The Legislature returns to the Capitol next week, with the 2020 session set to begin on Tuesday.
It is not a budget year in name, but many of the decisions we make will be connected to the state’s $1.3 billion projected surplus. Minnesota’s rainy day fund is statutorily full, with $2.359 billion in reserve to help us weather any future dips in the economy.
I’m sure there will be countless proposals to spend those surplus dollars, but let’s remember “surplus” really means an overcollection of tax dollars as opposed to the government just not spending enough of our money. That said, tax relief should be a top priority this year and, in an upcoming letter, we can take a closer look at those ideas and how they would benefit Minnesotans.
Other top priorities this session include reducing health care costs, overhauling the dysfunctional Department of Human Services, protecting our Second Amendment rights and supporting our roads and bridges. Look for more on those as well as the session gets rolling.
For now, I want to share some information regarding a couple of bills I already have authored to protect the state’s energy supply. One bill would create further penalties for trespassing or damaging critical infrastructure such as pipelines. The other would prohibit cities from banning natural gas.
The bill to prevent cities from banning natural gas (H.F. 3033) became necessary when San Francisco recently approved legislation mandating all new government buildings – including libraries, community centers and office spaces – and renovations be fully electric.
We need a sensible, all-of-the-above energy approach to help guarantee our needs are always met. Electric mandates take us the opposite direction. We’ve heard about how our energy grid is fragile, poorly maintained and susceptible to attack and now some people want to limit our options. They’ve even brought it up in House committee meetings. The liberals have prematurely pushed to shutter coal plants in our region and now they want to push out natural gas. It just never ends, so my bill would ensure we don’t needlessly make our state more vulnerable to energy instability.
My bill regarding trespassing or damaging critical infrastructure (H.F. 2966) creates a new felony offense for anyone training or recruiting protesters who damage critical infrastructure, including pipelines. It would penalize a person or entity “that knowingly recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, conspires with, or otherwise procures” somebody else to commit property damage on a pipeline or other critical public service facility.
Former Rep. Dennis Smith authored similar legislation in the past and it twice passed the House in 2018, once as a stand-alone that was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton and as an omnibus provision which was stripped by a conference committee.
This bill is simply an attempt to deter extremists from engaging in activities that could cause public safety hazards. Free speech is a staple of our Constitution and my bill does not impact anyone’s ability to exercise their right to peaceful protests.
What we need to create is a bright line with serious consequences for coordinated, extreme activity that crosses the threshold from free speech and enters the criminal realm, whether it’s trespassing or causing property damage.
Last November, a group of extremists constructed a 30-foot-tall tripod device and blocked work from happening at the Clearbrook Terminal. This is the type of criminal activity we are looking to address in my bill, especially as the Line 3 pipeline replacement project commences across northern Minnesota. This is an effort to protect citizens, workers and public safety officials from undue harm.
Both bills were submitted to the House before the Jan. 30 pre-filing deadline, giving the proposals high-priority status and a head start in the legislative process before the start of this year’s session.
I have three other common-sense bills related to energy in the process of being drafted and I will share more on them when the details are in place.
Until next time, your feedback always is welcome as I continue doing my best to represent the people of District 15B.