April 3, 2009
Legislature Races Towards Deadline
Faced with a midnight April 7 deadline for passage of all bills out of all policy committees, the pace of legislative activity was hectic over the past week. Legislative agendas changed on a daily basis and the House and Senate met in full session regularly to expedite referral of bills from one committee to another. Work has also begun on the Omnibus tax and appropriation bills for the 2009-2010 legislative session. The Legislature will take a break for the Easter/Passover holiday beginning Wednesday, April 8 and returning on Tuesday, April 14 at noon.
Bonding Bill Makes Way through House of Representatives
A $200 million House bonding bill is making its way to the floor this week. The bill includes $55.2 million for Minnesota state colleges and universities, $23 million for the University of Minnesota, $29 million in transportation projects, and a $20 million expansion for a sex offender program.
The House bonding bill falls $129 million short of the Senate version. The House and Senate versions are destined to meet in conference committee to reconcile the differences between the two measures. House Capital Investment Committee Chair Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) is the author of the House bill. Before members voted on Tuesday in the House Finance Committee, Hausman stated that she wished funding could be much higher, and acknowledged that she had to cut many projects she had hoped to include in the bill. Governor Tim Pawlenty called the House version "a step in the right direction," and said his office would be meeting with Hausman and Senate Capital Investment Chair Keith Langseth (DFL-Glyndon) to prioritize projects within the boundaries of the funding.
$600 Million to Roads, Bridges Ready for Use
Governor Tim Pawlenty signed legislation on Wednesday authorizing Minnesota to spend nearly $600 million of federal stimulus funds on roads, bridges, and transit projects. MnDOT told lawmakers that heavy construction will begin in early May. The Legislature approved the spending authorization without singling out specific projects, but prioritization will be based on shovel-ready projects in order to maximize job growth.
Primary Seat Belt Law in House
A bill that would strengthen penalties for not wearing a seat belt in Minnesota has cleared two committees in the House of Representatives. The legislation would make not wearing a seat belt a "primary offense," much like speeding. Under current Minnesota law, a driver cannot be stopped by police for simply not wearing the seat belt. The bill would allow police officers to stop and ticket drivers if they see them without a seat belt. Under current law, a seat belt must be worn by the driver, front seat passengers, and any passengers under age 11 in a vehicle's back seat. The Primary Seat Belt Law would also eliminate the exemption for back-seat passengers. Approximately two-dozen states have passed similar measures. A companion bill has been included in the Senate Transportation Policy Omnibus Bill, carried by Senator Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing).
Minnesota Senate Votes to Repeal Nuclear Moratorium
The Minnesota Senate voted 42-24 Thursday to repeal the ban on new construction of nuclear power facilities. The state passed a moratorium on any new nuclear plants in 1994, but the Senate vote would repeal that ban. The action came as an amendment to an omnibus energy bill. Those in favor of removing the moratorium said that Minnesota needs to be open to the possibility of new nuclear plants in order to find alternative energy sources.
Opponents of the bill, including Senator Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul), argued that it is wrong to suggest that nuclear power is cleaner or cheaper than alternative energy sources. "Yes, it has no carbon emissions and that's a good thing," Anderson said. "But highly toxic radioactive waste is a byproduct of this nuclear power and we don't know what to do with it."
Anderson and other opponents of the bill argued against the expansion of nuclear power until the issue of nuclear waste is dealt with properly. A House committee turned down a bill to repeal the moratorium last week after six hours of testimony and debate.
For up-to-date information about the Minnesota Legislature, tune into Almanac: At the Capitol. This lively and informative program is aired Wednesdays during the legislative session on Twin Cities Public Television at 7:00 PM on Channel 17 and at 10:00 PM on Channel 2.
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