Legislature OKs ice storm funding
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Legislature decided to renovate the state Capitol building, help communities fight floods, give veterans a new facility and provide disaster assistance Monday night as it ended its 2013 session.
Some votes were pending press time, but legislative leaders had negotiated details to finish lawmakers' work as their constitutional midnight deadline neared.
The key to the session-ending deal is a $177 million public works bill, funded by the state selling bonds. Once House and Senate leaders from both parties agreed to the bonding bill, a day-long logjam broke, allowing other bills to pass.
The House passed the public works bill 121-10 and the Senate 57-6.
The biggest portion of the bonding bill is fixing the state Capitol, a $132 million expenditure.
"Our Capitol is the symbol of Minnesota, let it stand solid and strong to serve generations of Minnesotans long into the future," Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said.
The 108-year-old building's walls are crumbling and state officials say mechanical systems need to be replaced.
Also in the bill is $20 million for flood prevention projects, $19 million for a Minneapolis Veterans' Home building and $8 million for various sewage projects.
Once the bonding bill passed, the door opened for spending $1.75 million to help southwestern Minnesota recover from an April ice storm.
At press time, votes were nearing on a bill funding various state agencies and a tax bill raising $2 billion. Both were expected to pass.
Rapid-fire late Monday action occurred after a day when the major bills stalled as legislative leaders negotiated them.
The final hours of the session produced a flurry of activity and the final days provided most of the session's major headlines: higher taxes, more state spending and gay marriage authorization.
As major budget bills that make up the state's $38 billion, two-year budget came up for debate, many lawmakers complained that the final versions of the bills from House-Senate negotiators arrived too late for them to know much about them.
"I'm finding out you get these bills seconds before you have to vote on them," first-year lawmaker Rep. Steve Green, R- Fosston, said, calling it "distributing."
Lawmakers wrapped up most of Democrats' priorities as they neared their deadline. But they also left undone other priorities such as a school anti-bullying bill, a broad public works funding bill, a minimum wage increase and gun control.
Among the last bills was a $1.75 million measure to provide the state's portion of repair after a southwestern Minnesota ice storm in April. Federal funds will pay three-fourths of the public property damage repair.
The bill overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate.
Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, told senators there is $6 million in public property damage, but more than $20 million in damage overall.
The bonding bill also looks to prevent future disasters. It spends $20 million for flood prevention work in Ada, Afton, Alvarado, Argyle, Austin, Borup, Breckenridge, Browntown, Climax, Crookston, Delano, Granite Falls, Inver Grove Heights, Maynard, Melrose, Minneota, Minnesota River area, Montevideo, Moorhead, Newport Nielsville, Oakport Township, Oslo, Roseau, Rushford, St. Vincent and Shelley. The bill says Moorhead should get priority for funds needs.
While the Capitol is the headline project in the bonding bill, a $22.7 million parking ramp nearby also is funded.
As time ran out on the session, a 10-hour debate, spread over the last three days, about allowing some child care providers and personal care attendants to join unions ended with conflict.
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, announced that the bill won on a 68-66 vote, prompting loud applause and cheers from union supporters in the House gallery. Such demonstrations violate House rules.
Thissen began to gavel down the demonstration, sternly yelling: "Stop, stop."
Several Republicans began to protest the demonstration and Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, jumped up and shouted into his microphone: "Just let them applaud, they own the place."