Minnesota solar manufacturers scored a perk and bicyclists secured rights as part of new transportation policies passed Thursday by the state House of Representatives.
The solar perk requires that solar panels installed in buildings, roads and bridges by the Minnesota Department of Transportation be made in Minnesota.
An attempt by Republicans to kill the “Made in Minnesota” mandate failed 70-56. The provision remained in the House version of the transportation policy bill that passed 77-47 and now must be reconciled with a Senate version, which does not include the solar mandate.
The mandate was sought by legislators from the Iron Range, where one of the state’s two solar manufacturing firms is located.
They argued that the mandate was needed to create jobs, “a really hard thing to do, and it’s extra hard in northeast Minnesota,” said Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township.
Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, said the perk was necessary for Minnesota solar firms to compete with cheaper Chinese products.
But Republicans assailed the mandate, saying it would “rob” taxpayers by forcing MnDOT to buy a more expensive panel whether it was needed or not.
“This is a really bad policy,” said Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, adding that the entire transportation policy bill should be rejected if the mandate survived.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, accused Iron Range legislators of having a history of “putting stuff like this in bills that don’t work.”
Another GOP member referred to campaign contributions made by the California operators of the Iron Range firm, Silicon Energy, to Iron Range legislators.
The solar mandate and any other differences between the House and Senate versions of the transportation policy bills will force the measures to a conference committee, said a staffer for Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Bike safety provision stays
In other House action on the transportation policy bill, the cultural battle over bicycle rights and road safety rolled on.
The House rejected a move led by Republican legislators to limit a proposal requiring motorists to signal when turning into a bike lane. Instead of applying the requirement statewide, the GOP lawmakers wanted it restricted to Minneapolis and other major cities.
The GOP move failed 68-57.
The House bill mirrors the Senate counterpart in prohibiting cars from using bike lanes to pass other vehicles, requiring drivers to use a turn signal when crossing a bike lane to turn and prohibiting them from parking in a bike lane unless permitted by signs.