Notes from the Capitol

By Rep. Paul Anderson

The legislative session is rapidly drawing to a close with this being the last full week of work in St. Paul. There is sometimes talk of a special session to complete passage of major bills, but that likely won’t be the case this year because the two-year budget was set last year. The large surplus in state coffers made this seem more like a regular budget-setting session, but the reality is that there is nothing that absolutely needs to be done.

Usually, a bonding bill is the top priority during the even-numbered, non-budget years, and negotiations pertaining to that bill are getting serious. There is always give-and-take as both sides of the aisle promote projects in their respective members’ districts. The bonding bill is unique in that a super majority of 90 votes is needed for passage in the House, which gives the minority party some “say” in how the bill is put together. Numbers being mentioned as to the size of the bill are in the neighborhood of $1.4 billion. As usual in a bonding year, the dollar amount of requests from members far out-weighs that total.

Work in both chambers on major bills (additional spending because of the surplus) was wrapped up last week. Now, conference committees are in the process of attempting to reach agreement on the large spending differences in most of those bills. For the most part, spending contained in House bills far outweighs that which is in Senate versions.

An example is the drought relief bill passed many weeks ago in both chambers. The House version contains an additional spending item for the DNR for tree planting that is not contained in the Senate bill. That one item has pretty much stalled agreement on getting financial relief to farmers affected by last year’s dry weather.

Speaking of the weather, this spring has seen nearly a complete opposite from last year’s drought. After a cold and damp April, large parts of the state were hit with multiple storms this past week, saturating fields and causing massive power outages. Our farm received more rain from Sunday through Thursday of last week – nearly 5 inches – than we had during the entire growing season last year. Others received even more. Reports from the St. Martin and New London areas had upwards of 7 inches falling on Thursday alone!

Alert calls from the sheriff’s department that afternoon warned of winds up to 100 miles per hour in the storm heading our way. It hit with a vengeance, with straight line winds and rain blowing sideways. Many folks reported trees down, with pine trees seeming to be the main casualty. Grain bins were destroyed, as were many sheds and buildings on farms in a large area. Tornadoes were thought to be the cause of buildings going down in the Lowry and Sauk Centre areas.

Power outages were widespread, with the area roughly from Chokio on the west to Villard and points east being without power. In fact, as of Sunday night, some rural customers still didn’t have power restored. It reminds us, once again, how much our society depends on electricity. We drove into town the evening of the storm and it was eerily dark, with no street lights on, and everything closed, even the convenience stores and the Dairy Queen.