Rotunda Ramblings: Session Stuck in Holding Pattern

There is always a time in the session when we get to “hurry up and wait.” Last week was that time. All Finance bills cleared the House floor by Monday, May 4, including the Ag Finance bill. No targets were given until late Friday, May 8. Only a few committees received those and even then they remained unannounced publicly. Therefore, little public decisions were made last week. A few conference committees met but little progress was made due to the lack of spending targets.

The big decisions were left for the leadership over the weekend by the Governor, Speaker and Senate Majority leader during the fishing opener. No final resolution seemed to have been met during that time. Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has been seen entering the Senate majority leaders’ office this week, along with several aides.

Senator Tom Bakk, DFL-Duluth, has indicated through a press conference that there may be no tax or transportation bill. He is attempting to leverage approval of a tax bill, which is a House priority against an increase in gas tax revenue, which is a Senate priority. Presently, hardline Republicans within the House caucus will not support a gas tax revenue increase and House Democrats seem to be unwilling to provide any votes to help out the Senate Democrats’ position. House DFL Minority Leader Paul Thissen, Minneapolis, is probably more interested in laying blame on the House Republican majority for a failed session.

With May 18 as the final day of session, things need to move. No conference committee meeting has yet been set for the Environment and Ag Finance bill. The first meeting is expected Thursday. Given the circumstances, most of the final agreement will likely be made privately. No public targets have been announced, but a small increase over the House target is expected. The final number is expected to be less than the Senate.

Unlike many years when we are at this point, little talk of a “Special Session” has been heard. Part of that is because the Capitol is scheduled to be physically shut down by contractors as soon as the regular session ends.

We are in a waiting game for at least another day.

Biodiesel signage addressed in Ag Policy bill

The top legislative priority for the MN Biodiesel Council in 2015 has been to address the issue the Department of Commerce raised on advertising signage for blends above 5 percent.

At the conclusion of the 2014 session, the Department of Commerce notified stakeholders that they interpret the law to read that any station that dispenses fuel with more than 5 percent biodiesel must change all their advertising signs to read “biodiesel blend.” This would obviously create a large and unnecessary cost for fuel stations.

The department included language in their Weights and Measures Omnibus bill that stated any fuel approved by the EPA for use in a diesel engine could be advertised as diesel fuel. There is still a requirement to post the FTC sticker on the pump.

The Senate bill was passed off of the floor, but it stalled in the House. This week, the language was unanimously added to the Omnibus Agriculture Policy bill in the House and should be taken up in the Senate soon.

Some representatives from the fuel industry want to look at using ASTM standards rather than EPA approved fuels. MN Biodiesel Council is open to this approach as long as it fixes the signage issue and will continue to work with them and the department.

A.J. Duerr contributed to this biodiesel report.