After rolling four omnibus bills into a single piece of legislation last week, House members endured a marathon floor session debating that bill Thursday, spending more than 10 hours and voting two dozen amendments up or down before passing the omnibus supplemental finance bill, as amended, 77-49.
Sponsored by Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud), HF4099/SF3656* is comprised of the omnibus agriculture, environment and natural resources, job growth and energy affordability, and state government finance bills.
By combining those four bills, the House has begun to align its position with the Senate, which merged its omnibus legislation into one bill that was passed 34-31 April 26. The House approved a delete-all amendment to substitute its language into that Senate file.
The amended bill now returns to the Senate, where Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Vernon Center) is the sponsor. Assuming that body does not concur with the changes early next week, a conference committee is expected to try and work out the differences.
As might be expected, the House debate covered a range of topics. A sampling: gerrymandering; pollinators; junkets; chronic wasting disease; attorney fees; water quality; unemployment benefits; energy storage; building codes; wage inequity; and electromagnetic pulse attacks.
And, as also might be expected, opinions of the bill differed pretty evenly along party lines.
Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) said in a statement the bill funds important initiatives and he looks forward to working with Gov. Mark Dayton “to come to a final agreement on a package that we can all support.”
But House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said Republicans had chosen to hold the good policy in the bill hostage to the bad policy.
“This is a very frustrating bill,” Hortman said. “There are many provisions in this bill that, if they stood on their own, they would fly off this floor with wide bipartisan support. But there are many other provisions that are just poison pills. The governor has already said he will veto them.”
The agriculture articles contain a variety of provisions that have widespread bipartisan support. They include a $217,000 increase for statewide mental health counseling services for farm families and businesses that would help fund an additional counselor position – making two statewide, and another $30,000 for the Farm Advocates program.
Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), who chairs the House Agriculture Policy Committee, said most of the $250,000 the House agriculture committees were given to spend went to address mental health issues arising in recent years from depressed commodity prices and other pressures.
“It’s a good bill, it spends the limited funds we have wisely,” Anderson said.
The bill also contains $35 million for the Rural Finance Authority, which works with local lenders to offer a number of loan programs to help those looking to get their start in agriculture along with established farmers who may need to refinance or make other substantial capital investments. Authority funding is also traveling in a separate bill, HF4425, sent to the floor Wednesday by the House Ways and Means Committee.
The most controversial provision in the bill would prohibit the Department of Agriculture from adopting new nitrogen rules proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton – which would restrict fertilizer application in some parts of the state during the fall – unless they are specifically approved by law.
“When the Department of Agriculture finishes its work, it simply has to come back here to the Legislature, probably in January, before that rule goes into effect,” Anderson said.
However, Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) did not agree.
“The ag finance portion of this bill is a good bill,” Poppe said. “But the controversial [nitrogen] provision … should be removed.”
One amendment pertaining to the agriculture portion of the bill was adopted.
Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker) offered the amendment saying it would allow individuals in the cottage foods industry to register as limited liability corporations in order to buy liability insurance. Doing so would allow those people protections against “losing everything in the event of a catastrophic lawsuit” Newberger said.
Among the other major agriculture policy provisions and appropriations in the bill are those that would:
Environment and Natural Resources
The environment and natural resources articles originated in HF3502, sponsored by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau). The bill would make a number of policy changes and appropriate $750,000 to address chronic wasting disease — the bill’s lone General Fund increase.
DFL members criticized the proposal, arguing that it fails to address important issues such as water quality and serves special interests instead of the general public.
“You shouldn’t have to pay a lobbyist to have your position heard,” said Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul).
Fabian pushed back on that accusation.
“The farmers in my district, they belong to organizations. They’re stakeholders. They belong to a group and they have a voice down here,” Fabian said. “…This is a good bill, people. Is everything in here perfect? No, it’s not. But this is a good bill for the environment and for the people of the State of Minnesota.”
Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville) unsuccessfully offered an amendment to eliminate a provision that would allow the Department of Natural Resources’ commissioner to invite two fish managers to attend all meetings of the 1837 Ceded Territory Fisheries Technical Committee, which is comprised of biologists and representatives of the DNR and eight Chippewa bands.
Becker-Finn said the Legislature does not have the authority to impose alterations on an agreement between two sovereign parties.
“This amendment removes language that is, at best, a bad idea and, at worst, a violation of the Constitution of the United States of America,” Becker-Finn said. “If I’ve learned anything in my time here in this body it is that many of you lack understanding of tribal sovereignty and lack understanding of our constitution beyond one or two amendments.”
An amendment offered by Hansen to remove a provision that would allow individuals to possess feral swine they’ve shot was also rejected. Hansen argued that the approach could actually work against eradicating feral swine from Minnesota.
“Assigning a value to those hogs, I believe, is too great of a risk,” Hansen said.
A number of policy changes are proposed. Among them are those that would:
While Republicans touted the state government finance portion of the bill as a win for veterans and cybersecurity, DFL criticism focused on reductions to state agencies – including a $3.88 million spending reduction to the Department of Revenue and a $1.4 million reduction to the Department of Human Rights – and proposed reforms to legislative redistricting.
Sections included in what was HF4016, sponsored by Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth), would transfer $26 million from the Stadium Reserve Fund to the General Fund to build new veterans homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston; a requirement for state agencies to dedicate 3.5 percent of their budget to cybersecurity; and a requirement for state agencies to reduce their collective budgets by $9.65 million to help cover the cost of the beleaguered MNLARS program.
“We are asking state government to streamline by a percent of 0.5 percent. We are only asking state agencies to try to do things with a little less -- of 0.5 percent,” Anderson said. “I think the average Joe Minnesotan is doing more in looking at their budget than 0.5 percent.”
This 107-page slice of the larger 324-page omnibus bill represents a $7 million overall reduction to state government spending.
Rep. Liz Olson (DFL-Duluth) said she was “deeply troubled” with the bill because it would result in state employee reductions, cuts in services and a less-responsive government. Calling it a “poison pill,” Olson insinuated the governor would veto it and the House would have to return to work on the bill.
“We’re talking about real people’s lives in every single one of our districts,” Olson said. “Every single one of our districts will be affected.”
Other spending changes would include:
Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley) unsuccessfully offered an amendment to remove a provision that would limit the attorney general’s office’s ability to enter into contingency fee contracts, like the one in the 3M lawsuit. Freiberg said the section he was looking to eliminate would “deprive” residents throughout the state protections citizens in the east metro received under that lawsuit.
Jobs, Energy and Housing
The jobs, energy and housing articles in the massive bill originated in HF4289, sponsored by Garofalo. These articles would appropriate millions of dollars to fund 30 projects and grants throughout the state.
All the new funding goes to the broadband grant program to bring high-speed internet to every corner of the state, while the other “high priorities” such as job training and water infrastructure projects that the bill funds are being paid for by cutting funding in other areas, Garofalo explained.
The jobs, energy and housing articles in the bill also include some provisions DFLers continue to criticize, including capping how much Xcel Energy pays each year into the Renewable Development Account, cutting funding to job creations programs, not providing enough funding for broadband or affordable housing, and controversial policy provisions such as the “tip penalty.”
Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) said there’s a “cornucopia of bad stuff in this bill.”
“Minnesotans expect us to invest in people’s success, not to make it even harder for hardworking Minnesotans to get ahead, and we certainly shouldn’t be penalizing people who work for minimum wage and rely on tips to support their families. We should focus on improving lives through higher incomes and better benefits, including paid family leave, earned sick time, and real wage theft protections. Doing that would go a whole lot further in helping Minnesota families get ahead than what Republicans are doing today,” Mahoney said in a statement.
Here is what is in the bill:
The proposed appropriations in the bill would fund projects that include:
The funding provisions would also reduce funding for the Job Creation Fund by $7 million and the Minnesota Investment Fund/North Star Opportunity and Development Account by $5 million. Mahoney unsuccessfully offered an amendment to restore that funding.
There are dozens of policy provisions in the jobs and energy portion of the bill. Among them are those that would:
More than 20 amendments were offered to the job and energy articles of the bill. The six amendments that were adopted include measures that would:
— House Public Information Services Assistant Editor Jonathan Mohr and staff writers Ricky Campbell, Michael Strasburg and Melissa Turtinen contributed to this story.