot Coffee House in Hopkins and the Byerly’s community room in St. Louis Park.

As a DFLer, she is in the minority in the Republican-led House of Representatives, but she said she has attempted to make points on House committees.

“The best you can do is make sure you ask the right questions – the questions you think your constituents would ask if they were in the room,” Youakim said.

She said she has observed a disconnect among many legislators in that many support unfunded mandates that create costs for local levels of government.

“I ask questions about how will this affect my local municipalities, to remind them that what they do at the state affects the city,” Youakim said.

All the bills Youakim has championed have received bipartisan support, she noted. She also had the honor of joining a bipartisan delegation that escorted Gov. Mark Dayton into the House chamber April 10 for his State of the State address.

Her eight years working as a staff member at the Capitol have helped her promote her bill to study a Silver Alert system for missing senior citizens, she said.

“I knew who to go to in the Senate to get it passed and which committees it would go to,” Youakim said.

She worked with a Republican to ensure the bill received its initial hearing, Youakim noted.

“You need to work across the aisle,” she said.

A natural bond among freshmen legislators forms, and Youakim has suggested she may form a bipartisan women’s happy hour gathering.

“It really is about building relationships,” Youakim said.

Her bill to create a working group to study and make recommendations on a Silver Alert system has a chance to become law. The Senate approved the bill, 59-4, April 13, and the bill cleared House committees.

Because the Senate and House bills were not identical, representatives approved Youakim’s motion to substitute the language of the Senate bill in place of the House bill’s language April 14. The second reading of the bill in the House took place the same day.

A Silver Alert system has been effective in other states, Youakim said. The alerts operate similar to the Amber Alert system for missing children. Electronic boards on highways would communicate the information. The working group would establish criteria for using a Silver Alert system.

She said the concept is important to her because her grandmother died after living with Alzheimer’s disease and her grandfather endured dementia before his death.

“We always worried about if she got out of the house,” Youakim said of her grandmother. “It’s a very common issue for many people taking care of loved ones.”

Another major emphasis for her has been the establishment of tax incentives for upgrades to homestead properties as well as commercial and industrial buildings.

Her bill would be based on a former “This Old House” state program. Factors for eligibility would include a cap on home value of $400,000 and a house age of at least 30 years old at the time of the improvement.

Similarly, eligible commercial and industrial properties would have to be at least 30-years-old at the time of the improvement and have a value of less than $2 million, among other requirements.

Owners would continue to pay taxes based on the value of the property before the improvements.

“It doesn’t cost anything,” Youakim said. “They’re still paying the taxes they were before.”

When the state did provide such incentives for homestead properties in the past, Hopkins had been the third biggest user of the program in Hennepin County, Youakim said. Owners of businesses on Mainstreet in Hopkins also said the incentives could be key to allowing them to upgrade their properties.

Latz has carried the bill in the Minnesota Senate. In the Senate, the Committee on Taxes laid the bill over for possible consideration in an omnibus bill. In the House, the bill received a hearing in February in the Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division.

“There were lots of positive comments during the hearing,” Youakim said.

Other bills she has supported have included a move to allow money in a natural resources fund to go toward municipal parks and a bill to allow people to file their taxes electronically without a fee. The bill would require the commissioner of revenue to provide technical support for an electronic filing system at no cost to all individual income tax filers.

Another of her bills would require telecommunications companies to provide written notices regarding automatic renewals of contracts in bold 10-point font. The companies would need to list the day by which the subscriber must give notice of nonrenewal to avoid an automatic contract renewal.

Youakim’s next “coffee and conversation” meeting is 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, April 25, at The Depot Coffee House, 9451 Excelsior Blvd. in Hopkins.

To join her email updates list, view her bills and for contact information, visit

Contact Seth Rowe at