The Minnesota Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved $893,000 in emergency state funds to respond to the avian flu outbreak, although a political squabble over a non-related provision attached to the legislation by the DFL's Senate majority may slow down distribution of the money.
The House passed the avian flu money on Thursday. It's divided into two pots: $514,000 for the state Department of Agriculture, and $379,000 for the state Board of Animal Health.
"There is some urgency," Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, said Tuesday during Senate debate.
Dahle noted that the number of Minnesota turkey farms affected by the outbreak has been rising; it most recently was tallied at 28 farms in 14 counties. Minnesota is the nation's largest turkey producer.
However, a day earlier in Senate Finance Committee, DFL senators attached a provision that would move up a yearly date on which the Minnesota Management and Budget office reports the size of the state's budget reserve to legislators. Backers said it's meant to give lawmakers more time to prepare for the legislative session and the scope of resources available.
On Monday, House Speaker Kurt Daudt released a statement saying he did not want unrelated measures attached to the avian flu money. "The legislature has a tradition of not adding unrelated provisions to disaster relief and emergency response bills," Daudt said.
That makes a House-Senate conference committee on the bill likely, meaning a likely delay of several days in getting the bill to the desk of Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature. At a news conference Tuesday just ahead of the Senate action, Dayton praised lawmakers for acting quickly on the measure.
GOP senators warned in Tuesday's floor debate that the provision added by Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, would slow down the progress of the avian flu money. DFL senators united to defeat a GOP amendment to remove the unrelated measure.
"This provision you're talking about has nothing to do with avian flu," said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. Neglecting to strip it out "will delay disaster relief to the farmers of this state."
(This post has been updated)
The Minnesota Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to exclude state tax dollars from being spent on a proposed new soccer stadium near downtown Minneapolis.
The widely bipartisan, 61-4 vote in favor of the ban came during debate on a broad budget bill covering state departments and operations. The Senate later approved the full bill, but a companion House bill funding state government does not currently include the soccer stadium provision.
The amendment's effect may be largely symbolic in any case. The private group that's landed a Major League Soccer franchise has not asked for a direct state subsidy, and the Senate amendment does not tie the hands of elected officials in Hennepin County or Minneapolis, who are likely to be involved in funding talks.
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, proposed the ban in the form of amendment clarifying that "no state funds may be appropriated or tax expenditures used to fund the construction of a new major league soccer stadium."
A private ownership group led by Dr. Bill McGuire has landed a Major League Soccer franchise and is eyeing a site near the Minneapolis Farmer's Market for a stadium for the Minnesota United FC. The group met last week with legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton, and indicated they'd be seeking a property tax exemption and a sales tax break on construction materials for the new stadium.
The sales tax exemption would carry a price tag of about $3 million, against a private investment of around $250 million.
Monday's overwhelming Senate vote was yet another sign the group has a tough road ahead in seeking any public support, however small. Dayton, DFL and GOP leaders at the Capitol and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges have all previously voiced opposition to a public component to the plan.
No proposal for public involvement in stadium construction has been introduced in either the Senate or House.
The Minnesota Senate again rejected a push to repeal the state’s 80-year-old ban on Sunday liquor sales by a closer-than-ever margin, while a measure to allow the Sunday sale of growlers from taprooms became a step closer to law
After an hour-long debate, the Senate voted down the measure, 35-28. The amendment brought forward by Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, was part of the Senate’s omnibus liquor bill, which easily passed the Senate, 51-11. The measure includes Sunday sales of growlers from taprooms, and the “Bloody Mary bill,” which allows the 8 a.m. Sunday sales of liquor from bars and restaurants instead of 10 a.m.
Kent's amendment included a ban on Sunday liquor deliveries in efforts to appease the Teamsters, who have long stood in opposition to Sunday liquor sales.
Despite the defeat, advocates for Sunday sales say that there’s still hope this session, pointing toward a potential House vote and the fact that six votes were gained this year. Last year, the Senate voted down a Sunday sales amendment 42-22. The House in 2013 rejected a similar measure 106-21.
“The short answer is, the House is the next step,” said Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, a Sunday sales proponent. “If they can pass it, it goes into conference committee; I think we’ll get it this year.”
Though the debate was filled with the usual pro and anti-Sunday sales arguments, a number of lawmakers pushed for supporting Sunday sales if only because a repeal of the ban is inevitable.
“It’s not ever if this happens, it’s when,” said Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. “…It’s going to happen eventually. Let’s get this issue behind us and move on.”
Others remained steadfast in their opposition to the measure, like Sen. Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, who repeated a concern heard among many lawmakers that a move will harm small businesses, and that she’s voting against it.
Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said he would back the amendment with some hesitation. He was told by liquor store owners in his district that being open Sundays would not create higher profits, but he disagrees that small liquor stores really have a choice. Big box stores with more resources will force smaller stores to stay open to remain competitive, he added.
"I’m going to support it because I think the consumer has changed and our society has changed, but let’s not fool ourselves that this is a free market stand." he said.
Before the vote, Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, who led the push for Sunday sales, praised the thorough, constructive debate.
“This is the kind of conversation Minnesotans watch and feel good about,” he said.
Kent, acknowledged the Sunday sales momentum as part of organized lobbying efforts, but said it’s more than that.
“It feels like neighbors. Yes, there are obviously organized efforts like on Twitter, but it’s individuals who are speaking up,” she said, adding that the effort was not dead. “It’s still April so it’s not done yet.”
Note: An earlier version of this post misstated Sen. Eric Pratt's Sunday sales vote. He supported the measure.
Top researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School made their case to legislators Tuesday for a $30 million infusion they say will help spur medical innovations and help develop cures for diseases such as HIV and prostate cancer.
The Senate's higher education omnibus bill, which lawmakers are finalizing this week, will include the $30 million for the medical school, said Higher Education Committee Chair Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonak, who called it a "significant investment.
Bonoff and members of her committee heard a brief presentation by Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, and U Medical School researchers who testified that the increased state funding will help elevate the school's standing nationally.
Cohen said that if the school doesn't receive the money, it would threaten its ability to retain high-caliber researchers who could leave for other top ranked medical schools or universities.
The medical school, which ranked in the top 15 in National Institutes of Health funding in the 1970s and ’80s, since has dropped to 30th nationally and 12th among public medical schools — which resulted in a drop in NIH funding.
Officials blame the drop on the loss of 90 tenured and tenure-track faculty from 1995-2001. U Medical School Dean Dr. Brooks Jackson said restoring the faculty could boost Minnesota’s ranking from 30th to 20th in as little as five years.
"This [the additional funding] is important if we want to elevate the stature of the medical school," Jackson told legislators. "This proposal will go a long way in getting us there."
The additional money would pay for 50 research faculty members over the course of eight years, improving research and attracting the best and brightest students.
Dr. Badrinath R. Konety, a specialist in bladder and prostate cancer, told lawmakers that many experts in his field were trained at the University of Minnesota, which had gained a strong reputation for research on the types of cancers he specializes in.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk reiterated that a push to repeal the state’s 80-year-old ban on Sunday liquor sales is still a long shot from becoming law this session, despite renewed confidence from House Speaker Kurt Daudt that the measure has a 50-50 chance at clearing his chamber—and that if it does, it will become law.
“Unlikely,” Bakk said succinctly following Monday’s Senate floor session. He said the measure’s highest hurdle is in the House, which last took up Sunday sales as a floor amendment in 2013. It was soundly defeated, 106-21. A similar floor amendment also failed in the senate last session, 42-22.
“Two years ago when Sunday sales was offered in the House, it had 21 votes, and not that many faces changed over there.” Bakk said. “I’d be surprised.”
Although several Sunday Sales repeal measures have been introduced, they’ve gained little traction outside a House informational hearing last week, with no votes taken. However, it’s expected to come up as a floor amendment.
Bakk, who has long opposed a repeal, didn’t rule out its chances in the Senate.
“I don’t know where the votes are in the Senate;” I think it’s fairly close,” he said. “I expect it to be offered on the floor, but I’ve always thought the harder path was over on the House side.”
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