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Sviggum settling into his new role

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Farmington, 55024
Farmington Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

Steve Sviggum likes to say he has gone from legislator to regulator.

After 29 years in the Legislature, the Kenyon Republican was appointed commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry in June by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

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The transition has been significant, Sviggum said Wednesday in an interview with the R-E.

"In the Legislature, I voted on and advocated for workers' compensation and workers' safety issues," he said. "As a regulator, I will enforce a law that I might have been on the losing side on in the Legislature."

In fact, Sviggum said he's already been put in that position, having to implement laws passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature governing independent contractors.

"I look and apply the law fairly and with the intent of the Legislature," he said.

Sviggum's duties will be to oversee a department of 500 people, focusing on issues including workers' compensation, workplace safety, employee wages and construction codes.

Safety first

As commissioner, the former House speaker and minority leader said his new goal is simple, yet important: "That everybody goes home the same way they've come to work."

The department is split between two primary functions -- consultation and compliance. The former means educating employers on practices in hopes of preventing incidents, Sviggum said. The compliance side means inspecting work sites and reporting violations.

But Sviggum said that

he hopes to make the department not just more visible through his leadership, but more user-friendly, "as opposed to just 'gotcha,'" he said.

Sviggum said a top goal will be to make the workers' compensation system less complex.

Also as commissioner, he will head up Pawlenty's e-licensing efforts. If successful, the program would allow anyone in the state to receive licenses of any kind just by going to the Internet.

"My hope is that in 10 years, every license you ever need ... will be able to be done online," Sviggum said.

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