Representatives from both sides of the aisle questioned the combining of omnibus bills in the House Ways and Means Committee, but the process continued and the three bills became one Tuesday.
HF14, as amended, the broadband supplemental finance bill, and HF4376, the housing supplemental finance and policy bill, were added to HF4366, as amended, the agriculture supplemental finance and policy bill before the latter was approved on a 16-9 party-line vote and sent to the House Floor.
Combining the bills was done to bring the total package more in line with SF4019 that also contains a package of agriculture, housing and broadband provisions. Sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), it awaits action on the Senate Floor.
Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-Falcon Heights) asked the committee to consider not adding her omnibus housing bill as a combined package.
“I frequently talk to members of the public who watch the state do that and the federal government where we link everything together into one big package and then have problems passing the whole package,” Hausman said. “There is so much at stake. Housing this year is so complicated that I would just long for a clean conference committee where five members of the House and five members of the Senate can look at all of the issues that separate these two bills and how can we accomplish this?”
Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) agreed with Hausman and worried about the continued combining of omnibus bills.
“Certainly, this is not a DFL nor a Republican problem,” said Garofalo, noting new laws passed over the past 11 years combined equals the laws passed in 1973-74. “This is something that has been going on for multiple years, in fact it’s been going on for multiple decades. … That’s the level of centralization and consolidation that has taken place. In my opinion, it has reached a tipping point now where we are actually seeing this erode the ability of the legislative branch to function.”
Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) said the committee needs to match up with the Senate.
“There are many challenges to working with the other body and lining up bills for conference committee,” Moran said. “One of those challenges, of course, is what we’re doing here for the sake of reducing the number of moving pieces for our staff to track in the final weeks of the session. We’re just doing the best with what we have.”
Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko) sponsors the omnibus agriculture bill. An amendment removed one topic that is part of another bill and a section requiring grain elevators to post private data on their website.
The omnibus agriculture bill contains a $53 million increase in the current biennium for the Department of Agriculture and $3.4 million increase for the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute for a number of programs and also included provisions, such a moratorium on white-tailed deer farms.
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Sponsored by Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls), HF14, would appropriate $25 million to the Office of Broadband Development for the Border-to-Border Broadband program. An approved amendment from Rep. Gene Pelowski, Jr. (DFL-Winona) lowered the one-time appropriation from $100 million.
Hausman’s omnibus housing bill would appropriate $230 million in fiscal year 2023 and establish a $185 million base in the next biennium toward several programs.
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Omnibus Legacy finance bill approved
The committee also approved the omnibus Legacy finance bill on a 17-10 party-line vote.
That amendment to Minnesota’s constitution, approved by Minnesota voters in 2008, stipulates that 0.375% of state sales taxes be divvied up thus: 33% to the Outdoor Heritage Fund, 33% to the Clean Water Fund, 19.75% to the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and 14.25% to the Parks and Trails Fund.
The bill would primarily fund projects from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which distributes its monies on an annual basis. While the other three funds received their biennial funding last year, a boost in sales tax receipts inspired proposals for more funding from the three other areas.