Thursday, May 14, 2009

Busy day- major bills pass both bodies

Yesterday at the Capitol
It was a busy day as both the House and Senate processed multiple conference committee reports and bills and sent them on their way to the governor.

Higher Education bill approved - heads to governor
The House and Senate approved the higher education conference committee report yesterday. After Senate author Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, explained the bill, the full Senate approved it by a vote of 54-12 with no discussion. The House then took up the bill later in the day and approved it 103-31. The bill now heads to the governor.

House and Senate pass bonding bill
The House approved the bonding bill on the floor by a vote of 109-25. Author Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said while explaining the higher education projects in the bill that higher education is the engine that drives the economy. The Senate then took up the bill and passed it by a vote of 59-8. As a reminder, included in the bill is $40 million in HEAPR for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and all five of the 2008 vetoed projects. Please refer to yesterday's daily update for further details in the bill.

Agriculture and veterans affairs bill passes with overwhelming support
The House approved the agriculture and veterans affairs conference committee report 133-0 and then the Senate approved it 62-0. The bill includes $100,000 each year for mental health counseling support to farm families and business operators through farm business management programs at Central Lakes College and Ridgewater College. Language is also included in the bill that establishes a Feeding Minnesota Task Force to study the consumption of Minnesota grown produce and livestock by facilitating the donation of harvested products to charities that pprovide food for hungry people. Included on the task force is a representative from a higher education institution.

Also included in the bill is the Green Jobs Food Production Study provision that requires the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute to prepare a detailed study of the state's food production sector in coordination with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities; urban, rural, and tribal community-based agriculture and food security organizations; members of the Legislature with service on committees created by the Green Jobs Task Force; and other interested stakeholders. The study is to define the size of the employment base and identify opportunities to increase the number of green jobs in each of the following sector segments: organics and organic value-added processing and local, conventional, natural, traditional, and urban farming.

In the Veterans section of the bill, $100,000 each year is included for the costs of administering the Minnesota GI Bill program.

E-12 Education bill approved
Both bodies also approved the E-12 education conference committee report yesterday. The House approved the bill by a vote of 85-49 and the Senate approved the bill 49-16. The bill will keep K-12 school spending flat over the next two years, compared to the Senate position that would have cut school spending more than 3 percent. The bill also removed the $1.8 billion funding shift that was a major part of the House's budget solution. The bill now heads to the governor.

Contract ratification bill passes
Both the Senate and House have passed the contract ratification bill and it now heads to the governor. Included in the bill is the 2010-11 Inter Faculty Organization contract. Also included is the 2008-09 MSUAASF contract that was not ratified last session due to timing. The 2010-11 MSUAASF and MSCF contracts and other contract and plans, will be heard by the Legislative Coordinating Commission Subcommittee on Employee Relations during the interim and ratified by the Legislature next session.

Countdown to May 18 - will a "lights-on" bill be necessary?
After the Senate passed a "lights-on" bill Tuesday by a vote of 45-19, the House took it up on the floor yesterday and passed it 88-46. The bill would keep government going if no other appropriation bills for the 2010-11 biennium are enacted. House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, called the proposal a last resort. "By adopting this bill, we can keep core services going, and money that needs to be accounted for," Sertich said.

If an agreement on how to resolve the $6.4 billion budget deficit is not reached by May 18, the bill would cap state agency spending during fiscal year 2010 at the current spending levels if the governor signs the bill. Gov. Pawlenty said he would consider signing a "responsible lights-on" bill, but he said the bill passed by the Legislature spends too much and could deepen the state's deficit.

The spending bills are in the hands of the governor now. On the House floor today, Republicans asked Gov. Pawlenty not to sign any more spending bills until decisions are made about where the money is coming from. There is a $3 billion difference between legislative leaders and the governor. Stay tuned.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

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