House, Senate proposals benefit farmers, enhance vets' health care
ST. PAUL -- Farm-minded state lawmakers say they are looking to improve Minnesota agriculture's future -- and the environment -- by pushing legislation benefiting livestock producers and farmers who grow crops used to make biofuels.
Those are two provisions in a package of agriculture and military veterans' proposals moving through the Legislature. The catch-all policy bills also address bovine tuberculosis, veterans' cemeteries, concerns about agricultural and forest land development and even animal chiropractors.
After seeing tax proposals benefiting dairy farmers fail for four years, lawmakers this year want to create a grant program for livestock farmers. Producers who enhance their operations with improvements such as building additions or equipment upgrades costing more than $4,000 could seek a state grant to cover some of the expense.
While similar, the House and Senate bills are different, so must be reconciled before a final version can be sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Senators already passed their version, while House agriculture leader Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said his bill could get a floor vote as early as Thursday.
A key provision in both bills actually is a Pawlenty-backed initiative. The Republican governor wants to expand the use of biodiesel fuel in Minnesota. The measure would increase an existing 2-percent biodiesel mandate to 20 percent by 2015, though the House and Senate proposals have minor differences. The fuel is a blend of petroleum diesel and biodiesel, which in Minnesota is mostly made from soybeans.
"That's the big part of the bill that everyone's waiting for," Juhnke said of the biodiesel measure. "That is critical -- getting to be the first state that has a B20 mandate."
Veterans' initiatives also are tucked into the bills. Chief among them is creation of a Veterans Health Care Advisory Council, a panel that will recommend to state officials how best to provide medical care to Minnesota veterans. The council is part of an overhaul in how Minnesota's five veterans' homes are run. That is the result of a governor's task force that was assembled last year following concerns about medical care at one veterans' home.