The Minnesota Legislature was busy this week as finance and policy committees met. Conference committees pieced together their budget framework to present to Gov. Dayton. The next ten days of the regular legislative session will be full of long floor sessions as the omnibus budget bills come up on the floor for debate.
- Most of the conference committees completed their work on resolving the House and Senate differences on the budget this week. According to reports earlier in the week, the "working" target for the total budget is around $34 billion. The legislative majority claims that they used no new revenue, rather a "cuts-only" approach, to balance the budget. Governor Mark Dayton has been urging the Legislature to pass conference committee reports so he can begin negotiations on a single legislative position. The governor and the DFL minority have argued for a more "balanced approach," which would rely heavily on a fourth tier income tax on the wealthiest Minnesotans.
All budget conference committees finished their work except for taxes, public safety, jobs, and environment – which are still completing their work. The extensive committee and floor work remaining in both the House and the Senate will require the Legislature to meet on both of the remaining Saturdays in session.
- The Vikings made the headlines this week as an early agreement was reached between the team and the city of Arden Hills on a site for a new stadium. Ramsey County Commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega, along with Minnesota Vikings Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, announced the agreement at a press conference held on Tuesday. The City of Minneapolis also was in the running for the new Vikings Stadium and unveiled a proposal to use the existing Metrodome site.
- On Wednesday in the Senate, Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) presented SF1308 for voters in the 2012 general election to decide whether Minnesota's Constitution should be amended to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The provision is highly controversial, and passed on a vote of 38-27, with one Democrat voting with Republicans. It will likely be heard next on the House floor.
- The Senate also passed a provision to fund the constitutionally dedicated funds for outdoor heritage, clean water, parks and trails, and arts/cultural programming. By a vote of 52-14 the Senate passed SF1363. The House version is expected to be on the floor next week. The two versions are considerably different, with the Senate opting for direct appropriations – similar to last session - and the House version offering a competitive grant structure.
- In the House this week, a bill lifting the moratorium on importing power produced from coal passed off the floor. After hours of debate and a multitude of amendments, the majority felt they put the bill in a condition more palatable to the governor. A number of failed amendments by the DFL tried to maintain the standards of the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Health and the Public Utilities Commission, regarding global warming, mercury, and particulate matter. HF72 – authored by Rep. Beard (R-Shakopee) passed the House by a vote of 76-54.
The Environment Omnibus Policy bill also passed the House this week. The bill originally dealt only with preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species, but after numerous amendments it developed into the much broader environment policy bill. The Senate refused to accept the House changes, so the bill (SF1115) will likely head to a conference committee. The delay may hinder the governor from signing the bill before the fishing opener this weekend, as was the original intent.
The House Capital Investment Committee approved a bonding bill authorizing $28 million in flood mitigation to prevent and alleviate damages done by flooding and other natural disasters. Governor Dayton also filed for federal disaster relief for Minnesota counties affected by flooding. HF959 – Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker) will be heard next in the House Ways and Means committee. The companion, SF664 is sponsored by Sen. Dave Senjem (R- Rochester), and awaits action in the Capital Investment committee.