March 09, 2018

Minnesota Legislative Update: Committee-Level Movement Gets Underway

The Minnesota Legislature, in anticipation of the first committee deadline on March 22, continued to hear and move bills through policy committees this week. Legislative committees focused on Governor Dayton’s request for $10 million in emergency funding to fix MNLARS, the state’s troubled vehicle license and registration system. Without immediate approval, the state will need to begin laying off workers on this project by the end of the month. The House Transportation Finance Committee heard HF3147, chief authored by Rep. Paul Torkelson (R, Hanska), which would provide the $10 million in funding through cuts to the executive branch’s budget. Governor Dayton considers this proposal a nonstarter. The Senate Transportation Finance Committee is scheduled to hear their bill next Monday, making it possible that it could appear on the Senate floor later in the week.

The Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement continued to hear public testimony on a proposal to address funding shortfalls in its’ three statewide retirement systems. This bill has stalled at the Legislature in the last two years over appropriate levels of state funding and appropriate employer and employee contribution levels. This year’s version, SF2620/HF3053, chief authored by Sen. Julie Rosen (R, Vernon Center) and Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R, Sartell), respectively, contains reductions in retiree COLAs, assumption rate changes, and increases both employer and employee contributions and state participation in the retirement plans for public employees and teachers. Next week, the Commission will hear amendments to the bill and move it to the Government Operations Committees in the House and the Senate.

Wild Rice Water Quality Standard

The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee heard HF3280, which would nullify the current wild rice water quality standard and require the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to begin a new rulemaking process. In 2011 the Legislature directed the MPCA to replace the 10 milligrams per liter standard, finding it to be outdated and not scientifically supported. The MPCA’s proposed replacement was rejected by an administrative law judge in January. This standard would have determined standards for each individual body of water. Supporters testified that the current standard is outdated and may place significant financial burdens on municipalities in northern Minnesota. Opponents testified that this bill would usurp the MPCA’s role in enforcing the wild rice standard and cause confusion and litigation because the federal government has approved the current standard. The bill is authored by Rep. Dale Lueck (R, Aitkin).

An amendment was approved appropriating money for a stakeholder process to study alternative solutions to restore and improve wild rice harvests. The bill, as amended, was referred to the House Government Operations Committee.

Autonomous Vehicles

Minnesota, like other states, has started assessing the potential implications of autonomous vehicle technology to the state’s transportation system. On Monday, Governor Dayton announced a 15-member task force to conduct research into issues associated with implementing autonomous vehicle technology in Minnesota. These issues include vehicle registration, traffic regulations, workplace preparation and equity issues. This task force will hold meetings and provide a report by December 1, 2018. Members of the task force are comprised of both public and private entities.

On Thursday, the House Transportation Finance Committee heard testimony from the Department of Transportation (MnDOT) regarding Connected Automated Vehicles (CAV). Currently, over 22 states are working on laws related to autonomous vehicles. A CAV acts completely on its own using technology to interact with infrastructure. As part of its review, MnDOT is looking at truck platooning, the impact of electric vehicles and autonomous delivery systems. The biggest concerns expressed by Committee members and MnDOT are overall safety and cold weather challenges to this technology, which is unique to states like Minnesota. MnDOT is hoping to address these concerns through regulation.

Governor’s Supplemental Budget

Governor Dayton will be releasing his supplemental budget next Thursday, March 15. Based on legislative testimony of his Commissioners, it is anticipated that his budget will propose reinstating the inflators on the statewide property tax and tobacco taxes and rescinding the estate tax cut enacted last session. It is also anticipated that he will propose funding to address the unfunded liabilities in the three statewide pension systems.

Important Dates:

  • March 14, 2018 - State of the State Address
  • March 15, 2018 - Governor's Supplemental Budget Released
  • March 22, 2018 - First Committee Deadline
  • March 29, 2018 - Second Committee Deadline
  • March 30, 2018 - Legislative Recess Begins
  • April 8, 2018 - Legislative Recess Ends
  • April 20, 2018 – Third Committee Deadline
  • May 21, 2018 - Last Day of Session

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