Increased protection for consumers and borrowers, and a boost for renewable energy are key elements of an agreement the House and Senate have reached in the areas of commerce and energy.
In addition to a “student loan borrowers’ bill of rights,” the bill would take measures to reduce catalytic converter thefts and toxic toys, and promote use of solar energy in schools.
Sponsored by Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids), SSHF6 was the subject of informational hearings of both the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee, and the House Climate and Energy Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday. Those meetings came one day after the bill was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee and sent to the House floor, where it is scheduled for action Thursday.
“It’s a good compromise bill,” Stephenson said. “Because we were committed to cooperative work, we have a bill that gets a lot done that both Democrats and Republicans can support.”
The chief objection from some Republicans of the ways and means committee is the sunset of the state’s health reinsurance program, something reiterated at Tuesday’s commerce committee hearing.
While Stephenson maintains that federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act will serve the same purpose as the state’s reinsurance program, Rep. Tim O'Driscoll (R-Sartell) said state residents should expect insurance premiums to rise in July and October, and emphasized that “ARPA goes away after 2022.”
The bill would have a total impact on the General Fund for fiscal years ’21-’23 of $84.9 million, and would disburse $103 million over the same period from the Renewable Development Account, a state-administered fund designed expressly for the purpose of developing renewable energy sources in Minnesota. Xcel Energy pays into it with annual fees of between $350,000 and $500,000 for each cask of nuclear waste it stores at its Prairie Island and Monticello facilities.
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Among other commerce policy provisions, the bill would:
In energy policy, the bill would:
Where the money goes
Of the General Fund money, $24.7 million would go to the Public Utilities Commission and $98.9 million to the Commerce Department, the latter distributed thus:
For the administrative services and enforcement and market assurance divisions, the allocations would go almost entirely to operations, the weights and measures money entirely to equipment replacement and planning.
General Fund money for energy resources would include $10.4 million toward operating expenses and $2.6 million for energy regulation and planning.
Allocations from the Renewable Development Account would include:
Some projects would receive funding from both the General Fund and the Renewable Development Account, including programs for solar power on schools (a total of $16 million) and on community colleges ($2.4 million).
The bill’s $103 million in Renewable Development Account allocations would leave an estimated $48.7 million in the fund at the end of 2023.
From a special revenue fund would come $6.9 million for the Minnesota Efficient Technology Accelerator and $1 million for a utility grid reliability assessment extension.
The Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Fund was scheduled to sunset but would be extended under the bill. It would distribute $91.9 million in fiscal years 2021-23, and have $450,000 remaining in the fund at the end of 2023.
Of its $20.6 million in allocations, $12.7 million would go toward operating expenses. Of the remaining money, the largest sums would go toward:
Telecommunications and financial institutions
Half of the telecommunications division’s $9.8 million would be the $4.9 million transferred from the Telecommunications Access Fund to the Department of Human Services for programs for the deaf, deaf/blind and hard of hearing. Its total would also include $3.3 million in operating expenses.
The financial institutions division’s $4.3 million allocation includes funding for a securities unit relocation ($2 million) and the Prepare & Prosper free tax preparation program ($1.2 million).
What’s not in the bill?
Among the items that passed either the House or Senate, but didn’t make the final agreement are:
The House had also proposed a projected $105.8 million in savings to the General Fund for a “premium security plan” for the 2024-25 biennium, but it wasn’t in the final agreement. Nor were plans for a prescription drug affordability board.