Capitol comeback: Legislature reconvenes for special session

With the clock ticking, the Minnesota Legislature is getting back to work in St. Paul. And for the first time in a year, the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association literally has its feet on the ground again in the Capitol to advocate for its members.

“It’s been nice to be back in the building,” said MSGA lobbyist Cory Bennett, who hadn’t walked the halls of the Capitol since March 2020.

With a potential government shutdown looming, Gov. Tim Walz extended his emergency powers and called the legislature to a special session on June 14 to agree on the state’s $52 billion biennial budget. The governor signaled a hopeful tone heading into the budget negotiations. If the state doesn’t agree on a budget by June 30, the state government (including state parks) will shut down July 1.

“I’m super optimistic. … that we’re getting some compromises reached,” Walz said. “With absolute confidence, we’ll be done by the deadline of the first of July. Whether we’ll be done next week or not, we’ll see.”

Bennett said neither party would benefit from a shutdown heading into the Fourth of July weekend.

“Leadership on both sides are going to do everything they can to avert a shutdown,” Bennett said. “It doesn’t benefit anybody. No wins with a shutdown, and the legislature certainly has enough time to get this done.”

None of the budget bills have been passed, but the agriculture finance bill typically enjoys bipartisan approval and is often one of the first measures to pass.

Policy and funding items of interest to MSGA members in the ag finance bill include

• No fee increases
• No additional restrictions on agricultural related products
• $7.0 million for biofuels infrastructure
• $100,000 to Northern Crops Institute
• $30.5 million for AGRI
• $18.6 million for AGREET
• $450,000 for noxious weed program
• $594,000 for farm mental health advocates

Before the regular session ended, a policy-only, compromise omnibus agriculture bill that included changes to the state’s cottage food law has already received legislative approval, despite a disagreement over changes to the Board of Animal Health.

“We’re thankful we’re not seeing any additional pesticide fees,” MSGA Executive Director Joe Smentek said. “Some years you’re grateful for things that aren’t in the bill.”

Rural broadband wasn’t included in the Ag Finance Bill but is expected to be part of the bonding bill. The tax bill has been agreed upon, and includes PPP tax conformity, one of MSGA’s top legislative priorities in 2021. Bennett anticipates that despite disagreements over health care and public safety, the legislature and Gov. Walz will finish completing the people’s business before the July 1 deadline.

“They have a lot to get done, but they have time to get it done and they will,” he said. “As we get closer to the end of June, there will be substantial compromise, but I think the budget will get into place.”

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