Minnesota legislators work toward final adjournment
By Don Davis
Forum News Service
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota representatives approved a pair of public works funding bills spending more than $1 billion early today as lawmakers head toward what they hope is adjournment for the year in the coming hours.
Other major bills left on the legislative agenda for today include medical marijuana, taxes, budget adjustments and a measure to limit online games offered by the state lottery.
Senators planned to be to work at 9 a.m., with the House coming in at 11 a.m.
Leaders of the Democratic-controlled Legislature were ready to crow that they adjourned early this year, even though it was not by much. The state Constitution makes Sunday the last day they could pass bills and orders them to go home Monday.
The most high-profile issue awaiting debate today is allowing Minnesotans with severe medical conditions to use marijuana extracts. People allowed to use the chemicals would include children with seizures, cancer patients with complications and multiple sclerosis patients.
Versions of the bill to be considered today already passed the House and Senate by overwhelming margins.
"We will take it up after we get the major work done," Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said.
While the marijuana bill could affect 5,000 Minnesotans with serious medical conditions, part of another bill due for consideration today would affect thousands more.
Legislative budget negotiators early today added a pipeline safety provision Gov. Mark Dayton insisted be included.
The budget bill already contained more than $8 million to improve the safety of trains hauling crude oil, with help for first responders such as fire departments to afford training and new equipment. The addition does the same things for pipelines, which are moving increasingly large amounts of oil and other hazardous products.
Trains and pipelines are being used to move crude oil from western North Dakota, where oil wells are pumping record amounts.
Pipelines will be assessed, as are railroads, to raise money to fund first responder needs.
House Transportation Finance Chairman Frank Hornstein said pipelines have spilled 18,000 gallons of hazardous materials since the early 1990s, and safety needs to be increased on them as it needs to be on railroads.
Crude oil train derailments have gained lots of publicity in the past year and took the spotlight as legislative committees discussed oil transportation safety. Trucks hauling crude oil got little attention in the Legislature, but Hornstein said they will be to be addressed in future years.
The public works funding bills, partially paid by the state selling bonds and partially with cash from a budget surplus, spends the most for a single project on renovating the state Capitol building: $126 million.
Higher education spending, divided among the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses, totals $240 million.
The most-discussed issue in the bonding bill required two bills to settle it.
Southwest Minnesota's Lewis and Clark water system was left out of an earlier House bonding bill, but Republicans, in particular, demanded it be funded.
The solution was to pay $22 million in budget surplus cash from the public works bills, with another $45 million coming in a tax bill due up later today.
The plan would allow local officials to sell bonds to fund $45 million of project costs. Local governments would repay a third of the bonds over 20 years, with the state paying the other two-thirds, Senate Taxes Chairman Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, said.
"We are stepping up," said House Taxes Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, D-Bloomington. "The state is going to pay 85 percent of the whole thing."
Minnesota is getting involved because the federal government backed off a promise to pay for the system, which is to bring water from near the Missouri River in South Dakota. Federal funds dried up when the project reached the Minnesota-South Dakota line.
"The federal government really has dropped the ball here," said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, adding that lack of water is hampering economic growth throughout southwestern Minnesota.
Some projects including in the public works funding bills:
-- Capitol building renovation. $126 million
-- University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities asset preservation and replacement. $43 million each
-- University of Minnesota Tate laboratory renovation, Minneapolis. $57 million
-- Red Lake school construction. $6 million
-- Flood prevention programs. $12 million borrowed
-- Vermillion State Park development. $14 million
-- State trail acquisition and development. $17.7 million
-- Local bridge replacement. $33 million
-- Local road improvements: $54 million
-- Minnesota State Security Hospital, St. Peter, remodel. $56.3 million
-- Minnesota Sex Offender Program, St. Peter, remodel. $7.4 million
-- Corrections Department improvements. $18 million
The bonding bill also contains funds to build University of Minnesota Twin Cities laboratories to study bees and aquatic invasive species.
Representatives began debating the public works bills at 2:15 a.m., nearly seven hours after legislative leaders had agreed to its provisions. Lawmakers waited must of that time while negotiations with the governor went on. Public works debate lasted less than an hour.