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Legislative Notebook: Lawmakers pass jobs bill

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ST. PAUL — Minnesota legislators voted to increase funding designed to produce jobs.

The House voted 73-59 for the jobs and economic development bill that for the next two years provides $100 million for economic development, more than twice spent in the current two-year budget.

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Of that, $54 million is for two major job-creation programs. The Department of Employment and Economic Development will use the funds to offer financial incentives to encourage companies to set up shop in Minnesota.

"This may well be one of the most significant economic development bills to come before this chamber in many, many years," Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said.

Senators were expected to pass the bill, but debated it well into Thursday night.

The bill increases funding for the state Trade Office, which aids Minnesota businesses in exporting their goods. The money will allow the state to add offices in three countries besides China, where an office already exists.

A $346 million tax cut is included, with about $150 per employee benefit.

Folded into the jobs bill is an energy provision that requires 1.5 percent of electricity in 2020 to come from solar cells.

The bill appropriates $10 million to attract television shows and movie production to Minnesota.

Employees that employers lock out in a labor dispute would be able to double how long they could collect unemployment benefits. Existing benefits last 26 weeks.

Also, the bill forbids any business other than barbers to use a barber pole to attract customers.

Democrats praised the bill, but Republican opposed it. Among GOP complaints is that requiring solar energy will increase utility costs.

"Democrats passed energy mandates tonight that will result in higher energy costs for hard-working Minnesotans," Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said. "Democrats are forcing consumers to use energy that nobody wants, everyone will pay for and no one can afford."

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said the bill should create good jobs.

"Minnesota needs to help create jobs for working families across our district," Persell said. "This bill will help local communities bring in new businesses that can offer those jobs."

Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake, said many of the provisions will help his constituents.

"A lot of these investments are going to be available for businesses in our area," McNamar said. "This gives our communities a chance to bring in new jobs and new economic development."

Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, said the bill continues Democratic focus on job creation.

"Our economy is recovering faster than most states, but there are a lot of Minnesotans who are still looking for work," Melin said. "This bill gives businesses the tools they need to expand and hire more employees. I was proud to support it because of the positive impact it’s going to make on our communities in northeastern Minnesota."

In Melin’s district, the bill would allow Hibbing to improve its water system and Memorial Building Arena, fund Chisholm infrastructure projects, construct water lines in Keewatin and provide for a regional fire hall and training center as five fire services merge.

Rep. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, said the bill is the biggest job creation funding increase in nearly a decade.

"The Minnesota Investment Fund and Job Creation Fund appropriations will help businesses in Minnesota grow and attract new businesses to Minnesota," Lien said.

Rep. Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, has been a big supporter of expanding the Trade Office.

"Increasing funding for the Trade Office and opening more trade offices around the world would open up markets for Minnesota businesses and farmers throughout greater Minnesota, bringing them more revenue, and growing more jobs," Sawatzky said. "Our homegrown businesses make great products that we should be selling around the world. We can’t afford to continue to lag behind our neighboring states and economic competitors."

Tourism funding is increased in the bill, Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, said.

"In our area, tourism affects nearly everyone directly or indirectly," Ward said. "By expanding our Explore Minnesota marketing program, we can make Minnesota a priority destination. We need to do what we can to help keep our tourism industry growing and prosperous because it grows jobs and generate new tax dollars."

No minimum wage?

An effort to raise the Minnesota minimum wage may be over for the year.

That is what Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Thursday.

Unions were not happy to hear that.

"If the Legislature adjourns without a meaningful minimum wage increase this year, it will be extremely disappointing to hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers who could use a raise and the countless small businesses that would have benefitted from increased consumer spending," said Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson.

The House calls for a $9.50 an hour wage, while the Senate approved a $7.75 level. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Gov. Mark Dayton supports a wage in the area of the House bill.

Drinking immunity

People under age 21 would have immunity from alcohol citations if they call 911 to help another drinker under a bill the Minnesota House passed 124-8.

"We want to encourage a responsible choice even when the choices up to that point have not been so responsible," bill sponsor Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said. She said it will encourage friends and peers to call for help during a medical emergency without the fear of getting in trouble for drinking.

The bill only would provide immunity from underage consumption and alcohol possession charges, she said, and not other offenses such as drunk driving.

Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, said the bill would give law enforcement officers more direction and help young people make the right decision.

"I want everybody to know that it’s OK to ask for help," said Schoen, a police officer.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said while college students might use the immunity to make the right decisions, others could abuse it.

"I’m afraid that the high school students will see this as a way to simply get out of something," he said.

Abortion provision OK’d

Minnesota senators have voted to forbid insurance companies from covering elective abortions when the new MNSure health insurance marketplace begins Jan. 1.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, offered the amendment, which was approved on a voice vote.

While state law already bans elective abortion coverage, abortion opponents said it was necessary to clarify that it also applies to the new health insurance sales program set up under the federal Affordable Care Act, better known as "Obamacare."

"Including this reference in statute is critical to establish once again that insurance companies operating in Minnesota do not have to pay for abortions," said Andrea Rau of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

Reporter Danielle Killey contributed to this story.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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