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Conferees on jobs and energy begin to iron out their differences

The omnibus jobs and energy conference committee meets for the first time April 24. Photo by Andrew VonBank

The House and Senate omnibus jobs and energy bills make an odd couple. The House version sprawls across 200-plus pages while the Senate weighs in at a relatively trim 90-odd pages.

But both include a matching mishmash of topic areas — everything from priming the pump on economic development, to guiding where pipelines run and how the state returns unclaimed property to owners.

The conference committee on SF1937, the omnibus jobs and energy legislation, began comparing provisions of the House and Senate bills Monday. The day was devoted to a walk-through of the two bills, followed by testimony from a half-dozen commissioners of various state agencies.

The committee is scheduled to reconvene Wednesday afternoon. Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) and Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) co-chair the committee.

Policy provisions included by the House but not the Senate account for some of the difference in the bulk of the bills. In terms of direct appropriations, the two bills are only $920,000 apart, with the House coming in at $385.8 million and the Senate at $386.7 million.

What’s included in the bills tracks closely to the topic areas covered by the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee.

Among the differences between the bills:

  • Broadband: The Senate would spend $20 million; the House $7 million;
  • Iron Range Resource and Rehabilitation Board: The House would convert the board into an advisory commission within the executive branch, while the Senate would maintain the board structure but add restrictions to its authority;
  • Energy: The House would end the Renewable Energy Fund and Made in Minnesota solar energy rebate program, moving their funds to a new Energy Fund account; and
  • Pawnbrokers: Pawn shop customers would have 60 days to redeem pawned goods, after which the items would be forfeited to the pawnbroker, under the House bill. The Senate does not have this.

Already by Monday, at least one stark point of difference had been ironed out. The House bill zeroes out the biennial budget for the Bureau of Mediation Services’ Office of Collaboration and Dispute Resolution. While he did not make a formal motion Monday, Garofalo announced that House conferees would accept the Senate’s proposed appropriation of $788,000 for the office over the 2018-19 biennium.


Commissioners commend, complain                                                               

Ken Peterson, commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry, lauded several proposed policy provisions, including stiffening the penalty to a gross misdemeanor for unlicensed contractors. But he lamented that neither body picked up on the governor’s proposal to spend $1.3 million to update a case management system for the department’s Labor Standards Division, which investigates complaints about child labor.

Shawntera Hardy, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, cited several areas where House and Senate proposed spending fall short of the governor’s recommendations. That includes the Minnesota Investment Fund, the Job Creation Fund, and the Minnesota Trade Office, which she said would see a 23 percent cut under the House bill.

Todd Doncavage, acting commissioner of the Bureau of Mediation Services, first thanked conferees for their expressions of sympathy after the April 18 death of Josh Tilsen, the agency’s commissioner. About budget matters, he noted that neither bill includes $250,000 the governor recommended to expand the office’s conflict-resolution grant program statewide.

Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman expressed strong opposition to the House bill citing “severe, detrimental cuts,” and provisions that “micromanage for no good reason.” He told conferees that “all of the policy proposals should be removed from this budget bill.”

John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Pollution Control Agency, highlighted a policy concern with the House bill, which would prohibit spending money from the Clean Air Act settlement with Volkswagen without legislative approval. He said the provision puts Minnesota’s $47 million share of the national settlement at risk.

Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul) quizzed the commissioners about whether the governor had given them the authority to participate in committee negotiations. Each responded they were ready to provide information as needed, but the governor preferred for them to hold off on negotiating until after the conferees reached an agreement. 

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