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Step 2 to speed up permits advances

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ST. PAUL - Legislative Republicans put a high priority on keeping government out of businesses' way, and making it easier for firms to build is keystone of the effort.

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"We need to be friendly with businesses," Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said Tuesday after a Senate committee advanced his bill to speed the permitting process.

Bills that Ingebrigtsen and Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, sponsor tweak a law enacted last year that began streamlining issuance of state permits, mostly from the state Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources, that businesses need before building or expanding.

The bills are moving toward legislative passage as part of a package that Republicans call Reform 2.0, which centers on streamlining government and taking other steps to make state government more business friendly.

The proposals would begin a 150-day clock for the permitting process when a business applies to the state for a permit. They also allow businesses to hire a licensed "personal applicant professional" to do some of the work the state normally would coordinate.

The bills also would establish a coordinator to help businesses navigate through state agencies as they seek permits.

State agencies still would have the final say on issuing permits.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton says he would like to continue making government easier to navigate, but has not committed to supporting the Fabian-Ingebrigtsen plan.

One of his officials questioned the need for the proposal.

"At best, this bill is a bit preliminary and redundant," Jeff Smith of the Pollution Control Agency told a House committee earlier this month. "It feels like we're taking a step back."

Smith toned down his criticism on Tuesday, but said he still is concerned because the 150-day clock would begin whenever a business submits an application, even if the application is incomplete. He said the clock should begin only when there is a full application.

The 150 days is a goal for issuing permits. If the goal is missed, the governor and Legislature would receive a report about the missed deadline with an explanation of why.

Smith said that the PCA issues more than 80 percent of permits within 150 days.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said the PCA has not done a good job for some of his constituents, who he said "are having a great deal of difficulty getting permits."

Tony Kwilas of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce said that making the permitting change is among his group's highest priorities.

Since last year's bill passed, Kwilas said, the shortened permitting process has convinced businesses to expand and build in Minnesota. In some cases, he said, businesses now are considering expanding in Minnesota when they would not have under old law.

Smith warned the Senate Finance Committee that the Ingebrigtsen-Fabian bills could tie up more permits in court.

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