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The $167.5 million package provides relief for Minnesota communities affected by summer floods and windstorms.
(Published Aug 24, 2012)
The Legislature convened on Friday, Aug. 24, and in less than two hours approved a $167.5 million disaster relief package. The package, introduced as HF 1 and SF 1, provides relief for communities affected by the June flooding events in northeastern Minnesota and other areas of the state, and the early July windstorm that impacted north central Minnesota.
Only the governor can call a special session, but once the Legislature convenes, it can take any action it wishes. Because of this dynamic, the Legislature and governor traditionally reach agreement regarding the size and scope of a special session prior to it being called.
The sides finally reached such an agreement on Aug. 22. The agreement pared down the governor’s request from $189 million to $167.5 million, and the sides also agreed that no amendments would be made to the package.
The House Ways and Means Committee met at 9 a.m. on Aug. 24 to review and discuss the legislation, and the Senate Finance Committee met at 10 a.m. Both committees heard from state agency staff and local government officials from the affected areas. The full Legislature convened at 2 p.m. The House adjourned sine die at approximately 3 p.m. after passing the measure on a vote of 125-3, and the Senate adjourned about an hour later after voting 60-7 for passage. The legislation is expected to be signed by Gov. Dayton when it reaches his desk.
Agreement didn’t come easy
When the Disaster Relief Working Group met on Aug. 16 to discuss in more detail Gov. Dayton’s draft emergency response bill, it was not clear whether the governor and Legislature would reach an agreement in time for the governor to call a special session on Aug. 24.
The sides had tentatively agreed to the date, but had not reached agreement on the scope of the disaster relief package. During the task force meeting, representatives from the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), and the Department of Transportation testified regarding specific provisions of the governor’s approximately $189 million proposal.
Republicans expressed particular concern over proposed language that would allow money in the Minnesota Investment Fund (MIF) to be used “to prevent the loss of jobs or other catastrophes.” Gov. Dayton is requesting $20 million for MIF. Money from MIF is used to help businesses recover from disasters, although DEED testified that under the proposal the money used to prevent job loss would not have to be directly related to a disaster. This would be a departure from past disaster relief legislation.
During the first task force meeting on Aug. 7, one member expressed “sticker shock” at the size of the proposal, which would be considerably larger than past disaster relief packages. Much of the media coverage focused on the potential partisan dispute over the size of the package, and members of the task force again returned to this theme as members debated the size and scope of the proposal.