The Minnesota Legislature will return to work later this summer for a special session to direct disaster aid to flood-battered Minnesota communities.
Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders met Wednesday to lay the ground rules for a special session that will be brief, narrowly focused, and stripped of party politics. The special session will be called sometime around the end of August, Dayton said, to give the state time to figure out how much money the stricken region will need, and where the state will find the funds.
The state is still trying to tally the damages from the floods that hit Duluth and 13 surrounding counties in June. The state has asked the federal government to declare the region a disaster zone and requested $108 million in disaster aid.
If FEMA grants the state the disaster aid it requested, 25 percent of the aid would have to come from the state -- one reason the Legislature would need to return to work. But that tally doesn't begin to cover the damages to private homes and businesses.
Some members of the Republican caucus have suggested that they would like to use the special session to raise their concerns about recent political events -- particularly the secretary of state's decision to re-word the titles on the ballot questions they passed last session.
But House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, who toured the disaster area with other lawmakers and saw first-hand how the 500-year flood shattered communities, said a flood relief bill is no place to play politics.
"We all get in that sandbox and we punch pretty hard, and they punch back and elbows are sharp," Zellers said. "To bring this issue into that, I think would be a disservice to those people that have had their lives completely disrupted, completely upended, and have no idea where they're going to go, what they're going to do, how they're going to provide for themselves. I don't think that would be appropriate."
Dayton said the Legislature might also steer disaster aid to communities outside the flood zone; areas hit by earlier disasters, like the Sartell paper mill fire or the tornado that struck Wadena two years ago.