State Capitol News Briefs: Ag bill could get Dayton signatureMinnesota News
-- Gov. Mark Dayton likely will sign an agriculture funding bill despite earlier demands that the Republican-controlled Legislature agree on all of its spending plans before he approves any individual bill.
By: Don Davis , Pierce County Herald
ST. PAUL -- Gov. Mark Dayton likely will sign an agriculture funding bill despite earlier demands that the Republican-controlled Legislature agree on all of its spending plans before he approves any individual bill.
Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said Wednesday the agriculture funding bill is so similar to the governor’s proposal that he likely will sign it when it reaches his desk. Negotiators worked out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill on Monday, and the compromise bill could be passed in both chambers as early as today.
The governor had said he would reject any budget bills lawmakers sent to him before House-Senate conference committees finished their negotiations on all eight budget bills and a tax plan.
The bill would spend $79 million in the next two years.
The most-discussed item in the bill is the final $13.7 million payment to ethanol producers. The state began paying ethanol producers to develop the corn-based fuel more than a dozen years ago, but budget problems forced the state to postpone promised payments, which would end with the bill that soon will head to Dayton.
While Dayton administration officials will be involved in negotiations working out differences between House- and Senate-passed spending bills, they may not negotiate with lawmakers.
Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson told Wednesday’s health and human services conference committee meeting that what she and other Dayton aides can do will be limited.
“The administration cannot negotiate on conference committee bills until we see the whole position,” Jesson said.
Dayton has said he will not negotiate the budget with lawmakers until the House and Senate pass all eight budget bills and a tax bill that have been negotiated between the legislative bodies.
Despite Jesson’s restriction on negotiating, she said that she continues to object to cuts Republicans propose in health programs for the poor, disabled and elderly.
“It’s good to see we are all here in the same room, if not yet on the same page,” she said.
Invasive prevention OK’d
Bills to fight invasive aquatic species are swimming through the Legislature.
The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee has passed legislation by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, to provide increased Department of Natural Resources authority to fight species such as Asian carp. The bill also increases penalties for allowing invasive species into the state.
“Invasive species pose a serious threat to our abundant natural resources and cost property owners and resource management agencies millions of dollars each year,” the senator said. “Fortunately, the worst invasive species are not yet known to be in Minnesota.”
Voter ID moves
A requirement for Minnesota voters to show photo identification cards before casting ballots continues its meandering way through the Legislature.
A Senate committee Wednesday approved the plan on a party-line vote, with Republican support. At least two more committees must consider the bill before it reaches a Senate vote.
A similar bill is making its way through the House.
A bill to restore cities’ ability to grant variances to zoning ordinances is expected to receive a Senate vote soon.
The Minnesota Supreme Court last year revoked cities’ authority to grant variances to city and county ordinances.
For instance, before the court decision city officials might allow a deck to be built closer to a property line than an ordinance would allow. Or they might approve construction of a larger garage than otherwise would be permitted.
The League of Minnesota Cities spearheaded the bill that lawmakers could pass yet this month.
To bond or not top bond?
Republicans who control the Legislature are sending mixed signals about whether they will consider state funding for flood-control projects this year.
The funds, which come from the state selling bonds, would be used to build dikes and other structures to prevent future flood damage. House and Senate committees have held hearings on the subject, during which city and watershed officials told of the need.
On Tuesday, however, the chairman of the Senate bonding committee said he does not anticipate any bonding bill this year, even one dealing with flooding.
“The immediate urgency doesn’t seem to be there,” Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, told a reporter Tuesday.
The fact that there has been little flood damage so far lessens the need for a bill, he said. And a $5 billion budget deficit means there is little money available for bonding, the senator added.
At the same time, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, told another reporter that he would look into the need for a bonding bill to prevent future floods.
Zellers said that he had not heard information that some flood-prone communities are concerned that if lawmakers wait until near the end of the legislative session on May 23 to pass a flood bonding bill that they may not be able to complete flood-prevention projects this year.
Officials of Oakport Township, north of Moorhead, say a bill passed before this year’s flooding recedes would allow construction work to begin soon and finish before any flooding next year. But a few weeks’ delay could mean the community would be vulnerable to flooding next year because gaps may remain in the community’s protection structures.
Zellers and other legislative leaders plan to visit the Red River Valley later this week.
Online driver training
Legislators are looking into allowing students to take driver training courses on line.
Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said his bill still would require “hands-on, one-on-one” driving lessons. However, classroom time could be replaced by students getting the information from approved on-line classes.
“This is meeting the students where they are,” long-time driver instructor Debbie Prudhomme said.
However, Cindy Thienes of the Minnesota Driving School Association told a Senate committee that she is worried that students would be distracted and not learn like they can in a traditional classroom.
House and Senate bills await committee action.
Capitol check wanted
Minnesota Capitol officials are so concerned that chunks of marble could fall off that they have erected protective scaffolding over many entrances.
Now a bill by Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, awaits action by the full House to require a structural assessment of the Capitol.
The bill would require the Administration Department to draw up a prioritized list of restoration projects by Aug. 1.
“We have one of the most beautiful capitol buildings in the United States,” Loeffler said. “Our Capitol is 106 years old. While the bones remain strong, many major systems, including the exterior roof and stonework, are in distress and literally crumbling.”
An extensive restoration project began on the Capitol dome last year, with a major goal to prevent water leaks.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.