As we look forward to a working weekend in St. Paul ahead of our adjournment on Monday, here are some notes on bills we have approved in the House.
First, the House on Tuesday approved legislation I authored to extend a moratorium on new rules to mow or hay trunk highway rights-of-way. The bill (H.F. 4008/S.F. 3569), which makes the moratorium effective until April 30, 2019, now is in the hands of Gov. Mark Dayton for enactment after passing the House 109-18.
This issue traces back to 2016, when the Minnesota Department of Transportation indicated it planned to change its statewide permitting standards for mowing and baling in ditches along Minnesota’s state roadways. Property owners expressed widespread concerns over the proposed changes and I successfully authored a bill in 2017 placing a moratorium on new mowing rules.
That original moratorium expired at the end of April. Now, more time is needed for legislators and the public to study and respond to a March report the Minnesota Department of Transportation produced on stakeholder feedback. My bill halts any rule changes for another year.
MERIT Center funding
On a different topic, a $6 million appropriation for the Minnesota Emergency Response & Industrial Training Center in Marshall is included in a capital investment package the Minnesota House approved Monday. The MERIT Center funding would help conduct upgrades at its facility for training of law enforcement, public safety, and industrial safety. I am proud to support the MERIT Center’s cause and am pleased to see this funding included in the House bill.
The overall House package features $825 million in general obligation bonds. More than two-thirds of the bonding is dedicated to bricks-and-mortar projects, such as roads and bridges, water infrastructure and statewide asset preservation. The bill also includes a component to use excess reserves from the Vikings stadium account to fund construction of veterans homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston.
With funding such as trunk highway bonds included, the bill provides an additional $254 million for transportation, another $10 million for water/conservation and $127 million in other funding for a total of $1.2 billion.
This is a good bill, but here is the downer: While the House’s bonding bill sailed through to approval, the Senate was not so successful and now efforts are underway to make revisions that will bring full agreement.
The governor has enacted H.F. 1876, a bill I authored to provide retailers with remedies for gas station retailers when customers drive off in rental vehicles without paying for their gas. Businesses have had a hard time tracking down people performing these drive-offs and this bill will help facilitate prosecution in those instances.
Roads and bridges
House Republicans continue to make roads and bridges a priority and a bill we approved this week will allow voters to decide whether taxes solely collected from the sales of auto parts and vehicle repairs should be used to repair our roads and bridges. I want to underscore the fact these are existing taxes, not new ones. For context, the revenue from the sales tax on auto parts is estimated at $250-$260 million per year. If approved by voters, the sales tax dedication would be phased in over a five-year period ending June 30, 2025.
Stay tuned as we make our way through the final few days of the 2018 session.