Going a shade over the speed limit, a drive from Rochester to the State Capitol and then north to Roseau can be completed in roughly seven hours.
It took about that much time for the House to pass a bill Tuesday that would provide additional biennial funding along with some policy for both transportation and state government. Elections, pensions and veterans changes are included, too.
The omnibus state government finance and elections, veterans, pensions, and transportation supplemental budget bill contains additional biennial spending of:
“We commit $10 million to make Minnesota functionally zero on veteran’s homelessness,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls), chair of the House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee. Provisions are also included to better deal with veteran’s suicides.
“The men and women who protect and defend us from all threats, foreign and domestic, deserve more than our thanks – they deserve a safe, healthy, and prosperous life after their service concludes,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) said in a statement.
As for pensions, the bill would increase annual direct state aid to the Public Employment Retirement Association Police and Fire Plan from $9 million to $13.5 million, MSRS Judges Plan ($6 million to $9 million) and St. Paul Teachers Plan ($5 million to $7.5 million).
Serving her 23rd term, Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown) is overjoyed at the proposed pension changes. “This is the most vital piece of legislation I’ve ever brought to the House Floor. It affects all retired public employees. … Minnesota ranks in the last five states for the amount of money that we invest in contributions from taxpayers to the employees who go on to retire.”
In addition to General Fund spending, the bill calls for $149.1 million in trunk highway bonds for high-priority bridge construction and improvement ($80 million) and Department of Transportation buildings and facilities ($69 million).
Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls), chair of the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, said the federal government passed a “largesse” infrastructure bill last year. “Perhaps the single-most important thing we do in this bill is to provide matching money so we can access federal support for roads, bridges, transit systems, electric vehicle infrastructure, safety initiatives."
Despite that, Rep. Nolan West (R-Blaine) questioned some spending priorities.
“(This bill) focuses on bikes, pedestrians, transit, things that won’t have an impact like repairing our crumbling infrastructure. … (The Senate bill) actually focuses on these big things that are crumbling now that we need to invest in. And then this focuses on a new train to Duluth, an Amtrak train to Chicago, things that help a tiny amount of Minnesotans rather than moving the whole state forward by investing in our roads and bridges which Minnesotans actually want.”
To address what Hornstein calls “an epidemic of traffic deaths and injuries over the past year,” he said the bill has many strong safety-related provisions. Creation of a Traffic Safety Advisory Council is in the bill.
Rep. Bjorn Olson (R-Elmore) said the Toward Zero Death program created in 2003 to reduce injuries and death is not meeting its stated goal of 300 or fewer deaths and 850 or fewer serious injuries by 2020. Olson said there were more than 500 deaths on state roads last year.
“I think government is the only place in this entire world where we would create a program to do the job for another program while still keeping that program, and saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll fix it (with) this one,’” Olson said.
The bill would also direct MnDOT and the Department of Public Safety to create an implementation plan for a speed safety camera pilot project; establish a reintegration driver’s license for persons incarcerated for at least 180 days and whose driver’s license was suspended or revoked for incidents before the incarceration; require an impound lot operator to let a vehicle owner retrieve specified contents from an impounded vehicle; and designate part of Trunk Highway 5 in Chanhassen as the “Prince Rogers Nelson Memorial Highway.”
Based on recommendations contained in an independent expert review of exam stations, the bill calls for a filing fee increase for driver’s license transactions from $8 to either $11 or $16, requires real-time online information on scheduling road tests at exam stations, and waives knowledge and road test requirements for some adult applicants with a driver’s license from another state.
State government, elections
The bill would allow the governor to declare a peacetime emergency for a cyberattack on the state's information and telecommunications technology infrastructure, systems or services; designate Juneteenth, June 19, as a state holiday; create a commission charged with designing a new state flag and seal with adoption of both to occur by May 11, 2023; establish a Legislative Task Force on Aging; allow a private property owner or occupant to install and maintain a managed natural landscape; and establish an Office of Enterprise Translation to provide translation services for state agency written material and create language-specific landing web pages in Spanish, Hmong, and Somali with links to translated materials at state agency websites.
In the area of elections, the bill would, in part, modify and expand requirements related to the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, would allow absentee ballots to be opened and counted beginning14 days prior to an election; a disclaimer exemption for certain online banner ads and electronic communications would be eliminated; and committees and private organizations mailing absentee ballot applications or sample ballots would need to include several notifications on the mailing, including “THIS IS AN ABSENTEE BALLOT APPLICATION, NOT AN OFFICIAL BALLOT” and “THIS IS A SAMPLE BALLOT, NOT AN OFFICIAL BALLOT.”
Requirements for newly allowed mobile barber shops are among myriad provisions related to barbering and cosmetology.
Seventeen of the 18 offered amendments came from Republicans. All were unsuccessful, including:
The Senate’s omnibus state government, transportation and veterans policy and supplemental appropriations bill, SF3975, awaits action by the full Senate. Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) is the sponsor.