Capitol Update for April 20, 2007

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Ever wonder where the Easter bunny goes after the holiday?  Here’s John Tuma’s week update from the capitol:

“I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”
 Elwood P. Dowd (played by Jimmy Stewart) in the 1950 movie “Harvey”


Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorite actors, and one of his greatest roles was Elwood P. Dowd, the kind soul whose closest companion was an “imaginary” six-foot invisible rabbit named Harvey.  Most of Elwood’s family and friends could not grasp this strange behavior.  His loving aunt had a hard time explaining to people that this seemingly normal individual found it difficult leaving behind his best friend.  Sometimes I feel like Elwood’s aunt when trying to explain the legislative process to people.  They have a hard time believing that normal, sane people do some insane things when they are collectively within the legislative system.Take, for example, the House debate on the Environment, Energy and Commerce omnibus finance bill (SF2096) on the floor Tuesday of this week.  The first insanity that the general public cannot get their arms around is that SF2096 deals with everything from licensed mortgage originators, banking fees for ATMs, development of hydrogen fuel cells, terrestrial carbon sequestration, minnow farms, ATVs, fishing licenses, ditch buffers strip, and the list goes on.  The explanation here is rather simple:  policy bills are required to be a single subject, but finance bills track the accounts held by the agencies that make up the bill.  Because the environmental aspect of energy policy was a major focus for the new DFL majority in the House, they combined financial issues over at the Department of Commerce, which regulates energy policy, with that of the traditional environmental agencies of PCA, DNR, and the Board of Soil and Water Resources (BWSR).  The result was a bill with financial banks and wetland banks.

Last year the traditional environmental agencies were combined with the Departments of Agriculture and Economic Development to create an omnibus bill that was known as “frogs, hogs and jobs”.  This year the agricultural accounts were combined with Veteran Services.  Why Veteran Services?  Because Senator Vickerman is a very senior legislator who wants to oversee both of those accounts.  Now if I can only come up with short spiffy description of the environment bill this year.  Electrons, ATVs and ATMs?  It doesn’t quite have the same poetic ring as “frogs, hogs and jobs”.  All quite sane I assure you.

The second difficult thing for Joe Citizen to understand is the long arduous debates that go into the wee hours of the morning. The Environment, Energy and Commerce Omnibus Finance Bill set the record for the longest debate thus far this session, spanning 10 1/2 hours.  Within this marathon debate was an hour and twenty minutes on whether the DNR should allow minnow farms permission to use wetlands funded by duck stamp dollars.  Apparently the little fish devour most of the food necessary to support a duck making these minnow farm marshes veritable deserts for those waterfowls depicted on the duck stamps that help restore those very wetlands.  The amendment was adopted after being modified so the restriction only applied to new fish farm licenses.

Further taxing the sanity of the members and those that are duty-bound to watch them was the fact that there were about 43 total amendments offered to the Environment, Energy and Commerce Omnibus Finance Bill.  Most of these amendments were defeated after long drawn-out debates.  Two significant energy amendments were added to the bill: One requiring Xcel Energy to pay the renewable energy fund if they store nuclear waste in casks at their Monticello facility.  This amendment is similar to the one included in the Senate bill.  Another successful amendment would require Xcel Energy to provide additional information on the impact of their purchase of power from Manitoba Hydro as relates to the indigenous people.

In addition to the 43 amendments, there were three points of order, one motion to refer the bill back to committee, and one motion to lay the bill on the table.  (I have always wondered where this table was located for the laying down bills.) The House finally finished the bill just a little bit before 1 a.m. on the morning after starting their session at noon.  Of course adding to the insanity was the fact that they took up the Public Safety Bill after they completed the Environment, Energy and Commerce Omnibus Finance Bill.  They did not leave the floor until 5:30 a.m.

It is not uncommon to go into the late hours at the Legislature.  What is uncommon is that it happened this early in the session.  These late hours are typically reserved for the last few days of session toward the end of May.  One of the legislators visiting with us outside of the chambers around 1:30 a.m. made the comment that we were very committed lobbyists.  Our comment back was that we should be “committed” to an institution instead.  I can see why Elwood P. Dowd had a friend named Harvey.  I actually saw that rabbit down in the Capitol Rotunda sometime around 12:30 a.m. 

Adding to the tension of the debate was the Republican minority invoking the four-letter word starting with “V” (VETO).  They indicated that the Environment, Energy and Commerce bill was destined for a veto but never really identified why, other than that it was too much money.  They did indicate that the Agriculture and Veterans Affairs bill was apparently acceptable to the Governor even though it has not gone through conference committee.  Before the week is out, the members of the conference committee should be appointed for both the Environment, Energy and Commerce bill and the Agriculture and Veterans Affairs bill. 

If you are not ready to talk to big rabbits named Harvey yet, let me add a couple more things to the mix.  The Senate passed their Omnibus Energy Policy Bill on Wednesday.  It included the watered-down language regarding global warming pollution.  It set goals for the development of global warming pollution regulations and called for a study of our electrical energy needs now that the energy efficiency and RES have passed. 

Actually the energy efficiency has not passed the full Legislature because it awaits final approval from the House and the Governor.  Clean Energy Minnesota actually supported the passage of the Omnibus Energy Policy Bill, but we are not supportive of the package as it stands.  Again, all quite sane I assure you.  Essentially the bill has some good first steps, but it fails to address the question of permitting new coal power plants without requiring them to offset their new carbon emissions prior to the final development of the global warming pollution regulations.  Our hope is that the passage by the Senate will allow that discussion to occur in the House and the conference committee.  Hopefully in the end we will have a bill that we can fully support.

Finally, we have received word that next week the House will actually give the dedicated funding bill its first committee hearing even though we are past committee deadlines.  The rules allow the House to violate the rule prohibiting committee action after the deadline set by the rules so long as they get approval from the Rules Committee.  Also, the Senate Tax Committee has indicated they will take up their version of the dedicated funding bill on Tuesday.  The Senate Tax Committee will be the toughest test for the dedicated funding bill in the Senate. 

The Green Team is counting on your help for the final push.  We hope to see up at the Capitol.  If you see me, please feel free to give me a greeting.  I’ll be the one in the corner of the committee room talking to the six-foot rabbit named Harvey. 



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