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UPDATE: Westrom, Ingebrigtsen to chair committees

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

With the Republican takeover of the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate, two area lawmakers have ascended to committee chairmanships.

Torrey Westrom, the District 11A representative from Elbow Lake, will chair the House Civil Law Committee. Bill Ingebrigtsen, the District 11 senator from Alexandria, will chair the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Budget and Policy Committee.

Ingebrigtsen said in a statement Wednesday that he understands that a balance must be reached between preservation of resources and not placing undue restrictions on access to those resources. He also stated that job creation and tourism involving hunting and fishing will be a priority.

"All Minnesotans have a stake in assuring our environment and natural resources are cared for, and I encourage their active participation," Ingebrigtsen said. "I look forward to the challenges that this chairmanship will bring, and I will make sure all citizens are treated fairly and have their voices heard in this committee."

Westrom has served on the Civil Law Committee for several terms but as a minority member. He does have experience chairing a committee when he led what was then the Regulated Industries Committee from 2003 to 2006.

The Civil Law Committee, which had been called the Civil Justice Committee under former chair Joe Mullery, deals with regulation and reforms, Westrom said.

"It's everything on the civil side of statutes," said Westrom, a lawyer who won reelection to an eighth two-year term earlier this month. "Legal rights, due process, tort reform, photo ID, same-sex marriage and many other things."

Westrom said he will ensure that legislation that grew out of an incident four years ago in which 2-year old Emily Johnson was killed at her Fergus Falls daycare will "get better treatment" in the committee now that he is chairman.

In that case, the teen-age son of the provider was found responsible but never served time for the crime because he was 13, and Johnson's family has been working to spur legislation that would toughen penalties for extreme juvenile crime.

Westrom said he expects a strenuous workload but that he knows from experience how valuable it can be to sit on the Civil Law Committee.

"Before I sat on the committee, I was always wondering, 'How do some of these people know so much?' " Westrom said with a laugh. "It's because a lot goes through the Civil Law Committee. But that's also its downside, too -- a lot of things go through there. If you see the lights on late and a committee is meeting, a lot of times its the Civil Law Committee."

Westrom said that, with the Republicans in control of the House and Senate, committee memberships will likely be changing in coming weeks. Last term, Westrom was the lead GOP member of the Energy Finance and Policy Division and also served on the Rules and Legislative Administration and the Ways and Means committees.

Ingebrigtsen, who won reelection to a second four-year term on Nov. 2, last year sat on the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee, was the ranking minority member of the Finance Committee's Public Safety Budget Division and also served on the Agriculture and Veterans Committee, and the Finance Committee's ag and veterans budget and policy division and the Judiciary Budget Division.