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Capitol Chatter: Farm groups keep on farm bill pressure

ST. PAUL — A coalition of 532 organizations is putting pressure on the U.S. House to pass a farm bill.

"This important legislation supports our nation’s farmers, ranchers, forest owners, food security, natural resources and wildlife habitats, rural communities and the 16 million Americans whose jobs directly depend on the agriculture industry," read a letter sent to every congressman from a diverse group that includes the Democratic-leaning Farmers Union and Republican-leaning Farm Bureau. "Farm bills represent a delicate balance between America’s farm, nutrition, conservation and other priorities, and accordingly require strong bipartisan support. It is vital for the House to try once again to bring together a broad coalition of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to provide certainty for farmers, rural America, the environment and our economy in general and pass a five-year farm bill upon returning in July."

A farm bill failed last month after Republicans tacked on some amendments not acceptable to many Democrats. While U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., promised enough Democratic votes to pass a farm bill compromise that came out of the Agriculture Committee, many of those votes peeled off as GOP amendments began to pass.

Congress is on an Independence Day break, and reports from Washington indicate that it is not clear how progress can be made to pass a farm bill.

One idea is to separate the nutrition part of the bill, which funds programs such as food stamps, from the portion that funds farm programs. The coalition does not like that idea.

"We believe that splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the bill could result in neither farm nor nutrition programs passing, and urge you to move a unified farm bill forward," the letter said.

The coalition includes national, regional and state groups representing most aspects of agriculture.

Current farm programs expire Sept. 30. One potential outcome is extending the programs a year, like was done last year when Republican leaders said they did not have enough votes to pass a farm bill. However, an extension would be more expensive than either the Senate-passed bill or the one the House defeated.

Contracts settled

The state’s two largest unions have agreed to pay raises, but also a provision that requires employees to pay more for their health insurance.

The deal gives members of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees and AFSCME Council 5 a 3 percent raise each of the next two years.

Details of the contract have not been released. Union members still need to vote on it.

"This is a fair agreement for hard-working state employees and the citizens of Minnesota," said Jo Pels, chief negotiator for AFSCME Council 5. "Our negotiating team unanimously recommends support."

State Patrol recruits

The Minnesota State Patrol is looking for troopers, and not just ones coming with prior law enforcement experience or education.

The patrol has 40 open trooper positions, and candidates may apply at by July 12. Applicants will be accepted from people with a two- or four-year degree in any discipline.

"Law enforcement is a diverse, exciting career choice, and the State Patrol wants to tap into potential candidates that have unique training and life experiences," Lt. Col. Matt Langer said. "This is also an opportunity to promote a career in law enforcement to the state’s growing and diverse populations."

Last year’s trooper cadets included a copywriter, graphic designer and a banker.

"The non-traditional troopers are an important addition to our agency," said Col. Kevin Daly, chief of the State Patrol. "The face of law enforcement is changing every day, and these troopers will help give the Patrol a new perspective to handle emerging issues and challenges."

MnDOT seeks comment

Minnesota transportation officials say they want to hear from the public about a 20-year state highway investment plan they developed.

The plan, available at

, outlines how the state would deal with its 12,000 miles of highways.

MnDOT plans a public hearing 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. July 29. It will originate in Room G15 of MnDOT’s central office in St. Paul, but the public may participate at MnDOT offices statewide via video, including at:

-- Baxter, 7694 Industrial Park Road,

-- Bemidji, 3920 Highway 2 West.

-- Crookston, 1320 Sunflower St.

-- Detroit Lakes, 1000 Highway 10 West.

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.