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House committee adds $6 million to fund avian flu fight

Acting on a new estimate of the money needed to combat the outbreak of avian influenza in Minnesota over the next 14 months, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to add $6.28 million to the omnibus agriculture policy and finance bill Tuesday morning.

The committee also adopted a budget resolution adding that same amount to the target for the House Agriculture Finance Committee, then approved HF1437, as amended. It now moves to the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee.

Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said he received communication from Minnesota Management & Budget late Monday asking for additional money to help the Department of Agriculture respond to the crisis.

The daily update on the outbreak provided Monday by the Board of Animal Health placed the total number of birds affected in Minnesota at 3.1 million, with 55 farms in 18 counties impacted. All affected farms remain under quarantine and 224 incident response personnel are currently working on the emergency.

Full funding

While bill language has not yet been drafted to accompany the funding, Knoblach said he wanted the committee to raise the target and fully fund the outbreak response, then add the language before a vote on the House Floor is taken.

“We had delayed (HF1437) pending more information on the avian flu and what needs there might be,” Knoblach said. “We finally decided we needed to get on with it and then, all of a sudden last night, got this information.”

The estimate prepared by MMB outlines the preliminary cost projections for the state to fund its outbreak response efforts through June 2016. It includes:

  • Department of Agriculture:                         $4.03 million
  • Board of Animal Health:                             $2.23 million
  • Department of Health:                                $142,000
  • Department of Natural Resources:          $350,000
  • Department of Public Safety:                    $544,000
  • Total:                                                             $7.34 million (includes $1.06 million already in HF1437)

The MMB also cites a preliminary estimate of $2.03 million in federal funds that will be available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), sponsor of HF1437, said state and federal officials are taking the issue “extremely seriously” and thanked Minnesota’s farmers, Gov. Mark Dayton, Republican leaders in the House, and state and federal officials for all the work they’ve put in on the issue.

“We have brought everybody to the table to come forth with a comprehensive plan to address this crisis,” Hamilton said. “I’m absolutely convinced we’re moving forward the way that we need to move forward.”

Off again, on again

Although there was little disagreement among House Ways and Means Committee members on the need to provide additional funding for the avian flu response, the issue did provoke some controversy during the House floor session later in the morning.

A related bill, HF2225, which would appropriate $893,000 for the Department of Agriculture’s avian influenza emergency response activities, was passed by the House April 16, and a conference committee had been scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon to reconcile differences between that bill and the Senate’s bill, SF2096.

However, that meeting was canceled Monday evening without the knowledge of the conference committee House chair, Rep. David Bly (DFL-Northfield), who questioned that move. When those questions were not answered to his satisfaction, Bly announced the committee would meet at 3 p.m., as had been scheduled, and a notice the meeting will indeed be held has now been posted.

Check back to Session Daily throughout the day for further updates.

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