Rotunda Ramblings: Session Swings into Gear

Session Kickoff

Tuesday, Jan. 6, marked the beginning of the 89th legislative session with a floor session devoted to procedural business and marked by pledges of bipartisan cooperation from leaders of the Republican majority and the DFL minority. As expected, Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) was elected House speaker on a 72-62 party-line roll call vote.

 Big changes in the House

With the changing of the guard in the House, with Republicans gaining control, all committee chairs will be different than last year.

Republicans have reinstated Agricultural Finance as a separate committee. Democrats, two years ago, had eliminated that appropriations division and combined it in a committee which had been dominated by metropolitan and environmental interests.

 In addition, a separate policy committee for agriculture has been established. A separate policy committee had existed during the past two years but prior to that time it had often been combined with other issue areas.

 The bottom line is that, at least on paper, agriculture has been given a larger “seat at the table” than it has for a number of years.

 The new majority is much more rural dominated than past majorities. The following Chairs are all from rural Minnesota:

  • Taxes: Rep. Greg Davids (Preston)
  • Agricultural Finance division: Rod Hamilton (Mountain Lake)
  • Aging and Long term Care: Joe Schoemaker (Luverne)
  • Agriculture policy: Paul Anderson (Starbuck)
  • Capital Investment: Paul Torkelson (Hanska)
  • Education Innovation policy: Sondra Erickson (Princeton)
  • Environment and Natural Resources policy and finance; Denny McNamara (Hastings)
  • Greater Minnesota Economic and Workforce Development Policy: Bob Gunther (Fairmont)
  • Higher Education Policy and Finance: Bud Nornes (Fergus Falls)
  • Transportation policy and finance Tim Kelly (Red Wing)
  • Legacy Funding Finance Dean Urdahl (Grove City)
  • Public Safety and Crime Prevention policy and finance Tony Cornish (Vernon Center)
  • Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division Steve Drazkowski (Mazeppa)

 Senate remains the same

The Senate was not up for election this past fall and therefore no changes will take place there. The Senate is DFL controlled. The Senate DFL caucus has traditionally had a larger rural influence than the House under DFL control. Several of the Senate DFL chairs come from areas outside the metropolitan area including the following:

  • Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Budget Division Senator David Tommasonni (Chisholm)
  • Jobs, Agriculture, and Rural Development Senator Dan Sparks (Austin)
  • Rules and Administration Senator Tom Bakk (Cook)
  • Taxes Senator Rod Skoe (Clearbrook)
  • Capital Investment Senator Leroy Stumpf (Plummer)

Commodity Coalition finds common ground on Agricultural agenda

Since the November elections, MSGA has been working with a significant number of farm related organizations, both crop and livestock, to develop and coalesce an agricultural agenda that could capitalize on the improved rural climate at the legislature. This past week a semi-final document was agreed to that would allow leadership of the various organizations to take back to their respective members.

The objectives of the agenda would be to provide:

  1. New funding and farmer accountability for agricultural research
  2. Direct funding for roads and bridges at a county and township level
  3. Improve from a farmers perspective regulatory oversight in several areas
  4. Reduction of farm property tax burdens
  5. Support for a U of Minn. Animal Isolation Unit
  6. Improve agricultural education availability and technology transfer
  7. Increase both the funding and accountability of a rapid response fund for plant and animal diseases.

The effort to influence legislation in several of the objective areas has already begun. The coalition will introduce legislation but will also attempt to influence legislation introduced by others. This week’s bill introductions included HF1 and 4. HF1 addresses some of the regulatory oversight issues and HF4 starts to address road and bridge funding.