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Preparing for special session, Minnesota lawmakers voice frustrations

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: August 28, 2013 - 9:23 PM

In preparing for a September legislative session to pay the state's share of repairing the damage left behind by June storms, lawmakers let their frustration fly.

"There is nothing fair about disaster relief," said Rep Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. Hausman's home county of Ramsey, right now, isn't eligible for disaster relief because its damage didn't reach the needed threshold for federal aid.

Rep. Michael Beard noted the state has to spend a lot of time helping local governments get every detail right in order to get federal disaster aid.

"That's maddening. That's very frustrating," said Beard, R-Shakopee.

In an evening meeting on Thursday night of an legislative disaster relief working group, lawmakers heard that what will be covered under the $4.5 million estimate of the state's share of the disaster tab for the June storms is still unclear, some of the money may not be spent for years and that cost estimates change.

"It's an imperfect approach," Hausman said.

It's an approach that the state has had to use again and again of late.

The June storm was the nineteenth major disaster Minnesota has experienced since 2000 and the sixth in the last three years, said Kris Eide, Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management director.

The June wind and rain storm created about $18 million worth of damage across the state. Lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton agreed last week to a one-day special session on Sept. 9 to allocate the $4.5 million worth of disaster relief cash, the local share to pay for recovery. The state expects that the entire $4.5 million will come from transferring unneeded allocations left over from previous disaster relief allocations.

Although the leaders discussed the possibility of including other issues during the session, including a potential repeal of some new business to business sales taxes, but decided to leave that fight for next year's regular session.

That decision doesn't mean that lawmakers won't try to bring up other matters.

"There are members that are interested in introducing legislation, knowing full well that they won't be taken up," said Rep. Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville.

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