Refinery safety provision cut from jobs bill, Clean Car rule moves ahead as special session nears conclusion

By: - June 21, 2021 10:47 pm

Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, speak to reporters on June 21, 2021. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Minnesota lawmakers say they are making progress on finalizing a $52 billion two-year budget ahead of a June 30 deadline, even as state agencies begin preparing for a potential government shutdown.

This week, state park visitors with camping or lodging reservations will be notified that their camping plans may be disrupted by a government shutdown. Contractors on major transportation projects will also be notified by Thursday that money will run out come June 30 if a new budget isn’t adopted. 

“From a state’s perspective, this is closer than we want it to be,” Gov. Tim Walz said on Monday, calling the notifications  “precautionary measures” ahead of a potential shutdown. 

Leaders of the divided Legislature left open the possibility that the special legislative session will stretch into early next week, cutting it close to the statutory deadline to pass a new budget. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said that sticking points over ideological differences are being worked out, but that committee chairs are being told to finalize their budget bills or risk tipping the state into a government shutdown. 

On Monday, details of some key deals emerged, including the announcement of a new oriented strand board mill in northern Minnesota. Oriented strand board looks and is similar to plywood. The new plant, operated by Huber Engineered Woods, would bring 150 jobs to Cohasset and will receive substantial state money, including $15 million from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, as well as state production incentives.  

Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, would provide up to $30 million in state incentives to Charlotte, N.C.-based Huber Engineered Woods: $7.50 per 1,000 board square feet of oriented strand board produced for 10 years. 

The deal, legislative leaders said, has been tied to state funding for a new land bridge in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood over I-94. Hortman said the pairing of the two projects ensures geographic balance because it divvies up state resources for projects in rural and metro areas of the state. 

The Rondo land bridge project would provide $6.2 million in state funding to match federal funds and would help reconnect the historically Black Rondo neighborhood, which was partially torn down to make way for the interstate in the 1950s and 1960s.

Refinery safety legislation to be scrapped

Lawmakers are still tweaking bills this week, including the jobs bill, jeopardizing the legislative fate of some provisions that had been decided late last week. 

The Republian-led Senate voted 36-30 on Monday to send the jobs budget bill back to the Senate Finance Committee to reconsider some measures. 

One is a provision approved on a 50-17 Senate vote on Friday that would require that refinery contract employees complete training from an approved apprenticeship program. Marathon refinery workers have rallied at the Capitol for passage of the legislation, which they say would make the refinery safer.

The amendment adopted on Friday came from state Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, who on Monday asked Gazelka whether her provision would be stripped out of the bill in the Finance Committee. 

It had support from many Republican state lawmakers, but Gazelka and two other key lawmakers voted against it, including state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the Senate Finance Committee chair, and state Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, chair of the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Budget Committee.

Gazelka said on Monday that his caucus would move to study the safety issues and said the Republican votes in favor of Bigham’s amendment were “political.” The yes votes, he charged, were intended to deflect any potential campaign literature knocking Republican senators for a voting against refinery safety.

But during debate on the amendment, state Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, said a study would not be part of the final bill. The Senate Finance Committee voted 6-4 to strip the refinery safety legislation from the jobs bill.  

On a different environmental issue, however, Republicans capitulated, giving up an effort to delay new auto emissions rules for two years. 

Senate Republicans have pushed back against efforts by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to mandate the selling of more electric vehicles in Minnesota to help reduce car emissions. Initially, Republicans had threatened to hold up funding for the Department of Natural Resources and other environmental spending, and later asked for a two-year delay in the implementation of the rules.

The delay will not happen, and the clean car rules would take effect as early as January 1, 2024, Gazelka acknowledged. He said the issue would become election fodder, as all 201 legislative seats and the governor are up for reelection next year.

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