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Local issues find way into Senate

WORTHINGTON -- Sen. Bill Weber will help push for state aid to cities affected by the April ice storm.

"The District 22 House members are pursuing that over there, and I am pursuing that in the Senate side," Weber said during a phone interview Wednesday morning.

President Obama signed a federal disaster declaration last week, authorizing up to 75 percent of eligible expenses be covered. The April 9-11 ice storm caused more than $26 million in damages.

"That's a lot of money. The reality of it is that we look at our communities and we look at tree damage, we'll be picking up wood for a couple of years as a result of this storm," Weber said. "The branches that have been weakened will fall next year or the year after, whatever the case might be."

When Gov. Mark Dayton visited the area days after the storm, he had pledged the state's help.

"When disaster strikes, we're all Minnesotans, not Republicans or Democrats, and we will do what we need to do to make you whole again," Dayton said during the April 13 meeting.

Currently, Weber is helping push legislation through to supplement the federal funding.

"The legislation is being drafted to have the state fill in the 25 percent share, which has been a fairly customary practice in disaster situations before," Weber said. "Our goal is to try to get it pushed through yet this session rather than have to come back for a special session."

Weber said there was talk of waiting to see about the flood situation in northwest Minnesota before moving forward with relief.

"However, in light of the fact those flood situations really did not occur and, at this stage, unless there is an unusual circumstance, don't appear they will occur to the extent they were concerned about," Weber said. "We're going to try and get state authorization through yet during the regular session."

But he knows there is still a lot of recovery work to be done.

"But the main thing is, even though we've gotten power to a lot of customers, a lot of those fixes are temporary, and we really need to make sure the system is fully repaired as soon as possible so even modest storms don't cause significant outage," Weber said.

To help offset costs, Rep. Rod Hamilton had pushed an amendment through the House to allow cities that declared a disaster to have Local Government Aid payments early. It has not yet been presented in the Senate.

"I contacted the chair of the Senate Tax Committee with an email and also personally if they would consider doing that," Weber said. "He certainly seemed to be willing to consider that. Basically, what I was asking for was in the joint conference process, that amendment be allowed to stay in place."

BAC money on hold

While this year is not typically a year for a bonding bill, one has been discussed in the legislature.

However, it appears that bill may not move forward.

"I can't say for sure, because I don't get invited to the meetings where those things are determined," Weber said. "But I know the majority leader in the Senate is not in favor of a major bonding bill. Even though the House and the governor are, right now it seems to be caught up in the differences of opinion between the leadership in the majority party."

For Worthington, that means the money asked for to complete the Biotechnology Advancement Center (BAC) may not be granted.

"Right now, obviously, that goes through the bonding bill," Weber said. "Looking at some of the reports this morning, it seems as though the bonding bill might be in trouble as far as having any type of a comprehensive bonding bill. The fate of that money will be tied to the fate of the bonding bill. Right now, it seems there may be a chance there may not be a bonding bill come forward."

The city had asked for $313,947.17. The money was originally granted, but not used. Now, Worthington wants the money to be reauthorized to complete the lab portion of the BAC.

"This is not a typical bonding year, it would typically be next year," Weber said. "I know that I have heard the majority leader say in private conversations that they wanted to include money for the Capitol restorations in the regular budget and thereby not having any other reason to have a bonding bill in his opinion. We're going to have to wait and see how that tracks."

Other issues

The legislature has many issues to discuss before it is scheduled to adjourn on May 20.

"There is a lot to do," Weber said. "I'm not in control of the schedule, so we'll wait and see. I'm not going to be making any forecasts as to that. It would seem to me that it would be very hard for them not to close the session on time. But we'll have to see what happens."

Among those items are the minimum wage increase and same-sex marriage.

The marriage bill could be sent to the Senate by the end of the week.

"As I understand it, it's coming up in the House on Thursday, and then depending upon when the debate ends on that, it could get to the Senate on Saturday or Monday if it goes through the House," Weber said. "You would assume, if they are taking it up, they have the votes for it. But we'll wait and see what develops."

If it does make it to the Senate, Weber said he will vote against it.

"I will vote no on the gay marriage bill; 72.5 percent of Senate district 22 voted for the marriage amendment last year," he said. "That was fairly consistent, that kind of a percentage varied a little bit across our district. But it was pretty consistent across the district. I will vote no on that bill."

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.