Spotlight on Session: Legislative Updates 4/8/2016

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It’s a rapid fire legislative session. Bills move fast. There’s a lot to pack in during a session only 11 weeks long. Today was an important deadline – from here on out, the focus will be on cleaning up the finance aspects of the legislation.

MPCA Citizens’ Board: Since the midnight abolition of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen’s Board at the end of the last session, many legislators have been focused on reinstating the Citizens Board. This is highly critical because up until the end of the 2015, the Citizens Board was the decision making body for the MPCA. Four different bills were introduced in the Senate to reinstate the board, and Senator Marty’s bill moved forward. As of now there is not a companion bill in the House. The bill is moving forward to the Finance Committee on the Senate side. 

Sustainable Economic Development: A bill that’s moving forward with a good chance of passage is Border-to-Border Broadband funding, which would provide funding to support broadband infrastructure in greater Minnesota. Access to broadband expands economic development outside of mining in greater Minnesota. Both the House and the Senate are interested in funding border-to-border broadband, though they disagree about the level of funding. The Governor and Senate are proposing $100 million in funding for broadband in greater Minnesota, and the House is proposing $28 million. This means that both parties are interested in funding this, and will need to come to a compromise on the extent of funding. Watch for a post in upcoming weeks about what this means for the environment.

Perennial Biofuels: We are excited to report that the Working Lands Watershed Restoration and Perennial Biofuels funding bill is moving forward in both the Senate and the House. Last session, a bill was passed into law that incentivized the addition of perennial biofuels to operating biofuel production plants. However, there was no mechanism for incentivizing biofuel growers to grow the perennial crops needed to meet the perennial biofuel production incentive. This bill would close this gap, and create a monetary incentive to Minnesota growers for producing the perennial grasses to be used in the next generation of cellulosic biofuels production. This will help to grow our agricultural economy, and make ethanol production in Minnesota more sustainable. 

Forever Green: As we enter the finance-focused portion of session, we will be focusing more and more on our Forever Green funding initiative. Forever Green is a program at the University of Minnesota developing cover crops and alternative crops for Minnesota farmers. These crops are critical to increasing the amount of continuous living cover on our farmlands and expand profitable cropping options for farmers. Cover crops greatly reduce runoff and nutrient pollution from farmland, protecting our waters. This is a program at the University of Minnesota that fund graduate student research in cutting-edge agriculture technology. The Forever Green initiative has received funding for one year for the last two years, and the goal this year is to secure long-term funding. It’s difficult to plan research, and attract graduate students, when the funding needs to be renewed every year. We want to make funding for the Forever Green Initiative stable. 

Transportation: Finally, we are still seeking long term funding dedicated to multi-modal transportation infrastructure repairs and improvements. This would include funding for roads, bridges, public transportation systems, and safe biking and walking connections across the state. Much of this will play out under financial negotiation. Some legislators are arguing that we should spend half of the budget surplus on transportation infrastructure, and we need to make sure that public transit is included.

We still have several weeks left in the session, and we will keep you updated on how these critical initiatives move forward.

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